Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Double Feature

Riverway: one school's approach to real, wholesome food from Sara Nelson on Vimeo.
Our daughter Sara has posted her first documentary film on the web, about a nearby K-12 charter school that has committed to using local foods and food grown by the students themselves in its cafeteria. I love that she has combined her passions for good, healthy food, sustainable farming, alternative education, and film-making in one fell swoop. This film was made using our crummy old family video camera and edited in i-movie -- now that she has a professional camera and editing software, watch for her at the Cannes Film Festival!

Our amazing gardener friend Tom has also posted a new video in which he demonstrates how to prune and train grape vines. He may have missed his calling as a movie star-- he looks a lot like Michael Landon!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More Fowl News

The turkeys are  almost  the size of footballs now- actually, pretty close to the size and shape of Nerf footballs.  They fan out and patrol the lawn for bugs as if they are on a search and rescue mission looking for clues.  They are endearingly and sometimes annoyingly social, running to catch up to you and follow you even when you don't even really want them nearby, such as when you are moving the  cows to a new pasture. They don't seem to have any sense of the  hazards of being trampled by cows or run over by cars or stepped on by farmers.
The week-old chick with two mothers was led outside for the first time today.  The two hens had been nest-sharing, sitting on about a dozen eggs that still hadn't hatched and seemed pretty  hopeless.
This morning, Phyllis Diller, one of my Polish hens, was sitting on their nest. I  don't know if they talked her into it or she just decided to give it a try when they gave up.
We discovered yet another secret egg-laying site when we pulled out a bale of hay this morning. No wonder our daily egg production has gone down!
One more chicken shot--this is one of the two little banty chickens I  impulse-purchased at the feed store a couple months ago because they were such pretty silvery gray chicks. I still think they are very attractive--the other one has a yellow comb. My guess is that they are lavendar d'uccles. Love their feather feet!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Here a Chick, There a Chick, Everywhere a Chick Chick

Yesterday morning  when I  went out to open up the chicken coop, a Buff Orpington hen was crouched in the middle of the yard all puffed up, making funny sounds. I was worried she was sick and went over to check on her--to my surprise,  nine tiny chicks scampered out from beneath her!  Apparently she had been hiding a nest in the barn.    We were surprised she brought her family outside so soon.
All she has to do is make a certain worried, motherly-clucking sound and the chicks nestle in underneath her for warmth or protection.
It was a beautiful day to be a free range chicken.  Mom toured her chicks around the yard and barn and gave them lessons in eating from the chicken feeder and scratching in the dirt. She would demonstrate; they would imitate her.  It is so much more satisfying to see chicks being raised by their mother than watching 50 mail-order chicks chaotically scampering in a pen.
Another hen has been sitting on a nest in the corner of the loafing shed. I have not seen her leave the nest for three weeks. When we checked on her, two tiny chicks peeped out, but there were still a number of unhatched eggs. This morning there were 6 adorable chicks, but still a couple of eggs.  
I realize now that nature must have provided for newly hatched chicks not to have to eat for 3 days (which is why day-old chicks can be mailed) because it may take that long for the entire clutch to hatch, before the mother can leave the nest and lead them to food. 
In addition to these new chicks, we have six  chicks hatched by our first mother Orpington. They are now large enough that she lets them range pretty far from her.  There is yet one more newly-hatched chick in the coop, being raised by a pair of hens who seem to share custody of both him/her and of a nest of still-unhatched eggs. Plus, we have the 50 mail-order Freedom Rangers, who are getting to be  quite large, or at least seem large compared to the new babies.  
We did not intend to raise so many chicks this year, but we are enjoying the chickenful bounty.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Prairie Walk--The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Yesterday  I took the camera on a walk through our little piece of little prairie.  I was happy I had  brought it along when I came to this beautiful specimen of swamp milkweed just beginning to burst  into bloom.
Swamp milkweed is the plant Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on and usually you can find a caterpillar or two feasting under the leaves. I inspected all the leaves but did not see one --yet.   Maybe it is still a bit early. Come to think of it, I haven't seen more than a few monarchs so far this summer.
Last weekend we extended one of the pastures down a corridor to the prairie and let the cows into a big patch of invasive canary reed grass that grows precisely where I envision a pond someday.  The grass was up to their armpits but they chomped it down to the ground in two days.
Our crazy cat, Orange, accompanied  us on the walk. Last week before our family reunion Rog weed-whacked a meandering path around the prairie so we don't have to bushwhack our way through.  Unfortunately, he weed-whacked  the path wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.
There is a lot of tall, healthy wild parsnip growing throughout the prairie (see that tall yellow flower on the edge of the path?) and when it it got  chopped off by the trimmer it splattered its malicous juice all over his bare arms and legs.  Now they are covered with a painful, itchy, ugly rash that is sensitive to light and will last months. It was dismaying to  discover how abundantly the wild parsnip is growing out there. Maybe it is even more urgent to tackle than our other challenging invasive,  buckthorn.
This is the area that Sara and Cadence totally cleared of sumac last  fall, now lush with healthy young sumac.  The predominant species in our prairie seem to be invasives and undesirables-  wild parsnip,  canary reed grass, buckthorn, burdock, honeysuckle, wild parsnip and sumac.  Restoring it to native prairie is going to be a major challenge.
Some interesting galls on the leaves of a tree.
Lots of tiny white pines that we  carefully protected when we burned the prairie last spring are thriving.  They must have seeded themselves from the windbreak.
A bunch of volunteer tomatoes have sprung up in the area where we fed the pigs garden scraps last summer.
Rog planted 8 small hazelnut bushes a few weeks ago at the edge of the prairie - the beginning of his nut orchard.  We mulched them deeply with old straw to buffer them from the onslaught of sumac bushes.  So far it seems to be working and the hazels are looking happy.  It be a few years yet before we are harvesting nuts.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Family Reunion

Last weekend Rog's mom visited from Oregon and his two brothers arrived with their families from San Francisco and Washington, D.C., for a family reunion on the farm. It's the first time we have ALL  been together in 10 years!
We took the weekend off from vending at the Farmers Market, but we couldn't resist going to the market anyway,  as customers.
We mostly hung out at Squash Blossom Farm and did ordinary farm things -  almost everyone tried milking the cow, Jerry and Meredith pulled out buckthorn, Zach gave the riding lawnmower a workout, Annie befriended the turkeys.  Swung on the tire swing,  played horseshoes, picked berries, fed the chickens, walked and biked the trails. We took the Willys out for a spin on the gravel roads.

Rog and Chris set up the volley ball net
and we played badminton and volleyball with finesse.
Rog grilled our last turkey for a Fathers Day feast.  We made  4 kinds of ice cream from our own milk (strawberry,  nectarine, rhubarb, and vanilla choclate chip.)
Stories were told, laughs were laughed, wine was consumed.  Hard to believe our daughters and nieces are already grown up (plenty old enough to  drink wine with dinner!)
The cousins retreated to Cadence's granary to make the dads  funny Fathers Day t-shirts.
The Nelson brothers in their Fathers Day shirts with Mom/Grandma.

What a fun weekend!  I hope it doesn't take 10 years for everyone to return.

June Sunset

Last night's spectacular sunset beamed brilliant orange light into the living room. The sun is about at it's furthest north point of the year now.   I really need to get busy and clean those windows!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wild Mushrooms

This morning when I went out to feed the chickens I noticed that the two huge piles of composting livestock bedding had each sprouted a dense crop of thousands of mushrooms. They were kind of cute, about 6 inches tall, but I don't have a fungi identification book to figure out what kind they were.
Tonight when I returned to feed the chickens their supper there was no sign the mushrooms had ever been there. I doubt the chickens would have eaten them--I suppose they must have just shriveled up during the hot, hot afternoon and been reabsorbed into the compost.

Cheese Whiz

Keeping up  with nearly 4 gallons of milk a day from our generous cow LaFonda is a challenge. But Cadence is always up for a challenge, and has tackled this one by teaching herself to make cheese, using the book "Home Cheesemaking" by Ricki Carroll.
So far, Cadence has made the following cheeses:  Ricotta, Mozzarella, Cheddar, Cream Cheese, Paneer, Queso Fresco, Manchego, Parmesan, Romano.  Making cheese takes the better part of a day, and I haven't followed her through the entire process with my camera, but I have taken  photos of most of the stages - these shots are from different days, different cheeses.
Basically, a culture is added to the milk and it is heated up to a specified temperature, depending on what type of cheese is being made.  All of the types of cheese Cadence has made so far have been from  just two cultures, thermophilic or mesophilic. The temperatures and cycles of heating and cooling, and size of curds determine the type of cheese.
The milk forms a semi-solid mass which is then  cut up into curds (the size again depends upon what type of cheese is being made.)
The whey separates from the curds --at this stage it looks sort of like very large-curd cottage cheese. The whey is drained off (and  usually fed to our very happy chickens.) The cheese curds are formed into a disc shape and placed into the press to squeeze out the remaining whey.
Cadence and her dad devised a simple cheese press using a cylindrical plastic container with drainage holes drilled in the bottom, a length of plastic pipe that just fits inside the container, a metal plate screwed onto a dowel, a small ceramic plate, and some heavy weights. The metal plate pushes down on the cheese, the weights slide on the dowel to  press onto the cheese, and the plastic pipe serves as a spacer for the weights.
The first version of cheese press was too tall and top-heavy and was susceptible to catastrophic crashes.
Cheese Press 2.0 works great.  The entire press  is placed inside a large metal mixing bowl to collect the whey that is pressed out.
After being pressed, the wheel of cheese is then either  brushed with cheese wax or wrapped in cheesecloth, depending upon the  cheese. Some wheels, such as manchego, can be eaten fresh (the manchego has been delicious!)  Cheese that aren't waxed are allowed to dry  enough to form a natural crust.  They are all stored in a  cool, dark place to age. Our current "cheese cave" is an unused bathroom in our cool basement.  If it gets too warm we will move the cheeses to a refrigerator.
At this moment, we have  six large wheels of cheese curing in our "cheese cave." When you open the door you are hit by a wonderful aroma of parmesan!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tame Turkeys

This morning Cadence let her turkeys out loose  in the yard for the first time.  There are 9 of the little darlings  (a little runty one did not make it) and they are a month old.
As soon as they see a person they all come running and follow.
They joined us on the patio this morning while we drank our coffee--something we won't encourage when they get a bit bigger. (Soon they won't be able to squeeze under the fence.)
Then they assisted Cadence while she weeded her garden, snapping up insects and spiders.  Occasionally one gets separated d from the group and  peeps frantically. Keeping track of the  turkeys reminds Cadence of her babysitting days.