Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pears Galore

A couple of weeks ago, on one of the first cool(ish) days of the fall, the whole family went out to pick pears from the trees in the yard. We tried hand picking them, but most were out of our reach. Daddy decided that the simplest solution was to shake the branches and have the kids collect the fallen pears from the ground.

 About a quarter of the pears became pear butter. I ended up with 12 quarts of delicious, spicy goodness in the freezer, some of which may go to loved ones this Christmas.


The vast majority of the pears were set aside for a special project: Pear Wine. Now, I've made one batch of wine before, but a couple of gallons of dandelion wine this summer didnt really prepare me for the challenge we were planning...nearly 50 gallons!
 That's right, I said 50 gallons of wine. Why? Well, we just happen to have a clean, food grade, 55 gallon drum that Daddy got from a local soda bottling facility and this seemed like a good use for it.

 First the girls picked through the fruit, pulling the stems off and setting aside bruised pieces. 

Next, we used the apple peeler/slicer/corer to get the pears into small pieces, so we could get them in the barrel. We could have just chopped them up, but the hand crank machine is much faster and makes very uniform slices. 
 Bug's favorite job was shoving the pear pieces through the funnel and into the hole in the top of the barrel.

 After every bowl full of pear pieces she would check to see if it was full yet...

Finally, we finished the pears, added the sugar, water, and yeast and capped it off with our improvised airlock. It started bubbling within an hour and hasn't stopped since. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Country yard sales

I like yard sales. A lot of my little dust catchers come from them. I used to go to town yard sales. There are lots of cool things at town yard sales: clothes, toys, dishes, knick-knacks, couches...you get the idea. Since moving to, as my grandma puts it, "the middle of nowhere" I've discovered that country yard sales are much more diverse.
This shelf has three generations of yard sale and thrift store finds

 The last one I went to was a few weeks ago, at a neighbor's house. It was, in fact, the old man who gives me chickens from time to time. Lily and I browsed around for a few minutes and I saw the typical stuff you expect to see. There were a couple of infant car seats, some baby toys, some curtains, doodads and thingamajigs. Then the old man says, "I got me six geese. They're more'n half grown. Someone just gave me the eggs, 'cause their incubator was full, but I ain't got no use for them. I'll sell 'em to ya. Y'all got that creek down there...It'd be nice to see 'em when I drive by." (Now, when he says "geese" I flash back to my four-year-old self screaming and making a mad dash up a picnic table while a gaggle of geese, absolutely irate that I had dared to run out of stale bread, honked and flapped and chased after me. But then, I put on my big girl panties, told myself that I can always eat them if they're mean, and got over it.)
 We discussed price, $50 for them all, five females and a male. He couldn't remember what breed they were, but since they're "auto sexing" (you can tell the boys from the girls by color) I was pretty sure they're Pilgrim Geese. They go for about $15 each, for a day old chick, so $8.33/bird was a pretty darn good deal. He even promised to round them all up and deliver them to me. 
 See, more diverse. You just don't find geese at a town yard sale.
 So, he brought them over and we put them in with the goats and other birds. Everyone settled in quickly. Once they had been here a few days I picked names for them. I got lots of good ideas from my FB friends, but finally decided to go with Harry Potter names. Since the gander will be mostly white when he's full grown, I decided on Albus. Then I just had to decide which five girl names from the books I wanted to use. After much internal debate I settled on Minerva, Nymphadora (aka: Tonks), Hermonie, Ginny, and Luna. 
 And here they are...

Albus, Hermonie, and Ginny

Tonks and Luna


The whole Hogwarts Gang

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Confession time...

 Confession time...

 I'm back, after a long absence, to admit that the garden is (was I guess, because it's all pretty much dead now) an absolute mess this year. Plants didn't sprout. The ones that did were killed by one of several things: a freak freeze in May, bugs, being overpowered by my nemesis, Johnson Grass, being eaten by goats (pretty much every herb I had, except the apple mint), or the lack of rain. Laziness definitely played a part as well.
 Rather than focusing on my absolute failure in the battle of gardener vs. nature this year, I've decided to plan ahead for next year.

Step 1- Fire!

 Okay, I know it sounds a little extreme, but I'm that frustrated with the damn weeds. "Now Renee," you might say, "what did you expect when you tried to turn a pasture of Johnson and Bermuda grasses into a garden?" We'll, you've got me there. I absolutely wasn't thinking! Anyway, back to fire... When the few, sad, pathetic tomato plants finally give up and die we're going to mow it all down and then go out with a hose and a weed torch and burn all of the stubble away. (See, not as dramatic as it sounded...)

Step 2- Wooden frames

 Hubby is going to build me frames for my raised beds to help keep the weeds out! After seeing some of the roots on the Johnson grass he decided that two foot tall beds might deter the stuff. It has the added benefit of straightening out the mounded beds, which ended up all cockeyed. Once the frames are in place I'll put a couple of layers of cardboard underneath and fill it with screened topsoil and compost.

Step 3- Cardboard

 This involves going to three or four stores nearby and asking nicely if we can have their boxes. After they say yes, I will break down all of the boxes and pull off any tape before covering all of the paths with several layers of the overlapped cardboard. 

Step 4- Gravel

 Hubby has found a source for all the free gravel he can carry (isn't Hubby awesome?) so, over the several layers of overlapped cardboard, he will put down six inches or so of gravel. This will serve to hold down the cardboard and to keep the paths dry.

There are still some details to work out, but this is the current game plan.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

More babies and other happenings

 Hello everyone, in my last blog post I mentioned that I wasn't sure when Coco would have her babies. I said something like "it could be today, or it could be another month." Well, it was "today". That afternoon, without anyone noticing, Coco had a set of triplets! Daddy and the kids were all outside working on the garden fence, and never heard a thing. Aislyn finally noticed them when she went to check the chicken coop for eggs. I was amazed, because it was her first pregnancy and she didn't look very big at all.

Brand new

 She had two boys and one girl. The girl's name is Violet and the boys are Rowen and Ash. Coco is doing an amazing job with the babies. She is having no problems nursing all three babies and she keeps a close eye on them to make sure none of the other animals bother them.




"Mom, is it food?"

Nap time

  Since we can't breed either boy to any of the girls, because they are too closely related, Rowen will be castrated and we'll keep him as a pet and companion for our future buck. We are going to be trading Ash for a Saanen buckling later this afternoon and then we'll use the new boy as our new herd sire when he grows up. I'm going to be giving him a tree name (like Rowen and Ash) but I'm having trouble deciding between Linden, Birch. or Beech. Whichever name he gets, he will be a bottle baby, which is always fun.

 Other than new kids (as if that wasn't enough cuteness) I also got a dozen chicks last week. They were in the "assorted straight run" bin, so I'm not positive what breed they are, but I think they're Barred Rocks. I thought so when I picked them out, since I've had them before, and as they get their feathers and they show barring I'm more confident that I was right. They have spent the last week in a plastic tote on my dresser, which is not very conducive to a good night sleep. Luckily, Daddy built a lid and added legs to the brooder he made me last fall, so now I can move them outside where chickens belong. They'll be going out as soon as we get the heat lamp attached in such a way that they can't peck it or pull it down.

Chicks are so darn cute

Brooder made out of pallet wood and scrap 2x4s

 In pig related news, Daddy also built a feeder for them. It's also made out of scraps and was entirely free. He used some of the scrap plywood he brought home and some really big PVC pipe that was leftover on a job. I decided to paint it purple (because I can!) and then Daddy finished it off with a pink pig on the lid that the pigs lift to get to the food. Apparently, the pig painting came about because he needed a way to keep the lid from staying open when the pigs weren't eating, so he added these two pieces of wood that turned out looking like pig ears. Whatever the reason, I love it!

Pig feeder

 That's all for today folks, there are chores waiting for me.

 Blessed Be )O(

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Busy Week on the Farm

 It has been a very busy week on the farm. Things that we meant to get done last weekend got postponed because we got the nasty bug that's been going around. Ian ended up with Strep throat and then, once everyone was better, I got a two day migraine that kept me indoors.

 We thought that Sweetie had mastitis and she stopped nursing the triplets, so I had to milk her and bottle feed the babies. Luckily, it wasn't mastitis, but only a bruised udder and she's letting them get their milk straight from the source again. They are growing like weeds and are at the ridiculously cute stage where they bounce around the yard all day.

This may have been the only time they were still all day

 Coco is still pregnant, but is starting to show signs that the baby (babies?) might come soon. Of course, I thought Sweetie was going to deliver weeks before she actually did, so what do I know? She's as standoffish as always, so it's hard to tell if her tail ligaments have softened yet. She is starting to hollow out a little, but not nearly as much as Sweetie had before she delivered. It could be today, or it could be in another month. Next time I won't field breed them, so I have a better idea of when to expect the babies.

She is camera shy, but I finally managed to get a decent picture

 Daddy brought home a big pile of pallets, which is great, because they can be used for so many things. He also got some long pieces of rain gutter that we'll use to plant strawberries in, some, 2x4s, and a bunch of scrap plywood. 

16 masonry pallets, some of which were used to give Bacon a raised floor in the pig pen

 The first big project that we (actually he) tackled was getting the main part of the garden fenced. After the umpteenth time that the goats ate my sprouting artichoke plants, there was no choice. We didn't have quite enough fencing to go around the whole area, but that's where the pallets come in. We used five of them in the northwest corner and a gate off of the old chicken run to finish it off. It was just in time too, because the peas, asparagus, and lettuce had started sprouting. The goats did manage to wipe out most of the Brussels sprouts and broccoli seedlings though. 

Welded wire fencing and pallets 
 I would have been in the way while he was working on the fence, so I used the time to turn over more of the raised beds. I'm doing my best to get all of the Johnson grass and Bermuda grass out of the garden, so every fork full of dirt has to be checked for rhizomes. They are, pretty much, the bane of my existence right now. If you miss even a single piece it sprouts again. I would guess I got about 70% of it out, so it'll be an ongoing battle. I've finished 17 of the beds, and only have another 4 to go.

Lily collects the pieces of rhizome so we can toss them in the pig pen

 The next project was getting a permanent pig shelter built. I wasn't able to help with that either, because Bacon had managed to head butt me on Friday evening while we were trying to get her back in her pen and I had a terrible headache. I am also missing a bit of skin from my temple where her rough hair rubbed it off. It felt like getting hit with a baseball bat covered in Brillo pad. Let me just tell you, a pig REALLY dislikes being picked up and has no problem letting you know it!

She looks so innocent, but it's all an act

 Anyway, the kids helped Daddy, by fetching pieces of roofing and wood. Lily likes to be in charge of handing out the screws. By the time the ibuprofen had kicked in and I was able to handle being out in the sunshine they had the supports up and the roof in place. The floor is a couple of pallets and it will have a plywood back and side walls to make sure there is enough shade come summertime. 

The shelter backs up to the compost bin

Her favorite thing is to be told she's a big helper 

 After getting a good start on the pig house, Daddy and the twins went to pick up our new addition! Hamlet had been castrated and was ready to join Bacon. He's from the same litter, but he's slightly smaller than her. Between the two, we should have about 350 pounds of pork in the freezer come July. I'm also planning on rendering the lard and making some homemade sausage. If we manage to get a smokehouse built before then we will smoke our own hams and bacon.

Bacon and her buddy Hamlet
 The last big thing that happened was that I finally got my Lovage seeds to sprout. I had some growing when we lived in California, but have had lousy luck with it here. I put the seeds in the back corner of the herb bed and covered them with a hot cap made from a 2-liter bottle so that the soil would warm up a bit and the animals wouldn't bother them and, after 10 days I had six sprouts. For anyone who hasn't had Lovage, it tastes like slightly spicy celery and it grows six feet tall. I'm looking forward to adding it to soups and gravy. It's a perennial, so once it's established I won't have to worry about it ever again. 

A couple of Lovage seedlings inside their tiny greenhouse
 That's it for now. I hope everyone has a great week! 

 Blessed Be...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Spring (and kids) have arrived

 Texas doesn't care what the calendar says, spring has arrived. To prove it our Nubian doe, Sweetie, gave birth on Wednesday.

 She and Cocoa were both field bred early in the fall, so I didn't know exactly when they were due to kid. I could tell just by looking that Sweetie was further along than Cocoa, so I had been watching her closely for the last few weeks. Her udder was filling for about a month, but her tail ligaments had just "gone away" in the last two days and her sides sunk in on Tuesday, so I knew it would be soon. On Wednesday afternoon I went out to check on her and discovered that she had gone back into the pen by herself. This was not normal, usually she is wandering the property with her buddy. I went in and she started licking my hand and arm. I was pretty sure she was in very early labor although I didn't see her having any contractions

 I wanted to stay with her, but Gabe's bus was due any minute and I had to go out front and wait for it. Plus, I thought I had plenty of time before things really got going. I got Gabe off of his bus, grabbed my phone, book, camera, and a drink and headed back out to the pen. As I got close I heard a teeny-tiny little "Maaahhh" and saw a slimy little bundle lying on the floor of the goat shed.
 I was shocked! Sweetie hadn't made a sound! I got into the pen, crab walked into the shed (it's only 4 feet tall) and checked on the baby. It was breathing and healthy looking and Mama was cleaning it off just like she was supposed to.

What a good mama!

 I praised her and waited for the twin that I was sure was coming. As I was waiting the twins (the human ones) got home from school and they and Lily came out and joined me. Aislyn was kind of grossed out by the "bubble" that was coming out of Sweetie, but she changed her tune once we were able to see the hooves and nose of the next baby.
 Sweetie gave one big grunt and the baby started to slither out. Since she was standing I reached out, caught it, and laid it on the ground near Sweetie's head. It was entirely enclosed in the sac still, so I ripped it open and started cleaning off the baby's nose and mouth.

 While I was doing that Sweetie gave another grunt and I looked up to see a THIRD baby being born! I reached out and caught it just before it hit the ground. It couldn't have taken her more than 3 minutes to get the second and third babies out.


 Once everyone was cleaned off I made sure that each of them nursed, so that they got the colostrum that would keep them healthy in the coming weeks. Then it occurred to me to check and see what sexes they were. Three girls! That means we get to keep them all and breed them in a year or so. I am imagining huge quantities of milk for cheese making and, possibly, soap making in the future.

 We named them Rose, Petunia, and Daisy. Everyone is doing well. Mama is nursing all three, without any need for me to bottle feed any of them. They spent a good part of this afternoon out in the, yard romping and playing with Boris, who's pretty sure that the babies are his and growls at any other animal that comes near them (except Mama, of course.)

 The human kids are absolutely in love with them and I have to tell them constantly not to pick them up. Luckily, I don't have to follow the same rule, and pick them up at every opportunity. I tell myself that I'm just making sure they'll be friendly when they get bigger, but I really just want to give them cuddles.

Here are some more pictures of the new additions...

Petunia is the smallest and most cuddly

Daisy is the biggest and most independent

Rose is the most curious

Notice Boris in the background, keeping an eye on "his" babies
 Now I'm just waiting on Coco to have her kid or kids. Since it's her first kidding I'm not sure how many to expect from her.

 Other than spending a huge chunk of my day watching cute baby goats romp around, I am getting the garden ready. I just got the broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower in the ground today, which is a little late, but I hope we'll still get a decent harvest. Peas and lettuce will get planted this weekend, and I hope to get the tomato and pepper seeds started indoors too.

 Sunday we will be going to pick up a feeder piglet to raise for the freezer. I've decided to name it Bacon as a reminder not to get too attached. Expect to see a post about little Bacon later this week.

 Well, that's it for tonight. I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend!

 Blessed Be...