Showing posts with label farm life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label farm life. Show all posts

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Butter Production on the Farmstead

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Often times the only thought of dairy products on people's minds is fluid milk, and with a weight conscious society, butter is frequently overlooked.  I happen to think though, that good fat is what's missing in many people's diets.  Enter the family cow, a real workhorse for the farmstead if you have adequate land and pasture to support a bovine.  Milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are all delicious and are necessary items for the home kitchen.

If you're reading this blog I am probably preaching to the choir, so I'll just run through my butter making scheme to give you a general idea of what is possible for stocking the home larder with butter.

Jane is raising her calf in addition to providing enough milk for the house.  A purebred Guernsey, she is currently giving about 6 gallons of milk each day.  Two plus for the calf, and four gallons for the house.  As the calf grows larger it will drink more to support its growth and we will take less. 

I milk twice a day, and strain the milk into wide mouth gallon jars with the idea in mind that I will be skimming the cream for butter.  It takes about 24 hours for the cream to rise completely, so I skim the cream from the milk after that time, and when I am going to make butter.  The real method to my madness (and it is madness this time of year) is to make as much butter with early lactation cream as I can and store it for later.  I freeze my butter, but you could also make ghee if you don't want to use electricity to store your butter.  Why early lactation you ask?  Because I am a lazy churner, and during the early lactation period the fat globules are larger and it churns faster.  Of course, Mother Nature designed this to benefit the calf, but anytime I can hop aboard the lazy train and make hand churned butter in 7 - 10 minutes I do it!  So I churn to beat the band in the first three months and about the time I have a good amount of butter stocked up, and the calf is needing more milk, the fat globules are getting smaller and the butter takes longer to come.  Sure, I could buy an electric churn and who would care how long it took to get butter, but also the urgency to stockpile is part of our genetic make-up and I am harvesting sunlight after all.  That means I have to behave in a seasonal manner and stock up on the bounty when there is truly a bounty, not a faux bounty that the store bought mentality has given us.

Fitting butter churning into an already busy farm schedule takes some planning, and is dictated by the amount of milk in the fridge.  I can only store so much milk, and I only have so much time.  It doesn't take any longer to churn two pounds of butter than it does one, so I go with my two gallon churn and churn every other day, rather than use a smaller churn and make butter every day.  That works out the best for me.  It's half the cleanup too, which is where the largest portion of my time is spent when I say I spend and hour and a half a day "milking" the cow.  The actual milking, "pails" in comparison time-wise to the milk handling and processing. 

I skim the cream into squatty wide mouth half gallon jars that I have just for cream.  With hand skimming, it takes about 4 gallons of milk to yield a half gallon of cream, mileage may vary depending on the cow, stage of lactation and your hand skimming skill.  To keep from exposing the milk to bacteria over and over, I wait until a few hours before I am going to churn to skim, and I skim all the jars at the same time.  The cream needs to be at about 60 degrees F to churn fast, much colder it becomes grainy  - much warmer and it is greasy.  I know that sounds funny, but butter has lots of similarities to dough and all its quirks, once you see and feel these subtle differences you'll know what I mean.  After skimming, I leave the milk to reach room temperature or 60 degrees and then I have a little leeway to do other chores or fit in churning while fixing dinner.

After churning the butter needs to be washed and worked thoroughly to get out all the buttermilk, this is very important for longer storage.  Adding salt at this time is a personal preference, I have never found that it makes much difference in the keeping quality.

To figure out how much butter I need for the year, I use my loose 52 week plan I keep in mind when I am canning.  How much butter do you use per week?  One pound, three pounds?  Multiply that figure by 52 and see what you get. We fall somewhere in between that number, and luckily that works out to be an attainable goal for the resident butter maker.  At this point I am getting about a pound a day, so if I can keep up that pace, in four months time and when the sunlight is starting to fade I can have 120 pounds of butter stored up, maybe. 

So there you have it, from 4 gallons of milk, you get 1/2 gallon of cream, which magically turns into a pound of butter and a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk.  Plus you still have almost the 4 gallons of milk that is perfect for cheese of some sort, or clabbering for hens and hogs.  And after all that there is gallons of whey too.  The family cow, the true workhorse of the farmstead :)

Jane Butterfield

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Annual Chick List

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's that time of year again - chicks have been ordered and are arriving any time now.  I know lots of you are old hands at raising chicks, but new readers stop in, so this post may be a refresher, or a good list to have on hand.

My Chick List is as follows:

Chick starter.
Boiled eggs for an extra nutritional boost.
Number 1 grit.
Carbo Vegatabilis homeopathic just in case there are shipping problems.

Wash and sanitize feeders and waterers, and make sure they work!
Inspect heat lamps, have extra on hand.

I make sure the brooder is well bedded, well-rested, and all my supplies are in place, so when the chicks arrive at the post office I am ready for them.

If you're new to raising baby poultry, you're going to be mama, so it's up to you to make sure your brooding area is clean, warm, draft-free, and predator proof.

In addition, heat lamps are a somewhat dangerous way to provide heat, necessary, but caution needs to be exercised.  Many barn and garage fires have resulted from poorly installed heat lamps.  The most dangerous, I think, are the clamp on type.  Sockets for heat lamps can be installed in chick hovers, or you can make sure your lamps are hung securely so there is no chance the hot bulbs can come in touch with the bedding.

Chicks need 90F degree temperatures the first week, and turkey poults need 95F degree temperatures the first week, so any attempt to treat them the same results in too high of temperatures for the chicks and too low for the turkeys.  And ducks fall in somewhere in between those temperatures. 

Let the chicks and their behavior be your guide instead of a thermometer.  If the chicks are huddled under the lights, they are too cold, if they are huddled away from the lights, the heat is too intense.  If they are running about or taking naps you probably have everything just right.  Make adjustments as needed - raise or lower lights, add lights, or turn off a light, check for drafts. 

My rule of thumb is if the chick dies within 72 hours of hatching, it is the hatchery or weak chicks fault, after that I figure it's my fault and I do my trouble-shooting to ascertain the problem so I can make corrections.  The goal is low mortality - if you have high mortality - figure it out and don't blame the chicks.

Raising your own poultry is a rewarding experience and gets easier the more you do it - Happy Chick Raising!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Raising Calves

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

New babies are always exciting!  We have had calves born here on the farm (Wags and Mimi) and calves we've brought here and fostered onto Lucy (Honey and Poppy).  We've never raised calves ourselves though, Lucy has always helped.  You can read lots about our journey with a house cow and calves throughout the co-op blog and here.

Today a new little guy arrived - Red.  He's being raised for the freezer and is a by-product of the dairy industry.  I'm trying to foster him onto Lucy alongside Mimi (who is a big girl at over 4 months now), but Lucy's not exactly keen on calves which aren't her own!  So meanwhile I am also bottle-feeding him.

Bottle feeding a calf with calf formula is something I remember doing as a child.  Also trying to convince them to drink from a bucket by letting the calves suck our fingers.  It was lots of fun, even though newborn calves are quite pushy and can easily bump a child over!

I'll post more about our new baby as the journey progresses.

Meanwhile, read about calf-raising here.  And if you have experience with raising calves, or other baby animals, please share!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Beauty in the Every Day

by Danelle Stamps at The Stamps Family Farm

There are some days when farming and simple living are anything but simple. There are some days where living this life, caring for animals and land and people is just so breathtakingly hard that doing chores in -40 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures with 60 miles per hour winds is preferable to facing the daily realities of farming. 

Animals die. Crops get flooded out. Children get sick. And the sun still rises in the East every morning.

This last year has had some hard lessons. We lost 15 pigs total to disease and heat. Preventable disease, but we didn't know enough to have vaccinated them and they died. We lost two llamas to a parasite because we didn't know enough about regular worming. We are armatures let loose to learn hard lessons at the expense of our livestock and no amount of book learning or Internet websites can take the place of these hard realities. 

But we are still here. Still farming. And these experiences made us better stewards of our flock. We know more about disease management and animal care and nutrition. 

You just have to know, if you are going into farming with no experience or mentors or help, it isn't easy.

That said, I started to sit down and write this week's post about finding beauty in the harshness of winter or farm life or daily grind. 

 Instead, I'd like to pose a question: What lessons have you had to learn the hard way? What losses built your skills? What things should new farmers know before going into it feet first?

My top four: 

Get to know your local vet, explain what you want to do and ask for advice, supply lists, and a lesson in how to administer shots. Ask how or where it is proper to dispose of animal carcass, especially if there is a burn ban.

Practice or list out what to do in an emergency. Who to call. Where supplies are. What and where to go.

How will you handle failure? Really. What things will you have in place to mourn your losses, to do things better, to not beat yourself up when you need to be working on making things better. 

Winter food supply for livestock. Last year, mid winter we had to frantically make calls to get more hay delivered. This year, all was purchased in October and stored well. The only mishap we have had is a dropped round bale on our truck (damaged the truck bed door). 

As with anything, make time for yourself. Each moment get ready for the next one and live it with grace. That is beauty. That is life.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Taking Stock

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

I don't mean the stock we use for cooking - though we do make bone broth, chicken stock and vegetable stock concentrate at home to cook with, and I can post about that another time!

Living with a large family, on a farm, we tend to accumulate 'stuff' - not through excessive shopping habits, just by keeping what we do have - reusing jars and plant pots, saving hand-me-downs for younger children, etc.

We have recently been changing the way we store things.  The children gave up their unloved old cubby house, which created an instant gardening shed for me!  I was able to sort through all the pots, tools and hose fittings which I previously kept on a table in a dark corner of the shed.  I parted with some of the pots for other gardeners to re-use.  I found that we had a lot of mis-matched hose fittings, but not really a spare full set to fit our tap size, so I bought a nice brass set in the hope that it will outlast the plastic ones which don't seem to cope with our high UV levels here.  With all the spiders sent on their way and everything sorted into piles and open crates, I felt much less overwhelmed by our gardening paraphanalia (bits and pieces collected over nearly 20 years of playing in the dirt)!

The same week, my husband finished constructing a 6m x 3m shed that we'd salvaged from someone's backyard a year ago.  Finally the kids' bikes could be moved from the lean-to at the front of the milking shed, and all their sports gear and outdoor toys could be moved out of the corner of the shed too.  We found some broken toys and outgrown items lingering in the bottom of the drawers and crates - so here was another good chance for a clean out!

And in the very same week we were moving things around and now have storage space for our pantry items.  So I've been taking stock off all our stored food (we order much of our food in bulk every 6 months), the preserving jars (empty and full), emergency supplies for cyclone season (like candles, matches, water, tinned food, etc), and even our camping supplies, clothes stored for the youngest two children (outgrown by the older ones), out-of-season clothes of mine and other 'stored' items.

I hardly know what to do with all this extra space we suddenly have - it's a little overwhelming!  I'm trying to organise our new spaces in an ordered manner so that clutter doesn't build up (I was glad to find that with all the re-arranging there wasn't very much we didn't use - unlike my 9 year old's bedroom last month which we realised was housing bags full of outgrown clothing and toys!).

It seems like this year Spring really is time for 'out with the old' for us, and I'm so grateful for the new spaces (at last) and creative storage options.  Now, if only the rain would stop I'd get back out there and tidy up the old shed, with it's newly emptied corners...

Do you have any storage tips?  How do you balance re-using (pots, baling twine, kids' clothes), and clutter?  Does Springtime see you cleaning up and sorting out too?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Farm Sitting

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

We have been so busy! I agreed to farm sit again for my neighbours just under 2km up the road (we are almost direct neighbours, there are very few properties between us). And the day after they left, I took surprise delivery of a new house cow! The cow is on loan to me while Lucy is dry, and she is just lovely. So I have once again been juggling twice-a-day milking with twice-a-day farm sitting!

I take one or more of the children with me when I visit the farm. It's nice to have their help and company, and sometimes we've had jobs which take more than one set of hands - like manouvring hungry goats so I can squeeze out of the feed room door, holding gates ajar, tipping 20kg bags of grain into high storage drums and dragging a billy goat back into his paddock!

When our neighbours go away, they give us a tour of the gardens and animals, reminding me how to pump water and where everything is... They give me a key and some contact numbers, and tell me the date they'll leave and return. I always take notes so that I can remember the right feed mixes and other details.

Since I'm not staying at the farm, I carefully plan our days to allow enough time for all of our tasks. Sometimes we do some preparation for the morning if I know we'll be rushed. Sometimes we'll do a lot of extra work one day so we can pop in and out more quickly the next. When we're going via the farm on our way home, we have our work clothes, boots and raincoats in the car. By being really organised with our farm sitting tasks, just as we try to be with our own farm, the extra work isn't such a very big deal (as it could be)!

Some of our tasks include:
* feeding and watering animals - some twice daily, some daily, some every couple of days
* cleaning up after animals as necessary
* collecting eggs, harvesting from the garden
* watering the gardens, potted plants and seedlings, covering plants in case of frosts etc
* collecting mail
* caring for any sick or injured animals, often taking them home with us

The best things about farm sitting are:
* spending time with different animals (goats, turkeys, chickens, ducks, aviary birds, cats, and guinea fowl this time)
* walking in others' gardens - admiring their planning, and harvesting the bounty
* getting some exercise - squeezing farm jobs into an hour, up and down hills, carrying buckets etc, is hard work!
* doing something to help others - our neighbours could not go away if they didn't have reliable farm sitters
* sharing chores with my children - team work, being outdoors, learning together, supporting each other
* earning some (shared) pocket money!

The worst things about farm sitting are:
* when things go wrong, like a sick animal
* working in the rain and mud
* dealing with animals we aren't comfortable around
* the extra responsibility - we must be there, no matter what's going on in our own lives - there's no one else!

Farm Sitting Resources
It will depend on the level of care (article)
Farm Sitting Checklist (pdf)
Farm Sitters Australia (database)

Monday, 27 June 2011

Chickens for the Freezer, Final Stats

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

We butchered our meat birds yesterday and so now I have all my final facts and figures in place enabling me to see just how much it costs to raise this portion of our food.

I used the standard Cornish Cross meat bird because I appreciate the growth efficiency that has been bred into them. They provide lots of bang for the buck. Not to say that they can't be fraught with problems if you don't follow the instruction sheet. Basically these are race car chickens and they need the high octane fuel, My old 6 banger hay truck doesn't need race car fuel and it is slow as heck, but it gets the job done. So if you want,need, or desire a slower growing chicken by all means grow that type of chicken, but please don't try to fit the industrial Cornish into the slow growing, low protein type feed, it can end up very sad for both birds and the people raising them. There's plenty of opinions out there on what breed of bird, type of feed, and raising methods to use. I am not addressing any of that here, I am just reporting what it took to from hatchery to freezer on my farm. My equipment is already off the depreciation schedule so I haven't included start-up costs. And labor costs vary depending on how much you think your time is worth or what you are willing to pay someone else to do your work for you. Obviously the longer you raise your birds the more time you have into them.

$ 126.00 - Chick Cost (day-old includes shipping)
$ 450.00 - Feed (custom mix non-organic broiler feed)
$ 5.00 - Electricity(brooder)

$<581.00> - Total Expenses

*VALUE (*reflects comparable product available in my area)

$1764.00 - Meat 441 pounds @ $4.00 per lb
$14.00 - Hearts/livers 10 lbs @$2.00 per lb
$ 29.00 - gizzards 14.5 lbs @ $2.oo per lb
$72.00 - feet 18 lbs @ $4.00

$1885.00 -Total Value

$1304.00 - NET

I started with 77 birds and lost two, one within hours of receipt, and one a week later when I stepped on him. Ouch. He ran off, but was dead the next morning. Looking at the figures above my birds cost approximately $8.00 each to raise. More than the Fred Meyer version and less than if I had to buy them. By the time I get my husband's lunch meat for the week, 2 more meals at least, and 5 quarts of broth, plus dog food I have gotten my moneys worth. Most of the birds weighed in the 5 and 6 pound range with a few outliers at 4.5 pounds and 7.5 pounds. I used 1500 of feed for the Cornish and pullets in the 8.5 weeks, which works out to about a 3:1 feed conversion rate. The leftover feed from the ton will be used for my pullets and with some cutting of protein my adult hens can eat it too.

Another factor that you have to take into consideration is processing costs. I butchered at a friends house, and will help them butcher when their chickens are ready. Processing at a state facility in my area starts at $3.50 per bird. Which is worth it if you're squeamish.

As for feed, I co-oped with a neighbor who needed pig feed. I did the ordering and delivered the minerals, and when the feed was done, they picked it up. Still we had some costs involved in time, and fuel. I also raised my replacement pullets for eggs with this flock and it would be hard to track what they ate in the 8 weeks.

And certainly with some ingenuity and attention to detail you can really gather some good chicken manure for your garden in the time you are raising these birds. I have some good material from the brooding stage and used the birds to renovate a small pasture that needed some help.

So while not for everyone, raising chickens for meat is certainly a good place to start. Chickens are small and easy to handle and in two months plus, you have a product to eat. Much quicker than any other type of meat animal.

And it is delicious!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Preparedness in the barnyard

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Most conversations about preparedness center around the household. All well and good. But in our modern homesteading world many times we stock our pantries very well, but the barn cupboard may be a little bare. It's pretty easy to run to the feedstore and pick up a bale or two, a bag of scratch or alfalfa pellets. We are an on-demand society of consumers, but to be more self-reliant we need to scale back our on-demand ways a little in regards to our livestock that help us produce food, fiber etc., for our table.

In our area that normally doesn't really experience any long-lasting winter storms, when one does hit, it's not unusual to see people unprepared for the cold, and wintry weather, so I won't write about water and feeding systems for areas that always experience months of freezing weather, rather I will dwell on having flexible systems and supplies on hand just in case, for more moderate climes that experience short duration storms. Consider this a drill for a real emergency. Winter is a good time to assess your stock keeping capabilities. Do you have enough storage for feed, adequate water, enough money to keep your stock all winter? Can you get more feed, if needed? Do you have like animals in groups, or pairs so they can keep warm and commiserate? Nothing worse than a lonely pig... . And a huge one - do you have enough time to do extra care taking during the cold weather if need be?

Keeping stock hydrated goes a long way towards helping them cope with cold temperatures. We like these tough, Rubbermaid water troughs. We sometimes have to chop a little ice, but you can save yourself some trouble by only putting out the water the stock actually needs for a day. The 50 gallon trough in this photo is for my daughter's horse. She only puts in what he will drink for the day, and she dumps it at night. Less water, less ice. She places his trough within reach of a hose, and when she is done, she drains the hose and puts it away. Nothing worse than having a frozen hose full of ice.

The cows only drink once a day also in this cold weather. I feed them, they tank up on hay, and then come and drink. When we fed outside all winter, and they went to the canyon for water, they would all trail to water once a day, and according to rank, drink their fill and then trail back to bed down and ruminate. Anthropomorphizing makes us think the animals need all the comforts we have, like running water at all times, and feed all the time. But they really can be comfortable with the basics. Don't go overboard - especially during stressful times during storms. You have to take care of yourself too.

Being prepared by having extra feed on hand can be a life saver. Plus, livestock need to eat more during cold weather in order to stay warm, it's amazing how fast a growing pig will go through feed in a cold snap. One thing that helps is to have a higher protein feed source available for cold snaps. Feed your best hay, bump your chickens up to grower ration, throw a little extra something to the pigs. It all helps.

And there is something to be said for only taking the bare necessities of stock through the winter, and keeping a seasonal schedule. On our farm, we don't want any young stock that couldn't be weaned if a catastrophe arose, and we time breeding for no babies being born this time of year. Sure, it makes for good dramatic blog entries to be risking life and limb to save a piglet or calf from the cold. But in reality, it is kind of cruel to animals and their tenders alike and is just another unintended consequence of our on-demand society. There is no seasonal differences in the grocery store - just one big ol' homogenized food storage area. If you want to grow your own food, grow it, and grow it in season.

Back to the subject of water, these small indestructible tubs are great too, for small stock. We use a gravity flow bell waterer for the chickens, but despite being placed on the south side of the greenhouse for thawing, that assumes we get sun. That doesn't always happen. To keep chickens laying eggs in the winter, it is imperative they have water during the day. Usually a tub like this suffices until the thaw. Just a stop gap measure, but it does work and is easy to clean when it gets soiled. These also work good for pigs for a short spell, it's just that pigs like to play, and inevitably that water tub will end up in the pig toilet area, with smirking pigs looking on while you retrieve it for them. I have yet to see hens do that...

This past cold spell brought a few house fires due to heat lamps being used for urban flocks. Chickens are incredibly hardy when fully feathered. Which is another reason to not have babies during winter. If your chickens have a dry, secure place to bed down at night and have been properly fed and hydrated during the day, they DO NOT need heat lamps or lights to keep them warm, and adding a light at night can throw off the egg laying schedule too.

So, to make things go easier during the inclement weather, stock up as much as finances allow on:
Feed - hay, grain, milk replacers, etc.
Bedding material
Livestock medical supplies
Auxiliary species appropriate watering supplies

And hopefully take some time to enjoy the beauty of a winter storm.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Winter squash harvest

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I find people either like squash or don't care for it at all. I happen to love squash of all types, especially winter squash. Not only is it really good for you, providing much needed nutrients in the dead of winter, it tastes good, and stores with a minimum of fuss. No canning or freezing is needed - winter squash comes with it's own storage container, namely a tough skin. All you need to do it store it in a cool, dry place and protect from freezing. It doesn't get much easier than that.

It also can be very productive if you have the space to devote to the rambling vines and fertile soil. I grew 427 pounds of winter squash in less than 1/3 the space I devoted to growing 400 pounds of potatoes. Granted I have large gardens on our farm, but I think even a smaller garden can grow some productive squash vines with a little ingenuity in regards to variety selection, and trellising or maybe a 3 sisters approach.

Sweet Meat winter squash - corky stem.

Rather than talking much about growing winter squash, I want to center on harvesting techniques to ensure good results in storage. We live in a cool, maritime climate, which has a long growing season for some hardy crops, but getting warm season crops to ripen is sometimes a little sketchy. Butternut types (Cucurbita moschata) are out in my location, however Hubbard type (Cucurbita maxima) and Acorn and Delicata (Cucurbita pepo) are the best candidates. Maxima type tend to keep longer than the pepo type. If you're not sure of what type you have, you can tell by the stem. Maxima usually has a corky stem with no spines, and pepo will have a woody stem with spines. If you want short term storage (2 -3- months) the pepo type like Acorn are great, and for longer term storage (5 - 8 months) try some Maxima types. They also come in a variety of sizes, small for easing into squashdom, and larger for aficionados.

Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin - woody stem.

Careful harvesting techniques are crucial to long term storage. Keeping the stem intact is important, not for a convenient handle, but rather to keep the entire squash enclosed in its protective skin with no openings. The easiest way to do this is to cut the stem instead of trying to wrench it from the vine, which often results in a corky stem attached to the vine instead of your squash. Carry your squash by lifting it with both hands, instead of using the stem for a handle. Likewise if you are buying winter squash for storage, look for specimens that still have their stem intact. Field harvesting techniques need to be expedient, and most winter squash for sale even at the farmers market most likely will be missing their stems, since most are destined for immediate use, not storage. In the home garden you can afford to take a little more time and keep your stems.

Dogs on vole patrol.

Not all your squash may be suitable for storage. In this particular variety, Sweet Meat, you will be looking for a grayish blue squash. This immature green squash pictured above will not be ripe enough to keep and shouldn't be harvested for keeping. It will make great hen or livestock food though, so it will not go to waste.

The squash on the left will keep many months in storage, the grayish, green squash on the right may keep for a while but should be used first.

Wheelbarrows come in handy for transport heavy squash to the curing area. These weigh in between 12 - 18 pounds apiece. By carefully placing these I can avoid the stems damaging adjacent squash, since the skin is still tender before curing.

Sweet Meat winter squash original Gill Brothers strain.

Winter squash will benefit from a curing period of two weeks or so at 70 - 80 degrees before being moved to a cool storage area like a cool bedroom, or attic. I use a greenhouse bench, covering for nighttime if the temperatures are going to dip below 50 degrees. The curing period at a higher temperature dries the shell creating a perfect storage container. This particular variety gets sweeter in storage, and keeps well until June. If you haven't grown winter squash before, now is a perfect time to taste test varieties from the farmers market, it would be realistic to expect if your local farmers are growing winter squash, it will do well in the home garden too.

For the frugal pantry, it's hard to go wrong with such a versatile vegetable that lends itself to savory and sweet recipes and requires virtually no processing for storage. I see pumpkin pie in my future this winter!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Natural Insect & Disease Control - an ebook (and some local wisdom)

by Francesca

stink bug 2

The other day, I noticed that my chard patch got infested by some bugs. Several leaves had turned yellow, and many others had large brown spots. Looking closely at my chard, it wasn't difficult to find the likely culprit: hiding right among the stems I could spot many good-sized brown bugs!

When disease or insects attack my vegetable garden, I often simply uproot and destroy the affected plants for fear that they might spread to the rest of the garden. But there are exceptions, and my poor chard was one of them: it's one of the few crops that survived my summer travels (here), and moreover it will continue producing for several months, until springtime. I needed to treat my chard. So I turned to the Internet.

After a little research, I found the best book on natural insect and disease control I've ever come across, entirely published online in Google books. What an amazing resource! The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Disease and Insect Control edited by Barbara W Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley, allowed me first of all to determine that the “brown bugs” in my garden were “brown stink bugs”. This book also suggested ways to prevent them, or - as last resort - to control them by dusting the affected plants with pyrethrin powder, a natural organic compound with potent insecticidal properties. I happened to have pyrethrin powder, but because this book is mainly about North American insects and diseases, I wanted to be sure that my bugs were definitely stink bugs. So I asked my neighbors.

stink bugs

Farmers for generations, my neighbors have taught me most of what I know about gardening, and always have the answer to my gardening troubles. In the rare cases when they don't, they have at least a couple of suggestions, which normally solve the problem. My 86 year old neighbor unhesitatingly confirmed the diagnosis I'd made with the help of the ebook, but didn't agree with the treatment. “Oh, no! You just remove them one by one, and squish them dead.” he said. “They are very prolific, you know” he added to make his statement more urgent.

And so I went to find my gardening gloves. And my pyrethrin.

What steps to you take when insects or disease infest your garden?

Monday, 3 May 2010

Two birds with one stone

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

In our efforts to raise our own food, sometimes some of the tools we require can be an expensive part of the deal. Especially fixed equipment or buildings. To spread out the cost a little, we try to plan for multiple uses when we are planning and purchasing. By applying the permaculture principle of stacking we can utilize the same space and expenditures many times over, and sometimes simultaneously to help defray the initial cost.

When we had our large pastured poultry laying flock, we required a brooding space for a large number of chicks. What we didn't want was a single purpose building that would be outfitted just for chicks for a short number of weeks. And since heat lamps were involved for 24 hours a day for a while we also knew we didn't want to just partition off the corner of one of our existing wood buildings. Having heard too many tales of entire barns burning due to heat lamp failure, we decided not to put all our eggs in one basket. While the baby chicks were an important part of our operation, replacing a barn for $500.00 worth of chicks just didn't seem worth it.

What we settled on was a small hoophouse with metal framing and plastic covering. It would allow for natural light, provide semi-safe housing for baby chicks, and in case of fire, would be fairly easy and quick to replace. And a plus in our minds, also service as a great place to start early plants for the garden, or even grow a small quantity of plants after the chicks had outgrown the space.

For approximately $500.00 we purchased the bows, purlins, hardware, plastic, wire, and lumber to build a 20' x 20' unheated brooder/greenhouse. The chick area is 15' x 20' and that leaves a 5' x 20' space for feed and supply storage, our "personnel" area.

While it may seem cost prohibitive for a smallholding or farm. A smaller model with these ideas in mind may work better, but I have to say, these buildings, (we have two) have paid for themselves over and over.

A place to brood chicks, gather their nitrogen rich manure with bedding for the garden, and later in the year a hothouse for warm weather crops. By changing uses, parasite cycles are broken, giving "rest" to this plot of land and allowing us to spread the expense over several endeavors.

Normally, I start my plants on the chick hover before the chicks arrive. This year, we had terrible mice problems in the sprouting seeds. So we rigged up a hillbilly plant bench from leftover plywood and baling twine.

When it was time for the chicks, I moved the plants to the personnel area. The plants still need the warmth of the greenhouse, but I didn't want to be watering the chick bedding area daily. I did leave the makeshift plant bench though, and have been using it as place to store chick stuff. It's handy, and since it isn't fixed if it becomes cumbersome, I can take it apart in 5 minutes.

And actually it is quite pleasant to work transplanting, with the sound of the chicks nearby. I am sure they are getting the benefit of having growing plants in their space, and they are getting used to us because we are in there a lot puttering about with the veggies.

So this may not be for everyone, but I just wanted to throw the idea out there, to think outside the box in regards to our farmsteads and gardens. You never know what kind of ideas will grow!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Blessings in Disguise on the Farm

By Abby of Love Made The Radish Grow

It is funny how things can mount against you when you most want/need to be out working on your homestead. I mean, the last couple years it seems the harder we work, the more goes wrong. Our first year on the farm we had an awesome garden-bumper crops of so many things. I kick myself thinking back-I didn't preserve nearly as much then,and would it ever have been nice to have a lot of that in the freezer.
The next year was not as great-we were trying our hand at running a CSA and all things were working against us-the weather, I found out I was pregnant which meant backing off the amount of work I could do and things just weren't growing like they had the year before.
Later it was more weather, I managed to burn down a chicken coop, there were turkey catastrophes involving a water pan I forgot about, broken tillers, surprise llama babies and other family health issues. No matter what plans we made-Mother Nature and God had other ideas. I found this especially true when involving endeavors that were money making in nature.
Through all of it, though we keep on doing what we do. It can be very easy to be discouraged. This year I have dealt with a very serious sinus infection that involved a lot of time on the couch and now have mysteriously sprained an ankle. This is prime planting/planning/spring grounds care season, plus we have bottle babies that need fed, trees that needed pruned and deep bedding that needs cleaned out and replaced and yet I sit here in a chair on the computer because I am not supposed to be on my feet.
I think life lived on the farm, or homesteading, or just trying to be simple works this way all too often. We do so much, and thus so much more can go wrong. It would be easy to just stop-mow a gigantic lawn and never do anything with the land we have because every time we do something goes wrong. I don't think I could do it, though. I am too much of a do-er. Living off the land just feeds my drive to need to be doing something, something for my family, my friends or community all the time. To have to reset the way I do something because it just isn't working anymore, to rebuild after a tragedy, to sit still in order to heal is all difficult, but I do it, we do it, because we love what we do. I can't imagine life any other way. It is almost painful (and not just because of this stinkin' ankle that spontaneously sprained itself) to sit here and not be *doing* something while spring marches on, warm and beautiful and fairly dry at the moment-perfect working weather. I also know that there will always be something to do around here, and sometimes God forces me to sit still and rest, as it can easily get the best of me and I scurry around trying to do everything and anything to keep the place running. Life on the farm is most certainly an adventure, and one that never fails to keep me on my toes as I can never see what blessing, whether obvious or hidden in a sprained ankle, may be around the corner next.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Our House Cow Journey Part 3

From Spiral Garden

Honey, at six months, is now almost as tall as Lucy, her foster mother

Continued from Our House Cow Journey Part One and Our House Cow Journey Part Two.

Since I last wrote a cow update, Honey was gently weaned by mid-January and Lucy had nearly 10 weeks holiday from milking. So did we! The milk in the freezer lasted awhile, then we had to go back to buying local milk again from here.

Last week, Lucy's calf arrived. After spending many late night studying books and websites about calving, we woke around 6am to find a wet little bull calf at Lucy's feet in the paddock. We removed Honey to another paddock and stood back and watched. It was amazing seeing him take his first steps, and drink colostrum from Lucy.

Lucy with newborn Wags - having her mineral-fix to help prevent milk fever and mastitis

We watched them keenly for two days, and arranged to have a Jersey heifer calf, almost three weeks old, delivered from a nearby dairy on Day 3. The calf had already been named Sweetheart, though after a week I'm still finding it confusing as I use it as a term of endearment when speaking to the other cattle, and possibly even the hubby and kids! I hadn't noticed before she arrived, but I'm mentioning her name a lot more often than I'm actually speaking to or about her... So if another character enters this tale along the way, perhaps it'll just be that I will have changed Sweetheart's name.

Wags (top) 3 days old and 'Sweetheart' 3 weeks old

At first Lucy was not interested in her new charge at all. So a couple of hours later my daughter Abby and I led the calf to the milking shed and washed her off with warm water and rags. We dried her with an old towel, as it was a cool, rainy day. Then we led Lucy in to milk out some of the excess colostrum (just as we had the day before). When she was in place having her snack of grain, hay, minerals and molasses we encouraged Sweetheart forward to feed from Lucy's udder. She fed with gusto, having been kept away from the nurse cows at the dairy that morning to make the mothering-on process easier for us.

After awhile we took them both back to the pen in the paddock where Wags was having a nap on the hay. Sweetheart again fed from Lucy, and Lucy let her! We were so relieved.

I continued to watch Lucy and the calves carefully each day - checking the calves' health and bowel movements (Wags was scouring for awhile, but it seems to be almost-normal consistency now), checking Lucy's udder and generally observing their interactions with each other.

Lucy, waiting at the gate to graze in the house paddock, with Sweetheart and Wags having a feed. See the mud? Hasn't stopped raining for 2 weeks!

In just a week they've all settled nicely, and Honey sleeps in her own paddock at night, but grazes alongside Lucy by day, with or without the calves.

We're still not taking any milk for ourselves, as Lucy is still producing colostrum, but we're looking forward to share-milking with two calves, and continuing our learning alongside our little herd.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Farmhouse potato salad

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

With moderate weather returning, I am finding myself working outside much more these days. We eat a large breakfast and snack throughout the day, so I need to have some things made ahead so we can come in, grab a bite and get back outside.
Cooking from scratch can seem daunting at first, but I view it as a method, rather than a recipe. If I keep my pantry well stocked with tasty basics and good ingredients, it's easy to put something together in a hurry. Not being a girlie girl, I'm a farmer first, cook last, so simplicity is the name of the game in my kitchen. Good hearty farm table fare. With that in mind, here is my method for a quick potato salad.

I try to keep on hand a bowl of potatoes boiled in their jackets. They are precooked, and ready for many applications. Each summer I make bread and butter pickles with lots of uses in mind. The brine from the pickles becomes the quick salad dressing for my potato salad. Vinegar and spices, how could I go wrong. After the pickles have all been fished out of the jar, there is always left over brine, and it is perfect for adding flavor to salads, etc. So keep that leftover brine and mentally go over your recipes - you can use it for many things.

I leave the jackets on the potatoes, but you can peel them if you like. If I make this salad for company, I chop the pickles, but if it is just for us, the pickle slices stay intact. In fact, I don't make pickle relish anymore, finding it easier to chop the rustic slices if I need a relish type texture. A huge time saver in the fall, when I am dealing with many things to harvest.

Have your pickle brine ready, if you follow this method, I'll soon explain that little tidbit.

Slice potatoes.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the potatoes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add half a diced onion.
Grate the other half of the onion over the potato salad. (This really adds flavor, since it will add onion juice to your salad. I wear safety glasses for this step. Refrigerating the onion overnight also will help take away some of the bite of the onion.)
Before your eyes start burning, add the brine, the vinegar will help cut the aromatics from the grated onion.

Stir to mix, and refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors meld. The salad is tasty this way, but it is a good way to use that extra aioli or boiled eggs too. And of course, mayonnaise if you prefer!

A simple meal, with simple on-hand ingredients, that can be customized to match what's in your pantry.