Thursday, December 29, 2011

Write the Vision II

I love this  saying*.  So when people ask me why I work so hard, I can honestly say its not work.  Or at least it beats the alternative.

Last year I "Wrote the Vision" that we had for our little 'stead for 2011.  We done good if I may say so myself.  Tis the season to make our plans for 2012.  Its going to be a good year, ya'll.  I feel it in the depths of my muddy feet.

1. Install a water line and hose bib to the southeast corner of the house.  Anytime
2. Clear and fence 1 paddock in the pasture and install a sprinkler.- May
3. Add a poop catcher to the rabbit hutch to make collection of fertilizer easier. -January.
4. Construct a sheltered milking area, preferably with a concrete floor.  -June
5. Construct/create a hay storage area closer to pasture.   Anytime
6. Build a feed trough that sits outside the pasture fence and retrofit a portion of fencing to allow their heads through to eat.  Anytime
7. Re-rig the outside shower (dependent upon #1).  -June
8. Install a shaded raised herb bed... again.  -April
9. Build a tree house.   -December
10. Build a greenhouse that can be converted to a shade house. -January/June
11. Move bananas (if we can find a better place for them). -February
12. Plant blackberries and grapes where bananas currently are. -March
13. Find a way to grow garlic.  -September
14. Construct a durable, permanent clothesline for the kids.  -March
15. Construct a cover for the water system. -March
16. Make a quilt for Farmer Boy #1. -December
17. Start and finish scrapbook for Farmer Boy #2's infancy. -September
18. Repair old rabbit hutch into a finishing pen. -March
19. Plant a loquat (again) and kiwis.
20. Increase the family with 1 treasured foster child. -January

*If you can't read the sign it says, "The view from the barn door beats the view from the sofa.  -Cowboy wisdom"

Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Christmas, yes, that's wonderful.  I like it, I really do.  And planning for spring planting is part of that!  This year Mother Earth News did an article on people's favorite seed companies

Seed catalogs have this amazing, kid-in-a-candy-store type affect on me.  I requested a few new ones, but Nichols Garden Nursery's got to me first (along with my old stand-by Southern Exposure).  I want to get seeds in the ground ASAP so the rest will have to wait until I'm thinking of my fall garden. 

So I ordered a lot.  I was low on a few types and, of course, I have to try new things.  I'm an absolute sucker for a seed catalog.  And Nichols had such interesting unique stuff- such that I hadn't even seen at Baker Creek!  I made a long list for both Nichols and Southern Exposure and now am waiting anxiously, very anxiously, for them to arrive. 

I salivate just thinking about it.

But for record keeping sake, here's my orders.  I know... I got a lot.  As I said, its totally a weakness, but I don't go clothes shopping.  I don't wear make-up.  I haven't bought new shoes in 5 years.  Indulge me my seeds, ok?


VCC567 Cucumber Lucky Dance
HBA215 Basil Bolloso Napoletano
HRB228 Papaloquelite
FLW316 Calendula Flashback - Organic
GRD115 Luffa Gourd
FLW123 Cosmos Early Summer Mix
FEV245 Strawflower Monstrosum
VSP405 Spinach  Malabar Climbing
VCE185 Celery Afina
VCE181 Celery Golden Bar
VKA557 Kale Redbor 
VLT631 Lettuce Matina
VME525 Melon Hannah's Choice
VWA509 Watermelon Ruby
VSQ621 Salman Zucchini
VSQ659 Squash Sebring Golden Zucchini
VTO438 Tomato Cherokee Purple
VTO549 Tomato Sun Gold
VTO443 Tomato Gold Nugget
MCO808 Sourdough Starter-French Lactic
MHG255 Plastic Plant Markers 5" x 5/8"
1 x Carolina Wonder PEPPER, BELL (SWEET) 0.5 g (46123)  = $2.50
1 x Jupiter PEPPER, BELL (SWEET) 0.5 g (46134)  = $2.75
1 x Rosita EGGPLANT 0.25 g (45203)  = $2.80
1 x Purple-Podded Asparagus (Yardlong, Yard Long) Bean 4g (11103)  = $2.95
1 x Cascade Glaze COLLARDS 1 g (24108)  = $2.50
1 x Savoy Perfection CABBAGE 2 g (22107)  = $2.05
1 x Ruby Red (Rhubarb Chard) CHARD, SWISS 4 g (32102)  = $2.05
1 x Lazy Wife Greasy BEAN, SNAP (POLE) 14 g (13603)  = $2.95
1 x Red Cherry TOMATO 0.16 g (49136)  = $2.50
1 x Matt’s Wild Cherry TOMATO, CHERRY 0.08 g (49804)  = $2.75
1 x Blacktail Mountain WATERMELON 1 g (55113)  = $2.50
1 x Jericho LETTUCE, ROMAINE 0.5 g (62706)  = $2.65
1 x Vates KALE 2 g (25101)  = $2.35
1 x Ashley CUCUMBER 2 g (51101)  = $2.50
1 x Star of David OKRA 5 g (69108)  = $2.50
1 x Roselle, Thai Red - Herb 0.6g (71301)  = $2.35
1 x Thyme, Creeping - Herb 0.2g (71249)  = $2.10
1 x Thyme, Summer - Herb 0.2g (71304)  = $2.25
1 x Della SORGHUM 7 g (72612)  = $2.50
1 x Black Amber Cane SORGHUM 7 g (72606)  = $2.75
1 x Sweet Potato Mix; Orange, White, and Purple, 6 Slips (74151)  = $10.00

Surprise! Babies!

Forgive me.  I never got a chance to even get a  picture.  December 19th, I walked out, checked on the rabbits and found 7 babies in Cream's pen. 


I didn't even know she was pregnant.  I tried to breed her with Brownie before he went to be the patriarch of another set of ladies.  She showed no interest.  He "attacked" from every angle but never got the good ole grunt and roll so I figured she just wasn't ready.

Fast forward 5 weeks and we have squirming babies on bare wire.  I quick flipped over the nest box and put them in.  I pulled some fur from Cream (who should have done that herself) who did not appreciate the help. 

The next morning 5 of them were dead.  A few minutes later I discovered Helen had miscarried.  Can we say "miserable day?"  The day after that the remaining 2 were dead.  This is not uncommon for new bunnies.  Its like it takes a tragedy for their maternal instincts to kick in.  So Cream will be visiting "Steve" (the bunny down the street) this weekend.  We'll give him a day or so to "reload" then take Sugar a-courtin' too.


Take a little walk through history with me.  In April of 2010, we acquired Helen and her daughter Doby who was only 2 months old.  Shortly after that she got pregnant and had Willy in September of the same year.  Then she got pregnant just one month later.  I didn't even know that was possible.  But sure enough, she birthed Jonah and Julius in March of 2011.  Jonah appeared healthy, but Julius seemed to lack a proper suck reflex.  He died about 2 weeks after he was born.  We got Copper good and isolated that very month. 

Or so we thought.

I had wanted to give poor Helen a nice break from babies.  But in November she started to look round.  She had always been so scrawny and gangly that seeing her a little on the plump side made me happy. 

We also, in the month of October, had some troubles with Copper.  It started with him jumping his 4' fence repeatedly.  We never found him in the paddock with the others, but clearly that was his goal.  He spent a week on the end of a chain until we could contruct "The World's Ugliest Fence" around the bachelor pad.  Then we went camping and came home to find that he had ripped a hole right through his fence, broke a 4x4 pressure treated post in half with his head, ripped the common area fence right off the rest of the posts and was in with everyone having a hay day.  His interest was mostly in Doby and Bella so I had hoped in those few hours (14 at most) that it would not just happen to be the 2 or 3 days in a month that Helen could get pregnant.

But then her milk dried up rather suddenly and she she started looking fat.  She's a lot like me... barely pregnant and people are already asking when the due date is.  I wondered if she was pregant or was she finally just recovered from multiple babies and lactations?

December 20th we had our answer.  She didn't come when I fed them that morning.  That's always a red flag for any of our critters.  I went in and checked her out and found two tiny fetuses hanging out of her.  They looked the same, size and all, of the rabbit babies that had also died that same morning (more about that later).  I mourned.  I tried to save her from pregnancy and didn't and now she has 3 dead babies (including Julius) all because her poor body was just tired and couldn't grow them properly.

She cried all night that night.  She didn't eat for a couple days.  Now she's back to normal.  So much so that she butts Bella away from the feed.  But we started wondering exactly what happened.

Possibility #1: Copper DID get in the common area in early October and then back out during those couple weeks we were fighting him.  Likelihood- very low.  If he got in and back out, Dulci would have surely followed him.

Possibility #2: Helen did just happen to be in heat when he got in the common area in late October.  Likelihood- about 1 in 14 chance.  Not to mention that he did not appear interested Helen when I was draggin him away from his harem.

Possibility #3- Helen lives in perpetual heat like a rabbit.  Likelihood- well, I've never heard of that before, but if anyone's like that its fertile Myrtle Helen.

Possibility #4- Those were Valentino's babies and destined to miscarry anyway.  Likelihood- moderate.

So, yes, sheep and goats can reproduce.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does they are almost always miscarried or stillborn.  Very rare occurances result in live births.  Odd as it sounds, I think this is the thought we'll need to run with.  That Valentino will need to be kept separated from at least Helen during times when she's not pregnant and we don't want her to be.

Is that feasible???  That's 7 months of the year.  And he can't be in the bachelor pad or he and Copper will kill each other.  Is it likely Valentino wouldn't attempt to mount her except in the fall when ewes are in heat?  Would that at least chop those 7 months down to 2?  Or would we just need to arrange her "schedule" so she's pregnant in the fall? 

Or does she need to get moved on to a home that's not so hard on her uterus?

Questions abound.  No conclusions just yet.  Any advice would be appreciated.  I just really don't want her continually pregnant by whatever random critter is woed by her feminine whiles.  I'd rather see her in a different home than harmed because we can't feasibly provide what she needs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Daisy Roast

I don't have a picture of our fabulous dinner last night, but I do have another picture of that fancy shmancy meat grinder again.  Husbandman's favorite feature on this baby is the sausage stuffer.  When we slaughtered Button, we processed all her meat into sausage because she was older and would probably have a fairly strong flavor.  We really enjoy the sausage (made from only meat, onions, garlic, salt and herbs) but we had no way of making links so its just ground and in 1 pound packages.  Husbandman picked up some hog casing because he was a mite nervous about saving the casing from his own slaughter-subject (though he really does it all very well).  And when we were searching for our own meat grinder, a sausage stuffer attachment was a must. 

A couple months ago we decided we were overwintering just way too many animals.  With the acquisition of Zuma, Esperanza and Nina were unnecessary as breeding ewes.  Zuma has had twins each time and her size (hopefully coupled with the rapid growth rate of the khatadin in Valentino) would produce more lamb than we would need in a year.  We traded Nina with a friend who raises grass-fed beef.  She ended up becoming a wedding feast which I think is a fine fate for an animal who has to die anyway.  Esperanza was almost 2 years old so we made her into sausage like Button.  Very very yummy sausage.  Some in links and some ground in packages.  Daisy, being less than a year old and true "lamb" we processed into roasts.  I roasted a shoulder cut in the crock pot last night with garlic and rosemary.  Absolutely superb.  Fall off the bone tender.  Great flavor.  Kids gobbled it up.  Couple that with a nice pile of garden fresh greens and we had ourselves a very fine meal.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Making Soap

As promised, here's the how-to of soap making.  Please keep in mind, I'm not a professional.  Neither have I even yet used what I've made.  Just posting what I do know right now because I spent many nights reading about this stuff!

1) I wanted to start with what they would have used in the good ole days- FAT!  A call to the butcher at Winn Dixie and Publix provided me with all the beef and pork fat I could want.  Winn Dixie seems to have more to supply than Publix, but they also charged me $.50/lb for the stuff where Publix gives it for free.  Not a lot of money, but seriously, they're going to promptly throw it away.  Charging is just poor form in my book.  I digress.  We came home with large packages of fat.
Then we ran the beef fat through our new handy dandy meat grinder.  This isn't a necessity, but it definitely expedites the rendering process on the order of days.  Then I put it all in the crock pot.  I started it that evening and by morning it was done.  I ran it all through some cheese cloth then poured the golden liquid into jars and let them cool until it was white and a soft solid.  Then I put them in the freezer.  The dog thoroughly enjoyed the cracklings.  The next bit was the pork fat.  By this time I had read more and it said grinding was not necessary, but it was necessary to cover the fat in water.  Now that I've done it, I totally disagree.  That pork fat sat in the crock pot for days.  And I kept adding water.  By the time I was done (note I was the one done, not the lard), it was a pain to try to separate the lard from the water.  I ended up having water in each jar of lard and had to be careful when spooning it out for soap.  And while you can buy lard fairly cheaply in the grocery store, you can't get tallow and they both have different properties in soap.  I'll probably still render my own tallow.  We'll see about the lard.

2)Then I got figuring recipes.  I realized that using only tallow, lard, olive oil and coconut oil really would not give me a very nice, conditioning soap, I started looking into other oils.  A friend found and  They had the best deals we could find on bulk oils and essential oils (for scents).  Essential Depot also had the best price on lye.  We ordered coconut oil (virgin, but not as pure as food grade and thus a fraction of the cost), palm oil and Castor oil.  Castor oil is available in small quantities in any pharmacy, but its considerably cheaper to order through a soap supplier.  I've since learned the quest for palm oil is ravaging rain forests so once what I have is gone, I won't be using it again.

3) Once I figured what other oils were in my price range, I went back to figuring recipes.  I learned from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Natural Soaps about  This is a fabulous website that allows you to create your own recipe using the ingredients you want.  You determine what fats and oils you want to use, the percentage of each and hit "calculate" and not only will it spit out the recipe, but it will give you a numerical factor of various soap qualities, like hardness, conditioning, or cleansing.  And it gives you the desired range of each property too.  Then you can tinker with your recipe to make it just as you want. 

4) Then find a mold.  I happened to have 2 shallow, rectangular tubs 10x9x2 (don't ask me where I got them).  I had to figure out how much soap, by weight, I needed to fill that mold.  Follow closely, math coming.  Find the volume of the container in cubic inches, but leave room in the height.  For example, I calculated 10x9x1.5= 135 cubic inches.  Then multiply that number by .58.  That gave me 78.3oz of soap for this mold.  You need 11 ounces of oils for every 16 ounces of soap so then I took the weight of my soap times 11 divided by 16.  In my case, 78.3x11/16=53.8oz of oils.  I rounded that to 54 and that's what I plugged into  I then got my recipe based on weights of oils, water (or goat milk or tea) and lye.

5) Then its time to start weighing.  If you use goat milk, its good to freeze the milk so I weighed out my amount in the scale you see pictured.  This was a very handy and very reasonably priced purchase.  You must have something that can measure by weight to the fraction of an ounce for decent soap making.  I weighed out my goat milk then poured it in a ziplock and stuck it in the freezer.  Then I weighed out some strong chamomile tea and poured it into a jar to cool for later.  It wasn't until the next day that I started weighing out fats and oils according to my recipes.  My goat milk body soap has beef tallow, coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil and palm oil.  My chamomile shampoo bar has castor oil, coconut oil, olive oil, lard, and beef tallow.  My laundry soap bar has coconut oil and lard (with water).  Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing amounts.

6) I did each soap one at a time.  I started with the goat milk soap.  I'd read it must be kept cool to prevent darkening.  Darkening doesn't hurt the soap, just makes it not as pretty.  That's why you start with frozen milk.  Adding lye to a liquid (never liquid to the lye), causes an exothermic reaction... meaning it gets hot.  I melted the milk merely by slowly sprinkling the lye on it.  And please wear gloves and goggles and do it in a ventilated area.  I mixed it on the stove with the exhaust fan going and all the kids firmly instructed to not come near me.  Once the lye is dissolved, add in the oils.  Weigh out everything prior to mixing anything.  Also have your mold greased and ready to roll.  Once things are moving, they're moving and you really can't stop.  Its not necessary for all the oils to be in liquid form.  The heat from the lye solution will soften things.  Also, please invest in a stick blender.  Apparently you can make soap without one but you must take great pains on the temperatures that everything is at or you'll be stirring the stuff for 5 hours or more.  A stick blender will ease the troubles considerably.  So I poured in my fats and oils, taking care to not splash as the lye solution will burn.  Its suggested to have a spray bottle of white vinegar handy if spills do happen.  The acid in the vinegar will neutralize the caustic nature of the lye.  Then start blending with the stick blender.  When the mixture starts to "trace", its time to add scents, dyes and pour into the mold.  Tracing is when its thick enough that if you dribble some from the blender (when the blender is NOT on) onto the rest of the mixture, you can see where it dribbled. It doesn't quickly mix into the bulk of the solution.  And on a side note, please use a stainless steel spoon.  Or at least not wood.  A nice wooden spoon is really unpleasant looking (and toxic?) now that its been stirring lye.  Learn from my mistakes.

7) Once you got the trace thing happening, add the essential oils for scents or any dyes.  I added lavender oil to the goat milk soap, but everything else is totally bare this round.  One thing at a time for me.  Ok, well, at least in this case.  Then pour into the mold.  Lots of sources stressed the need to line the mold.  One source (a DVD available from the library) merely suggested greasing.  So I just greased my plastic mold and figured if worse came to worst, I'd pop it in the freezer to get it out.  I also used a cheep metal rectangular cake pan as a mold in addition to my plastic pans.  Not sure what kind of metal it is.  Probably aluminum.  Greased that too and I had no problems getting soap out of any of them.  What you do then is confusing.  With the goat milk soap, some said its important to keep it cold so to put it in the fridge.  I did for a couple hours... then I felt the need to get the 25lb bag of carrots that it displaced off my counter top.  With other soaps, some sources say to insulate it so it doesn't cool too quickly.  Like throw a blanket over it.  I don't see why.  Especially if with goat milk you're supposed to stick it in the fridge. 

 Well, things definitely changed color.  Everything was creamy at first, then they got dark in the middle.  The one on the bottom is the goat milk soap.  The left is the laundry soap and the right is the chamomile shampoo.  I cut them into bars after a few hours, while they were still soft, but firm enough to hold the cut.
You can see the colors changed further.  The next day I popped everything out of the molds and set them on cooling racks in the bathroom.  Pictured here is the laundry soap on the bottom and the shampoo on the top.  The laundry soap will need to cure for about 2 weeks.  The shampoo and body soap will need about 4 weeks on account of the castor oil in it.  Its not caustic after only a day, but it will not have the nice conditioning properties so soon.
 And here's the goat milk soap.  The next round I try, I'll leave it in the fridge over night and see if that keeps it any whiter.  I don't mind the color at all, just trying to learn the tricks.  If I were to color it, I think I'd want it lighter so the color would be brighter.
And in reading about shampoo bars and their benefits, I stumbled upon a homemade deodorant recipe.  And if you don't know me well, you're about to.  I'm a sweater to say the least.  As a teacher I kept a stick of antiperspirant in my desk drawer to use mid-day.  Cold, hot, doesn't matter... gallons pour forth from my pits daily.  As I like to say, I have a very efficient cooling system.  I will NEVER get heat stroke, now will I?  I'm bred for workhorse character, not for the show ring.  So the dilemma is that I know how horrible antiperspirants are for you.  They're linked to all kinds of terrible diseases.  And they plug the source that God intended to use to rid you of toxins... meaning you're still holding onto all those toxins!  Really not cool.  But the state of me without this 20th century invention is really beyond what's socially acceptable.  I tried using all natural deodorant (no antiperspirants) when I'm just going to be home all day.  My husband would hold his breath while hugging me.  But I'm hopeful of this concoction. 

Homemade deodorant:
1/4 Cup coconut oil
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup corn starch
30 drops tea tree oil

This is my own concoction, but it involves the same ingredients others posted on the web do.  And as for today, after a full afternoon (albeit a coolish afternoon and I wasn't doing much manual labor), Husbandman said he could only smell me in 1 pit.  I suspect if I'm able to keep this up without offending people, even that will decrease as toxins are actually allowed to escape from my body.  Pictured is homemade deodorant, homemade toothpaste (equal parts sea salt, baking soda and xylitol) sitting atop shampoo soap and laundry soap.

So, you think you wanna try making some soap???

*ps- those jars of dark red liquid pictured in the fat grinding picture... just beet and carrot juices we were drinking.  Absolutely nothing to do with animal fats or soap in any way.


A good while ago, Georgia Farm Woman was blogging consistently about making soap.  I totally didn't get it.  I thought she must be nuts to need to be making so much soap.

Well, now I get it.

I made soap.

And more soap


And more soap.

It started as a thought for Christmas gifts.  But once I started reading about it, I soon became enraptured in my new love affair with Clean.  I figure if you don't enjoy the process, you might as well enjoy the products, right?
If you're interested in the soap-making process, stay tuned for a future post.  For the rest of you who just want to know what crazy thing I've been up to now...

It started with collecting beef and pork fat from grocery stores and rendering it in the crock pot.  Then I bought some other oils like palm oil and Castor oil.  Then created my recipes on a nifty website.  What I've ended up with is some goat milk body soap, some chamomile shampoo bars (yes, shampoo can be done in a bar which is actually much better for your hair and the environment) and some laundry soap.

Then I added some homemade deodorant to the list.
So, yes, I'm obsessed.  I have to wait 4 weeks to try this stuff and I'm wondering if I can wait until I try it before making another batch. 

Heeeeere, Ducky Ducky Ducky

Ducks are not very obedient.  Scold all you want, they just don't listen.

After loosing all but 1 drake (male duck) to some odd leg problem (possibly caused by a show of force of the dominant drake), we were down to 4 hens and the 1 drake.  We opened them up to roam the pasture, but locked them up at night... a feat that got more difficult as their independence grew.

One day I was late letting them out.  Lo and behold there was an egg on the floor of the pen!  I then watched where they went and upon later inspection discovered the pictured nest deep into the pasture in a little hole they had created in a pile of scrub.
Of course I thought I could reform natural instincts.  I created a little nest in a dog dish, put the eggs in there and set it up inside the pen where it would be protected from raccoons or wayward goat feet.
I even added a tote to provide shade and further protection.

They didn't care.  They continued to lay in the old nest, on the floor of the pen or, best of all, right in the middle of the barn.

Nothing would get them to sit on that nest either.  And the eggs were just disappearing too.  I presume they were getting broken and something was eating up the evidence.

So, we decided to really put Angel (the guard dog) to the test.  We moved all the ducks to the bachelor pad to run free with Copper, the buck.  Angel has access to 3 sides of the bachelor pad, the 4th being a shared fence with the pasture.  We figured if the ducks were kept in there, its a small enough area that its unlikely a malevolent critter would first get by Angel, then Copper, then that ferocious drake (really, he's the scariest animal on the property), to harm a hen or her nest.  And so far so good.

Except that one duck is still managing to squeeze through an unknown hole and lays eggs in the barn.  She had a nest of 6 which then got trampled during a rainstorm when all the animals huddle in the barn.  We're down to 2 intact eggs and she just quit going there.  The other hens laid a nest of 9 as of 2 days ago.  Then Dulci (who's supposed to be pregnant) acted like she was in heat so I put her into the bachelor pad.  I guess the chasing Copper did was too much for the nest as 6 eggs were scattered and 2 were missing.  Today only 3 remain intact and they are not together in a nest.  And then a hen up and died.  Chilly night and I went out in the morning to find her dead in a sleeping position.  No idea what that's about.

All in all, we're still hopeful some semblance of instinct will kick in and these ducks will manage to reproduce.  Husbandman thinks it will take until spring until they get it figured out.  I'm thinking of building a little hut I can pop over whatever nest they build to protect it from undiscerning goat feet. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Picking Up Speed

The title of this post is not referring to any new drug use, though I'm sure that would be momentarily helpful.  No, instead I'm seeing our fall whizzing toward us at break-neck speed and I'm scrambling to be ready when in slams into my hot summer pace.

Not that summer has been lazy.  Just still working on summer stuff, that's all.

Sometime in July and August (see, I told you I was behind), I finished picking the last of our grapes.  Got about 10 gallons this year.  I fired up the canner to make jelly, but instead of creating a sauna inside, Husbandman set me up reeeeaaaallll nice.  And you have to read the rest of the post in a true southern drawl to get the full effect.

We recently acqured a large 2-burner gas stove, mainly for this very pupose but also for any pesky hurricanes that take out our power for any length of time.  This burner easily held my water bath canner and my pot of grape jelly.  I also did watermelon rind jelly since everything was fired up and crankin'.  And I had a nice shadey spot to work while still keeping an eye on the rugrats in the pool or swing set.  Everyone was happy... until a wet bottom found its way onto my Countryside magazine while I was up stirring the brew.  Anyway, about half my grape jelly turned out just fine.  The other half and the watermelon stuff didn't set so at some point I'll reopen those jars and try again.  More pectin, more sugar, more cooking and stirring.  One day I'll learn how to get it right the first time around.

I registered farmer girl and "Thumper" for the county fair last week.  Now we get to figure out the proper positioning and handling of a rabbit, not to mention getting her tattooed. (The bunny, not the girl).  A friend suggested waltzing into our local tattoo parlor, "Bad Azz Tattoo" with our fur ball and suggested a nice barb wire tat around the bicep.  Tempting... but we're obligated to letters and numbers in the left ear.  Later today, we're moving Thumper and Dumplin (because farm boy 1 won't be left out) into the porch for easier access for practicing.  And I also get to make matching outfits for the girl and her bunny.  Not really sure how, or why I'm happy about that, or even what possessed me to think of entering her into that contest, but I did.  And ya know, the smile on her face will be worth it, I'm sure.  The girl, not the bunny.  Not sure the bunny will be too thrilled on the notion.

We slaughtered our first ducks on Saturday.  We're having a rough go.  We started with 10 around Easter.  One died we think from internal injuries suffered at the paw of Angel.  Another turned sick-looking a while later and died.  Another just a couple weeks ago started limping and went quite lame.  He was one we slaughtered and by Saturday he was down to nothing.  He must have been starving for a week and a half, unable to walk enough to eat and drink.  Another had a large cyst/tumor thing on its face.  We culled them both and one is due for the oven momentarily.  The other (the skinny one) will be made into soup on a fine autumn day.  And now, yet another is acting lame.   We now have 1 good male, 4 females and a lame male.  Good for breeding stock which is what we wanted, but I'm nervous whatever has happened already will end up happening to our last remaining drake.  Unless its male competition that's doing it.

Nina is unwittingly enjoying her last meal.  I called a friend on a whim to see if he was interested in swapping a sheep for some beef.  He is, but wants it in meat form, minus the hoof.  So, sweet Nina is leaving us.  I haven't broken it to the girl child yet, but I don't think it will be a huge issue.  She's more keen on Daisy now anyway because Daisy is smaller.  She's never taken slaughtering real hard.  My mom was over while we killed the ducks and she expected a traumatic reaction from her granddaughter.  To her surprise, farm girl very bluntly and calmly explained the whole process to her and ended with, "And that's yummy MEAT!"  Yes, she's our sweet little carnivore.

We have re-acquired Doby.  You may remember Helen's baby... who had a baby... and we sold to some friends to get them started in dairying?  Well, they've decided farm-livin' is not exactly the life for them.  At least not with a triple digit heat index that go on for months at a time.  So we have her back and we're happy.  She's so sweet.  The farm girl is learning to milk on her (she's the only one who doesn't protest).  We initially only wanted 3 total dairy goats, but we're going to run with it.  4 isn't too different.  Especially since we decided to only keep Zuma and Valentino for breeding sheep.

We put Dulci in with Copper a week or so ago since its about time for her heats to start.  And sure enough, she got him all riled up. (Don't forget that southern drawl).  She escaped on Saturday while we were gone.  We put her in with the rest of the ladies until we could fix the fence.  Sunday Husbandman could tell she was in heat and Copper was just beside himself.  So we put her back in despite the fact that the fence wasn't shored up.  Sunday night she was out again and we put her in with the ladies.  Monday morning Copper was out... and he had circumcized himself in his escapades.  We put them both together and immediately went to fence fixing... at 7:30am.  At this Husbandman remarked that "we watch more goat sex before breakfast than most people see in a lifetime."  And yes, bloody and injured though it be, Copper took his one and only job very seriously and did it thoroughly job right before our very eyes.  The kids were inside watching a dinosaur documentary just in case you were concerned for their innocense.  He's calmed significantly today, but I have not ventured close enough to get a full accounting of his injury.  The bleeding has stopped and he's acting normal so I'll probably just let him be.  I mean, I do know the injury was, um, flushed.

And since I may not get blogging again for another month, let me comment on the state of our bee hives.  We suspect that both of our hives swarmed and that we checked one hive at just the wrong time and caused the new queen to fly off in fear.  So we put a frame of eggs (we think) and larvae from the other hive into the queenless hive.  And next week is the moment of truth.  Hopefully they're doing their thing.
I've got radishes, squash, and mustard greens ready to go in the ground.  The jelly melon is finally producing... like mad.  Picked our first one today just to determine how to know when its ripe.  We've got a busy week lined up with not a stitch of gardening in it so next week will have to border on insanity. 

Especially since the kiddie pool bit it this weekend.  That marks the official end of summer.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fall, Be Kind to Me, Please

Hurricane Irene is off our coast.  Strong coming winds and rain beckoned husbandman out to milk the goats early.  I'm to be doing dishes... but my counter is full of heads of cabbage from our recent co-op order.  And I can't put them into the fridge until I clear some space.  And I can't clear some space until I clean out the fridge, which I might as well do before I do dishes.  And one of the most intrigral parts of cleaning out the fridge is refiling my seeds that I planted yesterday but I don't want to do that until what I planted is recorded.  Its all very logical that I'm here blogging while loads of work is yet undone.

Peas- Little marvel.  Growing them in burried pots this year.  I think nematodes are taking them out before they can bear much of a harvest.
Radishes- early scarlet globe.  Growing them in window box only this year.
Bok Choy- Ching Chang.  Tried and true.  Don't fail me now.
Collard Greens- Southern something or other.  From my own saved seed.
Swiss Chard- Rainbow.  Tried and not so great, but maybe this year will be better.
Mustard Greens- Early Mazuna.  Not my favorite green, but it grows well.
Squash- Cushaw White.  First time.  Feeling lucky... not sure why.
Squash- Candy Roaster. Same as Cushaw White.

Vietnamese Guava.  Old seeds.  Hoping they still germinate.  They did great last time until I put them in the ground.  I think it was goats that killed them.  Round 2, wiser.
Papaya- Sunrise Hawaiian Solo.  Heard the way to do these is to plant in pots in late summer.  Over winter in pots then set them out in the spring for harvest next summer.  Sounds like a plan.

Parsley- giant of Italy.  Good stuff.  Tried and true.
Dill- bouquet.  Tried and true.
Sage- Broad Leaf.  I can never have enough sage.  And it hates the summer.
Chamomile- German.  Saved Helen from edema.  Never did make tea, but good intentions are still nice to have.
Cilantro.  Tried and true.  Will be nice to make falafel with the herbs that are supposed to be in it again.

Pretty Patch
Love-in-a-mist: free gift.  no idea how they'll do here.
Larkspur- Shades of Blue.  Did great in the spring.  Fall is winging it.
Strawflower- Mixed colors.  Same as larkspur.
Snapdragon- Tall Maximum Blend.  Plants from spring are still kickin' but no blossoms for months.  Not sure if the old oneswill revive with cooler temps, but we'll try some fresh ones just in case.
Calendula- Pacific Beauty Mix.  I LOVE these flowers.  I vow this time to actually use them for medicinal or culinary purposes.
Evening Scented Primrose- Tina James.  Tried twice on these with no go.  Few seeds left.  Give it a whirl.
Dwarf Coffee Plant.  Again, a third attempt with nary a single seed to germinate.  Supposedly a nice house plant.

To quickly summarize the summer, it stunk.  Nothing did well save the watermelon.  I think okra of all things were attacked by nematodes... showed the same signs as peas have for the last 2 years- They get so big then dry up and die.  Beans suffered but mostly because I planted them with very large amaranth plants and the got drowned.  What the deal was with eggplant is still a mystery.  Not a single blossom.  I have a single Jelly Melon completely taking over a bed with lush healthy vine everywhere and again, not a single blossom.  I'm ready for fall.  But please, Fall, be kind to me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

That Other Season

Life has been BUSY!  And here I am, only because getting a hurrican plan for the animals is high on the priority list.  So I'm figuring it out and posting it here so that we always have it to look back on in future years.

3 pens of rabbits- little pen**, dog crate, wire pen to garage.
3 pens of chickens- old GN to south side of house, young GN to garage,  barred rocks to porch** (fit?)
Angel- loose in garage.*
Sheep and goats- Common area and south paddock open (add Bella)*
Copper- bachelor pad open, label his collar with phone #.*
Ducks loose with sheep and goats.

*denotes not to be done until last minute

Random preparedness:
1) Ford focus to mom's garage.**
2) Seedling pots to porch.
3) Potted plants to front stoop.
4) Pool to porch.
5) Slide and climbing cube to shed.
6) hanging pots to porch.
7) Take down clothes line.
8) Move milking table to porch.
9) Clip a leash on each milking doe.
10) Add straps to bee hives.**

** Denotes requires husbandman's assistance.
Estimating all can be done in less than 3 hours without tending kids, less than 5 with tending kids.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cute Power

If we could power our house on Cute...

...then this would be our carbon footprint.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tis the Season

Tis the season for snakes and breeding.  Farmer Girl picked this one up and waved it at me.  You can imagine my response.  Thankfully it was already dead.  And also, especially thankfully, its a harmless scarlet king snake and not a coral.  (Coral snakes are more predominately black than red).  I can only assume that Angel is the one that took care of this one.  It clearly was dealt a fatal blow.  It sets my mind somewhat at ease believing Angel will take care of slithering foes, but on the other hand, I don't want to lose Angel to venomous bite suffered during the defense of her territory.  I've read that to administer anti-venom, you must know the species of snake that bit.  But injectable vitamin C in high doses can save animals (and people) when the species is unknown.  I've been on a local hunt for this magical goodness called Injectable Vitamin C to no avail.  I think, before snake breeding season carries on much more, I will hit the all-providing internet to acquire such a spectacular potion.

Another snake-bite preventative motion is to attach bells around an animal's neck.  The loud clanging alerts snakes that this is a large animal not suitable for a meal and they slither back to protect themselves.  I can't imagine the racket that would be heard if I attached bells to all 10 of the 4-legged creatures.  I think instead I'll just be cautious (as I've done other years) to make sure the sheep are keeping up with the height of the grass and I scope out the yard before releasing the kids to play each morning.

The Rabbit operation expands

The drama a 3-lb rabbit can produce is astounding.

 As previously posted, Mona had babies which fell out of pen #1 because she had them outside of nestbox #2.  We got them back into nestbox #2 which stayed inside pen #1.  Eventually 2 of the 5 died but not by foul play, or at least not what we can tell. 

Then all 3 babies were soon climbing out of nestbox #2.  We happened to be right there to witness it... and watch them climb/fall right out of pen #1.  One poor bunny fell right into the poop collection pan that also held rainwater.  Husbandman heard the splash, fished it out and cleaned it up.

 To fix that problem, we moved Mona and all 3 babies to Brownies pen (pen #2)... obviously moving Brownie to pen#1.  The kids liked that better so they could see the babies better.  Here they are watching our version of Saturday morning cartoons.  Even in their pajamas (in their defense it WAS still quite early).  But Farmer Boy  1 was found parked there much of the day.  Afterall, if he went through the trouble to haul his own little Mickey Mouse Lazyboy to the scene, you know he intends to spend some time there.
 Unfortunately, when we got home from church the next day, the little tan bunny was missing.  We went on a hunt and Farmer Girl was the one who figured out to check Angel's hidey holes.  Yep, little tan bunny was laying there dead.  It either fell through the chickenwire floor of pen #2 or Angel pulled it through.  Just so happened that the day before Husbandman and a friend finished building our new 3-hole rabbit hutch.  We moved it into position and moved Mona and the 2 remaining babies into one of the holes.
So here they are in pen #3.  So cute and cuddley.  We named the brown one Thumper, but have no name for the black one yet.  One will be for Farmer Girl to show at the fair this year and the fate of the other is undecided.
But since we had 3 empty holes, we went hunting for meat rabbits.  I found nothing worthwhile on Craig's List and was bemoaning such to my friends at the hardware store.  They responded with, "Why not call Ms. ___?  She sells meat rabbits and her sign with her phone number is posted on the wall by the feed."  Sure enough, Ms. Rabbit herself lives about a mile away.  I went over and was highly impressed with her level of knowledge and all she can do on a typical city lot.  She gave me a great tutorial about rabbit health and sold me 2 New Zealand/Californian cross does.  They were born on May 25 and will be ready to breed when the weather cools.  We'll keep looking for a buck from a different gene pool with good breeding genetics.
This is Thumper looking so cute. Picture was taken this morning.  They are each a good handful-sized. 
Mona likes to snuggle with her little ones too.  I can see why.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kits, Chicks and Heat! Oh My!

 We've had some interesting adventures this week.  Thursday morning, I noticed Mona had pulled some fur and was looking crazed.  That evening Husbandman went to check on her and agreed, lots of fur, crazed look, but no babies.  Moments later Farm girl runs in screaming that there are baby bunnies on the ground.  Sure enough, 1 was outside and squirming around in the dirt.  Angel helped to find the others that had fallen out toward the back of the pen.  Mona had decided that even this nest box was not suitable evidently.  And delivering them outside the box meant they all fell out of the pen.  I called a friend and she said not to put them back in right away.  So we created a little home for them... in our bathroom.
This set-up is a 5 quart ice cream container (curtousy of my step-dad who's an ice cream junky... I totally dig the buckets).  The 5 babies are under the pile of fur that Mona had pulled out.  We set up our heat lamp that we use for chicks.  Over the top I laid an extremely well-used (but clean) cloth diaper that would block out some light, but have enough holes in it to allow some air circulation.  Later that same friend sent me a webpage giving me better details on how to care for baby rabbits... like keep the house between 68 and 72 degrees and IF its cooler than that add some heat.  Needless to say the light got shut off immediately.  Our house is kept at 80 and since outside night time temps may not even dip down to 72, I figured that would be just fine for them.
And so I fed them goat milk via dropper that first night and hoped for the best.  In the morning, they were all still alive and wiggling.  I fed them goat milk again (rabbits only nurse once per day and if fed by hand, should only get it twice at most).  My friend came by with a homeopathic concoction to help calm Mona.  I put that into her water a waited a few hours.  Then I put 2 babies back in, wrapping them well in some fur.  By feeding time that evening, there was still wiggling under all that fur so I knew at least 1 had survived and I put the remaining 3 back in.  As of yesterday, there was some wiggling, not much, but enough to know at least 1 is still alive.  We really can't find out anything more certain with out potentially causing more harm by freaking Mona out so we'll just wait and see.

Yesterday morning, while preparing breakfast, we noticed chicks scurring loose about the front yard.  We ran out and collected them and discovered a hole where something had dug under the pen.  4 chicks disappeared with only a few feathers left behind.  This is our first predator loss since getting Angel.  But we pulled an enormous tick from Angel on Friday AND she always sleeps in the back yard.  I think the reason we only lost 4 and not all 20 was because of Angel, but I think a lot must have gone on before it woke her up.  Either because of distance, the fact that the chicks are still very quiet or she was feeling lethargic due to that tick that had been feeding off her for quite some time.  At any rate, we moved the chicks to the back yard (where I was gradually working them toward anyway) where she could better protect. 

The garden is doing miserably.  By now okra and beans should be pumping.  I have nothing but amaranth, watermelons and cherry tomatoes feeding us.  I tried new varieties of okra and beans: eagle's pass for okra and Chinese red noodle bean.  With both they get just so big, produce maybe 1 fruit and then curl up and die.  Since ripping out my cucurbits (except watermelon), I've had room to add my standbys (Burmese okra, rattlesnake beans and red-seeded asparagus beans) so I'm hopeful to still get a decent harvest.  But I'm also concerned killer compost has found its way to Florida.  Monsanto has been selling this herbacide for hay fields.  Only it doesn't break down after the animal eats it.  Instead, it gets pooped out, composted and tossed in the garden where it continues to kill everything.  Since learning the problem, have they taken this junk off the market?  Goodness no!  They wouldn't make any MONEY if they did that!!!  Given that some beds are fine and others are not, I think it could be other issues.  But, for example, my eggplant should also be big a producing by now... I've had to reseed 4 times!  They either wouldn't germinate, stunt out before transplanting or stunt and die shortly after transplanting.  I just got all new seed, got my first good germination and transplanted healthy looking plants.  Hoping for something good.

The heat has been rough this past week.  I transplanted some new collard green starts (from my own seed!) and they just couldn't handle the heat.  I watered every 2 hours the first day and they still just laid down flat.  All but 2 transplants are now dead 3 days later.  I've got an idea for shade frames for transplanting in the summer heat... just add building them to the to-do list. 

Another interesting event earlier this week was Zuma came down with laryngitis.  She spent most of her 5 years in a concrete pen being fed from a hay rack and drinking from a pig waterer.  Her previous owners warned us that she probably wouldn't drink for a while since her only option was to drink from a bucket.  And we also discovered she didn't know how to graze.  I'd tether her out and she'd do precious little eating and absolutely no drinking.  One day this week, I did the same... only it had been very hot and a bit smokey the days prior.  That night and strange noise was coming from the barn.  Husbandman told me about it and said he thought it was Zuma.  Angel was going nuts.  I ran in and found her looking just fine... just sounding like a pubescent boy whispering.  We grabbed a bucket of grain which she ate happily.  I did research about sheep laryngitis and the results were miserable... like immenant death!  But she was eating fine, standing fine so I figured she just pulled on her tether a bit too hard, got dehydrated by refusing to drink from that bucket all day, and the smoke further irritated it.  I left her in the pasture for a couple days and she was back to her normal loud, deep demands at first light from the house.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Day of Firsts

I'm exhausted.  But what a great day.

Some friends came over to help us with a hive inspection (we were also moving the entire hive stand set-up).  In one hive, we had a considerable amount of honey in the super.  For reference sake, we have 8-frame hive boxes.  We have 2 deep boxes and 1 shallow super per hive.  In this one hive, as I said, the honey was calling us.  Also, the bees had drawn the comb rather helter-skelter.  We're not sure why.  They're bottom boxes look great.  But we decided to harvest honey for the first time from 4 shallow frames of honey and replace them with 4 empty frames. 
Each of us took a sting.  Our friend got his very first sting right on the nose (his veil fell against his face).  Husbandman took one to the hand (no gloves) and I had one crawl up my pant leg and get me on the leg just as I was walking away with their honey.  But other than that, and given that none of us really knew what we were doing too well, I'd say it went rather well.

Then came the fun part.  In the future, we'll likely use a honey extractor so we don't have to destroy the comb, but this round given the state of the comb, we just cut it right out of the frames.  We put it all into our big stainless steel milking pot.  And I got to squeeze.

After I got it all squeezed out, we set a jar in a bowl and our milk funnel into the jar.  We set a piece of cheese cloth into the funnel and filtered the honey.

 The chunks of wax we'll melt in the sun and filter through cheese cloth.  Maybe mix it with some goat milk for soap???
 From those 4 frames, we ended up with just shy of a gallon of honey.  Its a bit thin, but experts say to set the capped frames in a dehumidified room for a few days before extracting.  Bees can't bring the water content down in Florida humidity.  We skipped this step.  We're fine with runny-ish honey.  In China, it was water thin... but then again, it really is precious little more than water at their own doing.
Our next adventure of the day dealt with this new toy... a Nutrimill grain mill!  I've been wanting an electric grain mill for years.  I finally got to order one and it arrived late this week.  I already had some wheat berries given that I used to occasionally pull out the hand-crank mill and let Husbandman crank it shirtless for my own amusement, but it really didn't produce fine enough flour for nice breads.  But today, Husbandman stayed fully clothed, the kids ran to a bedroom and shut the door against the noise and I listened to the hum of nutrition bursting from tiny little grains.

 A couple hours later (and a bit of our own honey in the recipe), I had these beauties.  It tastes good.  I'm a bit of a novice to the various types of wheat and all the recipes so I have lots of reading to do, but I'm sure the nice folks at Bread Beckers will be happy to supply me with all my knowledge and material needs.
Here are the boys, licking the dregs of honey from a bowl lid with a slice of freshly baked bread in hand.  Though the meal was light on veggies, I thought bread, honey and fresh goat milk made for a mighty fine supper.  They thought so too.

Friday, June 3, 2011


So, let's rehash some history.  We've been collecting other people's cast off pet bunnies.  That's how we came by both Mona and Brownie.  Both were "girl bunnies".  We bred Mona to the "boy bunny" down the street.  It didn't end well, but it did varify that Mona is still in bunny bearing years and not older than... well, our oldest son.

Last week we decided to give Brownie her round with the buck.  We took her over.  Brownie's previous owners were over so, yes, we made quite a spectacle of it all.  Except, it really wasn't going well.  Brownie wouldn't hold still for Steve (the confirmed "boy bunny") and they even swapped places a few times.  We sat there scratching our heads for a bit then when biting started taking place we quickly removed Brownie and headed home.  The astro-physics major who lives next door suggested comparing the 2 bunnies' nether regions.  Yes, at least 2 head smacks were heard all over the street. 

Uh... Brownie looks just like Steve.  We took him/her home and put Mona with him/her.  The gender was immediately varified.  Brownie wasted no time and did a grunt and roll that could rival the biggest polygamists. 

So now we have Mona pregnant again.  And Brownie, for a buck, is literally half the size he should be for good meat rabbit breeding stock.  So we will still need to acquire new stock when we finally get this rabbit operation moving.  But I think Brownie will stick around.  He's actually much nicer than Mona.  I'd rather have the kids play with him instead so if we can only keep 1 cute little fluff-ball, it will be him. 

Breaking the change-of-gender news to the farm girl wasn't easy.  She looked heart-broken.  Then she went outside and said that Brownie still had really long eyelashes so that means he's still a girl.  Sorry, sweetie, Brownie's just a very pretty boy bunny.  She's gotten used to the idea now.  She actually tells people that he "used to be a girl bunny."  We haven't tried to correct her.  That's a can of worms better left unopened by the 5 yr old brain.

Bella and Zuma

 Meet the newest additions.  This little nubian is Bella (I know we already had a Bella, but hey, we like the name).  She's a 1 year old doe with good genetics and very sweet disposition.  She's a bit skinnier than we were expecting so we're taking this month to condition her and we'll breed her to Copper at the beginning of July.  She's our replacement for Doby and our means of milk through the winter.  She'll kid in Nov/Dec.  Dulci will kid in Feb/Mar and Helen in June/July.  Milk flowing all year and Helen still gets her nice long vacation.
 Bella's a quick study too.  After only 1 day of leading her to the milking table, she knows right where to go and the patches of nicest leaves when she's finished with her grain.  Like the other goats, she doesn't much care for tethering.  She doesn't like to be away from the other goats, even if it is so she can have the best forage without competition.  I guess most anorexics do it for social reasons, right?
And this is Zuma.  She's a Suffolk/Hampshire cross ewe.  She's 5 years old.  Her previous owner was a local middle school student and wasn't going to be able to continue taking care of her as she went on to high school.  Zuma has been bred twice before and gave twins both times.  She's a good bit bigger than our Khatadin sheep.  The twinning genetics and the size hopefully coupled with Valentino's fast growing genetics and we have a winning combination.  Zuma is also very sweet and tame.  When she first arrived, she was scared and rather scary.  The other animals ran when she came near.  Now, they're exercising the we-were-here-first attitude and shoos her off the hay until they're done.  We're working on keeping a collar on her and we'll soon tether her as well, but I want her to get used to us first.  Scared animals are dangerous animals.

And meet our Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars.  There were 10 of these guys on my fennel plants.  They're missing now so I assume they've gone to metamorphosize.  I hope so.  Farm Girl would love to see a host of swallowtail butterflies dancing outside our living room window.  And thankfully she's not skillful enough with her net to catch too many either.