Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Morning

Every morning after feeding the animals and milking the cow, I take a little walk around the farm.  Probably most gardeners and farmers have this habit, to see what's blooming, make sure all the animals and plants are looking healthy, and note what is calling out to be harvested, weeded,  repaired or accomplished.  I usually have camera in hand because I especially like the glowing morning light and vivid colors for photos.
The turkeys are getting quite large and beginning to  develop their snoods and wattles.  The males are just starting to get their fancy tail feathers and often puff up and display.  Even though this batch of turkeys has been handled much less frequently than turkeys in previous years, they are still curious and friendly and come running whenever they see me (the source of all yummy). I love being the pied piper of poultry.
The cows asked to go into the front yard today, so I opened the gates to guide them across the driveway and along the garden (protected by temporary electric fence) to the yard. This takes a while because apparently there is the most irresistible grass growing along this path.
The front yard has large ash trees, good for shade and head-scratching.  Like mother like son: while Lariat scratched her head on the tree, her calf scratched his head on a stick.
Next, check out the gardens.  This is  the chard I planted last September in the high tunnel, harvested all winter, transplanted to the garden last spring, still providing greens for us and the CSA boxes!  I keep beheading them so they don't go to seed.
The Romanesco was attacked by white cabbage butterfly caterpillars. I resorted to sprinkling a bit of bacillus thuringiensis on them and the other cabbage family crops and they are rebounding.
Had to be sure take a photo of an open squash blossom for a farm FB friend who requested an image for a tattoo design.  In the morning, every squash blossom has a honeybee or two working inside it.
Tomatillos are ready to harvest for salsa. I intended to plant some, but got several volunteers which I let grow instead.
So maybe they are a bit tacky, but I just love garden gnomes. I recently found this cute gnome reading about about plants at a thrift store and yesterday I gave him a spot on the little porch of the garden shed.
Chain link fences are not so pretty, but I appreciate how they keep the pests out of the garden and the livestock in the pasture.  And this time of year they do look kind of appealing with grapevines and scarlet runner beans clambering over them.
Cadence planted borage by the granary  several years ago and it self-sows crazily every year.  Th e small blue flowers taste sort of like watermelon and are delightful garnishing iced beverages or salad.
A large magenta spider flower (cleome) in the outside garden...
and a large  Black-and-Yellow Argiope garden spider residing in my tomatoes inside the high tunnel.  I don't mind her in there, but her huge web will make it tricky to harvest some of my tomatoes.
Cocoa relaxing in the roots of  a silver maple.  She is shedding and has oodles of mats from various types of burrs - little does she know that she is destined for a dreaded bath and grooming session later today.
Orange watches lazily as  Poet devours a mouse on the patio. All the cats have already been fed cat food, but this is Poet's  breakfast dessert. She is an amazing mouser, eating at least one per day.

And with that, I better get to work!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kind of Cheesey

Now that my contract job has ended and the garden is in maintenance mode, I  am finding time to makes some cheeses with our milk abundance. We make mozzarella weekly for pizza nights (not to mention ice cream, yogurt, butter and panneer), but I am still a beginner at hard cheeses.
Making cheddar is a putzy process, Here are photos of most of the steps for making a wheel of  Farmhouse Cheddar. First,  two gallons of raw milk are heated to 90F with the 1/4 tsp of mesophilic starter. Then it is left covered to ripen for 45 minutes.
Next, the rennet is stirred in gently with an up and-down-motion. It is left to sit for another 45 minutes while the curd forms.  The curd is sort of like a very firm pudding. Then comes my favorite part: You use a large knife to cut it into 1/2-inch pieces - I cut it into a grid and then slice at an angle.  As you slice, the curd separates cleanly from the whey and you have little pieces floating in yellowish, clear liquid.
The pot of curds and whey is placed in a sink full of hot water and the temperature is gradually raised to 100F. Keep stirring gently. The curds get bit firmer and the proportion of whey increases. The curds are allowed to rest for 5 minutes, then poured into a colander lined with cheesecloth to drain off the whey (the whey can be saved to make ricotta cheese, or fed to the grateful critters.)
The cheesecloth is tied up and the package of curds hung up to drain. I am fortunate to have a pot rack above my stove, so I hang it from the rack and put the pot beneath to catch the drips.  They drain for an hour.
This is my extravagant new cheesemaking tool - a cheese press ordered from Hoegger Supply Co.. The ball of drained curd is broken into walnut-sized pieces, a tablespoon of fine salt mixed in, and then the curds are packed into the cheesecloth-lined press.

The wood cover on top of the  curds is called the  Follower.   I also splurged on the springloaded pressure gauge accessory that allows me to apply pressure without a bulky, precarious system of weightlifting weights that we used in our previous home-made cheese press invention.
After ten minutes the  cheese is carefully removed and  unwrapped.   The  cheese press has squeezed out a lot more whey and the curds are beginning to  form into a wheel. The wheel is turned over, re-wrapped and placed in the press again at 20 lb. pressure for 20 minutes. A third re-wrapping and repressing is done at  50 lbs. for  12  hours.
Here is the beautiful  wheel after the third pressing. Next, the cheese is air-dried on a wooden board for several days, being turned over frequently so it dries evenly and the bottom does not get soggy.
My first two wheels  have now dried enough to form a hard rind. I am experimenting with a new product, cream wax, to coat the new wheels before I cover them with hard cheese wax.  [There is nothing more disappointing than cutting open a wheel of cheese after patiently aging it for months and finding mold inside.] The cream wax is supposed to prevent mold from forming under the wax.

The coated wheels are now in a 50-degree cooler to dry for a few more days before I coat them with the hard red cheese wax.

These photos showed the steps for making Farmhouse Cheddar; which will be ready to eat after just one month aging (August 26th, inscribing it on my calendar). I have also made some traditional cheddar,  which has several more steps and requires three to twelve months to age before eating. In the past we have had a 50% success rate on hard cheeses, but I am hoping with my new, more professional equipment and more practice, our success rate will improve.  After making my own, I realize that paying $8 for a wedge of well- aged, delicious raw cheddar is a real deal!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sopping Wet

Lately, whenever you are outside doing anything more exerting than slumping in a lawn chair in the shade, you are drenched in sweat. It has felt like the tropics (or how I imagine them to be, I haven't actually been to the tropics.)  It was such a relief last night and this morning when instead of the air being saturated with water, it actually rained -- three inches!  All of us farm critters were happy for the overcast sky and the warm drizzle, with the possible exception of the soggy chickens and turkeys.
The pasture is being revitalized from the recent rain with lush, green grass - maybe I can stop feeding hay for a while!
Lindy looks absolutely filthy getting  his shower, the rain creating dirt streaks down his white fur, not to mention the hay crumbs on his head.
The ducks found a low spot in the middle pasture that formed a wonderful, deep puddle.
The seeds we planted mid-summer are going to town. So are the weeds, but it is too wet to be in there weeding.
Yesterday, Chad built a little porch for the garden shed despite the sweltering heat.  It's just big enough to set a chair on for gardening breaks.
A sugar pie pumpkin sprawls near the shed with several pumpkins already showing color.