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Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Building a bee waterer

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

How to help chicks during hatching

Calories per acre for various foods

Jul 2014

A year ago this week:

Outdoor living room

The Call of the Farm

Work glove lotion fix

Best garden trowel?

Jul 2013

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Carrot shapes

Gnarly carrotIt's 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!

Sorting carrots

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!

Posted Tue Jul 7 06:58:26 2015 Tags:
trellis installation

We put up a new shade trellis today for grapes and scarlet runner beans.

The increased shade on these West facing windows will help to cool the kitchen.

Posted Mon Jul 6 15:46:32 2015 Tags:
Four days of milk

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.

Skimming goat 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!

Candy thermometerOkay, 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, stirring well.

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.

Cheese curd

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 medium-low heat.

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 like mozzarella.

Mozzarella curds and whey

Now strain the curds from the whey by passing the contents of your pot through a stainless-steel sieve.

Homemade mozzarella

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!

Posted Mon Jul 6 07:05:26 2015 Tags:
stunted fig

Our Chicago Hardy Fig is limping along this year due to a harsh Winter.

Makes me wonder if a support post might encourage more vertical growth?

Posted Sun Jul 5 15:13:05 2015 Tags:
Grazing goats

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.

Goat eating multiflora rose

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 isn't.

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.

Billy goatOption 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.

Reaching goat

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.

Posted Sun Jul 5 07:11:12 2015 Tags:
Anna milking Abigail

Anna has been teaching me how to milk Abigail.

It might take me a while to learn the hand action and milking machine suction.

Posted Sat Jul 4 14:50:12 2015 Tags:
Pink zinnia

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.

Summer garden

Young cucumbersJune 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.

Renovated strawberry bed

Young strawberry plantI 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....

Alfalfa flower

Soybean plantsSpeaking 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.

Sick borage

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.

Hodge podge flower bed

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 trellis.

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.

Developing hazelnuts

And that's a quick tour of bits of the garden that caught my eye before it started to rain. Happy Fourth of July!

Posted Sat Jul 4 07:42:55 2015 Tags:
making repairs on the milking stanchion

Abigail found a weak spot on the milking stanchion neck brace and nearly worked one of the side panels free.

Two brackets made it feel more stable.

Posted Fri Jul 3 15:04:38 2015 Tags:
Pruned tomatoes

Ripe tomatoIn 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!)

Butternut squash plants

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 week.

Baby butternut squashIn 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!

Posted Fri Jul 3 07:38:55 2015 Tags:
6 quart goat feeder little giant

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.

Posted Thu Jul 2 15:52:29 2015 Tags:

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