Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend Project

Anyone who has visited, since we moved in has commented or at least noticed the flower beds on this property.  When we moved in here, we had a neighbour tell us how much they always enjoy driving by and checking out the immaculate flower beds- the best in Freetown they said.  Well, I'm afraid that from that day on, their anticipation probably very quickly turned to dissapointment and now currently sits somewhere between disgust and despair.  I believe I posted some pictures from last summer when I took on the ones out front and they DID look good, for the summer.  One has gone rogue again this year, although I will take small pride in the other one maintaining, with a little bit of my help.  
It was the big bed in the back that has been my undoing ever since I moved in.  Each year, I'd tackle a little piece with such intensity that I'd only get that little bit done and nothing else, or another year I'd do a general, light clean up of the whole thing, but miss the thorough job needed to rid the bed of the cursed cough grass and devil weed (whatever it's actually called, I've decided it truly is the spawn of the devil).  So this year, I waged war and once I had a weekend of my husband's time to myself (between hauling mussel shells), I enlisted him to tear the whole damn thing completely out. 
view from the house-the bed is the mat of bushes and grass you can see in the forefront.

 So there's my "Before" shots.  If you can't tell, there's a dense, dark carpet of grass that is slowly choking out the beautiful perennials that should be taking center stage. 
So it started last week when we (mostly Mark) moved all these giant rocks which were the border to the old bed.   My plan was to cut the bed down to a 1/4 of the size so it was more manageable so I knew we wouldn't need all the rocks. Turns out they're a hot commodity as we've had a couple requests for them.  Anyway, on Saturday morning, the Kubota earned her keep as I desperately tried to save a few of the best plants and Mark took a very full dump truck of old flower bed, back to the woods.  Admittedly, when it was all gone, I had a brief moment of imagining it all in grass without any flower bed to think about, but quickly changed my mind. 
With the 'help' of Lucy and Wilson, we managed to build a herb bed around the border of the deck and lay the rocks for the new beds.   So here's what it looks like now.       
 It still needs a few herbs I haven't transplanted yet and I'd like to add a hunk of bleeding heart from my other front bed, but I'm much less overwhelmed with this one than before. 
 The hope is that I can maintain this reasonably and not let it get out of my control.  The topsoil came from our field, so not without couch grass, but certainly with less.  And no devil weed, unless I let it crawl in from somewhere else (which it inevitably will-but I'll be waiting for it). 

Mark is off to a stag party tonight, but I'm sure his back and body wishes he was in bed. The Kubota wasn't the only one earning her keep. :)
Yawn, I'm off to bed myself.  The blackflies just about carried us away tonight and I need my sleep to prepare for battle against them tomorrow.  Even the kids noticed tonight, which never happens.  I don't know if I've ever seen them so bad, although I probably say that every year. 


Friday, June 24, 2011

June is....? DAIRY MONTH!

Remember how last year for dairy month (June), we finally got our first milk cow?  Well, she's still kickin and doing wonderfully, and since I recognized that I could probably not top last year's dairy month contribution, I decided to at long last, try making some cheese.  Thankfully Mark's cousin Vanessa and her chef friend Gill were enthusiastic cheese-making virgins too, so we made a date for cheese night and became dairy queens together.
It all started when I arrived in BEAUTIFUL Bonshaw, PEI with a trunk full of milk and cream, rennet and a book of cheese recipes.  Seeing as it was our first time and I personally couldn't stand the anticipation of waiting four months through the aging period for a nice hard cheddar or something similar, I picked the "30 minute mozzarella" recipe out.   I had also read about it in "Animal Vegetable Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver and it sounded like a good, fool-proof way to spend an evening (or as suggested, 30 minutes).

First of all, let me just say that the 30 minute part probably refers to the microwave section of the recipe and as would be expected, without a microwave, it took much longer.  I was also considering later that because of the nature of microwave heat, I can see now how different the stretching and kneading part would be.  Anyway, it was certainly a fun adventure and although it did not turn out like we expected, we still called the night a grand success.
Since I was a of the cheese process, I brought along some cream to make butter, since I knew that was fairly fool proof.  And it was, sort of. 

Something about the first batch was a bit odd, although it tasted fine.  The second batch of butter turned out more normally and when that was done, I knew at least we would all have some nice yellow butter to take home, if nothing else.  :)
Do ya think Dairy Farmers of Canada might use this in a campaign?  Probably not if they knew it came from illegal and raw milk. :)

So we started out by canvassing the neighbourhood for a big enough pot to do a double batch (yes, confident).  When we finally got everything ready to go, milk ripened and thoroughly mixed with the citric acid and rennet, the moment of truth- would there be a curd?  And the yelps of celebration when the knife sliced cleanly through the semi-solid milk could be heard ringing through the Bonshaw hills I'm sure. 
 Then we stirred the curds for the recommended length of time, watching the temperature like we were dealing with an armed bomb rather than a batch of cheese.  Admittedly, my curd cutting skills could use some work.  Consistency was not my forte. 
Here's Gill draining the whey from the curd. For perspective's sake, this started out as 8 litres of milk. We agreed that it was the most expensive cheese on the planet, 30 minutes or not.   Evidently we got a bit wrapped up in the process and missed a few steps in the photography recap, but after much kneading, stretching, discussing, comparing, heating, stretching and comparing some more, here were are making small balls (we were aiming for the bococcini (sp?) we see in the grocery store-albeit a bit prematurely).

 The recipe said that the cheese is best eaten warm, which we did a little bit of, but it said to otherwise, put it it in ice water to chill it evenly all the way through.  The formerly soft, smooth, shiny, perfectly pearl-like balls of warm, stretchy cheese immediately turned to rock hard, less than perfect balls of er...well, chewy off-white ...cheese?.    Anyway, it is certainly gooey and it has a VERY mild, cheese-like flavour, but it needs some work. 
I think there's a couple factors at play here.  First of all, the recipe does not call for any 'starter' so it is not REALLY a cheese, as such.  There's no 'live cultures' so, it's more of a solidified milk than a cheese.  Secondly, it's 30 minutes, so designed for a microwave and thus, not likely to have the consistency of a real, cultured, cheese. All that said, it was really exciting and a great introduction to cheese making, and maybe just the right amount of challenges to make us want to keep going and perfect our dairy queen-dom. 

In other farm news, the season rolls on, despite the cool temps and lack of sun.  Today for example had been hailed all week as the sunny day we've been dreaming of, but it is fairly cold and dreary out there right now.  BUT breezy, so few bugs!  The dairy farmer we often get manure from has been in the field next to the house cutting the clover for first-cut silage (don't get any illusions that this means it is either a)warm or b)dry).  The kids had a great time running the length of the field a few times after the bulky clover was down.   I included this next picture because the sense of freedom on their faces when they came in was just perfect.  So far from the house and so happy!  You can hardly see them at all, and I'm sure there are some moms in a bit of dismay at a 2 and 3 year old 'out on their own', but I don't think there could be a much healthier or safer place to play on earth. 

 My sister had asked for a picture of my garden, after sending a few nice shots to me of hers (which looks lush, dark and weed-free) and I'd been waiting until something came up.  I've given up waiting and here's what it looks like so far.  Finally my first beans are up, and obviously, the onion sets are established.  My pepper plants are behind the windows and there are tomato plants up there by those black boxes.  I got my transplants from my friend Jen Campbell and they are so healthy!  She shared a bit of crabmeal with me as well, on the advice to put it in the hole with the transplant.  It is a very fine powder, which I was not expecting, but it smells like I expected.  Anyway, the plants seem pretty darn happy, so success on that front!  Since this pic is a little old, my yellow beans, beets and a couple cucumbers are through the ground now too. Oh! And my corn.  A bit spotty, but there.
Lastly, I celebrated my 29th birthday this week and as I sat at the table, being drooled on by a baby, poked by the grubby, chubby finger by a 2 year old and giggled at by a bespectacled 3 year old, sitting across from my smiling, patient, callused-hand husband, eating home made pizza and organic chocolate cake, I decided that, I done good

To top it off, Mark's sister Martha had gotten us tickets to go see The Full Monty at the confederation center and although I don't go the theatre often, it was one of the best shows I've ever seen on stage.  Hilarious!  If you're coming to the Island this summer, I highly recommend it. 

Hope this finds you enjoying the scent of fresh cut silage/haylage/hay.  There's nothing quite like it. 


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Germinating despite the cold

The blog has been quiet lately, but no so with the farm.  Mark has been busy, despite having everything in the ground.  On a good note, everything is germinating and I think I'm right in saying it has all poked out of the ground, some more than others.  That is also true for the weeds though, so finger weeding has been on the priority list according to plant stage.  On a family drive-through-the-fields tour a few nights ago, five on the four wheeler, I noticed our usual sow thistle area was filling up pretty well, so this is the year we've officially declared war.  It's planted in oats this year and we have acres of oats to spare, so as soon as the thistles are big enough to have hollow stems, the plan is to cut them just prior to a big rain and let nature drown them out.  We've heard from more than one farmer that this should work.   We'll let you know.

Weed management in organic production is always a trial and error game and is sometimes the result of an entirely different activity.  Couch grass (aka quack grass and many other names) is always our worst weed enemy and last year while Mark was fingerweeding, he noticed that when he reached the end of the field, there was a clump of couch grass rhizomes gathered up in the tines of the weeder.  After leaving a few of the clumps at the end of the field, it was only a matter of gathering them together in a windrow and then haul the whole kit and kaboodle off into the woods.  Well, this year it has been taken to a whole new level.  The giant piles of couch grass laying around Freetown must be GREAT fodder for the old farmers who drive around keeping an eye on those crazy hippy organic farmers.  My camera hasn't made its way to the piles yet, but Mark reports one taller than 6ft in one field.  He joked that he was going to spread it out, bale it up and sell it as a 'great cover crop'.  There's also been an ongoing joke with a friend from OACC about making couch grass baskets with the tough rhizomes.  If either of those were legitimate markets, we'd be making a killing this year!

In other farm news, Mark has begun hauling ORGANIC manure from the hog farmer we sell our grain to.  This is a BIG deal.  Really.  Organic manure is literally NOT available, anywhere.  We are so happy to be able to access some.  Admittedly, it's not the cheapest input, or the closest, but Mark figures he's got the economics of it worked out and with the help of a couple of extra trucks, hopefully efficiency will be a at a max.  We're just so excited to see the fruits of our labour (grain) come back to us (manure).  It's funny how the value of a 'waste product' changes pretty quickly when it becomes a 'by-product'.

My garden has been a bit of of contention this year.  I've always had it very linear and 'just so', just the way I like it, in proper beds, but with the fantastic wonderful tiller that goes on Wendell's new giant lawn tractor, everything that doesn't move, gets tilled up.  Needless to say, my garden doesn't feel like MY garden this year.  But it's planted, so we'll see what happens.

A lot of people are unhappy with the June chill thus far, but I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying the mosquito-banishing breezes and the sweater-inducing mornings.  I know the heat is on its way, so I'll enjoy this while it lasts.  Lucy told me today that I can't put the mittens away yet because she needs those when she eats a freezee.  Surely by August, I am confident that the mittens will not be necessary, even for freezees.

I have been working on getting to bed earlier and tonight I've already failed.  Good thing there's always tomorrow.

Hope this finds you enjoying every minute of what spring has to offer, and the prospect of what summer will bring.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spring Farm Tour

 Time for a little farm tour via pictures.  Enjoy!

We'll start in the chicken coop where the brooding area is in full tilt.  I love the little brown laying hens in amongst the yellow fuzzballs.  They are so much more lively and busy than the meat birds, already.  And it seems that Mark and I were having a bad time as egg farmers/sellers at the time we ordered the layers since we only ordered 15 and now realize that we've missed the deadline to order any more for this year, unless we look elsewhere.  SO, that will be a decision to make at some point, although we need to recognize that we made the decision of 15 for a reason at one point.   

 Next stop: a robin's nest that can actually be easily seen. 
Here's the babies up close (don't worry all your birders, I kept a good distance, used my magnify setting).  I think there's four, but sometimes it looks like there might be five.  Have watched the mom feed them and they are growing as fast as the weeds in my garden, so not likely long until first flight.  A great little bit of science for the kids. 
 And of course, here's the sheep out on their new pasture, enjoying alfalfa in the mix for the first time in their lives.  So far, so good says the vigilant shepherdess.   
 You may recall the failed experiment using the cattle trailer as a temporary shelter for the sheep on a rotating basis in the pasture.  It seems to be working MUCH better this time around.  Sampson needed to be out and about, but not with the ladies, so, thus far, this is working great.  He's next to the house and barns, but we still shut him in at night so that I can sleep without dreaming of howling coyotes.
 Over to the soybean barn where roasting was in full tilt today.  I like this picture of the steam rolling up to the roof and out the vents.  It smells so good. 
 I don't think you can see it very well in this picture, but there are little white puffs of popcorn in amongst the roasted beans.  Evidently, that's what buckwheat does when heated just right.  Niche market possibility?  Popbuckwheat?  Not sure about that, although Mark says it tastes fine, like popcorn.  It's also a bit of a firehazard, so not overly welcome in the roasting barn. 
 Then there's good ol' Rosie munching away on a pasture far too large and lush for one cow.  As the A.I. guy remarked, she seems pretty stressed.  Har har.
Now back to the house for some fresh bread.  Here's my wee bakers at work.  One, very intent, and quite a competent little kneader if I do say so myself, the other, more of the quality control school of ability.
 The Barenaked Baker.
Hope this finds you sleeping deep at nights with the windows open to the cool spring air.