Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bloomin' Lovely

There's too much work to do and not enough time to blog much lately, so I have missed  posting  photos of the progress of spring and of the garden.  Suffice it to say, it has been a glorious spring!

Here are a few shots of current  blossoms.

Duckalicious Nasturtiums--this year I  planted them in a tall urn so the ducks and chickens won't devour them (they are apparently aptly named).
Centaurea, in a little  perennial bed under the windmill.

Geranium, next to the Centaurea.  (A mostly blue theme going on here, with forget-me-nots, borage...)
Drumstick alliums out in the veggie garden. I LOVE  these, but they are about done for the year.
Peony, tentatively opening one petal yesterday--I expect full  blossoms today.
OK, I am back again.
I just went out to photograph that same peony bud this morning and here it is--Actually, today the bush is covered with  fragrant, open blooms.
Cadence has a spectacular ruffly iris in her new perennial bed project by the granary.
One bleeding heart still looks pretty good.
Way back  at Easter I got  two big pots of begonias to flank the front door. It was too sunny for them there, so I moved them next to the chicken coop--I love how they look next to the red barnwood. I hope chickens don't find begonias as tasty  as they do nasturtiums.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hens and Chicks

Last Thursday the phone rang at 6 a.m.  It was the  Oronoco Post Office letting us know our chicks had arrived - could we please come and get them?

We had ordered 50 Freedom Rangers and 15 French Guineas from J.M. Hatchery in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Both breeds are part of Label Rouge, a French program that approves heritage breeds raised in traditional farming methods and which are supposed to have exceptional taste. We learned about these chickens from our friend Judy, who heard about them on "The Splendid Table." (I don't know why they are called "Freedom Rangers" - perhaps that name  was applied when they started calling French fries "freedom fries"?)
Guinea fowl chicks are called keets.  We only want a pair because they are supposed to be excellent at reducing the tick population -- our dogs have had way too many ticks this year.   A couple of our chicken customers have inquired about purchasing guinea hens (for dinner) and the minimum order is 15 keets, so we plan to sell or  eat the rest.   
As I was readying the chicken coop the  new chicks, Cadence headed to the barn to milk LaFonda.  She heard  peeping inside and discovered a suprise batch of chicks! One of our Buff Orpington hens had secreted a nest in a dark corner of the barn.  Ultimately, nine chicks hatched. The hen scarcely moved for three days, calling the exploring chicks to  snuggle under her puffed out feathers whenever we approached, and purring happily.
This morning, Mom led her chicks outside to learn how to scratch around the compost pile for  bugs and goodies.  We rescued one runty little chick, much smaller than the others  and unable to keep up and put him in the infirmary -  a big box in my office that has been housing another runty keet and three mail order chicks who had been picked on by the others. He keeps trying to  snuggle under the other chicks. He is so tiny and still not eating, so I don't know if he will make it.
Other new hens and chicks on the farm include this plant I bought at a neighbor's garage sale and planted in a dish garden
and this clay chicken planter I found at Salvation Army. I filled it with pansies  from my friend Cindy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Toodle-oo, Toulouses

The geese are gone.  We stumbled across someone looking for 3 Toulouse geese and we nabbed the opportunity to give them a more appreciative home. 

It is kind of quiet without these characters--they had a very large presence on our farm.   I loved their pompous self-importance and their obsessive curiosity.  They were so picturesque walking around the farm.  And I loved their constant chattering amongst themselves.

On the other hand, they thought they were the bosses of all creatures on the farm, including us farmers.  Last summer they were sweet, but as  full-grown adults they had become obnoxious and sneaky. They waited until you were preoccupied or indisposed and then ganged up on you. For instance, you have an armload of eggs and they won't let you out of the chicken coop. You have an armload of hay and they won't let you out of the barn. You are milking the cow and they sneak up and bite you on the behind. You are hauling out the recycling and they bite you on the shins. They don't have teeth- their bites are actually more like pinches, but strong pinches, that leave a significant bruise.

I had read and tried different strategies for training geese, trying to figure out how to  tame them, or at least get their respect.  If you  shooed or kicked them away, that  just made them more fierce. Usually it worked to act like a bigger, meaner goose, raising your wings, looming over them and  hissing loudly -not practical if you are carrying buckets of milk or baskets of laundry. They didn't really like to be confined, so if you picked one up and  held it in your arms, if would then leave you alone for a while--but the problem was there were three geese, and when you picked up one, the other two would take the opportunity to get you.  The dogs were no help--they weren't going anywhere near those scary things.

All of us found ourselves trying to outwit or avoid being seen by the geese. Sometimes you had to take the long way around the barn --or hide in the shed.  Everything took three times longer than it should. 
So, life is much calmer, quieter and more peaceful now.  But I feel a bit wistful -- I do miss them. I hope the new  owners are coping with their bossiness - at least they are experienced goose-owners and knew what to expect. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cow Knowledge

In the matter of dairy cows, we are on a steep learning curve.  We have learned a lot since getting LaFonda a week and a half ago, but  have a l-o-n-g way to go before we really know what we are doing.

It still takes me nearly an hour to milk her (I milk in the evening, Cadence in the morning.) It is a sweet, meditative time, though, bonding with my contentedly munching cow. She likes it when I sing while I milk, especially when I  make up admiring songs about her.

Rog could not resist the allure of milking her and even though he had forewarned us that the cow was not his project, he decided to try it. He is a natural - his guitar-playing hands are strong and gentle. It also turned out that his milking skill is invaluable--he took over  several days last week when I seriously sprained my knee and ended up in one of those knee-immobilizer braces that force your leg to be straight.  That makes for tricky milking, because if you stick your outstretched leg under the cow, she might step on it, so I had to stick it our sideways and twist around--very bad ergonomics.  (Thanks, Rog.)
All our other cows are pastured and eat grass, but share a cup or two of whole corn each day as a treat.  LaFonda gets a bucket of corn and a bit of hay to munch while she is being milked, but it turns out she does not like whole corn, only cracked. So, last weekend when we ran out of cracked corn I had to hand-grind a bucket-ful of corn in the mortar and pestle for her. The things you do for love!

We are now discovering the more subtle details of cow-milking: The first milk you get is mostly milk, and toward the end of the milking it is much creamier -you can tell when you are almost done by the whiteness and thickness of the milk  running down the side of the bucket.  The stream of milk hitting the steel pail makes the most musical ringing-pinging sound, especially  combined with the rhythm of the squirts. After you finish milking, the udder becomes soft and has slight vertical wrinkles.
I milk LaFonda from her right side because her back left quarter seems to be rather sensitive and if she is going to kick,  it will be with her back left leg.  A few mornings ago,  we noticed a lump on her belly in front of her udder and worried it might be an abscess- perhaps Reuben had tried to nurse from her and jabbed her with his horn? Cadence looked it up on the internet and  learned that  an abscess has to be drained and  then the cow gets an antibiotic. We called a vet who said he could stop over at the end of the day. He arrived after I had finished milking and took a look.
"Is that the  lump you are  worried about?"
"That's her belly button." That will be $40.
I was so embarrassed.
In case you, like me, have never seen or thought about a cow's belly button, here is a photo - it's that  protruding bump in front of her udder. (I wonder if cows can have  either innie or outie belly buttons?)

I am sure the vet had a good laugh later, but he was very kind and assured us she is a very fine, healthy cow.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

House Rules

Animals are not allowed on the sofas. That's the rule. So naturally  yesteday afternoon I found Weasel and Orange snoozing on the loveseat in my office.

And Cocoa and Shamu snoozing on the sofa in the living room.

I guess we don't have a rule for  sleeping on the base of the table. Good dog, Nutmeg.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Milk, Cream, Butter

LaFonda, our patient little  cow, is providing us with about a gallon and a half of milk, morning and night.  We are still pretty slow at hand milking,  and this is plenty of  milk for our needs, so we are  relieved she is not producing much more.

After each milking session, we strain it through a fine sieve and cool it in a large open bowl set inside a large bowl of ice water. As it cools, any cow-y aroma evaporates into the air.  Then we pour it into  clean 2-quart containers. The cream separates to the top and can easily be skimmed off.
Cadence made butter yesterday by simply pouring the cream into jar and shaking it. It takes a while, so she multi-tasked, shaking while reading the paper.  A great arm workout!
Soon, a large lump of butter formed,  floating in the buttermilk.

The buttermilk is poured off  and the butter is creamed in a bowl to press out any remaining buttermilk. Cadence added a pinch of salt.   We spread it on toast made from Rog's sourdough bread--YUM!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


A few minutes ago I was  opening up the  little greenhouse when I heard Reuben mooing in an unusually throaty, deep voice (maybe his voice is changing.) I went over to say hi and was astonished to see - and hear - the  air filled with honey bees. My honeybees! They were swarming!  And Reuben was very nervous being in the middle of them.
When I was working with them last week I was worried about swarming because there were so many bees crowded in there, but I couldn't add a super for them until they had finished their preventative medication treatments for foulbrood and mites.  This cloud of bees meant the new queen was taking her maiden flight. All the other bee were males, hoping to be the lucky mate.
I walked out into the swarm and took this photo looking the other direction.  Then I went into get my cell phone and call my beekeeper friend Jon. He was surprised; he has never heard of bees swarming so early in the year.  Jon said they would next probably find a staging place somewhere and gather in a cluster, before moving into a new home. If I had another set of bee boxes I could hope they would choose to move there, but I  had decided one hive was all I could handle this year so I didn't build another hive. When I returned to the hive after taking to Jon the bees were gone, probably clustered in the woods somewhere. If I  find them I will call the beekeeping club.  The bees would be very docile because they have no  hive to protect yet, and the entire cluster  could easily be gathered up, put in a box, and moved to a  new hive. Somebody would get a nice new colony.
As for my hive, it is significantly depleted of workers but it is early enough in the year that I hope it won't affect honey production too seriously. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

In Which We Learn to Milk a Cow

LaFonda, our family milk cow, arrived yesterday afternoon.

We had  penned her in a grassy yard next to the loafing shed and the other cows were very curious about her.  Reuben climbed way up atop the compost bin to get a better view.

We were advised not to expect much milk last night, because she would be stressed from the journey in the trailer. This morning she was very ready to be milked --bellering for us at 6 a.m.

We were ready, carrying out the shiny new stainless steel bucket for the  two gallons of milk we expected to get. A lot of people might have  taken a lesson in cow- milking  before their cow arrived, but not us. That's what books are for...
We tied LaFonda to a post and washed her udder with very warm water to  stimulate the let-down reflex.  We gave her a bucket of corn to entertain her while she was milked.  She gobbled it enthusiastically.
I thought i would be nervous with my head tucked up to a LaFonda's's hip and right next to her  back leg which could  really kick if she were so inclined, but within moments I felt pretty comfortable being that up close and personal with a cow. LaFonda is a very calm, patient cow, a blessing for such novice milkmaids.
In order to  speed up the process, Cadence and I each took a side. I won't embarrass ourselves by telling you how long it took us, but it was  many times longer than  the 15 minutes it took  Faye, the previous owner to do it  alone.  We must have been  annoying our good-natured cow--twice she kicked over the bucket and  then she stepped into it, so we did not even get any usable milk out of the effort. We did learn a lot, though--especially how to feel when she was going to kick  in time to move the bucket out of the way.

At one point we walked over to our  dairy farm neighbors for  reassurance and advice. They were  in the midst of milking(with  milking equipment) and paused to demonstrate hand-milking technique on their giant Holsteins (which almost seem like a different species of animal from our little cows).  They are so kind and generous sharing their farming expertise, but we suspect we provide them with a great deal of entertainment,  observing our  greenhorn farming attempts.

Because the bucket spilled we don't really know how much milk we got, but we have convinced ourselves it was about two  gallons and we were very proud of ourselves. Afterward,we gave LaFonda a cow cookie and Cadence brushed her. LaFonda is shedding and she loved being brushed. 

Thus ended our first attempt at milking. Milking is a twice a day commitment, so we got to try it again tonight. .. and  faced a whole new set of challenges.  We still haven't ended up with any usable milk  (for people, that is --the dogs are happy.)  We will have another opportunity tomorrow morning...we'll get the  hang of this yet.

Farmers Market 2010 Begins

Saturday was our first Farmers Market day of the year.  It was a slightly brisk, but sunny morning with lots of people shopping the market. Everything went very smoothly, especially considering we haven't done this crazy routine since last September and we are missing one key baker (Sara is off in North Carolina making films).  

Over the past few weeks, Rog and I have been creating a Summer Kitchen in what was formerly a very nice shop in our barn.  We are contemplating making this a full-fledged commercial kitchen, but that will take a big investment and a lot of work. We we have begun  equipping it with NSF-certified commercial equipment, most of which we purchased used from Craigslist and  restaurant auctions.  For ease of cleaning, Rog installed a (nearly) seamless roll off vinyl flooring over the concrete floor before we moved all the equipment  into place. 

Cadence tried making her Cardamom Bread in the summer kitchen using the Hobart mixer, but discovered that dough is a bit soft and sticky for that mixer. (My friend Enid made her darling apron.
Rog greatly appreciates the Hobart mixer for kneading his sourdough breads. Before we got the mixer, it took two or three of us 4 or 5 hours to knead the dough and every surface in our kitchen was covered with flour. Now Rog can accomplish it himself in two hours and none of us have sore shoulders the next day.
Cadence's finished yummy cardamom rolls. Too bad you can't smell the intoxicating aroma.
It was so much fun to reconnect with all the other vendors and our wonderful Farmers Market customers. They must have missed us, too- we were pretty much sold out by 11 a.m.