August 31, 2016

Canning pears

Our pear tree goes nuts every other year. The first year we moved here it seemed like there were gobs of them all the sudden and, unprepared, I didn't get most of them. They fell to the ground for the deer and the bees to devour. This year, though, I'm ready. I've been going out every day collecting any that have started to fall. 

My first whole basket I made pear slices in light syrup. Here's how I did it. 

First I had to peel and cut up my pears. I had a bowl ready with cold water and a little lemon juice to put them in. 

Then I prepared my syrup by mixing 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water. I brought it to a boil and added the pears then turned it down to simmer for about five minutes. 

Finally, I used a slotted spoon to pack my jars and then poured syrup in over them. 

After cleaning the rims and putting on my lids and bands, I processed the jars in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. 

I'm excited for this healthy snack!  Reminds me of my grandmother, who always made canned peaches. 

August 25, 2016

My first attempt at making goat cheese

I got a half gallon of raw goat milk from my herd share this week so that I could try making goat cheese. This is part of my process of experimenting with goat milk before we decide if we want to get a couple goats.

I found a recipe online which looked very simple. It started by heating up the milk to 180°.  The recipe only calls for 4 cups of milk but I had 6 1/2 so I just adjusted all the ingredients up.

Once the milk reached 180° I turned the heat off and remove the pot from the stove top.

Next you add the acids. For goat milk you have to add both lemon juice/citric acid and white vinegar. First you add the lemon juice. For my adjusted quantity of milk I needed 9 tablespoons of lemon juice. I stirred that in and it looks like this.

Next came the vinegar. I used about 1 1/2 ounces.

After you add the two acids and stir to mix, leave it sit for about 10 minutes. When you come back after that time you can see the curds beginning to separate. 

Now here is something I learned in my first attempt at goat cheese making. The recipe said to pour the mixture through a strainer line with two or three layers of cheesecloth.  I used two layers but when I poured my liquid through it, I lost a lot of curds. I think next time I make it I might try using a thin weave Cotton towel.

Anyway, you pour the mixture through the lined strainer. 

Now is the time to add salt. I used about a teaspoon and very gently mixed it in. Then you gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and tie them with a piece of twine.  Hang your cheese from the kitchen faucet so that it can drain into the sink for about an hour.

After that our scrape your cheese into a container. You can stir are in herbs if you like. Put it in the refrigerator to cool and set. Then enjoy!

My first attempt did not make very much cheese because I lost so many curds through the cheesecloth. The process is so easy though. Now that I have learned it's important to have a very close weave on the straining cloth, I'm anxious to give it another try. 

August 24, 2016

The duck house is officially gone

The ducks have not been in the duck house for months and months now.  For whatever reason, they just refused to use it. A man from our neighborhood who also raises ducks told us that probably something got in the house once and freaked them out so now they won't use it.  Anyway it's for the best because now they live in the chicken coop which is easier in terms of closing them up at night. So Josh and I decided it was time for the doc enclosure to come down.

In the spirit of Joel Salatin, we are trying to be open to what works and what doesn't, and to reuse things when possible. We had the idea to use the actual house from the enclosure for our new flock protector. It will give him a place where he can get out of the elements but still keep an eye on the birds.

So first I dismantled the fence around the enclosure. Then Joshy and I loaded the house onto a small trailer and brought it up behind the chicken coop.

Next we had to get those t-posts out. To do that we use the three point hitch on the back of the tractor. 

I backed the tractor up and Josh wrapped a chain between the tractor and the post, then we let the power of the tractor pull out the post. So much easier than trying to juggle those things out ourselves!

And just like that the duck enclosure is gone.

We finished up as the sun was setting. The night are getting darker earlier and the coolness of fall is in the air. 

August 22, 2016

Corn harvesting time

I have been fighting the raccoons for my sweet corn for a number of weeks now.  They come in at night, climb the stalks and pull off the best ears.  So, I decided it was time to just pull it all out.  I got about 30 ears in total.

Soju, of course, got an ear to chew on while I worked.

After I cut it all off, I had a huge pot of corn kernels.  I put some into my roasted tomato salsa.  

The rest I mixed with a little butter, water and salt.  I cooked it about 8 minutes at a low simmer then packed big bags and froze it.  We will have sweet corn to enjoy this winter!

August 21, 2016

New guy in town

As I wrote about earlier this week, we are having predator problems.  We've been keeping the birds in the run until dinner time then letting them out to range supervised in the the evenings.  We don't want this to be our forever model though.  We want to get back to letting them free range all day.  I was talking to a friend of mine recently about our problem, and within minutes, she had sent me a link to a dog on who was described as being good with farm animals, including chickens and ducks.  

We got in touch with the rescue and they were having an adoption event Saturday.  My husband was also able to stop by their facility Friday evening to see him in a quieter setting.  He sent me a message: He's got a great personality and nothing seems to faze him.  I think he'll be great for our house.  

So we went Saturday to pick him up for a one-week trial to make sure he's a good fit.  He's an Australian Shepherd/Lab mix.  They guessed his age was about two years but we think he's younger based on his puppy-like nature.  He is full of energy but also low key.  The boys love love love him with his playfulness and kisses.  Our other two dogs are old - both about 12 years - so they have limited patience for his antics.  That said, it's been mostly peaceful so far.  

He likes to play with toys.

I took everyone out for a long walk when we got him home yesterday so that the dogs could meet on more neutral territory.  They were worn out when we got home!  Naptime...

I took him out to meet the chickens last night.  He did pretty well for his first introduction.  He was on a leash.  First I took him up to the run with the birds locked up.  He barely noted them and seemed more interested in sniffing the grass.  Next we tried releasing the chickens.  Then he looked at them but didn't try pulling on his leash or going after them.  So these seem like promising signs.  I read online that a good protector dog will ignore the livestock but protect his territory.  The rescue gave us the name of a trainer who specializes in working dogs, and we plan on reaching out to him for some direction on how to work with our new guy.

Oh, I almost forgot.  We named him Roscoe.

August 19, 2016

Strawberry wine: Part I

This will probably be one of my last wine-making adventures of the summer.  

Strawberry wine began, of course with the strawberries!  I had about 4 cups of them, which I hulled and cut in half.  I added a bit of lemon juice to the berries at this point.

Next I heated up a large pot of filtered water.  When it was boiling, I stirred in the sugar - 2 cups. 

Once the sugar dissolved, I poured a little of the hot syrup over my strawberries and left the sit for about 15 minutes to soften up.  Then I used my immersion blender to break up the pieces.

Finally, I added the rest of the syrup.  It looked like this when I covered it to let it cool.

Later that evening, when it had cooled to room temperature, I added about 1/4 teaspoon of bread yeast, stirred and re-covered it.  The next morning, it looked like this.

I left it sit another two days, stirring it occasionally.  Then on the third day, I lined my strainer with cheesecloth and poured the mixture through it.

Check out the wonderful color of my liquid!

I poured the liquid into my clean carboy and topped it with an airlock.

Within an hour it was bubbling like crazy!  I love to see fermentation at work.  

Now I wait...

Should be about two months from now when it's ready to bottle.  I'm getting to be pretty good at siphoning and bottling my wine.  I've finished up both Dandelion and Honeysuckle.  Next to bottle will be Mint.  Yum!

Strawberry Wine

4 cups strawberries (cleaned, hulled, and halved)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 gallon filtered water
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon yeast

1. Prepare your strawberries and put them into a large pot.  Add the lemon juice.
2. In another pot, boil your water.  Once it reaches a boil, stir in the sugar until it dissolves.  
3. Pour enough of the sugar water over the berries to cover them.  Leave them sit about 15 minutes to soften.  Then mash with a potato masher or with an immersion blender.
4. Cover with a clean towel and let the mixture come to room temperature.  
5.  Once cooled, toss in your yeast and stir.  Re-cover and let sit three days, stirring daily.
6. Strain out the solids through a strainer lined in cheesecloth.  
7. Pour liquid into a sterilized carboy and top with an airlock.  
8. Let it sit until the bubbling stops and the liquid has clarified.  
9.  Bottle it and enjoy as you please!

For a full instruction on how to bottle your wine, read my article on Countryside Network: A Homemade Dandelion Wine Recipe.


To see how this wine finished up, read my January 3, 2017 post "Strawberry Wine: Part II."

August 18, 2016

A fox problem

If you've read some of my other posts, you have heard that we think we have a fox problem.  

While I was away last week we lost one of our darling little ducklings - gone without a trace.  Then it was one of the hens we got from a lady in my church.  Then it was the white Silkie rooster, also from the same lady.  Now the silkie left behind a field of white feathers.  Some in the yard behind the coop, some going up the hillside to the railroad tracks behind the coop.

The one lonesome remaining duckling
Then the next day, I came home from church to find this Barred Rock feathers right next to the door to the coop.  That's at least four birds in a week.  I counted that night when everyone was in the henhouse and I only counted 94.  That means we have lost others too.  Probably close to 10.  

Barred Rock feathers
My husband was out of town for a long weekend and I was getting quite worked up with finding all these piles of feathers.  So I decided to keep the birds penned in their coop/run until he got home and could try to do something about this predator.

I read a lot online and talked to our neighbor Frank, who grew up raising chickens.  From the time of day of the kills - usually middle of the afternoon - and from what remained and where the feathers seemed to lead, we guessed it was probably a fox coming for a chicken supper each day.  

Frank said a big dog on a line behind the coop might solve the issue.  It would bark if anything came into the yard and scare off most animals.  Problem is we don't have such a dog.  

Frank also suggested I walk the tracks to see if I could find any more evidence of the birds or possibly even find a den.  I went up the hill to the tracks yesterday morning.

The only thing I found was some more white feathers from the Silkie.  You could see where there was a somewhat cleared route for an animal to come down from the tracks right behind the coop.  This might be the place to stakeout for our bird killer.

I walked further down the tracks and then circled back through the woods at the back of the property.  I came across this animal trail, but I think this is used more by coyotes, who routinely kill deer in that back field.  Coyotes usually hunt at night though, so I don't think that's what is getting our birds.

I hate seeing the birds cooped up but I also can't stand to find anymore carried off.  Last night Doodle and I stood guard for an hour and a half before bed so the birds could free range a little.  They were so happy to get outside after being locked in for a couple days.  They came streaming out when I opened the door.  Doodle did a good job wandering around but not being aggressive towards any of the birds.

Now my husband is home and a plan is being formulated.  I'll let you know what happens.    

August 17, 2016

Our duck population has doubled

Our duck family began with three ducklings about a year and a half ago: Mrs. Bossy Pants, Dr. Phillips and Marshmallow Man.  We never were very adept at telling the two males apart.  Then one night a coyote took one of the two males.  So we were down to two - Bossy Pants and what now became referred to as "boy duck."  

We desperately wanted some baby ducks and would get very excited every time it looked like the pair were building a nest of eggs to incubate.  Several times Bossy Pants laid bunches of eggs but then failed to sit on them.  

We decided to try an experiment so we took two of Bossy Pants' eggs and put them under a chicken.  Both hatched though only one duckling survived, and we named her Cupcake.  She was raised by the hen who hatched her and to this day seems to think she's more chicken than duck.  At night she climbs up the ramp and comes in to sleep with the chickens.  I think she would perch if she could manage it.  Here she is, now fully grown, coming in for the night.  You can see the other ducks in the background out in the run.

This cracks me up, she will stand in the doorway and watch the other ducks out in the run.

So with the addition of Cupcake, we were back up to three ducks.  

Then one day, something fantastic happened: Bossy Pants actually sat on her nest.  She sat and sat and sat, for four long weeks, only leaving the nest in the evenings to eat, drink, swim and forage in rapid speed so that she could get back onto her eggs.  Of the 14 eggs she started with, sadly only two made it to hatch and survive.  That brought us up to five ducks.

Then last week, while I was gone, one of the little ducklings disappeared - a victim, we believe, to our fox problem.  We have lost probably 4-5 birds in the last week.  More on that in another post.  Here is the one lonely remaining duckling.

Poor thing is trying to figure out where it belongs.  Used to be that the two ducklings were inseparable, waddling around and taking long naps in the shade together.  Now the duckling tries to hang with its mamma and its dad runs it off.  It has taken to staying with Cupcake, who doesn't seem to mind the little one but also sometimes acts like a chicken.  So at night, for instance, the baby is alone.  Cupcake quacked loudly at the baby one night, encouraging it to come up in the coop too but it seemed confused or unwilling so Cupcake went up alone.  

Now we come to the part in the story where our population nearly doubles.  

We had been looking for a companion duck for Cupcake since she's kind of an outcast amongst the ducks.  It was surprisingly difficult to find anyone near us with a grown male Pekin that they'd sell.  Finally we found a family on Craigslist who was advertising 20+ adult Pekins for sale about an hour away from us.  

We set out to find this place, and when we arrived, we wished we could have taken them all.  This lady, who had difficulty walking even with the help of a cane, told us she had order two dozen ducklings because she thought raising them might be a good hobby.  Now they were fully grown, in a pen no bigger than 15' square (with chickens in it too!) which was a muddy disaster.  These poor birds had no shade and only a small baby pool to cool off in, which was empty.  Ahhh!  I wanted to shake this lady and ask her - What were you thinking??  At least she said she had realized ducks were too much for her and they were trying to get rid of them.  

We decided to take four instead of the one male we had planned on.  We didn't want to totally overwhelm our current duck family but we needed to get more of these birds out of that place.  

So now we are up to eight.  

Here you can see the new four in the back and the original two in the front.

The new ducks, since they lived their whole lives in a 15' square, seem to have no interest in leaving the coop.  They would lay under the henhouse all day long.  We have been trying to force them out into the yard and down to the pond.  We noticed the first day that they walked strangely so my husband caught a couple of them and we found they have sores on their feet, probably a result of living in a scummy pen with too many other ducks.

They will have a good life here at the Farm.  We are hopeful they'll learn to forage and explore eventually if we just keep shoving them out into the world.

I caught this glimpse out the window the other day of Bossy Pants and boy duck, who had discovered a little sand box we have yet to fill behind the house.  With all the rain it had become a nice watering hole.  Now those are some ducks that know how to explore!