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Refrigerator root cellar step 1...dig

Moth pupa in the soil

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

How to help chicks during hatching

Building a bee waterer

May 2014

A year ago this week:

Toad hostel

Tomatoes and cold weather

DIY soda bottle tripod

Helium balloon crow deterrent

May 2013

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battery powered chainsaw chain replacement

Our Oregon battery powered chainsaw needed a new chain today.

The sharpening stone still had about 1/4 of its surface area left, but one close look at the teeth will tell you why it stopped cutting.

I like to flip the bar upside down when a new chain goes on to even out the wear on the little bar sprockets.

We are very happy with how much cutting we got done on the first chain.

Posted Thu May 21 15:48:35 2015 Tags:
Strawberries, cookies, and cream

Despite some bird pressure that's been forcing me to pick berries a little on the pale side, we've been enjoying delicious strawberry desserts for the last week and a half or so. That said, I've decided it's finally time to pull the plug on our Honeoyes. Not the variety --- this early season strawberry is still a favorite. But after expanding my patch from gifted expansions of someone else's patch for the last eight years, viruses (I assume) are building up in the clones and the berries are slowly becoming less flavorful. When even I want a little honey on my fruit (unlike Mark, who always does), I know that it's time to make a fresh start.

Ripening strawberry

And, while I'm at it, maybe I should try a second variety as well? Now that Kayla's in my life, I can get away with ordering 25 plants of both Honeoye and Galleta (an ultra-early variety) without worrying that the new plants will take over my entire garden. Last year's addition of Sparkle was a great boon to our homestead, so hopefully Galleta will be as well. And even though the plants cost 70 cents apiece once you add in shipping, when you figure that they and their children will likely feed us for another eight years at a rate of at least a gallon a day, the plants are definitely a bargain! That's my kind of homestead math.

Posted Thu May 21 07:27:38 2015 Tags:
new goat door

The Star Plate goat barn now has a third door to access the new paddock.

Posted Wed May 20 16:05:49 2015 Tags:

Homemade ricottaI'll admit that when my parents made lasagna with ricotta when I was a kid, I tried to pick around the grainy cheese. But I now that I'm experimenting with cheesemaking, I've learned the purpose of ricotta --- turning all that cultured whey into something useful. And, sure enough, two quarts of milk turned into 9.5 ounces of neufchatel, while leaving enough proteins in the whey to create another 2.9 ounces of ricotta. Thus, I've decided this subtly acidic cheese is hereafter to be referred to as "bonus cheese."

(Okay, not really. You can keep calling it ricotta. But doesn't "bonus cheese" sound good?)

Making ricotta

Ricotta is almost too simple to post about. You take your leftover whey and allow the liquid to sit, covered, at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Next, boil to separate the curds from the whey, then strain out the chemically altered (greenish) whey off your new cheese.

The boiling step is supposed to be a near-boil, using a double boiler to heat the cultured whey to 203 degrees Fahrenheit. However, after an hour in our double boiler, the whey was beginning to separate out little curds...but still hadn't surpassed 180 degrees. Only after decanting the whey into a pot to cook it the rest of the way directly on the stove, at which point it boiled at around 198 degrees Fahrenheit, did I realize that I really should have factored in changing boiling temperatures due to elevation. (Or, perhaps, the fact that my candy thermomter might not be accurate?) So, to cut a long story short --- you can make ricotta just fine by simply bringing the whey to a boil then removing it from the heat.

Straining ricotta

Anyway, after you boil your whey, you let it cool for a couple of hours, then pour the curds and whey into a clean cloth above a strainer. I used our new straining funnel for this step.

You'll also notice that I moved to a white cloth instead of the colored one I'd used for my previous cheeses. I learned the hard way that cheese picks up a little bit of lint from the cloth, which is unsightly if the fabric is colored. But if the cloth is white, no one ever knows....

I actually loved the flavor of this ricotta plain, but I'm thinking of trying it in a chocolate cheesecake with some of the neufchatel. Because everything tastes better with a little chocolate....

Posted Wed May 20 07:00:02 2015 Tags:
goat gate latch close up

This sliding bolt gate latch is my new favorite way to keep goats out.

Posted Tue May 19 15:47:10 2015 Tags:
Cheesemaking supplies

After deciding that our first cheese --- an acid cheese --- was too simple, it was time to move on to a cultured cheese. I followed this recipe for neufchatel, which uses buttermilk as the starter culture and rennet to make the curds separate from the whey.

Rennet, I learned when hunting down these supplies, comes in several forms --- liquid animal, liquid vegetable, tablets, and powders. The powders are usually for bulk purchasers, tablets have a very long shelf life, liquid animal is easy to utilize in small quantities for fractions of the recipe, and liquid vegetable (as best I can tell) is a slightly bitter replica used by vegetarians. Since I wanted to be able to try half recipes, I opted for this liquid animal rennet.

Clean break

I'm not going to run through all of the instructions for making this cheese since you can find them at the link in the previous section. The shorthand version is: take 2 quarts of room-temperature milk, add two tablespoons of cultured buttermilk, dissolve two drops of liquid rennet in a quarter of a cup of water and add to the milk mixture, stir, then cover and let sit for about eight hours. You'll know your cheese is ready for the next step when you see a clean break as is shown above.

Cutting curds

Now you're ready to cut the curds...

Draining off whey

...and drain off the whey by pouring the contents of your pot into a clean towel in a colander. You're then supposed to hang this bag of proto-cheese for a while until the rest of the whey works its way out, but I was impatient and simply squeezed the bag, stirred the contents, and then squeezed some more until the cheese was dry. (Someone please tell me why this method is wrong --- it seemed to efficient!)

Homemade goat cheese

The final result gets half a teaspoon of salt mixed in and is then ready to eat!

Goat cheese taste test

Mark and I tasted the neufchatel (top container), the same cheese mixed with some Hollywood sun-dried tomatoes, and ricotta made from the whey. (More on the ricotta in a later post.) Mark doesn't like goat cheese from the store, but he enjoyed this completely non-goaty cheese...while I actually missed the goatish overtones. Meanwhile, I've never been a fan of ricotta, but I thoroughly enjoyed the homemade version, while finding the Neufchatel a bit bland.

As best I can tell, the reason this cheese is neufchatel instead of chevre is because it uses buttermilk as the starter culture. However, when I looked up the biology of chevre and buttermilk cultures, I learned that both contain some combination of Lactococcus lactis lactis, Lactococcus lactis cremoris, Lactococcus lactis diacetylactis, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides cremoris. It's probably still worth buying a chevre culture to see what I come up with using the other starter since my taste buds say this Neufchatel isn't the same as chevre.

Posted Tue May 19 07:22:08 2015 Tags:
yet another goat gate

When I get this one done we'll have 3 paddocks we can cycle the goats through.

Posted Mon May 18 15:59:46 2015 Tags:
Goat family

I suspect one of the reason women love goats is because the caprine herd has the exact opposite problem we have. As a goatkeeper, one of your primary goals is to keep the weight on your goats. Between intestinal parasites (usually present at low levels but sometimes veering way out of control) and the energetic expense of creating baby goats and milk out of grass, dairy goats have a bad tendency to waste away to skin and bones. Enter my weekly bout with the measuring tape to reassure myself that our goats are in fine form.

Goat weightsLamb Chop has never given me any worries on the weight front, though. The most I've been concerned about is that our buckling will get bigger than his mother before his date with the butcher, making it impossible to carry the lad across the creek to his doom. Barring that issue, he seems bound to surpass his 11-month-old herdmate's size in short order. As of this week, Lamb Chop has officially caught up with Artemesia; in fact, I think he now stands a little taller at the shoulder.

Abigail and Artemesia, on the other hand, worried me a bit in April, although I now think that their weight "losses" then were merely an artifact of shedding their winter fur. Less fur for the tape to wrap Goats in the greenaround simulates the loss of fat. Regardless, I dosed the whole herd with daily helpings of chopped garlic, which they all ate happily whether or not they needed the herbal dewormer. Now both are well above their winter weights, even without the furry padding.

I'm glad that I seem to be able to keep the weight on Abigail without adding grain to her diet, but I'll admit that I'd probably get more milk if I fed our doe more concentrates. As she started gaining weight on grass, I started easing off the carrots, alfalfa pellets, and sunflower seeds I was offering...with the result that milk production slowed down a bit (from about 3 cups a day to about 2.5 cups a day). Bringing those concentrates back up to previous levels (plus locking Lamb Chop away an hour earlier in the evening) quickly increased milk back to normal, then all the way up to a quart at my morning milking.

I suspect one of the dicey issues with dairy goats is deciding when we're being greedy humans and pushing our goats too hard, and when it's worth feeding a little more for a little more milk. Since I want to experiment a bit more with cheese, I think I'll be greedy just a little longer.

Posted Mon May 18 06:57:29 2015 Tags:
strawberry and asparagus

Our asparagus is slowing down, but the strawberries are just getting started.

Posted Sun May 17 14:39:47 2015 Tags:
Experimental garden beds
This spring, I set out to answer the question --- is there a fast no-till way to eradicate overwintering weeds in a month or less? A tall order, I know, but my slow-and-sure kill mulches don't work for a lot of gardeners because they aren't able to think ahead to prepare the soil a few months before planting. The photo above shows four experimental beds (and a control bed that's simply been weed-whacked repeatedly) attempting to answer that question.

Weighing down plastic mulch

Option A involved a type of very thin, biodegradable black plastic. The photo above shows Kayla helping me lay down the plastic three weeks ago. The photo below shows completely dead oats underneath the plastic this past Thursday.

Dead weeds under plasticThis product worked much faster than I thought it would, probably because we've had crazy summer weather in April and early May (highs up to 90 some days), which surely heated up the soil underneath very quickly.

On the down side, all it took was Huckleberry walking across the plastic to tear little holes, which a light wind quickly turned into long tears. (I'm telling you Huckleberry really isn't that big of a cat!) So, although effective, I'd caution against using this product anywhere that pets will be walking even a little bit.


Laying down plastic for solarizationOption 2 was solarization, which I explained in more depth in this post. The solarization worked about equally as fast as the black plastic, with the bonus that this clear plastic didn't shred after light pet traffic. The clear plastic also held in the soil moisture, which was handy since rainfall for the last few weeks has been nearly nonexistant.

The downside of solarization is that my raised beds in this area are tall enough that the north-facing side of the bed didn't heat up fully, so the oats underneath the plastic on that side are still somewhat green. So if you plan to use solarization to prepare soil, you'll want to stick to areas where the ground is as flat as possible. With that caveat and assuming hot weather, you can also plant into solarized ground in about three weeks if your weeds are only moderatly tenacious. (Add a few more weeks for both Option A and Option B if you're trying to kill a wily perennial like wiregrass.)

Under the paper mulch

Roll paper mulchOption 3 was a storebought roll of paper mulch. This mulch was the least effective as a fast weedkill, although it looks to be the most effective as a long-term ground cover.

As Mark mentioned, the first rain bleached the dye out of the paper, and the lighter color left behind meant that the mulch simply acted like a barrier between the weeds and the sun rather than heating the soil underneath. The result is that the weeds beneath the paper mulch aren't quite dead yet, although the paper is still providing a good barrier around the high-density apple trees. I suspect I'll need to wait about 4 to 6 weeks between laying down this mulch over an oat cover crop and planting into the bare soil.

As another downside, Lucy running across the mulch did poke holes in the paper layer, allowing some weeds to come up through. That said, the paper has much more structural integrity than the very thin black plastic, so only the paw-print areas were affected rather than the whole sheet of mulch. So I'd say the plastic mulch is acceptable over areas with light pet traffic.

Comfrey chop and drop with newspaper

Option 4 was mad of entirely free materials, but I didn't lay them down until later than the previous options and thus don't have a comparison yet to the other methods. Kayla's father came through with a big box of newspaper (thanks, Jimmy!), and I've been applying the sheets using different methods in different parts of the garden.

Blowing newspaper mulchThe photo to the left shows how I laid the paper down dry and then anchored it with deep-bedding material from the goat coop. Unfortunately, some of the sheets have blown away, which is why I started soaking the paper in a bucket of water before applying.

The top photo in this section shows some newspaper-mulched areas around the hazelnut bushes. Since I have comfrey plants growing along the aisles in that part of the garden, it was easy to yank handfuls of the greenery as a short of chop-'n-drop to weigh the wetted newspapers down. I'll post a followup in a few weeks once I know more about how the newspaper mulches compare to the other methods, but my guess is that they'll be comparable to the storebought paper mulch.

Black plastic kill mulch

The final method I'm trying is a more long-lived type of black plastic that is supposed to be good for 12 years (assuming you don't puncture the fabric in the interim). I laid down an experimental span in the proto-tree-alley a week ago, with the plan of taking up the plastic at the end of the month and planting sweet potatoes there. I'll keep you posted about weed control there as well.

Phew! I know that's a lot of data, but I hope it'll help you decide on a weed barrier that'll fit your particular garden needs. And perhaps there's another method I haven't considered that you've used with success in your garden? Be sure to let me know in the comments!

Posted Sun May 17 06:31:26 2015 Tags:

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