Thursday, June 30, 2011


Can you imagine anything more pleasurable on a tropically-humid 97-degree day than cleaning manure out of a barn?  That's the kind of day it was today and we mucked the loafing shed, although it was still morning and had only reached about 85 degrees then.

The cows have been spending more time than they should inside the shed, thanks to all the rain we have had and now to avoid flies.  The bedding was saturated and I really needed help to clean it all out - my back  can only shovel poop for a short while and I was losing ground.

Happily, Bethany and Brendan were up for the task.  They even finished up the job after I ended (I encouraged them to stop!)  and went on to finish trellising the tomatoes. We were all very grimy and drenched in sweat after this job. But those two seem to relish the less glamorous aspects of farming as much as the more genteel bread-baking and cheese-making tasks.

I worried about the livestock in this heat all day, even putting the sprinkler on for the cows this afternoon, but they did not elect to run through it. Tonight when the chickens went into the coop they were panting heavily, so I put a box fan on inside. I hauled the broody hen who never comes out of the nesting bucket out and made her drink a sip of water, but she would not eat anything and went straight back to her nest (which has no eggs because we collect them every day.)  It's got to be so hot in that bucket!

Tomorrow is forecast to be another wilting day... a lovely day for baking 52 loaves of bread in a wood-fired oven!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Joys of June

Made in the Shade

Last fall, a wind storm knocked our patio gazebo askew and ripped the canopy to shreds. I could not find a replacement for the same style of gazebo, so I decided I would sew one.
I bought some heavy, waterproof, sun-proof canvas in green, so it would disappear, blending- in with the treetops. But then, as I sewed it, I had misgivings, worried that it would look like an army tent and feel very dark underneath.
I used the reamins of the  old canopy for a pattern, and it went together pretty quickly, despite its unwieldy size.  I got Rog to help me stretch it over the frame --and --it didn't fit!  So dismaying.
Next I purchased a piece of striped canvas to insert a decorative strip down the middle of each side to  give me a bit more fabric. Finally got it done still was too tight to stretch over the frame! This was one of those projects that  simply would not go according to plan.  So, back to the drawing board.
Next, I got another yard of patterned fabric with large starbursts and cut it onto strips.   I slit the sides of the canopy again, right down the center of the stripes, and inserted a strip of  the new fabric.
Success at last!  Sometimes when you have to improvise to resolve a problem the result is better than the original plan. I like the decorative stripes--makes it look much less like an army tent. This little project ended up taking mega-hours and costing nearly as much as it would have to purchase a brand new gazebo, but this  heavy-duty canopy should survive much longer than than the old lightweight one.  I am relieved to have finished it before summer is over! 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Intern Return

We are back to our full complement of interns --Brendan returned yesterday from his family trip to Kauai. He brought us a Hawaiian delicacy- chocolate made in Kauai from locally grown cacao beans.  Yum!

Bethany and Brendan dived right in shortly after arriving home and tackled the garden - weeding and mulching as much as possible without stepping in and compressing the saturated soil.  Brendan was suitably impressed by how much everything had grown in the two weeks he was gone!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Turkey Day (no, not THAT turkey day)

Today our turkeys arrived! Yesterday Bethany and I prepared their space, removing all the old bedding and disinfecting the floors and walls so they don't succumb to any chicken-carried diseases. This morning we went to the Pine Island feed store and picked them up, expecting to get 10 day-old turkeys, but instead we were given quite large poults, probably three or four weeks old.
We  couldn't resist also purchasing two ducklings,  from a batch that were available because nobody had ever picked them up.  They are White Pekin ducks,  raised for both eggs and meat, altho these lucky ducks will not end up as dinner.
We unpacked the new birds and gave them a drink of water with electrolytes added to help them recover from the stress of shipping. The weather is so abnormally cold for June, we turned a heating light on.
We both hung out in the coop for a while watching them adjust to their new home. We wanted to make sure the  turkeys do not pick on the much smaller ducklings, but they seem to be as sweet and gentle as all our previous turkeys have been.
The turkeys are at a rather homely dinosaur-like stage, but the ducklings are irresistibly cute.  I got them to someday be companions to our Black Indian Runner duck, the lone duck of the farm ever since her mate was a victim of the great-horned owl last fall.
Bethany offered to take charge of the  turkeys this summer - so now she is officially the Turkey Tender.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Prairie in June

I braved the woodticks to explore our few acres of prairie this evening and see what's blooming.

Many of the flowers I recognize from  our field where I grew up in northern Minnesota, but I have never known their proper  names. I got out my  Minnesota wildflower guide and have attempted to  identify them for you. I believe this little shaggy, daisy-like flower is Fleabane.
As kids, my sister Bunny and I  called these "popcorn flowers." We would flip our little sister Rita's trike upside down, pluck the flowers and dropped them into the fender of the front tire. Then we made the tire spin by working the trike pedals with our hands and the flowers would fly out like popcorn popping. I now know this plant is actually called Starry Campion.
Earlier this summer we planted 28  Fraser Fir saplings along the north edge of our prairie in three rows, to become both future Christmas trees and a windbreak.  Looks like all but three are thriving and have new growth.
This plant is pretty but rather nasty: Wild Parsnip.  If you brush against the yellow flowers  when they are wet and it is sunny out, you will get  painful, blisters rash that last for months and cause scars.  Last year, our prairie was rife with wild parsnip. It doesn't  look quite so pervasive this summer, so maybe it grows in cycles. We plan to dress in protective clothing and have a few fun work sessions cutting these plants down before they go to seed. On the bright side, we have discovered that the root is edible and tasty--it tastes just like domesticated parsnips from the garden.
All along the trail Rog mowed through the prairie are wild strawberries, at peak of ripeness now,  and I easily gathered a handful to eat. They are so tiny but intensely flavorful - I bet each tiny wild berry has as much flavor packed into it as a big garden strawberry.
Growing amid the strawberries was this flower I did not recognize. It has a square stem indicating it is from the mint family, but no  fragrance.    Looking it up, I was delighted to discover it is called Heal All, used in folk medicine.  I have to investigate more how this plant is used.
I think this must be Yellow Avens, in the geum family and related to a favorite flower, Prairie Smoke.

I love figuring out the identity of the plants growing on our land-- so many more yet to learn!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Early Market Morning

Saturday morning at 6:15 a.m. when Rog and Bethany left for the Farmer's Market, I was up too, staying home to milk the cow and mind the farm store. It was still too early to do those things, so I took a few photos.
The sun hadn't yet risen, but the eastern sky had a glowing band of light at the horizon.
Gourdita the Scarecrow (Bethany named her that because she is a gourd- head) always smiles at the morning.  She has a new outfit this summer - Calvin Klein designer overalls form the thrift store.
Her job is to guard the ripening strawberries
and the gooseberries.
The cows were already intently grazing on the hill.  Only Lindy paid any attention to me, curious about the camera.  He is growing so fast into a handsome little steer!

Rotten Scodger

We had a blast from the past last weekend when our friend Scott showed up for a visit.  Way back in about 1980, Scott and Rog were a singing duo, "Chocolate and Waterman."
We had a great time catching up
and talking music and farms. Rog and Scott made some wood-fired pizzas for dinner
followed by jamming late into the night with a little bonfire on the patio.
It was great fun to hear Rotten Scodger (as we often referred to Scott and Roger) singing and playing guitar together again
and dredging up some of the old songs they probably haven't even thought about in 25 years.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Baking Day

Fridays are our big baking days for the Farmers' Market.  We get a lot of questions about how we  use the wood-fired oven, so today I took some photos of the baking process.

After a fire has been burning in the clay oven for several hours, we remove the fire and clean out all the ashes.  The floor of the oven is fire-brick. The thick walls are insulated with straw and clay to hold the heat.
Our newest, coolest tool is a temperature gun. We have lost many an oven thermometer to the  high temps of the clay oven. This one reads the temperature from outside the oven.
The temperature is being read at the red laser dot -- 660 degrees F is just about  perfect.
The bread loaves are gently  turned out onto the long -handled peel, which has been liberally sprinkled with corn meal so the dough doesn't stick and the loaves will slide easily into the oven.  We bake four types of bread and each variety is scored with a different pattern so we can easily identify the flavor. This is 100% whole wheat.
The first two loaves of whole wheat, ready to go into the oven.
First two loaves in the oven. We can fit 6 to 7 loaves in per firing, and can bake two batches before we lose too much heat and have to  rebuild the fire.
Rog removes a finished loaf. Today we baked 52 loaves of white, whole wheat, multi-grain and rye. This week we will try to remember to  save out a few loaves for ourselves! Last week we sold out early and didn't get any.
The bounty of beautiful bread baked today. Bethany gets the credit for doing most of the baking today-- Great work, Bethany!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Full Moon Baking

It was a hard-working, productive day: Bethany and I worked in the garden, trellising the peas and fencing the the raspberries behind wire. We took a noon break and went to the Thursday street market for lunch, then came home and got back to work. After supper, the really serious work got underway in the barn.
Rog and Bethany kneaded the four types of sourdough that have been fed and rising since yesterday, and formed loaves to bake tomorrow for the Farmers Market.
Kneading so much dough builds strong muscles.
The loaves are wrapped in floured cloths inside baskets to proof overnight.
Rog also started a fire in the  clay oven to preheat it overnight.
While Rog and Bethany prepared bread dough, I mowed the lawn, fed the chickens and milked the cow.  Then we all caught the gorgeous orange moonrise on the horizon, one day past full.
You can't see them in the photo, but fireflies were putting on a light show  as the moon rose, flickering in the pasture and garden.
Is any time so precious as a warm summer night in June in Minnesota?