Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Birth Announcement

Our sow, Maya, gave birth to 9 piglets last night, unaided on pasture. She's such a good homestead hog—I really couldn't ask for more. There are a couple of small ones, but all were up and walking around this morning and look to be strong and vigorous. Big Boy, our boar, is in with them and seems to be handling it all in stride, keeping an eye on everything but not being aggressive toward the piglets or aggressive toward us.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Independence Days Weeks 16 & 17

Yea, I missed last week's post, so I figure I'll do a combined one today. Last week was kind of a holding pattern, so most of what's gotten accomplished has been this past week.

Four months of the Independence Days challenge, and I can finally remember all the categories in order without looking. What I still can't remember is whether I did something this week or last. Thank goodness for a blog record! Now if I were just more reliable about writing in my journal. A constant falling off the wagon for me... *sigh* I'm so undisciplined.


A fill-in flat of swiss chard, 7 top turnip, and spinach that will help me fill gaps in the direct seeded beds. I also planted three varieties of endive and four lettuce varieties.


lettuce, onions, tomatoes, summer and winter squash, egg plant, peppers, beans, corn, basil, rosemary, thyme, chives, eggs, milk, pork.


24 lbs of grape tomatoes in the dehydrator, canned 1/2 bushel of peaches, made butter and two kinds of cheese.


raisins, garbanzo beans, tortilla chips, refried beans.


Washed three Navajo-Churro sheep fleeces, and we're now learning how to card the wool. Also helped the girls learn to knit, which I can't do because of my wrists, but they seem to be enjoying it immensely. My guess is this winter will be filled with knitting and felting.


After unsuccessfully trying to control the aphid/ thrip/ cricket damage in the high tunnel with sticky traps and insecticidal soap, I ended up spraying neem oil this week to try to get things under control in time for fall and winter crops in there. A couple weeks back I'd done a lot of cleaning out, which really helped reduce hiding places. I'd been allowing some things to go to seed in there, which has the down side of being a haven for pests.

At any rate, I was able to hand pick the remaining praying mantids before spraying, and I sprayed early in the morning before most pollinators would be out and about. The neem seems to have really helped a lot, and it looks like I'll be able to harvest some spinach for CSA this coming week. Yay!

I also finally finished laying my irrigation lines and got them up and running. All the rain we've gotten this season has spoiled me, and this is the first I've really needed to think about it. Of course, we're getting dry and crunchy now that it's August, but it's been a cool, wet year, especially compared to last. Not only are the established plants starting to need the water, but also my seeds and seedlings desperately need it to get established for fall. I'm loving the drip tape. The cool thing about it, too, is that I can use it to deliver fish emulsion directly to the plants.


This was my first time canning peaches. I got 27 pints from a 1/2 bushel, packed in a light syrup. Hopefully the kids will like these and not complain that they're different from the store-bought.


CSA delivery to 11 families. Bought peaches from local orchard for canning.


Farming and self-sufficiency take a tremendous amount of resources, as I've discussed other places. Figuring out ways to produce our own while reducing the amount of resources we use to do so is an ongoing challenge for me. In particular, the home dairy takes quite a bit of water, from the water necessary to the cow to the water necessary to clean equipment to the water necessary to rinse butter. Lots of water. We're on a well here, so there's no good way for me to measure our water usage, and although there's no shortage of water, the principle behind conservation is a sound one. So I find myself constantly looking for ways to eliminate waste and streamline the efficiency of my routine towards reduction. I've been able to reduce much of my water usage by reusing rinse water, for instance, as well as finding ways for sanitizing rinses to be used multiple times.


Learning all about natural deworming, as I've been deworming our piglets to ensure their health and weight gain. I've had them on a week of treatment where they receive 2 oz of garlic powder, 1/2 oz of cayenne pepper, and 1/2 oz of thyme mixed into their milk each morning. There have been some studies as well as anecdotal evidence on the efficacy of garlic as an anthelmintic, along with both cayenne and thyme. I have wormwood growing here, but it's a very powerful herb, which I'm hesitant to use. Caution, too, should be used with regard to tansy (listed in the first link below), which can be poisonous to livestock in large quantities.

I'm going to see if I can also get my sheep to eat the garlic powder. They're completely grass fed, so I'm not sure they'll go for it. The piggies, however, don't mind the flavored milk one little bit. Big surprise. Picky pigs they are not.

Alternative dewormers for ruminants

Dutch abstract on herbal swine dewormers

Garlic as sheep dewormer

Garlic as pig dewormer

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 12

Rotisserie chicken, fingerling potatoes with garlic butter, heirloom tomatoes stuffed with onion, garlic, basil and chevre cheese.

All zero mile. Not too shabby, and pretty darned tasty, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yessir, yessir, three bags full

I finally washed my fleeces (fleeci?) this week. I broke down and did it in the washing machine because I hadn't come up with a better plan, and I didn't want them to get infested out in the garage. I don't figure three fleeces will kill the septic tank, and hopefully by this time next year I'll be able to procure a cast iron tub on freecycle or craigslist.

Here I am starting to skirt the fleece, which basically means cutting off all the yucky or short bits:

This is Esther's fleece, our light-haired sheep, though from what I understand, all the sheep will become lighter in color as they get older. At least their outside coat will, not the underside wool, which will hold its present color. Esther has gray wool, beautifully flecked with cream.

Here's the fleece after soaking in super hot water with ~1/4 cup of Dawn dishwashing liquid and rinsed twice:

Here it is drying on the trampoline:

And here is Tabby, wishing I hadn't sewn the opening shut because it looks so inviting:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dead Zones

A recent article about the growing number of dead zones around the world over the past two years demonstrates that just because we can grow more food doesn't mean we should. Here's one more argument for local, sustainable farming practices that don't rely on heavy fertilizer applications.

"We're not finding enough oxygen to support life, aquatic life," said scientist Lora Pride aboard the Pelican, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium research vessel that studies the Gulf.

CNN traveled aboard the ship August 14-15 as consortium researchers sent sensors to the bottom of the sea, scooped up sediment and collected water samples for analysis at nine testing stations in the Gulf.

As an oxygen meter sank far below the Pelican, Pride pointed to an onboard computer screen displaying the meter's findings in real time.

"This green line is the oxygen right here and at the bottom it's reading less than 2 milligrams per liter," Pride said.

Six of the nine stations revealed such oxygen-deprived, hypoxic water, compared to a normal reading of 6 milligrams per liter.

As Pride and her crew aboard the Pelican monitored the Gulf waters, the journal Science last week published a study that reveals there are more than 400 dead zones around the globe, double the number found by the United Nations two years ago.

One of the major dead zones is in the Gulf of Mexico. It is 8,000 square miles, nearly the size of New Jersey, according to the marine consortium's annual measurement completed in July.

"There's no oxygen in the water for shrimp, crabs, fish to live," said Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the consortium.

Fish and shrimp "can sense that and they start to move out of the area. Otherwise they would die. The animals that still remain in the sediments have to keep breathing. There is not enough oxygen and eventually they will die off," Rabalais said.

Scientists have been studying the Gulf's dead zone for about 20 years, although its existence has been known for decades. So why is oxygen disappearing from fishing waters in the Gulf of Mexico? The answer, scientists say, is found hundreds of miles to the north, up the Mississippi River in corn country.

Farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest use tons of nitrogen and phosphorous to make their cornfields more productive, which allows the farmers to take advantage of high corn prices resulting from growing demand from ethanol factories and developing countries.

Rain always causes some fertilizer to run off farmland, but this summer's historic flooding caused even more runoff into rivers that flow into the Mississippi.

"That's the primary source of the nutrients that go to the Gulf of Mexico," said Rabalais. "And so the size of the low-oxygen zone has increased in proportion to these nutrients reaching the Gulf."

Fertilizer flowing into the Gulf of Mexico triggers an overgrowth of microscopic algae, which eventually die and fall to the bottom.

"When they die, they decompose, and decomposition requires oxygen," said Pride. "So these things will fall to the bottom and as they decompose they consume oxygen."

So much oxygen is taken from the water that slow-moving sea life like clams, small crabs, starfish and snails suffocate....

With demand for corn growing, scientists say the dead zone could expand in coming years.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

And the winner is...

Drumroll please...

My lovely assistant upon waking up in the morning, complete with blanky:

But what a sport, she was happy to help out and choose a winner at random from the hat:

This is the "official" hat in our home for choosing who is "it" first in games or who gets the first turn, so in true olympic spirit, we used only state of the art equipment for the drawing.

And the winner is...

Congratulations Carolyn!

Email me with your snail mail at danielle at touch the earth farm dot com, and we'll get your earthy package in the mail.

One Local Summer: Week 11

Breakfast is really my favorite meal of the day. I like dinner food, but not nearly as much as breakfast food, and I think a good brunch buffet is really the most perfect thing in the world.

Here's one of our zero mile breakfasts: fried quick potatoes and an onion, tomato, mozzarella omelet.

The fresh mozzarella I made didn't keep well texture-wise for eating fresh, but it melted beautifully, as you can see in the photo. The omelet sports sauteed mini puplette onions and sungold tomatoes. I like to caramelize the onions with some sea salt before adding the tomatoes to cook down just a bit. Then add eggs, cheese, and cook down before folding. Yummm.

For quick potatoes, heat a high-heat oil like peanut in a skillet on medium high heat until hot but not smoking, then grate the potatoes directly into the oil to barely cover bottom of the pan—too many and they won't cook properly. Turn the heat down to medium after a minute or two and cook until golden brown; flip and repeat. Salt and pepper to taste. These are a super-quick version of hash browns, and they come out light and crispy, especially when made with fresh potatoes. Store-bought potatoes can be disappointing and starchy, but that's just cuz I'm spoiled.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Independence Days Week 15


Lettuces, chard, carrots, kale, turnips. Transplanted the pea seedlings, which shot up like crazy, and covered with shade cloth to help keep them from burning up in the sun. They seem to be holding their own, and the recent spate of cool weather has been a boon.

While I direct sow many of my seeds, some I still start in seed trays either because they're too fussy or there's not enough room. With my succession planting, the idea is that the first round will be ready to come out of the ground in time to stick something else in its place, hopefully with the second planting getting ready to hit full production so I don't miss a beat in terms of harvest. This generally works out better on paper than in reality, though, as pests like squash bugs and borers often have something to say about when a planting is done.


Carrots, beets, beans, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, eggplant, cucumbers, basil, thyme, rosemary, chives, fingerling potatoes, sweet corn, eggs, milk.


Butter, 23 lbs of grape tomatoes in dehydrator. I grow the sweet olive grape tomatoes almost exclusively for winter enjoyment, as I find they make the most succulent dehydrated tomatoes. I'll admit, too, to not dehydrating them completely or cutting them in half. Although this means that they need to go in the freezer rather than on the shelf, it leaves that little burst of tomato flavor that's released when biting into it—kinda like that gum that came out in the 80's or 90's. But better.


~60 lbs fingerling potatoes.


Nothing this week.


Weeded gardens, sprayed insecticidal soap for aphids/ crickets in high tunnel that are crushing my greens. Grrrrrr. The high tunnel has been a blessing in many ways, but it's also been a pest haven. I guess the critters like it as much as the plants. The upside is that the praying mantis population is exploding; the down side is that I'm considering resorting to spraying neem to help get a handle on the pest population.


Made fresh mozzarella for the first time from our raw milk, and it turned out sooo tasty. The texture was fleeting, however, and it wasn't nearly as good the next day. It did do nicely in omelets though. I used the microwave method, and it really only took about 30 minutes at most. The ingredients were whole raw milk, citric acid and rennet, and voila! Delicious fresh raw mozzarella.

NOTE: Danielle from Savor Culture had this helpful hint in the comments section:

Regarding mozzarella, I also use Ricki Carroll's recipe, but not the 30-minute mozz recipe. I use raw milk in my mozz, which requires some adjustments as suggested by cheese consultant, Jim Wallace. With raw milk, lower the ripening temperature by a few degrees, and decrease the amount of rennet by 10-20%. This gave my mozzarella a more tender texture. Also, when you store the finished mozz in brine, use a solution of one part whey to four parts water. Add salt until a little remains undissolved to ensure proper salinity. The calcium in the brine prevents the calcium in the cheese from releasing the protein bonds, which would cause the exterior to become "goopy."

Check out her blog—it's loads of fun.


CSA delivery to 11 families, the following in some combination: beets, carrots, beans, summer squash, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, hot peppers, onions, basil, rosemary, tarragon, chives.


Having trouble fitting all your laundry on your line? Go vertical. Depending on what kind of loads I'm doing, I can fit up to 3 laundry loads on our line at once by hanging clothes on other clothes. Of course my tendency toward OCD often gets the better of me, and I group things together like similar napkins, handtowels, etc. That way they hang off each other quite nicely. Of course, you'll find you need lots more clothespins for this method.


Learned how to make mozzarella. Can the same thing count for two different categories?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 10

Wow, it's the beginning of August, and it's starting to feel like the summer's already over. Kids are heading back to school all across America, and even the weather is turning fallish. Not to mention the days getting shorter. But I've just started to harvest my tomatoes! Surely we have a few good weeks left to revel in the glorious food of summer.

Last year, we enjoyed tomatoes into October, so I remain hopeful.

This week's meal for One Local Summer features some of those glorious tomatoes, though I was so excited about my mozzarella that I let it hog the camera. This is a fabulous(ly easy) bruschetta, featuring multicolored heirloom tomatoes: German red strawberry (red), German striped (yellow with sunsplashed rays of red), ananas noire (green—donated by CSA member Carrie P.) and the non-heirloom sungold (orange, sweet, and tasty!).

Also in the bruschetta are purplette onions, basil, garlic and fresh raw mozzarella from our cow's milk, which was absolutely divine. I'll be making that much more often, I can tell you. We enjoyed this atop some bread baked local to my in-laws, who were kind enough to bring a giant bag down for my freezer last time they visited. Sometimes it's nice to be able to pull something out to reheat rather than baking from scratch.

To round out our meal (though I would've been happy with just the bruschetta and wine!) was a whole chicken, roasted with butter, rosemary, thyme and Russian banana fingerling potatoes, another heirloom veggie—all fresh from our farm. If you've never tried fingerling potatoes before, you're missing a real treat. They are creamy, buttery goodness: roasted in homemade butter and herbs, they approach Nirvana.

Don't forget to check out the giveaway and sign up for the drawing by August 15th if you'd like to participate.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Little Bit of Tansy

How lucky am I?

I never win anything, but I was lucky enough to win Tansy's giveaway over at her blog, and as you can see she put together a lovely package. (Though not nearly as lovely as her lovely assistant.)

I love the cool bag made from a bag of scratch grains. There was also some rose petal jelly, raw honey, and pickled garlic, as well as some medicinal herb seeds, spicy homemade soap and lip balm. She even wrapped individual little packages for each of the kids—the little flower gnomes—which they had great fun with and immediately went down to our art center to craft some friends.

One of the coolest things about the package, however, was the packing material: shredded money! Okay, maybe we're total geeks, but we'd never seen this before, and all of us were marveling at it. And yes, it's legal. And no, I don't think Tansy shredded her own cash as the kids were wondering. You can, in fact, purchase shredded cash from the U.S. Treasury. Who knew? Well, besides Tansy? Too cool.

Thank you, thank you Tansy for such a fun gift package!

Now, to continue the joy and fun...

I'll be hosting a Touch the Earth Farm giveaway, which will include earthy things and little bits of our farm. To sign up for the giveaway, please leave a comment by August 15th, including what you like about reading this blog—yeah, just a little something for me. ;) The kids and I will choose a winner at random that weekend.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Independence Days Week 14


This was a big week. Told ya I'd get back on the wagon.

Vates, red Russian, and lacinato kale; red chard; purple and white kohlrabi; purplette and hardy evergreen onions; hakurei turnips; broccoli; Amish snap peas; lutz and chioggia beets; spigariello liscia and sessartina grossa raab; napoli and red chantenay carrots; bilko and minuet napa cabbage; early Jersey Wakefield cabbage; red cabbage; chieftan savoy cabbage; bok choi; brussels sprouts; chervil; cilantro; flat leaf and curly parsley; fennel. The row cover in the picture is covering the seed beds to help keep them moist and prevent them from baking out.

Seeds saved:

Endive, swiss chard, leek.


Lettuce, chard, purplette mini onions, green onions, mixed beans, sweet olive grape tomatoes, gold nugget and sungold cherry tomatoes, costata zuchini, yellow squash, slicing cukes, Asian cukes, purple dragon and chantenay carrots, dill, basil, thyme, chives, green peppers, Anaheim hot peppers.


Pressure canned 9 pints of black beans and 9 pints of chicken stock. 7 lbs butter.


Gallon water, citric acid, plastic storage lids for canning jars.


Canning lids, pint canning jars, picked up 75 slow growing broilers.


Pulled plants, weeded, tilled, added compost, fed plants.


Chili rellenos: roasted Anaheim peppers we grew, stuffed with chevre from our cow and battered with eggs from our chickens.


Now, if only I could get the cilantro to grow through the heat of the summer.


CSA delivery to 10 families: lettuce, chard, mixed beans, mixed tomatoes, mixed carrots, potatoes, summer squash, purplette onions, green onions, bell peppers, hot peppers, slicing cukes, Asian cukes, dill, basil.


Turned water heater down further. It's an iterative process. We're trying to get it cool enough to use only the hot water faucet for hot, but not so cool that the hot water heater incubates bacteria.

I'm hoping to convince Jim to put a timer on the hot water heater, but at this point, we need to decide what hours we want hot water access. Of course, having the outdoor shower would help considerably in terms of flexibility. Money enough and time.... And, apparently it's hard wired and, therefore, non-trivial to add a timer. He looked for me yesterday. Bummer.


This week I learned to pressure can! Yay me. I'll do a follow up post about the pressure canning with more details later this week.

Let's just say that once I did it, it was easy peasy. Low stress, low energy, high output. Definitely worth learning.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

I did it... twice in one day.

Pressure canning that is.

Today was the day I faced the pressure canner and figured it out. I started with some black beans that I'd soaked and cooked and then finished the day with 9 pints of chicken broth.

Yay me!

One Local Summer: Week 9

The first ripe tomatoes of the season are finally here! Well, this week anyway. This is probably the third time we've eaten them, not counting the number I eat while harvesting.

This is my one pot chicken dish, yet another really great meal for CSA nights, not counting the hot oven. I stuff the chicken with onions and garlic and rub it down with butter, sprinkling some garlic, thyme, and cayenne pepper over top. Surround it with diced potatoes, sliced carrots, and chunked onion and bake. The potatoes get nice and crisp while the carrots and onions caramelize so deliciously. Yummmmm.

Accompanying the one pot chicken is a salad of tomatoes, basil, green onion and fresh mozzarella in a balsamic vinaigrette and an herb focaccia.

All zero mile but the flour, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and some spices—even the butter was ours. Herbs, too, were all from Touch the Earth Farm. Mozzarella was made local to my in-laws and brought down on a visit. The potatoes are red nordland potatoes; the carrots are red core chantenay and purple dragon, a showy, spicy little carrot; tomatoes are a mix of gold nugget, sungold, and sweet olive.