Thursday, June 30, 2011

The goats have arrived!

We bought out first Nigerian dwarf doe, her name is Sugarcreek "Joon",  she's all black and ironically had a birthday and turned 2 on the day we brought her home, June 28th.  I am so surprised how sweet and lovable she is, she will follow me everywhere I go.  She's freshened twice, and had a doe the first time and two bucklings the second time.  I met her daughter, who just freshened with quadruplets.  They were all sold but one buckling.  On our way to pick up Joon we stopped by some nice people's farm and picked up "Stormy" our little two and a half month old wether to be her buddy, we found him on Craigslist. 
"Stormy" climbing the rocks in the pasture like a real mountain goat!  He is so adorable and will crawl right into your lap and sit down for some love and attention.  He is as cute as they come, we're so glad we got him.

We've been busily preparing their stall and paddock area, they easily fit underneath the timberframe chicken coop, and we are quickly creating their paddock which we worked on all day yesterday, and will the second half of today, hopefully they'll have it ready by this evening.  Of course they also have the acre and a half pasture I take them out to for a few hours each day, and we let them run around while we're working, plus we take them on walks all over the property.  I can tell we will be working on lots more fencing, and the goat barn will be higher on the priority list.  I'll need it ready to a certain degree for kidding season next Spring.

I also have a reserve on a doeling not yet born.  There is a nice doe right here in our town that is pregnant and due the middle to the end of July.  I'm hoping she has at least one doe, then she will be our's.  I'd like to go into the winter with a small herd of about 4 goats. 

I'm thinking I will need a buck for breeding Joon this November, so will be keeping an eye out for one.  Goats like any other farm animals take some time to get all set up and the breeding started.  My plan is to eventually have 6 or7 does (the nicest show quality ones I can get) and breed them for Spring and Summer babies, that I will sell or keep the best ones.

My decision to buy Joon was mostly based on her age, her excellent dairy type, and a gut feeling that she was suppose to come here to Applegarth.  Also the fact that she was being sold "in milk"  which I am valiantly trying to bring her back into. When I saw her Friday, her udder was full, Tuesday it was not.  I didn't realize that her bucklings had not been nursing for a couple weeks.  So my learning curve started right away, trying to bring a doe back into milk.  How am I doing this, by milking her out several times a day.  She kicked some at first,  but I persisted and now she is so good about me milking her, she will touch her head to mine, and stand very still till I'm done. 

I'm sure the move here isn't helping with getting the milk to come back.  We'll see what happens in a couple weeks with faithful consistent milking I may bring her back in producing a quart/day.  That's about the average for this small dairy goat breed.  That's almost 2 gallons/week, so it's worth my efforts to try.

The herd where she's from is Rising Echo's Nigerians, I have more pictures to share from our trip there.  Melissa the owner has some really beautiful goats, and  it's evident she pours her heart into them.

In this picture the does and kids at Rising Echo's Farm are all going to visit the bucks,
they love to walk together in a herd.  I'm sure Joon misses the herd and her family. 

girls and horses

Do all girls love horses?  I remember being 10 and 11, and wanting a horse more than anything.  My parents sent my sister and I to a horse camp in Alabama, where we got to have our own horse for a week.  It was so much fun, I remember the happiness of riding and being with my horse I had for a week.  My daughter Kaley loved the horses where we went to get our Nigerian doe.  You can tell the horses loved the attention she gave them too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

a gardener

I was once asked the question from someone I didn't know that well, "If you could describe yourself with one word, what would it be?"  hmmm... well I barely pondered it at all and blurted out "a gardener".

What a loaded question, how could I possibly describe myself with one word.  I have thought this over many times, why would I ever allow myself one word, I am so much more than just a gardener.  Then I would think, well I do like to nurture things and help them grow, feeding good food to children and animals or good soil to the plants I grow.  Am I not first and foremost a "Mother"  well that is one of my many variegated sides, but "a gardener" does feel quite noble too I must say.

A friend once said if he could come back as anything, he would come back as a peasant farmer, that sounds good to me.  I just want to live a quiet peaceful life in a place of my own, and a garden to grow flowers and good food.  I want farm animals for milk, eggs, butter, and meat, and the richness they add to our lives.

I don't need to travel to faraway places to find happiness, I find them right here at home being a gardener,
 a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. 


In honor of Father's day yesterday, I want to to say how lucky I am to have my Dad as a Father, he worked hard all through the years.  He was an officer in the Coast Guard, so we moved every few years throughout my childhood.  He has always been a good provider for our family, and made sure we had our needs met, he loves my mom and all of us, how lucky we are.  He has 4 children and 12 grandchildren and has been a Godly man all through the years, he's given us a christian heritage to be proud of.  We're so blessed to have him as a Father and Grandfather.

For Father's Day, we had a delicious dinner made by my daughter Heather, she made steak, baked potatoes, a broccoli salad, french bread, and I made a green salad, my mom (Grandma)  made a strawberry rhubarb pie, plus we had ice cream and whip cream. 

My 4 daughters and Mom,  (Me, Tessa, Heather, my Mom, Christina, and Kaley)

buttercups thrive in the country

This is the season for buttercups in the northwest, you don't see many when you drive through town, where yards are manicured and kept just so.  But head out of town into the countryside, and here you'll be blessed to witness a delight to be found in the brightest yellow buttercup.  There are millions everywhere, they line the country roads, and fill the meadows, bumblebees drink of their nectar and my vision is filled with their golden glow. 

I can't help but smile, these are pictures from my garden, the top one is in my vegetable garden, an edge of a path.  They are in many areas that I allow until their bloom fades,their season is short, like the dandelion I adore so much.  I allow them to bloom, or should I say I've learned if you can't beat em, at least enjoy them, the bumble bees sure do.
My flower bed that got neglected this spring has been filled with buttercups, I'm allowing them to bloom at this point and will then reclaim the bed by weeding it thoroughly.  My love for the buttercup is at it's greatest when they're in bloom, once it fades, I pull them out, or use the weedeater to level the paths. 

Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb, also called "the pie plant"  holds the special honor of being the first fruit to ripen in the garden for pie making.  It  does well in the Pacific Northwest, with our wet and mild climate.  My rhubarb plants will produce big, beautiful, bright red stalks all summer long and into the fall.   If I keep them well watered, they'll continue to produce, that's the real secret to keeping your rhubarb going, is water, and sun for nice red stalks.  I've grown rhubarb every year for many years, and have given or traded starts every year too. 

Rhubarb pie is easy to make, just like all fruit pies.  Master and memorize the crust recipe, then all you have to do is cut up and measure fruit and sweetener and bake. 

To make rhubarb pie;

Cut up your rhubarb into 1 inch pieces, the mixture should consist of approx;
4 cups rhubarb
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1/4 c flour
I usually err on the side of less sweetener, but rhubarb definitely needs some sweetener. You could also use honey if you  have it, use about half the amount.  Let the fruit meld with the sugar while you're making the pie crust.  I usually make about 12-16 cups of cut up rhubarb and eyeball the amount I'll need.  You want your fruit mounding a little in the pie plate, not a lot mind you, or you'll have juice spill over the sides.  It's always a good idea to put a cookie sheet under a fruit pie too, just for catching spills in the oven.

Pastry for Crust:
2 cups flour (I make mine with whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold butter
6 to 7 tablespoons cold water
I use a small cuisinart to make my pastry, it is so easy and turns out good every time.  I then make a ball of the dough put it into a plastic bag, flatten it a little with my hand and refrigerate for 10 minutes, after it's chilled, flour your surface, roll it out and place it in the pie plate, fill with fruit and bake in a 375 to 400 degree oven.  Cover the side crusts with foil for the first approx 50 minutes, then remove and bake an additional 30 minutes, check regularly the last 15 to 20 minutes, pull it out when the crust is golden brown.

I like to make a little extra dough, just to make sure I have a nice full crust, and if I have any left over I let the kids make tarts or butter and cinnamon sugar baked treats.  Because my pie plate is a double size, I double the recipe.
my husband took this picture of me heading into the house with an armload of rhubarb for pie making, actually I stopped outside before going in, and cut off the big beautiful leaves.  Wishing I was set up and had time to make some concrete leaves.  That's a project I do later in the year when weeding, digging and planting the seeds are over, usually around late Aug/early Sept.  This time of year rhubarb is for pies, jams and sauces.  For some reason I have found that when I freeze rhubarb I rarely use it.  I will use the rhubarb jam regularly throughout the year on yogurt, toast, and muffins.  So this year my plan is to make lots of rhubarb jam, and not freeze any.  I also gave some rhubarb to my Mom, and she made a strawberry-rhubarb pie for a family get together, and it was delicious.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bee Keeping ~ is not for the faint of heart!

Bee keeping is both humbling and exalting, their are thrills to be had in swarms, and adrenaline running through your body as you are capturing a swarm, the energy of thousands of bees all around you.  During these moments, I lose sense of time, as I'm totally focused on working with my bees.  I am in awe of them, the more I learn about them, how they are so in harmony with one another, the hive, the scouts, the workers and queen.  They dance and communicate, they work tirelessly for the good of the hive.  They protect with their life, and feed and tend their young with faithfulness. 

They are vulnerable in the Northwest however, and need a nurturing hand to watch over them, a good beekeeper to guard them, helping them to stay warm and well fed, and adding additions at the right moment.  They will reward us with honey, wax, pollen, propolis, and pollination.  Possibly by keeping them and watching them, we can be lucky enough to learn some of their noble ways. 

The cold days of late winter and early spring, I regularly peeked in and added sugar syrup if they needed it. I fussed over them all Spring, and now that it's getting warmer it makes working alongside my busy little  garden partners all that much sweeter.  I try to organize when I work with the bees at times when I'm not rushed.  I like to be relaxed, as I check hives with my suit on, I lift out frames, holding them into the light, looking for tiny eggs that look like a grain of rice.  If I see those nice and uniform, I know a queen is alive and laying eggs.  Are they uniform, how are the workers capping them, are they bullet like drone cells or are they nice worker cells?  Do you clean the frames as you work them, I do with my scraper.  Look for queen cells, peanut like, they hide them, so look carefully, I usually cut them out, and give the bees more room.

Honeybees in the Northwest need to be fed a lot in June, it's hard to believe because June seems like it should be summer.  If you don't feed them, they could starve to death within a very short time.  If you ever see dead bees on the front of the hive in June, check to be sure there is still sugar syrup left on.  The reason I know about this so well is that several years ago both my hives starved to death almost totally in June.  I caught it in time to salvage some, but not until almost all the bees had died in mass over a 2 day period.  I had no idea what was happening, due to a lack of knowledge.

They can also swarm in June, this year mine swarmed on June 2nd.  I had never experienced a swarm happening before the beginning of July, so was unprepared, and wasn't checking the hive thoroughly every week.  I got a call at work from my husband who watched the huge swarm come out of the hive and swarm away, he valiantly tried to capture it, but it was 50 ft up in a douglas fir tree.  We both felt sad, as a swarm takes away half the workers or more along with the old queen.  You are left with a huge loss of workers for gathering honey, and a new queen that won't hatch out any babies for several weeks.  So you lose workers and valuable time getting a new queen established.

I had a very strong hive this spring, and had been feeding them since late February.  Next year I will know to check early, and put supers on by early to mid May just to be sure they have plenty of room to grow and make comb.  The new young bees like to make comb and the queen was laying perhaps hundreds of eggs per day, exponentially this translates into an army of bees that needs way more room faster and earlier than I, in my inexperience (only 5 years) got to learn another valuable lesson the hard way.  Which happens more often than I like to admit.

Serendipitously, on June 7th my swarm of bees, or possibly someone else's came back.  I thought my bees were swarming again, and knew I didn't have enough left to create the black cloud of bees circling the front of the hives.  As I came near the roar of bees was everywhere, they were on the ground, on the bushes, on
the hives, landing on me, several swarms were forming.  Thankfully I was home and not at work, and had the time to gather 2 more hives to put together, very hard to do when you don't have that many frames with wax in them (I'll address having the proper equipment ready in another post)

I was running back and forth to the barn in my suit with bees all over me, sweating and panting, and gathering everything I need, then realizing I needed my nuc hive, which is the smaller one on the left.  I managed to patch together enough hives, gather the swarms in a box, then dumped the box into the hive, set the box in front of the hive to let the rest go in. This all took a couple hours of running around and then gathering them all before the evening cooled down.  I was strung hard in the right hand, and it was swollen for 2 days.  I've made sugar syrup twice already, and they're all doing ok.  On the next nice sunny day, I'll be checking them thoroughly, and possibly combining a couple.  All three of these hives are almost full of bees, and the small nuc on the left is half full.  I feel so blessed for a second chance at a good honey harvest for this year, and will be diligent in checking them regularly.

Indian Summer of Applegarth

I took this picture of Summer last night, she was happy to be playing and jumping on the trampoline with the kids, and running around the yard, she has a big happy smile on her face.  Last week I finally got  her all registered with the AKC, she's a dark golden retriever, and is almost 2 years old, and there are even some champions in her bloodlines.  She's kind of a tomboy though, and loves the water and hunting, so would probably do better in field trials than shows, but we still may show her at the fair this year. 
Her officially registered name is "Indian Summer of Applegarth". 

hardy spring chicks

 Henrietta with her 9 chicks in tow

Cuckoo Maran hen with her four chicks

Under the rabbit hutch hunting for grubs, even these tiny chicks are extraordinary little hunters.  They learn from their mom about who to stay away from in the hen house, how the pecking order works, and she helps them integrate into the flock.  They learn fast, and within 2 days are out running around living life with all the other chickens, learning as they grow from their mom.

She protects them, helps them to find food and water, and warms them under her wings whenever they start cheeping that they're too cold.  She is faithful and yet encourages them to be independent as well.   Little chicks raised without a mom are like little orphans, last year when I raised the group of babies from day old chicks, and watched Henrietta raise her brood.  I knew this was the best way and easiest way to increase your flock.

There is one exception, meat birds, when raising them they will need to be raised in the 100 gallon stock tank with a light as chicks, and then moved into a chicken tractor once old enough.  We're hoping to raise a couple dozen for a Fall harvest.

We ended up with 13 chicks out of 2 hens.  Several chicks died during hatching, and one got outside the chicken run and died last week (I filled the hole when I found it).  It was sad when the Cuckoo Maran hen left 10 of her eggs, and took the 4 alive chicks outside the coop, she couldn't figure out how to get the baby chicks back up the ramp to get back in to lay on the remaining 10 eggs, by the time I got home from work it was too late, they had set cold for too long.  I was really bummed, but in the end, just happy we have 13, healthy strong chicks, remembering back to when I said I'd be happy if I got 7 or 8 live chicks from each one.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Champagne d'Argent doe

Our newest addition to Applegarth Farm is this beautiful Champagne d'Argent doe, she's almost 3 months old, and already weighs about 5 pounds.  She'll top out at around 9-11 pounds at full adult weight.  We picked her up today from a breeder I met on craigslist several months ago when I began my research of this heritage breed.  I have also reserved a non related buck that will be due in a month.

This doe represents some big changes in our rabbitry, we will be selling most of our mini rex herd of 3 does and 1 buck, along with the 9 babies.  I talked with the feed store today, and they said they'd take all 9 babies, but no adults.  I also showed them our newest rabbit and shared with them my rabbitry changes.  I wanted to talk to them because we had been supplying the feed store with several litters of baby mini rex bunnies every summer for the last few years.

This purebred doe is registered with the ARBA - American Rabbit Breeders Association, and has an ear tatoo, B-21, and official pedigree. The seller said she hadn't been handled much, but she sure was good all day since we picked her up, I think she likes her new room mates and the view of the upper meadow from the rabbit hutch.  One thing we all noticed about her is that her fur is exquisite, it's soft and smooth, darker underneath, and almost white on the tips, it's just gorgeous, and is hard to tell how nice it truly is through just a picture.

Today was a rabbit day for me, when we got home and I set her all up in her new cage, gave her fresh food and water, and let her settle down.  Moving day is stressful whether animal or human.
I spent time grooming the other 5 rabbits we have, clipping toenails, and brushing  our Angora Peppermint.  Her fur is getting so long, I brushed her for a long time, she just loved all the attention.  It's important when you have rabbits to feed them quality food, fresh greens, and fresh water daily.  One thing you also need to do is trim toenails every couple months.

Why am I changing my rabbitry from pet rabbits to meat and fur rabbits?  In times of prosperity rabbits are for pets, in times of economic challenges rabbits are for meat.  This is historically speaking of course, but my plan is to get 3 does and 1 buck, and breed them like I have been with the Mini Rex's and will eventually be sellling breeding pairs, a buck and doe will sell for $90/pair.  With the Mini Rex's the most we were making was $10/rabbit.  These are bigger rabbits so they produce bigger litters. I'm planning for them to get mature enough, and will breed them the end of next Jan for babies next March, I surely don't want one of my rabbits having babies in the middle of winter, that would not be a good idea.   

Champagne d'Argents are meat and fur rabbits.  I do plan to have some rabbit on our menu several times per year, not in the near future, but when I have so many rabbits and want to sell and keep the best, then there will  be some.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

planting seeds and nesting

The chickens have been nesting and so have I.  It's pouring down rain outside, and my plans in the garden are on hold until it stops and dries out a little.  I read through my garden journals the other day, and realized that almost every May and June it rains a lot.  Here in the Northwest, our nice warm weather sometimes doesn't arrive until July!  It's hard to believe that Fairbanks is having 70 and 80 degree weather, on my blogs I like to read Emily of Wild Roots Homestead lives there and posted about their beautiful weather.   We typically have our nicest weather in July, August, and September, and often times we have an indian summer in the fall.  October can be absolutely beautiful here.

Yesterday after the rain tapered off a bit, I quickly went out to the garden beds the girls and I had prepared over Memorial Day, and planted carrots, radishes, onions (I forgot I bought them a month ago, and they were starting to sprout) parsnips, and beets.  I wanted to get some root crops in the ground before the moon began to wax again today.  This is what happens when you garden by the moon cycles, sometimes I wait until the last day before the moon changes, and like a deadline that I've procrastinated on until the end, I get the seeds in the ground.  This is probably why this method works so well for me,  it gives me a definite timeframe to get the seeds planted.  It also helps with successive sowing of greens, carrots, radishes and beets.

Have I told you how much I love beets, chiogga, golden, bulls blood, and detroit are the ones I plant.  Why do I like them so much?  They are a dual purpose vegetable, both the greens and the tubers are edible and delicious, they do great in our climate, and no pests seem to bother them.  The dark red leaves of bulls blood beets really make a salad look great.  We have been eating salads for the last week and a half or so, and won't have to buy greens for many months, probably into early November.  I haven't even started to set out any warm season crops, it's just been too wet and cold. 

This afternoon I'll be at my daughter Tessa's district track meet, she made it in the top 3 for her division in the hurdles and 4x100 relay.  It's really fun for me to watch her, and many of the kids I've know since they were little, I'm hoping the rain will taper off this afternoon.

Inside I've been cleaning and going through stuff (uggh) where did it all come from?  I told my husband that many of these things are my tools, just like he has tools (lots of tools).  Mine look a little different, they are for canning, a pressure canner, hot water bath canner, jars, lots of jars, bee keeping supplies, soap making supplies, books on gardening and all my hobbies, sewing stuff, knitting stuff, baking and cooking supplies, like special pans and bowls, a yogurt maker, ice cream maker, dehydrator, pasta machine etc, etc.

There are office supplies, Christmas and holiday decorations,  kids school papers, coats, shoes, snow pants, snow boots, pictures and scrapbooking supplies.  When you see it all staring at you, it looks a little overwhelming, maybe you can relate.  Or maybe you have it all organized far better than me, I'm sure you do, this is not my strongest area.  Probably my biggest challenge as a mother has been trying to keep some organization in the home and things in order.  I definitely got my pack rat tendencies passed onto me from my parents (my mom does work on keeping it under control and in order), maybe it's inherited, my grandfather had a barn full of treasures, I remember it well as a little girl, being in awe of all the cool stuff he had in there.  I guess we are hunters and gatherers of valuable stuff like our books, that are a part of who we are, and have helped form us.

My goal is to get rid of anything I don't use, and store in tupperware containers the keepsakes that I don't want to display.  I will be moving all my shelves into our basement (it's dry), and put stuff not regularly used in there.  I want to try and keep the house more sparse, and easier to clean.  Several years ago we bought these nice metal shelves from Costco, and I bought clear plastic containers.  I spent time and worked hard at getting everything organized.  Clear plastic helps to see what I have stored in each container.  We live in the country and have mice, so the plastic containers also work much better than cardboard to keep things clean.  We have to regularly set mouse traps to keep them at bay during certain seasons, like when it's starting to get cold in the late Fall.

As I've been yakking away, I looked outside and noticed the downpour has stopped.  I'm off to finish mopping my floors, and attempting to put in order some of my treasures.
PS.  Somehow in our move I've misplaced my camera charger, I need to find it.  Henrietta's chicks all hatched out a couple of days ago, and she now is the proud mother to 10 chicks.  She was sitting on 12, one was a dud, and one died while trying to get out of it's shell.  We are lucky to have 10 that are alive and healthy, she even had them out in the pasture yesterday showing them all the good things to eat.  Once you have a hen raise chicks, you'll never go back to raising them yourself.  The other sitting hen should hatch out tomorrow, I thought she was sitting on a dozen, but when I looked under her yesterday I counted 16 eggs!