Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seasons changing and nighttime carnage

Yesterday at sunset as I was bringing the goats up from the lower field, I was shocked to notice the maple leaves are starting to yellow. It seems like summer just started but it will be the first day of autumn in just a few weeks. It is hard to watch summer end but I am looking forward to the fall. It is one of my favorite seasons and after a rush of canning and preserving, it marks the start of a slower time for us. We won't need to be weeding or watering, and we will do less harvesting especially when the Saturday market ends. Egg and milk production will also slow down as we lose light.

We harvested our first pumpkin but as we planted late, our main crop should be ready by Halloween. For some reason Brian really loves pumpkins, so he is really excited to see them growing. Our Roma tomatoes are weighing down our plants, and I have been canning tomato sauce made with our garlic, onions, oregano and basil. I am hoping to can enough for the whole year.

We picked boxes and boxes of apples, pears and asian pears this week. Brian made a solar food dryer following directions from this book. I can dry apples in about 12 hours on a sunny day. I use a hand crank apple peeler/slicer/corer so it goes fast. I have also been drying pears and asian pears. Dried asian pears are my favorite. I love asian pears fresh, but they are kind of watery and insipid. When dried, all the sugars crystalize and it gets all chewy, almost like candy.

This week we will also try to can applesauce, apple butter, pear butter, and apple jelly. Also we will be getting out our cider press and making apple cider; sweet and fresh for the kids, and start fermenting hard cider for us. Last year I made some nice pear and crab apple hard cider, but Brian accidentally dropped the 5 gallon carboy (glass jug used in beer and winer making) so we lost most of it. This year I am determined to get a good amount.

Our concord grapes are ripening up; several times a day I see the kids grazing on the fat, purple grapes. What they leave behind I am making into grape jelly. We also picked some for the market booth. The blackberries are getting big and sweet. We have a good patch by our gate and every time we open or close it we take a minute to eat some. Even the dog has been snacking as we go on our evening walk! Our "Autumn Bliss" and "Fall Gold" raspberries are also coming on nicely, although with three kids constantly in the raspberry patch, I don't know if we will have enough for jam. I think we need to expand the raspberries because the are a big favorite.

Brian has been hard at work mucking out the goat house. It is strenuous work but oddly satisfying. It is fun to watch the huge pile of manure and straw get bigger and steam in the mornings as in composts down. When it is finished breaking down we will have amazing compost for our gardens and fields.

Our pigs are ready for pick-up so look for a post and photos this week!

A few nights ago our dog alerted us to sounds coming from the chicken coop. We ran out to find carnage; 5 chickens dead or mortally wounded, and several ducks and ducklings dead or missing, including the mama of a clutch of new ducklings. We think several raccoons got in and killed them in just a few minutes. It was about 2 am so we rounded up the living and locked them in, and decided to deal with clean up when it got light. At some point the raccoons came back and grabbed a few of the dead poultry, but left most of the carcasses behind. The swiftness, waste and brutality of it was pretty shocking, and Brian took it as a personal attack. He tracked the raccoons through the woods following feathers and scat, but we havn't actually seen them. This was the first real predator problem we have encountered. So now we are serious about locking down tight at night, rounding up all the straggling duck we can find, and running outside whenever the dog starts barking in the middle of the night, but I am guessing the raccoons have enough meat to last a while so they probably won't be back too soon. I hope.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer is already starting to wind down for us. Brian goes back to school on Monday (his off-farm job is a middle school music teacher). He loves teaching and looks forward to it, but it is always hard for him not to be able to work on our land all day. We have two more markets left; there isn't going to be a market on labor day. Our crops are still producing like crazy, so we are working out a weekly produce drop. Also, we may be doing a once a month indoor market as well. Keep checking the blog or email for more info.

Earlier this week we took the kids to the coast to visit the aquarium, play on the beach, explore tide pools, and buy some yummy crab. It was lots of fun, although nerve-racking when the kids were wading in the waves! It is such a blessing to live just an hour or two from the coast.
I haven't been doing as much baking this summer, but I have been making no-knead, dutch oven bread. You can find the recipe here. It is so fast and easy, and impresses guests. By cooking it in dutch oven or other heavy duty covered pot, it seals in the moisture and heat to make perfect artisan bread. The dutch oven we use came from Brian's great grandfather, who mined for gold and lived in a tiny cabin in Southern Oregon. I feel in touch with our family's history ever time I use it. When we first got our dutch oven cast iron pot, it was rusty and neglected. But we did lots of scrubbing and curing and now I use it often for roasting chicken and veggies, cooking in my solar oven, or baking bread.

Brian finished the chicken tractor and we have three of our hens in it digging up the soil, eating weeds and bugs, and fertilizing in between rows of vegetables. I picked a few of our hens that seemed to be either getting picked on by other hens or getting too much attention from our rooster. We have also put been putting our goats in the lower field and they are getting
to work munching thistles.

We are still planting for the winter gardens and I am try to plan what I would like to plant for the rest of this year: cover crops, garlic, fava beans, etc. We are also starting to get ideas about what to grow next year. We are looking at what worked this year, what didn't sell, what we sold out of, and what gaps we had in availability. If you have any ideas or there is something special you would like us to grow for you, let us know! We would love some input.

This year was really done "by the seat of our pants"; we basically just grew what we normally grow and brought the excess to the market. Items we thought would sell really well didn't (lettuce, radishes) but items I didn't anticipate selling a lot of always sell out (onions, eggplant). So we are planning with that information in mind. Although, next year's market may be totally different. One of our biggest questions is whether or not to increase the size of our flock. Right now we have 20 chickens and when we sell out of eggs we end up just barely covering our feed costs, and not covering the labor involved. The eggs are fun, and people seem to really like them, but we aren't sure how cost effective they are. I now know why people charge so much for eggs at the larger farmer's markets. We hope to see you all at the last markets; we will keep updating the blog and have items (fall produce, honey, goats milk soap, salves, etc) available all fall and into the winter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


We harvested our honey yesterday. The kids were so excited, they spent the afternoon chewing on honey-filled beeswax. Brian suited up with gloves, boots and a bee veil and opened the hives. Usually when he works with the hives he doesn't wear any protective gear; but when we harvest honey the bees get more aggressive. He goes through the hive frame by frame, brushing off the bees and brings the (hopefully) bee free frames inside. We leave the lower supers (hive boxes with frames for bees to keep honey and raise larva) on the hives for the bees winter supply of honey.

Once we bring the frames inside we heat up our uncapping knife and remove the wax cappings off the comb. The we put frames in our manual extractor and crank it to spin out the honey. Then we strain the honey to remove any wax but never pasteurize. The honey we sell is raw so you get all the good enzymes and pollen, and a more complex taste than store bought honey. We then drain the honey off the beewax cappings, melt the wax and strain it, and then the beewax is ready for use in salves and candles. It is lots of work but the yield is well worth it.

We will be selling some of our honey by the half pint starting next Saturday. We only have a limited supply (we keep a large portion of our honey for our own yearly supply) so if you want to buy some, come early! We also have our soothing salve made from our own beeswax and herbs grown or wildcrafted on our farm. In the coming markets we will also have some handmade beeswax candles, so keep your eye out for them!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In a Rut

The pig house is done! Now we just need our piggies. We have lots of new seedlings coming up so it looks good for the fall/winter gardens. With all the rain the tomatoes have slowed their ripening a little, and we had a few split. But we still had a good harvest for Saturday's market, as well as eggplant and cucumbers. The rain seemed to give our pumpkins a boost and gave the forest a much needed drink. You could see the change in the leaves the last few days; they seem greener and more open. We got two loads of wood chips from some neighbors; I am so excited by my huge pile. I use them for mulching around trees and perennials, for paths and for animal bedding. Our 7 year old (with the broken arm) just got a new cast made from a material from Gore-tex, which he can get wet and even swim in. It is lime green and he is thrilled.

On top of our piano in our living space, Brian has a huge stack of books that he reads every morning while drinking coffee, and sometimes during his rare breaks throughout the day. Right now he is reading: Eliot Coleman's New Organic Grower and Four-Season Harvest, Michael Ableman's From the Good Earth and On Good Land, Steve Soloman's Growing Vegatables West of the Cascades and Gardening When It Counts, to name a few. He is trying to learn as much as he can so we can grow more and better organic (not certified) food. He is also in touch with Oregon Tilth to see about getting ourselves certified. The way we grow our crops is inline with the standards, we just need to pay the fee and keep records about what we do and when.

Saturday mornings are always hard because we have to get up early to load up and head to the market. Brian loads the truck while I feed, water and milk the animals, and then we have to get three sleepy kids awake, dressed and loaded in the truck with something to eat. This morning our buck had snuck out of his rather secure fence and was at the gate to the girl goats. August is usually when the does (female goats) start to go into heat and the bucks (male goats) go into rut. Bucks are normally somewhat stinky and obnoxious, but when they are in rut they are over the top. Fences have a hard time holding them, they get more aggressive, they flap their tongues and flare their lips, and they spray urine all over their faces and legs. Seriously. So I had lots of fun this morning wrestling him back in his pen with his wether (castrated male goat) buddy. Goats are social animals and shouldn't be kept alone, so we have a wether as a non-stinky, non-aggressive companion for him. If he was with the does, he would make the milk taste "bucky" and we wouldn't be able to control the timing of their pregnancies. I really hope I don't smell like a buck today.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Brian has been working on the pig house this week, and we had some nice rain last night. I am thrilled because I have just planted seeds so the moisture will help them germinate. Lots of tomatoes are ripening and we should have some nice eggplant for Saturday's market. We have another duck on a clutch of eggs, so more ducklings should come marching out soon, and we mated one of our Nubian goats so if all goes well we should have some new kids in about 5 months. We have started to think about what we want to do for the market next year, so any input would be appreciated. If you have any ideas or want us to grow something special, please let us know!

Saturday, August 8, 2009


With the cooler temperatures it has been really nice working outdoors. We are getting new beds ready for the winter garden. I will be planting peas, turnips, beets, greens, and more cabbage. The fall crops I planted earlier are coming up well. Hopefully we will be harvesting honey in the next week or two, so be on the lookout at the market for it. If you have never tried real raw honey, you will be amazed!
We have been researching the best way to proceed with the Canada thistles on the property, and looking at the research online how to address them organically. Their roots can go down 4 feet, and any piece left will continue to grow. If you pull them up and dry them, they can still resprout, and even herbicides will not kill them for good unless you use 24-D (yikes!). Some organic methods include lots of repeat tilling and use of cover crops. You may see improvement in three years! We have kept them relatively under control in our gardens by hand pulling, but we are looking for more efficient methods in our larger growing areas. We are interested in cover crops to smother the thistles but don't want to do lots of tilling because of cost and concerns about soil health. So we have decided to use the goats more intensively for thistle control, along with the chicken tractor. Brian has been building fences and goat shelters in our growing areas this week. We also decided to get two piglets, which will arrive in September, so Brian has been figuring out how to house and fence them. We hope to use them for tilling, and we are all very excited. We will post updates as they come.
Brian has been laying tile in the kitchen with recycled tile from The Rebuilding Center. It is way nicer to walk on and looks great, but now I think I will have to do more mopping! I have been doing more plaster as usual.
I am still trying to balance the house building with animals and gardening and mothering, but everything is being taken care of, albeit imperfectly. I am also trying to maintain the gratitude I feel for the life I am living, even when the work is overwhelming. I have a lot to be grateful for. In the evenings I take our dog up the ridge behind our house and from the top I watch some amazing fiery sunsets to the west in the coast range, and some beautiful, yellow, full-moonrises in the east over the Cascades. I love watching the plants grow and ripen, especially the fruit trees. This year we will get lots of apples, asian pears, european pears and even some peaches! Being with all the animals is amazing, although challenging at times. The goats are so smart and full of personality, but they can be really stubborn! Our children are so wonderful and full of life, and we have a great, supportive extended family we see often. We are able to grow the majority of our food and sell the excess in the community.
Often when I tell people about what we are doing: strawbale house, solar power, small organic farm... the comment is "That's always been our dream!" I feel like telling them there are times it feels very difficult. I think about hand pumping our water, spending a winter in an uninsulated space heated only by a woodstoove, having to pull a stuck kid from a momma goat, or dealing with the hundreds of small crises that seem to arise in daily homestead life (our 7 year old broke his wrist this week!) But also I am struck by how great it is that we had this vision for how we want to live our life and how lucky we are to be working towards it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August Is Upon Us

Well, we survived the recent high temperatures. We had to keep checking the animals' water and use lots of water for the plants. Some of the young alders and cottonwoods on the property look a little fried. The kids spent more time than usual indoors and lots of time in their little pool. Some wonderful friends came over to help with hanging sheet-rock and plastering the house, and we had a great dinner together. The heat seemed to really ripen up the garden, and now we have loads of cucumbers, squash, zucchini and tomatoes coming in. My daughter and I picked lots of blueberries and planned to put up lots of blueberry jam, but I didn't want to heat up the house by canning so we ending up eating them fresh. Eventually we want to have an outdoor kitchen under our covered porch, so I can cook and can on hot days without roasting us. We will pick more when it is cooler and try again. Also, the blackberries are getting closer to being ripe and we hope to pick a bunch for jam. I also will be making some sauerkraut in the next week or two. We had a great market Saturday; it was fun for Brian to see repeat customers as well as meeting new ones. We should have the usual produce next week as well as more lemon cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and eggplant. We have been making soap to keep up with demand, and we are working on a new rose scented soap. Look for it in a few weeks!