July 7, 2017

New blog site

Hi all, sorry it's been a long time since I have posted!

Unfortunately Google has stopped providing support and updates for this blog site so I had to go in search of a new site to host my blog.  It took me a while but I found one I love where I can combine my website and blog into one.

Check out my new site on Word Press: phillipsfarmbatavia.com

I'll do my best to get posting soon.

Thanks to all who take the time to read about what's going on in our lives here at the farm.  I'd love to hear from you about what you think of my new site.

February 17, 2017

Farmhouse Cheddar

For Christmas this year, I got this cheesemaking kit for McGregor, who is 11 years old.  One of the few foods he loves to eat is cheese so I thought it would be fun for him to see how it's made.

Last weekend we got the two gallons of whole milk required for the Farmhouse Cheddar recipe, and he followed the directions mostly on his own to get started.  He heated the milk and added the rennet, let the curds form, strained out the whey, etc.

When he was about done, I hung it in cheesecloth over the sink to let it drain out completely.

The kit said to press it but we didn't have a cheese press so we weren't sure what to do at that point.  When we were across the street for our neighbors' Super Bowl party, I asked Rita jokingly if she had a cheese press and she replied that she did!  What luck!  

I came over the next day to pick it up and she confided that she wasn't really sure what kind of a press it was (could be for juice, wine, cider, cheese, who knows) but that we were welcome to give it a try.  The thing was big.  I had to come back with the car for it.

Anyway, we opened it up, set the cheese still wrapped in cheese cloth, down into it and rotated the handle to apply pressure.  More whey did come out.  We left it in for 12 hours then flipped it and did it again for 12 hours.

When it came out, it looked a little bit like a round of brie.  The directions said to leave it out on a wooden board for 3-5 days to form a rind, flipping it regularly so the bottom wouldn't get moist.  

After the rind forms, you were supposed to wax the cheese then let it age for 2 months, flipping it once/week.  I got some food safe wax at the store and melted it down in a mock double boiler then brushed it all over the cheese.

Once it cooled, I loosely wrapped it in wax paper and labeled it so we'd know when two months are up.  It is supposed to age at 55 degrees and 75% humidity but unfortunately we don't have a basement so I don't know where we could do that.  Might just have to age on the kitchen counter.

This has been a fun adventure.  I see more cheese in the future here at Phillips Farm.

February 15, 2017

It's nice to have a little helper

My youngest stepson Baxter was really in the mood to be helpful recently.  One day he set out to the chicken coop all on his own, basket in hand, and came back with a load of eggs.  He handed them to me and said, "I got the eggs."  I thanked him and asked if he had checked all the nesting boxes, because it didn't seem like enough eggs.  He said he couldn't reach one side, but then he disappeared again.  

About fifteen minutes later he was back with more eggs.  I asked how he got them if he couldn't reach.  He explained that he had crawled up the ramp, through the chicken door, and into the henhouse!  He said, "I saw how the chickens went in and I went that way."  What a creative problem solver.  

Then he said, "I was thinking maybe I should be in charge of getting the eggs when I'm here."  I agreed that that was fabulous idea.

Later, I was rolling out some dough to make dog bones.  Baxter, who likes to crawl around on the floor and pretend he's one of the pups too, sat by my feet pawing at me for a cookie.  I said, "Sorry puppy, they aren't ready yet."  So then he popped up and grabbed the child's apron I have hanging in the kitchen.  He said, "Ok, well maybe I should make some then."  I showed him how to roll the dough out from the center to get it evenly spread and then to cut the cookies close together, starting at the edge.  Before long he was a pro.

He cut out an entire tray of bones, even re-rolling the dough on his own when he had cut out all he could from a batch.

Don't you just love it when the children are helpful and have fun doing it?  

February 13, 2017

Fresh lettuce

The greens I started a few weeks back are thriving under the grow lights I got from my friend Casey at Greener Portions Aquaponics.  I planted a flat of meslun and spinach.  The mesclun is quite dense now and the spinach is beginning to fill in too.

The other evening, I got out my scissors and started chopping.  It didn't take me long to cut a whole bowl full of greens for a nice big dinner salad.  I'm also growing some herbs so I snipped some of those to add to the mix too.  It was so flavorful and fresh!  

It had me longing for spring planting and summer meals of food fresh from the garden.  I've been working on my garden planning and have my schedule all laid out to begin planting in late February/early March.  I'm going to try to do everything from seed this year, which will be a new adventure for me.  I am so looking forward to all the heirloom varieties I'll get to try since I'm growing them all myself from the get-go instead of buying seedlings at the store.

What are you most excited to plant this spring?

February 11, 2017

Garden on my mind

Today was unbelievable.  It hit nearly 70 degrees, and it was sunny most of the morning.  I had to get my hands in the dirt!

I asked my neighbors if I could borrow their tiller to get the soil in my garden and in my new berry patch turned.  I got all the manure I had added last fall worked in so it was a rich dark brown.  I love the color of fresh spring soil.  The chickens were very curious about it too.

The garlic I planted in the fall is looking pretty good.  All of it has sprouted with the bursts of warm days we've had this winter.

My next task was to do some soil testing.  I took samples from three spots in the garden and one on the far side of the yard where I want to plant some berries.  I had ordered this simple test kit on Amazon a few weeks ago so I'd be ready.

First I did the pH test.  Almost all my samples looked like this, which I read as slightly acid.  

For the other three tests, I had to prepare the samples with a 1:5, soil:water mixture.  You shake it until it mixes well then leave it to settle out.

The kit says it could take 3-24 hours depending on the type of soil you have.  Then you fill each test container with water from the solution and add the little chemical pack.  So I'm waiting for my samples to separate out before I learn more about my soil.

When I finished all I could for today, I sat in a chair on the deck, muddy and sweaty and happy, dreaming of the garden that will be in full swing before I know it.  

Chicks at two weeks

We got our newest batch of little Easter Eggers on January 25; so they turned two weeks old on Wednesday.  I swear every time we get chicks they seem to grow faster and faster.  These little ones now have quite feathered wings and love to fly up out of the brooder and perch on things around the workshop, leaving deposits to show they were there.  I am sensing they will be moving out soon!  

Check out this girl perched up on the board that runs over the brooder for the heat lamps.  Can't just hear her saying, "I'm the queen of the world!"  

It is a constant flurry of activity with 66 of them in the brooder.  This is the biggest batch we have ever had at once.

I caught one so you could see how many feathers they have already.  Their little bodies are still fuzzy but they've got these fabulous wings.

Hi there.

Now the next question will be where they'll go when they are ready to leave the brooder.  We are reaching the tipping point where we may not be able to close off a whole side of the coop for babies since we have so many adults with the 50 Golden Comets we just added.  This may take some maneuvering.  Check back to see what we work out.  Problem solving should be listed as a skill on every farmer's resume!

February 1, 2017

A Chicken Adoption

We recently adopted six chickens who were no longer wanted by their keepers.  There were two Barred Rocks, two Rhode Island Reds, and two which we now think are Buff Orpingtons.  

When we released the babies into the run beside the adults, one of the Buff Orpingtons would stand at the fence and stare over longingly at the little birds.  I thought maybe she just missed the small coop where we had housed her and the other adoptees when they first arrived.  Then I saw this scene the other night in the henhouse (the babies and adults are now integrated):

The Buff Orpington hen was laying in a pile of babies.  She looked like a mother with all her little ones (now teenagers) nestled in around her.  I guess she just felt a mothering instinct and so took naturally to the smallest of our flock.  We adopted her and now she's adopting all the babies she can fit around her!

January 28, 2017

I'm itching to get growing

We have had the strangest winter so far.  Really it has barely felt like winter these past few weeks; spring was in the air.  Then I stepped outside today and ran back in for my heavy coat.  Alas, spring was teasing us but winter is back.

I was drawn by the warmth of the outside air to start growing some things inside a few weeks ago.  I have a friend who runs an aquaponics business and he is moving locations so he graciously offered me some grow lights he no longer needed.  I was so excited to bring them home and play in the dirt!

My seed order had recently arrived from Seed Savers, so I sorted through and found a few things to experiment with - mostly herbs and some greens.  I love pouring out some seeds in my hands and examining their shapes and colors.  These were some rosemary seeds which looked like they had a golden dot on them.

I got some seed starting flats and potting mix and got to work filling and watering and planting my seeds.  The first things I planted were mesclun and spinach.  They are coming up nicely and filling in my flat.  We'll be eating freshly grown salad in no time at all!

Some of my herbs are also beginning to germinate.  I've never grown any of these from seed so I'm excited to learn as I go.  I'm taking lots of notes as I read about individual plants' needs.  

Even if it's cold again outside, standing in my office with my hands in the dirt, watching things grow, I can feel the pull of spring.  It'll be here before we know it! 

January 26, 2017

Baby Easter Eggers

Babies are back!

Check out that little lady's face.  I picked her up because her sister was trying to play tug-o-war with her leg.  Poor girl.  She was chirping up a storm, saying, "Leave me alone!"  

We picked up 64 little Easter Eggers from Mt. Healthy Hatchery yesterday morning.  These are the chickens which will eventually lay the blue-green eggs our customers so love.  This batch brings our flock up near 200 birds.  We've been trying to expand so that we can supply both locations of our local grocery Jungle Jim's.  We currently deliver to the Eastgate location each Friday morning but hopefully by mid-summer we will be in the Fairfield store too.

I love the variety in the Easter Egger chicks.  Because they are a mutt breed, they have so many different color variations.  This chick looks like she's really into eye-liner.

These yellow ones will probably grow up to be pure white.

It's amazing how small they look when you first bring them home.  64 birds in the brooder likes like nothing but in a couple weeks they will have outgrown the space and will need to move outside.

January 21, 2017

Growing a Traverse City Cherry Pit or Two

Last summer, while we were at the lakehouse, my mother-in-law and I went one day to the Farmer's Market in Traverse City.  We brought home a big bag of juicy, sweet Michigan cherries.  Baxter sat at the counter and ate almost half the bag in one sitting.  He just loved the cherries!

As he ate, he saved the pits on a plate.  When he finished, he declared, "We should take these home and plant them at the farm so we can grow our own cherries!"  How could I say no to that??

I tried to explain to him that cherries are a plant that isn't usually grown directly from a seed.  The concept of grafting fruit trees was way beyond his understanding, though, so I thought - what does it hurt, let's give it a try.  So I did some reading online and found that fruit seeds tend to do better after being left in the fridge for some time.  We filled a jam jar with wet dirt, pushed some pits down into it, and slid it to the back of the fridge.  That was in July.  

Now we find ourselves in January, and the jar caught my eye last week.  There was something white on the side of the jar.  When I pulled it out to get a closer look, I saw the bottom of the jar was packed with roots.  A white stem was pushing its way to the surface of the dirt as well.  I took it out, removed the lid and put it under my grow light.  

After a day or two, small green leaves burst up through the dirt.  It is difficult to see in these pictures, but there are two small leaves just above the soil line.  

When the boys were here on Wednesday, I took the jar out from under the light, and before I said anything, Baxter said, "Cherries!"  He remembered five and a half months ago when we put those pits in the fridge.  We talked about where we could start our orchard.  

There's nothing like the excitement of growing things, especially when you didn't think they would grow.  What a joy and an experience I hope little B will remember for years to come.

January 19, 2017

Mushrooms galore

For Christmas, I got Oliver a kit to grow his own mushrooms.  He was so excited to get it set up and become a real "mushroom farmer."  

We followed the step-by-step instructions to activate the spores in the compost, put it in a dark-ish spot, and keep it watered.  Oliver asked me to please keep an eye on it when he was at his mom's house and make sure it didn't dry out.  

I dutifully checked on it day by day, until all the sudden little white button mushrooms started popping out.  Then they grew and grew and grew - super fast - until I finally had to harvest them before he came back because they were so full I couldn't water it effectively.  

Look how big and beautiful these mushrooms were!

I cut out a gallon-sized ziplock bag full of mushrooms.  The kit is supposed to regenerate 2-3 times so we will be eating a lot of mushrooms here at the farm!

For dinner yesterday, I made us Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Swiss Melts.  Though the boys weren't too excited about eating mushrooms and onions, they got them down since Oliver had grown the mushrooms for us - can't let that go to waste.  Josh and I thought they were mighty tasty too.

January 11, 2017


We had a big whoopsy-daisy this weekend.  

I went out to collect eggs and give the birds some more straw Sunday evening.  I walked into the run and felt this feeling like: something is wrong here!  It took me a minute to put my finger on it, but then it hit me.  The birds were all mixed up.  The "babies" had been in their own run and henhouse but somehow they got in with the adults.

You can see in the picture above some of the little girls (I guess they are like teenagers now) in the background.  

I stood there in the run observing for a few minutes.  I saw an occasional older hen peck at a smaller one, but nothing crazy or worrisome.  I breathed a sigh of relief!  

So I set about opening all the doors we had sealed shut to keep the generations separate.  There was one between the henhouses and one in the run.  The laying hens were happy to have access to a bunch of nesting boxes again, which they hadn't been able to get to with the babies in there.  

Some of the bravest little ones even ventured out the automatic chicken door to check out the yard.  

I came inside and asked my husband, "Did you mix the birds together?"

He stared at me in wonderment, then finally asked, "What did you say?"  I said, "The babies are all mixed in with the adults but I couldn't see how it happened.  I was freaking out but they actually seem okay.  Did you mix them up?"  

He said no so we concluded that maybe when someone went in the baby run earlier in the day, the latch didn't catch to lock the door and some babies got out.   Then the wind must have later blown it closed.  

Anyway, however it happened, I guess they were letting us know they were ready to join the rest of the flock.  So now we are officially integrated back into one flock, at least for a month or two until we get more babies...

January 10, 2017

Probably no iceskating this year

This weekend we thought perhaps the ice on the pond might be solid enough to go out on.  The boys have such fun "iceskating" (mostly just sliding and having the dogs pull them) when it is solid.  It has been so cold the last week or so that the ice solidified quickly, going from open water to clear ice in less than a day.  

My brave husband went out onto the ice with his drill while we all watched from solid ground.  He drilled down into it, but - alas - the ice was only about two inches thick.  He likes it to be at least 4" to call it safe for me and the boys.  

As he stood up after drilling the hole, you could hear this loud moaning sound as the whole pond cracked.  Can you see the crack coming out the sides of the hole?

Josh leapt off the water, laughing.  He told the boys, "This is a good lesson!  If you are ever out on ice and you hear that sound, get off quick.  That moaning sound is the sound of big ice breaking or shifting and you don't want to be anywhere near that."

So instead of iceskating, we tried to sled on the bit of snow that was left.  Mostly we just played with Roscoe and enjoyed some fresh air before coming inside for hot cocoa and a nap.  It was a nice afternoon with the family.

Now this week it'll be nearly 60 degrees and rainy.  What a strange winter!

January 9, 2017

Free Chicken Food

Many of you know I am a preschool teacher at Summit Country Day School here in Cincinnati.  Part of my duties include helping in the Lower School lunchroom.  I noticed that a lot of food was being thrown away because, as we all know, young children can be picky eaters!  I was bothered by so much waste until one day I got an idea.  It could be a win-win if I collected the food scraps for our birds: free chicken food and less waste!

So I consulted with the teachers, the director of the school and the lunchroom staff and all agreed to give it a try.  The first day I brought home about 3/4 of a five gallon bucket and the chickens ate everything except for the oranges.  It was rather funny, really.  They left us bowls of orange slices while managing to pick out every other bit of food.

I told everyone at school - great work!  Just try to avoid the oranges.

The second day it was the end of the week and time to clean out much of the salad bar so I came home with nearly two full buckets of food including tomato soup and some spaghetti, both of which the birdies loved.  

They pick out the strands of spaghetti and carry them around like worms.  It's fun to watch.

This girl found a nice piece of bread soaked in milk and tomato soup.  I'm excited for the milk and cheese because it'll be a good source of calcium and protein.

So our first week of collecting food scraps from the Lower School cafeteria went well.  Maybe I'll look into expanding into the Middle and Upper Schools.  This could be good for everyone!

January 8, 2017

Winter eggs

Winter eggs are different from summer eggs in so many ways. The first and most noticeable thing is that the chickens lay fewer eggs.  Certain breeds lay more consistently than others. If you look at the picture above you'll notice there aren't many blue/green eggs. We are finding our brown egg layers (Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks and Welsummers) to be a lot more consistent layers than the Easter Eggers, who give the colorful eggs. Though our overall numbers are down, the green eggs are way down. That's why, if you buy our eggs, you might notice less or even no green eggs in your box lately.  

When chickens were wild, undomesticated animals, they only laid eggs in the warmer months because that's when it would be safest to raise young. Domesticated breeds have been bread to lay year-round, though some have taken up this quality more so than others. To help keep egg production more consistent, we do supplement the light in the coop a little so the birds have about 14 hours of "daylight" which fools their bodies into thinking it's not the dead of winter. That can only help so much though if it's -4 degrees outside. At that point, much of the calories the birds are eating simply goes to keeping them warm and egg production drops significantly. 

Now, another difference comes in the birds' feed.  In the spring, summer and fall, the birds spend most of their day out on pasture grazing grass, bugs and sometimes small creatures like frogs and lizards. In winter, they have access to the same pasture but choose to spend much more time indoors, especially when there is snow on the ground. And when they do go outside, there is less for them to eat as naturally happens in winter. So the majority of what the birds eat is their feed.  We use a non-GMO 15% layer feed from Bagdad Roller Mills in Bagdad, KY.  

This allows you to see the real difference that foraging makes in the birds' eggs. When they eat a wider variety of foods, found in the yard, their yolks are richer and their shells are stronger. The color of both shell and yolk is darker. If you look at the picture above, you'll see that the brown eggs are a pale brown. All of this is the natural cycle of egg production.  Winter eggs are just different from summer eggs. 

January 3, 2017

Strawberry Wine: Part II

Way back in August, I started a batch of Strawberry Wine.  It has been sitting on my counter for months and months.  I siphoned it into a new carboy to get some sediment out twice.  That wine had a lot of seeds and sediment in the bottom!  It just seemed to keep bubbling away until finally, after nearly five months, it stopped.  

So I got out my supplies and set to bottling it.  

I siphoned it, through the filtered tube, into a large bucket.

Then from the bucket, I filled my bottles.  I got a good mouthful getting the siphon started and I was happy with the taste.  It definitely tastes like strawberry and will be a nice after dinner wine.  I can't wait to see how it tastes after being bottled for a few months.

I got about four and a half bottles from my carboy.

And if this made you think of the Deana Carter song "Strawberry Wine" (like it did for me), take a minute and watch the video.  Ahh, young love...