hard not to be intrigued by the shape of carrots when they come out of
the ground twisted or gnarly. For example, the photo to the left (from
our 2009 garden) made me think one carrot was giving his buddy a hug.
However, after a while,
most gardeners realize that the goal is long, straight carrots that are
easy to clean and chop. So why, we begin to wonder, are some carrots
fine, upstanding members of our gardening community...while others split
and twist and make trouble?
The answer is usually in
your soil. The carrots in the photo to the left probably should have
been thinned, while the carrots on the right side of the photo at the
top of this post likely hit something hard in the soil and split to grow
around it. Since we don't have any rocks, those were likely tough spots
within the earth itself, a sign that our soil isn't yet perfect.
Luckily, more of our carrots come out of the ground long and straight
every year --- a good sign!
I harvested one of our
beds of spring carrots early this year because the plants were starting
to rot. It's possible the rot is due to our recent bout of wet weather
(2.7 inches in the last week). Perhaps more likely (since only one bed
was affected and the roots are rotting from the tips up) is carrot fly
larvae tunneling down into the roots. I'll probably pull the other three
beds this week just in case.
On the plus side, I
planted twice as many carrots as we needed so Abigail could get off the
storebought-carrot wagon. So I sorted our harvest into straight,
easy-to-handle carrots for the humans and partially rotted or gnarly
carrots for the goats. Even though I had to take care of twice as many
beds in the garden, I think the goats just saved us time overall since I
don't have to scrub those gnarly roots!
We put up a new shade
trellis today for grapes and scarlet
The increased shade on these
West facing windows will help to cool the kitchen.
My first try with
mozzarella tasted and looked a little funny since I used balsamic
vinegar to acidify the milk. (That was the only acid I had in the
house.) But after a trip to the store to pick up a bottle of lemon
juice, my second attempt came together quite easily. Total time: 30
minutes active, 2 hours total in the kitchen, 3 days wait on the milk.
First of all, Leigh warns not to try to make mozzarella until goat's milk is at least three days old.
So I started a careful milk-aging system in the fridge --- new jars
went in the right side, wrapped around the back, and we drank out of the
jar in the front left. The great part about aging the milk before turning it into cheese is that I was able to skim off enough cream to whip as berry topping. Yum!
back to the point. After skimming the 3-day-old milk, I poured eight
cups into a stainless-steel pot. Next, I mixed 1/4 cup of lemon juice
(bottled) with one cup of water and poured that mixture into the milk,
The next step was to warm
the milk to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. My jelly thermometer doesn't go down
that low, so I used the inside-of-your-wrist test that is recommended
for warming water for bread-yeast proofing.
Once the milk was warm, I
mixed 2 drops of liquid rennet (which I might cut back to 1 next time)
into 1/4 cup of cold water. After mixing the rennet-water into the
acidified milk, I was ready for the first waiting step --- 1 hour for
curds to form.
When you gently tilt your
pot of proto-mozzarella and the clearish whey slides away from the
solid curd, you're ready to move on to the next stage. Use a knife to
cut the curd into squares, then put the pot back on the stove over
This is where the candy
thermometer comes into play. Your goal is to achieve a temperature of
108 degrees Fahrenheit, then to hold your liquid at that temperature
(stirring every five minutes) for thirty-five minutes. During this time,
the curds will shrivel and clump together to form a substance much more
Now strain the curds from the whey by passing the contents of your pot through a stainless-steel sieve.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt
to the curds, then put them in the microwave (in a microwavable dish)
for between 30 seconds and one minute. The mozzarella should melt enough
to be stretched and easily formed into a ball.
The result is about six ounces of cheese from two quarts of milk, with the possibility to get more cheese out of the whey later. All told, mozzarella seems a bit more wasteful of milk than cultured cheeses,
but it's definitely quick and easy. In fact, there's a 30-minute
version knocking around the web that cuts out some of these steps, if you don't mind trading a bit of flavor for time.
What fun to add another homemade cheese to my arsenal!
Hardy Fig is limping along this year due to a harsh Winter.
Makes me wonder if a support
post might encourage more vertical growth?
It's time for us to cross another goat-keeping hurtle --- breeding our does. I was hoping to do this the lazy way, letting our buckling
mate with our (unrelated) doeling this summer for a fall birth. But
Lamb Chop didn't mature fast enough to do the deed before my
self-imposed deadline, and any matings now would result in kids being
born too late in the season to be safe.
So we've got a bit of
breathing room to figure out a better way to get our does knocked up.
For an early April birth, we'd need to breed our does in early November.
Which seems like a lot of time to make up our minds...but probably
There are lots of ways to
find goat sperm, which vary in dependability, safety, and quality.
Honestly, Mark and I would prefer artificial insemination (AI) for our high-class doeling
for reasons of safety and since she's a quality goat whose offspring
could be equally high quality (if dad supplies the right genes). But we
haven't found anyone local who can do goat AI, and driving a few hours
to get our goat bred could be problematic if the first time doesn't
take. (Success rates with frozen semen run about 60% with goats.)
Option 2 is to buy a
liquid nitrogen tank and supplies so we can inseminate on our own. My
understanding is that this would cost about $500 (plus ongoing liquid
nitrogen costs), which seems pretty expensive for goat sex.
3, the simplest and probably cheapest option, is to find a local buck
whom our does can have a date with. The trouble is that I'm working hard
to keep our farm's parasite levels very low, so I wouldn't want a
run-of-the-mill buck sleeping over and spreading his worms. (All goats
have worms, and if you've been deworming your herd monthly the way most
people around here do, those worms are most likely vermicide-resistant
"superbugs." Doesn't sound good, does it?) And the bucks I've heard
about nearby probably won't produce offspring that are worth keeping,
which would be a shame since a daughter of Artemesia's could potentially
be a top-notch goat. The closest milking-quality Dwarf Nigerians or
Mini-Nubians (Artemesia's breed) that I've found so far are a couple of
hours away, which adds another layer of complication to the breeding
endeavor if I want to produce keeper kids.
Option 4 is to buy a
buck, presumably one with good genetics and who has a clean bill of
health. The trouble here is that our farm is small and our
infrastructure is minimal, so we wouldn't really have anywhere to keep
him. Granted, if he didn't cost too much, we could simply buy a buck in
the fall, make sure he mates with our does, then eat him, which would
lower the hassle factor dramatically. But high-quality bucks tend to
cost high-quality money, making it less feasible to turn him into
sausage after he breeds with our does. And there's still the parasite
issue to consider.
I'd be curious to hear
from more experienced goatkeepers among you. Is there an option I'm
missing? And, given our goals and infrastructure, which breeding
technique would you choose? I suspect November will be here before we
know it, and it would be great if I had our breeding plans all lined up
before those fall heats.
Anna has been teaching me how
to milk Abigail.
It might take me a while to
learn the hand action and milking machine suction.
Sometimes I get so deeply focused on tomato blight or persimmon grafting
that I forget to show you the big-picture garden. So I snuck out
between rain showers Friday to snap some shots of this and that.
was weeding month, when I did my best to uproot interlopers between
young vegetable seedlings and then mulched the growing plants left
behind. The task is ongoing, but by the beginning of July I'm officially
ahead of the weeds and can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
We're also eating quite a
few summer vegetables already, making all that weeding worthwhile.
Cucumbers, summer squash, tommy-toe tomatoes, green beans, and Swiss
chard are all making regular appearances on our plates now, with more
contenders still to come.
I also took a bit of time this week to start working on our strawberry beds. Midsummer strawberry tasks include renovating keeper beds,
ripping out old beds, and clipping blooms off any newly bought plants.
These last have been sitting in cold storage since winter, so they think
it's spring when they arrive at our farm. But June blooms in 2015 will mean fewer strawberries in 2016, so I pinch off flowers as they form.
The only difference in my
strawberry campaign this year is that I opted to fertilize and mulch
our renovated beds with fresh goat bedding. I hope I don't see burning
and regret this shortcut! I definitely wouldn't apply fresh chicken
bedding around growing plants, but goat bedding seems to be lower in
nitrogen and might make the cut. We'll see....
Speaking of nitrogen, I'm keeping an eye on the two new nitrogen-fixing cover crops
we're trying out this year --- alfalfa (above) and soybeans (to the
left). I'm not sure if alfalfa puts out enough growth to really count as
a cover crop, although the goats adore the leaves. The soybeans are
more intriguing from a garden perspective, since they appear to be
thriving in very poor soil. That's a cover-crop niche I'd been looking
to fill --- what to plant before your earth has been improved enough to
keep buckwheat and oats happy. But it's early days yet, so I'm not ready
to pass judgment on either cover crop right now.
On a less utilitarian
note, borage doesn't look like it's going to make the cut as an
Anna-friendly flower. To survive on our farm, flowers have to be able to
thrive with absolutely no care, and our borage seems to be failing. I
could look up the disease and take steps to fix it...but with happy
nasturtiums and zinnias, I see no point in babying a flower.
Scarlet runner beans,
of course, continue to prove themselves to be Anna-friendly flowers.
This area in front of the trailer is entirely subsoil, dug out of a bank
nearby and mounded up into a little bed that partially hides our
skirting. But despite poor soil, the beans are already growing so fast
that I've pulled Mark off other projects to start building them a
The bed and trellis were
really meant to house grapevines, three of which are hidden amid the
beans in the photo above. Mark will tell you more about the trellis
soon, I'm sure, but suffice it to say that the eventual goal is to shade
this west-facing window from the hot summer sun.
And that's a quick tour of bits of the garden that caught my eye before it started to rain. Happy Fourth of July!
Abigail found a weak spot on
stanchion neck brace and
nearly worked one of the side panels free.
Two brackets made it feel
our garden, it's always a case of good news/bad news. Good news: we
started eating our first tomatoes (Jasper) this week and there is
technically still no blight in the patch. Bad news: septoria leaf spot has reared its ugly head and required me to snip off half the plants' leaves anyway.
Although not a blight by
name, septoria leaf spot is a fungal disease of tomatoes (making it a
blight in my book). In our garden, septoria is usually the first such
disease to appear, and it seems to weaken the plants sufficiently to let
the other fungi get a toehold. But maybe this year our blight-resistant varieties will come through and septoria will be our only fungal problem. Only time will tell.
(As a side note, I feel
dumb/condescending typing this, but several of you have asked me about
our blight-resistant tomato varieties despite me linking copiously in my
posts. If you follow the link above, you can read much more about them.
And, in general, if you follow the links in my posts, you'll learn more
about the topics in question. And now I'll end my quick course in
Web-browsing 101....after an apology for insulting your intelligence!)
Back to the point, you
can see our tomatoes in the background of the photo above. The plants
look a little naked now with their bottom leaves all gone, but I'm
hoping the serious pruning will slow down fungal spread despite a rainy
the foreground are happy, healthy butternuts, thriving and setting
fruit in what will probably be next year's tomato patch. Like cabbages,
squashes are such a joy in the garden simply because they grow so
vigorously that they make me feel like a pro. Honestly, though, other
than feeding the soil with a bunch of chicken bedding a few months
before planting then mulching the emerging vines, I've done nothing to
those plants. Cucurbits, unlike tomatoes, require very little babying in
our climate to party all the way across the aisles and into the next
beds. I love our naughty butternuts!
Our goats have already broken
their first mineral feeder trays.
These new 6
quart feeders are made of
thick Dura-Flex plastic.
I added some large washers in
case Abigail tries to step into one again.
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