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Most visited this week:

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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magnet car puzzle

I saw a perpetual motion Youtube video recently that tickled my curiosity.

Anna was intrigued as well, so we ordered some pinewood derby wheels and a box of magnets to see if we could understand this puzzle a little better.

We had fun tinkering with it for a few evenings before we came to the conclusion that the video is a trick that uses gravity instead of magnetism to move the car.

Posted Sat May 23 13:44:19 2015 Tags:
stump cutting

Kayla's husband Andy helped us out with some firewood cutting yesterday.

He gave us 2 hours of aggressive tree cutting for only 50 dollars.

If you're within driving distance and need some trees cut leave a comment and we'll give him your number.

Posted Sat May 23 12:47:51 2015 Tags:
Talking goat

"I don't want to go out," Abigail said on Wednesday morning when I went to tether our little herd in the woods.

I was gobsmacked. Abigail not only always wants to go out, she wants to get to her fresh forage now, ASAP, hurry up, do you get the message?!

But I think the deer flies the day before got to be too much for her. We had a light rain in the morning, so I put the herd out later than usual. And when I went to bring the goats home, the pesky deer flies were buzzing in their loops so annoyingly that I was barely able to gather three goats before rushing for cover myself. I should have worn a hat...and I'm sure that, as a tethered goat, the deer flies were twice as annoying. (They do bite, but it's really the buzzing that drives you mad.)

Feeding tree leaves to goats

Goat eating black locust leavesSo I met Abigail in the middle. I tethered her out early, took her in a bit after lunch, then cut some locust boughs in the evening to top off her belly. No, Mark, I don't know what you're talking about when you say I spoil our goats....

More seriously, I do dream of eventually having large enough pastures so our goats can get all of their nutrition on their own schedule, retreating to the barn when necessary to beat the flies. In the interim, tree boughs seem to be a quick-and-easy solution for supplemental feeding when it doesn't make sense to bring the goats out into the woods to eat. Like tree hay...but for summer nutrition rather than winter feed.

Posted Sat May 23 07:08:02 2015 Tags:
mark Bad onions
bad onion close up

Some of our onions started sprouting and going bad on us.

This post is to remind me around next Mother's Day to delete any bad onions.

Posted Fri May 22 15:48:07 2015 Tags:
Cracked earth

The weather and I can be moody. After a crazy wet fall, winter, and spring, we started measuring precipitation in hundredths of an inch this month. A quarter of an inch of rain Thursday morning eased the earth's woes a little, but it took Mark's cheerful demeanor and calm problem solving to ease my own bad mood.

Pea flowers

You'd think I'd realize that I always get overwhelmed around the middle to the end of May. I keep a mood diary (who, me obsessive?) and this is the time of year when my homemade cheerfulness report card dips into Cs and Ds. All of the spring plantings need to be weeded, our chicks are growing out of the easy stage and require more frequent pasture changes, and learning goats has also added to my load this year.

The trouble is, I love the garden and chickens and goats. I just don't love it when a lengthy to-do list pulls me out of my slumber too early and I turn irritable and grumpy. Time to offload a few tasks.

Nursing buckling

Some chores are easy to spread around. I pull Mark off his normal tasks to help me for a morning in the garden, and together we move the chicks to a new bit of yard. After a lesson in goat tethering, we figure he can halve my chores there too.

But some headaches aren't lighter when carried on two sets of shoulders. For example --- Lamb Chop. At eleven weeks of age, our buckling is enormous, still nursing...and starting to get ornery. Artemesia went into her first clearly discernible heat this week, which suddenly made goat wrangling much more difficult. Between the screaming from the woods, Lamb Chop's need to mount our doeling in the middle of the garden, and the egg-laying snapping turtle guarding the path on the way home, I was glad Mark was along or I don't think I would have been able to get all three goats back into the pasture. So our buckling has a date with the local butcher (aka meat packing facility) in two weeks, and we'll just hope Lamb Chop manages to knock Artemesia up beforehand.

Garlic scapes and asparagus

Speaking of offloading, I've decided to let my Winter and Spring cookbooks stand alone for the moment. I had thought my book about living in a trailer would be my most controversial and criticism-inspiring text, but apparently our unusual food choices are much more divisive. Lacking the energy to push a product that the world isn't ready for, I'm moving on to one of the other creative projects that I always have waiting in the wings.

Decisions made and tasks offloaded, I step out into the garden and notice that the grass is green, the flowers are beautiful, and the garlic scapes are ready to eat. It's amazing what a shift in perspective will do to remind me that, despite temporary troubles, we're still living in paradise!

Posted Fri May 22 07:49:59 2015 Tags:
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:

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