Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Intern-al Workings


Saturday after the Farmer’s Market, we said farewell to Jessica, our 3-day-a-week WWOOFer since April.  She is off to experience other farms.  We will definitely miss her! Not to mention,  her meticulous weeding and wonderful baking. The critters, especially the cats, are bereft.
Late Sunday night, our 2011 interns, Bethany and Brendan arrived to spend a work day and do some wedding logistics planning. They awoke at dawn Monday morning to help me round up the meat chickens; it was the day of the dreaded event, the trip to the poultry processor.
Brendan caught the escapee.
Forty two meat chickens and three  additional roosters ready for their last adventure.  These are  Poulet Rouge/Freedom Ranger  chickens, and they have been such amiable and funny birds. They sound like kazoons when they crow, which is especially endearing.  They had become quite large, so will make generous, delicious roast chicken dinners. Even though I  have raised meat birds many times now, I still cried a bit when I delivered them.
While I drove the truckload of chickens to the processor, Bethany and Brendan weeded. It was a hot, sultry day and they took a well-deserved break in the shade of the grapevine. Their wedding (at Squash Blossom Farm!  is just  a month away, and they radiate happiness.
Hey, I saw that.
In the afternoon we sat down and talked wedding details.  So organized, Bethany has a portfolio of planning spreadsheets on Google docs. Everything looks under control so far, It is going to be so much fun.

All day, WWOOFer Lynette worked in the steamy hot kitchen, roasting and then freezing pans of tomatoes and making cheese.  I mowed the yard and pastures and when Rog got home he mowed the trail, where he found this beautiful, perfect giant puffball, which we shall eat tonight. Lynette was delighted - she is a major mushroom fan.



Saturday, August 23, 2014

In a Fog


Despite the sunflowers trying to brighten things up, we have thick fog again this morning.
The air is so heavy, you can’t believe that it can be so wet and not be raining (well, now it is raining.)  Your shoes get sopping squishy walking through the grass to the pasture.
Zinnie and Splotch inviting each other to play.
Now that Splotch is so much bigger and faster, Zinnie is a little more wary and keeps a bit of distance during their chases.
Still so much fun to watch them chase each other around the pasture.
Splotch is becoming  a handsome little steer.
His horns are beginning to grow - two hard little points.
The recent rains are sure welcome for the pasture.
Jitter managed to get a head full of burrs and will need some grooming, either by LaFonda or me.
While I milk LaFonda, Splotch shares his handful of grain with a hen.
Lucy.
Young silver laced wyandotte pullet.
Feeding the hungry catfish in the fish gazebo.
Twice a day when I feed the fish and check the aquaponics filters, I get a handful of yummy alpine strawberries.
Many more berries to come.
This morning, my first nasturtium was blooming in the aquaponics towers--adding welcome vibrancy to this gray day.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dripping Wet Mornings

We have had many heavy rains the past week, and it is warm and humid,  making for moist, misty mornings.
A couple nights ago it rained at least three inches, based on the depth of water in the big wheelbarow.  Not a smart place to have left garden tools.
I discovered a sprouting of mushrooms on the top inside of the  barn door!
Weeds are growing like crazy, and too wet to work in the gardens. Wish they would invent a scarecrow for weeds.
Water melon.
A swimming pool for bees in this squash blossom.
A katydid on this one.
Beautiful okra blossoms abound.
Jessica and Lynette watching the catfish eat breakfast. Don’t push Jessica in, Zinnie!
Hobo having a bad hair day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Painting the Milky Way!

We have a superabundance of fresh cows’ milk, thanks to generous LaFonda. Even though we are milk sharing with her calf (whom I estimate is drinking about 2 gallons per day) we are getting about 4 gallons a day, about 20% of which is cream. Our wonderful WWOOfer Lynette has dived into learning cheesemaking and is making about one small wheel a day - manchego, gouda, romano, parmesan, cheddar and more. (Here she is with two of the hard cheeses she waxed today.) Rog makes weekly mozzarealla and butter, and we enjoy lattes every morning, but we still have a lot of milk to use up. Overwhelming and stressful! But then I had a genius idea...
I am an artist, a painter, and can barely afford paints...my favorite  subjects to paint since becoming a farmer are cows and chickens...milk has been used since at least ancient Egyptian times to make paint...HEY, I should make paint from LaFonda’s milk!  What would be more appropriate than paintings of farm animals from my own cows' milk?

So, I have been doing research on making casein paint. Casein is the predominant protein in milk.  To make casein paint, you  start by making quark, a simple cheese like cottage cheese, made by souring the milk with vinegar.  Then you add hydrated lime, which turns it into a glue-like medium.  Finally, you add pigments and you have paint!
I ordered a sampler set of  French mineral pigments from  Earth Pigments. They told me  they didn’t have the lime, so I purchased it from a local masonry supply, but had to get a 50-pound bag ($8.99), however, when my pigment order arrived, a 6-oz bag of lime was included (for $2.99 - you do the math.) Yesterday while making other cheeses,  Lynette  combined the vinegar and fresh milk and set it in a warm spot to make the Quark for me.  Today it was successfully curds and whey,  The curds are the milk protein pat. I strained out the whey and rinsed the curds with cool water to wash out excess whey.
After  rinsing and draining the curds through three layers of cheesecloth, I dumped them into a bucket to make the paint medium.
I stirred the hydrated lime into the quark, and it immediately turned into a viscous, glue-like liquid. There were still a few small lumps of casein, which we strained through cheesecloth and achieved a perfectly smooth medium.
Tonight I made red ochre, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, titanium white and and pistachio green paints. I mixed equal parts of pigment powder and water to make a “slake”, then stirred the slake into the quark medium, and, Ta Dah! - we have paint!! It is like tempera paint- thin, opaque, matte.  The earthy colors are comparatively muted and it is not flexible, like the acrylic paints I am used to - it must be used on a hard surface, such as wood or canvas board.

I invited Lynette to paint with me. She reluctantly stopped weeding to make art.
We will have to learn the tricks of painting with casein paint. You can over-paint but it has to dry between payers - Lynette is blowing on the  paint to speed up drying.
Lynette’s first casein masterpiece.
My first casein painting - a little cow portrait. I am starting to get a feel for this kind of paint. It makes me very happy!!  The unused milk paint must be refrigerated and only lasts a couple days, so I will be forced to paint intensively (not a bad thing for a born procrastinator.)

Vendors cannot ordinarily sell artwork at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market, but I will be permitted to sell these paintings because they are made from a farm product, our milk. I am curious to find out whether anyone will be interested in purchasing my art at the market!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Milking Lesson

First thing Sunday morning (before 7 a.m.!) Kristin and Lily arrived at the farm to learn to milk LaFonda. These two beauties are longtime friends of our daughter from high school rowing team days. Before they launched into chores and miking, they tied up their hair.
First we fed the chickens.  It’s part of the routine. When LaFonda sees me feeding the chickens she knows milking time is imminent and while I  take care of the poultry, she drinks water, lets Splotch drink his share of milk, and pees so she won’t have to do that in the milking parlor.
Everybody loves crazy Hobo.
I forgot to take photos during the actual milking session, but Kristin and Lily milked both by hand and using the bucket milker. LaFonda was totally calm and patient with them, and they were adept milkmaids.  After milking, they thanked LaFonda,  strained and chilled the milk, and cleaned and sanitized the equipment.
Afterward, we all relaxed on the patio, drinking cappuccino with fresh cream. Rog printed our instructions for making mozzarella and Kristin and Lily took home the morning’s milk for their next adventure, cheese-making. I can't wait to hear how it turned out!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fish Gazebo at Night

We have been working on the fish gazebo the past week, making it more than just a fishery for the aquaponics system. First, we installed a UV filter to clear up the algae  in the water.  You can’t see the bottom, yet, but it has made a significant improvement and the water should get even clearer with time. Next, we added solar-powered rope lights around the top of the gazebo, underwater lights below the dock, and tucked a few solar path lights in the growing bed. It is not quite as bright at night as it appears in this  long-exposure photo, but it is pretty  magical and inviting.
It is the perfect place to watch the moon rise and the fireflies flickering across the pasture. And especially cool when a big catfish silhouette glides across the light in the water.