Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Winter is at our doorstep

Winter is at our doorstep. The sky looks like snow. The ground is frozen underfoot. The tall white birch are mostly bare. The ground is covered with a carpet of rust and gold. Snow is in the forecast today. Am I ready? I suppose I have to be.

 The kids helping dig potatoes last week.

Yesterday we picked mostly frozen cranberries for possibly the last time. We've been keeping a fire in the wood-stove burning from morning to night. We've had to plug in all the electric waterers, five total, one for each of two doe pens, one for the bucks, one for the chickens and one for the ducks. The ducks have a rubbermaid tub with a hole in the top. Otherwise, if they had a waterer like the chickens, just a two gallon galvanized metal waterer, they'd drain it in an hour. This way we can bring them a couple of fresh gallons each morning and dump out the old water. Last week I filled the duck pond for the last time. In a day it was almost frozen solid, so I dumped it - last bath till spring, ah. We still have four turkeys and some Ameraucana roosters that need eliminated. For now we are just giving them fresh water in tubs that are easy to dump the ice out of.

Today, aside from baking bread and canning applesauce, I think we'll all get up to the garden to clean up tools and pull the last of the peas and sunflowers for the goats. I'm thinking we might even take up a handful of does to let them run around and feast - and see if anyone shows particular interest in the bucks. So far two of my milking does that I don't plan on breeding till later this season, have gone into heat. As soon as any of our three junior does go into heat, they'll be going on a date with with one lucky buck.

Other than cleaning up anything on the ground that we don't want to lose under snow cover till spring, I think I can be ready. I've been enjoying my winter boots, worn gloves and favorite hat. We still have one bag of missing winter gear. As excited as the kids are for snow and sledding, it is a lot of work and it will be here for a long time. I wouldn't mind a some more time to enjoy the pretty fall carpet of colors, and not have to deal with snow yet.

I'm looking forward to being content indoors. To not feel the constant pull to be outside making the most of the sun and warmth. To not feel the panic that goes along with the final days before the snow flies. I'm looking forward to enjoying my kitchen again and not feeling like my time is better spent elsewhere. I'm looking forward to cooking with all this wonderful produce and meat we've been growing and harvesting. I've been thinking of things I want to make once there is more time for cooking, homemade pasta, more elaborate cheeses, cookies with the kids and some new bread recipes. Well here are a few more pictures of fall.

 frosty beets

Using the truck to haul carrots, beets, leeks and potatoes down to the house from the garden.

Noah's corn. We harvested a few dozen ears but only a handfull were mostly developed. The goats and chickens enjoyed the rest.

Snow is in the forecast today.

Monday, September 27, 2010

 A few more pictures of fall. These are from a couple weeks ago when the weather was still reaching into the sixties during the afternoon. The temperatures dropped significantly last week, by twenty degrees both during the days and nights. So we have switched gears from savoring the last of the warmth, to scurrying about like mice trying to prioritize and get ready before the snow comes. Everything is out of the garden. Everything is frozen now, even the kale, broccoli, the beets and hardy greens under row covers, all frozen. Certainly no big losses, I like to leave a little of everything just to see how long it makes it. I was by how hardy the broccoli and the parsley were, kickin it right up to the very end.  Dustin chipped the last of the potatoes out of the ground today, and even some of them were frozen through.

Our hallway is lined with buckets and boxes of potatoes and tomatoes. The onions and garlic are hanging indoors. Today I started an experimental root storage using hay bales. In the center of the stack I laid out about twenty pounds each of carrots and beets along with some bagged turnips. I'm going to check on them often. I'm hoping that the temperature in the middle of the pile will stay above freezing into November at least.

Last week I ground pork and caribou and made three types of sausage. I also cured and smoked thirty pounds of pork belly for bacon, along with a twenty two pound ham. Everything turned out great. As outwardly optimistic as I was, I admit that when it came time to fry up the bacon I was a little nervous, but it tastes like bacon, it's great.

Ah, so long fall.

 Avery's birthday cupcakes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The last warm days

Our Fairbanks September has been surreal; cloudless blue skies, days in the sixties and nights in the forties, warm enough that the crops are still growing and ripening. Alas the weather forecast says that today is our last day of this trend and that the cold is coming. If summers here are fleeting, I can barely catch my breath before all the leaves have fallen from the trees.

I know that a lot of folks haven't had nice weather this summer, so I am hesitant to boast to loudly, but I have to say that we had wonderful weather this year. Our winter's keep getting milder, spring earlier, summer earlier and later, fall balmier and winter is coming later...I like it. This was by far our best garden yet. With the exception of no rain in June and therefor lots of hand watering little seedlings, we had a nice balance of rain and sun throughout July and August. Garden chores have been minimum; harvesting vegetables when they are ripe and when I have the time or inspiration to clean and cook them. Looks like iat is time to kick it into high gear. I think today I'll snip the oregano for drying and the thyme for freezing. Maybe I'll get the kids involved pulling beets and carrots today. I don't want to leave the root crops for too long. I've learned from experience that it is no fun digging a lot of carrots or potatoes out of frozen ground.

I've got about thirty pounds or more of pork meat and fat thawing for grinding tonight. My brother is bringing over an equal amount of caribou to grind and we are going to test out the new grinder and maybe get around to making sausage. I'm going to make sure we are outside between the hours of one and five as much as possible, as it might be our last sixty degree afternoon, ah...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cranberry Picking

We've been picking cranberries on our property this past week. We've got a couple gallons so far and I'm hoping to get several more. Last year I learned that if I dip the berries into a simmering honey syrup for a minute before dehydrating, the end result is a glossy dried cranberry that still has some body to it, whereas previously when I just dunked them in hot water, they were dull and papery when dried. I could never have too many dried cranberries on the shelf. I will also freeze a couple gallons for muffins and breads. I've been thinking of making a fresh cranberry, plant and root tincture to prevent and remedy infections, bladder infections come to mind. Also I juiced some cranberries and apples recently, added a little honey and had a tasty cranberry drink. I've noticed that they keep fresh in the fridge at least until Thanksgiving and almost till Christmas, so I'll be sure to keep some around for Thanksgiving recipes that call for fresh cranberries.
Birch trees in all their autumn glory. This photo and the one below were taken by Noah.

This past week has also found us making and canning applesauce, planting garlic, pulling, picking and harvesting all the tender crops; tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, beans and onions. Our hallway is piled high with boxes of green tomatoes - a hundred and thirty pounds of green tomatoes that will gradually ripen, providing us with fresh tomatoes through November. I'm also thinking fried green tomatoes, green tomato ginger preserves and green tomato chutney are all in our near future.

All that is left in the garden are carrots, beets, leeks, peas, a few scallions, radishes, kale, flowers and lots of cold hardy greens that we've been ignoring, endive, escarole, radiccio, purslane and arugula.

Last night we ate the tastiest pork ribs I've ever had. My brother and I were discussing how the season is almost done and how we are almost feeling prepared for winter. Pig and chickens in the freezer, picking the last of the berries, Dustin has finished hauling all the hay for the winter, just have the garden to put away.. and the ducks, and the turkey... so I guess there is still a lot to do, but we are getting closer each day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Harvest pictures

Just the beginning of the tomato harvesting.
My small little winter squash harvest, not the easiest crop here, but I keep trying.

 I mostly grow Bountiful and Provider bush green beans which you can't beat for early producers. This year I also grew a flat romano green bean, a yellow pole bean, Royalty purple pod and pictured here Dragon Langerie - I think that is how it is spelled. The later two varieties are just now getting going, whereas the heavy producers are finished.

Yukon chief, looks like a few ears are about ready to eat.

This is our power line trail that we cleared last year and experimentally seeded with various cover crops this spring. Given that the ground is dense, rocky and lacking in nutrients and organic matter, I wasn't surprised to see some things not do well at all; field peas, alfalfa and fodder beets. I was most impressed by the fodder turnips, pictured above. I've got two five gallon buckets so far and a lot more than that to still pull. They range from golf balls to grapefruits in size. I'm not sure what to do with them exactly. We grew several  varieties in the garden for eating that we've stored for ourselves. I was planning on shredding the fodder turnips to supplement the goats and chickens diet this winter, we'll see if I ever get around to the shredding. I'm pretty sure that neither the goats or chickens will eat them unless they are in smaller pieces. The rape and clover have also taken off fairly well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Avery's turns two today

Today is Avery's birthday. She is two years old. She is still more or less oblivious to birthdays and what goes along with them. So it is more of a special day for Dustin and I. The day outside is very much like the morning Avery was born; September blue sky, Birch trees swathed in gold, leaves dotting the ground, the air crisp and cool, almost frosty. I remember her birth and the hours before and after with clarity and I hope I always do. I was only in labor for a few hours. The house was cold so Dustin started a wood fire and lit candles all over the house. My mom came and picked up Noah to take him home with her. The house was peaceful and still, the woodstove crackling, and I knew this labor was going to be so much easier than my first.

By the time the midwives showed up I'd already almost had an urge to push, Dustin was worried that we'd called them to late, to which I replied, "don't worry, it'll be fine, I know what to do". Ha. I was only in intense labor for a brief time before I climbed into the tub and pushed Avery out. It was a good thing the midwives were here because she was pretty blue and I thought, how nice, she's not making a bunch or racket, but that is because she hadn't breathed yet. We got out of the tub and layed down on a makeshift bed in the living room.I just layed on the bed with a naked Avery on my bare chest. Eventually she scooched herself up and started bopping around to nurse.

Dustin wanted to watch football and I thought the TV was too noisy for a new baby. He made the midwives and I breakfast, bacon, eggs and toast. We laid around all day, just staring at her and enjoying being in our own home with our new baby.

These days Avery is always on the go. She loves to go for walks. She has spent her summer eating peas and cherry tomatoes out of the garden, helping collect eggs and playing in the dirt. Just recently she has gotten into helping in the kitchen. She insists on stirring anything that needs stirred. She also insists on using the big potty, not her little potties. She speaks in full sentences, although strangers would have a hard time deciphering her toddler pronounciations.

Today the kids and I are going to make cupcakes with frosting. Yesterday we crystalized calendula petals and violets for decorating the cupcakes with. We are also making homemade goat milk ice-cream. When Avery naps, Noah and I are going to wrap presents and make a card. We got her some new boots, mittens and some swim suits for our winter vacation, and she just likes to dress up in things. We got some new art supplies and she is getting a trike from her grandparents. We are having my folks and brother and sister-in-law up for dinner tonight. A simple night with family, and it is a good thing because I've been preoccupied with pig and have gotten behind on house work.

I'm feeling so blessed to have a healthy son and daughter, what more could a mom ask for?

Pig butchering pictures

Two oblivious pigs enjoying their last meal, a few chicken eggs and some fresh kale.

 We never did measure these pigs, but the boar that was with them that was taken to the meat processors (crazy story coming), was just shy of three hundred pounds.

Washing and scrubbing the dirt off. The kids were tentative at first but once they got going they were fighting over the scrub brushes.

My pathetic attempt to scrape as small section of the pig's hair off.


Last night my brother cut up three out of four quarters of pig before running out of time. I scraped any extra fat I could get off the skin and cut extra fat off of chunks of meat. Some fat seemed like it would make better lard, so I had a rendering bag and a sausage fat bag. I wrapped meat for freezing in saran wrap and freezer butcher paper. We had a meat scrap bag for grinding. I put the hooves and lower legs in the freezer for smoking later. We kept out one ham and all the belly for brining and curing right away. I also kept out a rack of ribs for later this week. We are going to have fresh tenderloin tonight.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pig Butchering Day continued

Four quarters of pig are hanging in our shed. According to most sources, hanging meat for at least a few days after slaughter tenderizes the meat and improves overall quality, that is as long as the temperatures are low enough. Our nights have been nice and cool, in the low forties, however the days have been on the warm side, high sixties and sunny. Our shed is the coolest place on the property right now and the air temperature where the meat is hanging hasn't been higher than fifties. As it is I'll feel better once the meat is packaged and in the freezer. My brother is coming over tonight to cut the meat into individual cuts.

On Saturday we gathered and begin to prepare to kill and butcher the pigs. Overall it went very well. The best part was that one bullet from a 22 gun, shot in the right spot, dropped that pig quickly with hardly a grunt. The other pig hardly took notice. There were four men and myself right there with several onlookers, mostly kids overlooking the process with much interest from a little ways away. The pig flopped around for a few seconds before one of the guys straddled it and slit it's throat and I held the bucket to catch the fresh blood that gushed forth.  Then the guys tied ropes around the back legs and used a winch (I think?) to gradually pull the pig up into the air.

At this point we started scrubbing the pig with hot soapy water. There were five kids between the ages of six and twelve and they were all eager to help with the scrubbing process. Now for the complications. When I first arrived we set up the propane tank to heat up a large metal trashcan full of water. We used a hose to fill the can. The can leaked, not terribly but enough we didn't know how much water would still be in there once it reached temperature. We set up boards and plywood on top of sawhorses nearby in a nice level area to work at. The problem was that pig pen was located fifty yards away on a steep north facing slope and accessed by a narrow windy trail. There was no level place to set up the water or work table nearby. Nor did the men think they could drag the whole pig that distance, mostly because of the steepness of the hill. In all of my reading the scraping takes place right after the pig is killed. So after scrubbing the pig we carried a couple pots of boiling water over gradually poured the water over a small section of the pig. Using cake spatulas (which was the recommended tool), I attempted to scrape the pig while everyone looked on skeptically. It was not as easy as I thought.

The men were eager to get the pig gutted. I could see that my desire to want the pig scraped was holding everything up and no one seemed eager to get in on the scraping action - and it meant carrying pots of boiling water back and forth and creating a huge puddle of mud where we worked. So, I gave them the go ahead to do their thing. The gutting was simpler than I thought. I guess a pig is a moose is a bear is a huge chicken when it comes to gutting an animal; the main point being to remove the organs and intestines and butt hole without rupturing the intestines and spilling poop on the meat. So while no one had ever gutted a pig, it was fairly easy to tell what was what. The heart, liver and fat went into one bucket. Some of the intestines were saved, cleaned out and scraped for sausage making. And I thoroughly scrubbed the head, and have it in my fridge still...trying to work up the will to tackle it...

The pig was halved and quartered. Then we were able to move it to our work area. Here was another dilemma, try and scrape it now or just leave it, harry skin on to be skinned after hanging. I managed to get one ham mostly scraped, and while my water was boiling and I did everything as I'd read, it took a ton of elbow grease and effort to get that small section scraped. I didn't mind getting splattered in wet pig hair. I was however worried about the meat side of the pig sitting in this hot hairy pig water and it certainly did the  opposite of the general rule of thumb which is cool the meat down quickly. In addition the day was warm and sunny and the flies were out. The biggest actual mistake I made was in not bringing game bags or sheets to wrap the meat in. I ended up using garbage bags, I know, a big no no.Thankfully the meat was only in the bags for about an hour and a car ride home before we wrapped it in sheets and hung it.

The second pig went a little smoother. They were able to get the hose to reach  down the hill and the pig cleaned up nicer. They decided to just leave their pig hanging there in halves wrapped up in a sheet as well. At this point we stood around, a couple daring individuals cleaning and scraping the intestines, while discussing what to do with the heads and how much salt to add to the blood to keep it from coagulating. All in all a positive experience: pigs dyed quickly without much trauma, not much wasted, beautiful day and grownups and kids all getting in touch with our food. Pictures coming.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pig Killing Day

Today is official pig killing day and I am apprehensive. Neither killing the pigs, nor making any big cuts is even in my job description for the day. I just hope the pigs go down smoothly. Then we still have yet to work on how we are bleeding the pigs out and moving them to where we are continuing the butchering process. I am the most adamant on wanting to scrape the pigs so we have pig skin, so I'm hoping that everyone else is willing to bear with me. I had originally intended on bringing my two sides of pig home to hang for a couple days before breaking it down into the main cuts, but we've been having some lovely fall weather and the days have been  reaching into the sixties, so my cool hanging area is getting to warm.

Other complications to the day are that my husband had to work all day, and we'd always planned on him watching the kids. Also, my brother has been planning on helping and I've been relying on his experience slaughtering large game to, but he is in the midst of having some serious dirt work done on his land. He thinks that he'll be able to join us later in the day. Fortunately my sister-in-law is coming to my rescue. She is going to watch my kids all afternoon in addition to giving me and all my supplies a ride to where the big event is taking place- as we only have the one vehicle and I'm feeling stranded.

I am armed with a propane water heater, a new metal trash can and cake spatulas, all tools for scalding and scraping the pig. I also have a couple new food grade buckets, a couple boxes of two gallon freezer bags, some fillet knives, some printed blog articles, my notes and a camera. What I couldn't find but didn't buy because I know I have some somewhere are latex gloves and big box of freezer butcher paper. My friends are supplying the gun, water, a place to work - I think sawhorses and pallets or plywood, some sort of saw and more knives. I think we'll manage. I'm sure I'll have some stories for you.

I have for the most part decided which cuts I want as roasts and which to grind. My new toy is a one horse power meat grinder that grinds 9-11 lb. of meat a minute. I am still deciding whether to brine and smoke both hams, or leave one for a fresh leg roast. I am planning on making bacon with the belly, jowells, one top shoulder roast and the loin- if we can find it. I am also planning on using the head and hooves etc. I am undecided as to whether I am going to try and wash and scrape the intestines for sausage, I think I may just buy casings. We've got a friend who wants the blood and intestines for making bloody sausages, so I think I'll let him have mine too, and maybe I can try some of his sausage. I'm not sure if I'm going to make sausage right away, or I may freeze the cuts and then pull them out next weekend to grind.

So far our day is off to a good start. I pulled blueberry coffee cake out of the freezer last night so all I had to do this morning was heat it up while the kids watched Saturday morning cartoons and I snuck a hot shower. I also made deviled eggs and egg salad yesterday, so we should be set for lunch. I'm waiting for the sun to start warming up the property before we get out to milk goats and feed the animals. It looks like it is going to be a clear sunny September day. I really don't enjoy killing or butchering animals. I know enough from doing our own meat birds the last couple years, that while it does not make for a pleasant day, it does provide a freezer full of quality, local meat and I know exactly where it came from and how it was handled.

Monday, September 6, 2010

goats and sunflowers

We've been making a few improvements on our current goat setup. When we moved the does to their current location last October, there were a few essentials we overlooked, the most significant being that we hadn't set up an easy way to get bedding out of the stalls and pen and away to a convenient compost location. We are now remedying that by pushing a path in on the downside of the stall. Dustin has been using a skid-steer to remove all the hay and bedding that has built up over the last year. He also put up electric fencing for a second pen, and built a door at the rear of the stall that exits into the new pen. The buck pen has also benefited from Dustin having time off work. The stall is cleaned out, as well as several wheelbarrows of bedding removed from the feed area. Yesterday he moved the feeder away from the gate and built a roof over it that can be pulled with a rope to lift from outside the pen. So we can toss hay into their pen without having to handle to boys - very convenient this time of year when they are in full rut - saves lots of laundry and extra showering. In the past we have tossed hay in from outside, but the feeder was close to their gate, so it was a never ending battle with the hay building up and blocking the gate.

New doe pen.

Now there is a door on the stall wall facing us. You can see the new path that wraps around the building.
In other goat news, Rose is in heat for the first time this season. I was hoping she would be hoarse by this morning as she spent the better part of yesterday and all night hollering at the top of her lungs. Of course she is the one doe that I'm planning on breeding late as she is giving the most milk right now. We've started drying off Xanadu as she hasn't been looking well. We had the vet come out and look at her. She is anemic so we've been worming her heavily and we gave her a round of antibiotics. We've stopped milking her and have separated her from her daughter in an attempt to reduce stresses on her body.


It has been a good sunflower summer. I've been cutting fresh sunflowers to bring in the house regularly. There are several that are going to seed. The goats love to nibble on sunflower heads as do the chickens, so I'll hang and dry them for winter treats.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Advertisement ; Chickens for Sale

 Layers and one Cock for sale, $10 each

We've got eight one and a half year old layers for sale and a couple two year olds. They are black and red sexlinks and still laying fairly well. The pullets have started laying and we don't have room for them all. Ten dollars each. We've also have a nice Brahma Rooster who needs a good home, he'd love to accompany the hens. We will go ahead and eat the birds if we don't sell them, but it seems a shame to since the layers are still doing well. The rooster is very gentle and well behaved, but we don't have any Brahma hens any more and the Ameraucana rooster picks on him. So...if you live in the area and want some nice layers email me or leave a comment.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

More Garden Pictures

Here are some more pictures of the garden. I took these not more than ten days ago, and now the difference is almost night and day, as we've had several nights in the forties and both the trees and ground cover are turning from green to more vivid fall colors. For several days I found myself pausing to scan the woods for the first blotch of yellow, not wanting to be taken by surprise and finding myself suddenly in the midst of autumn. Yet despite my attempts to prepare myself for the season, the woods did in fact change overnight. We woke up and fall was here and not only were there a few blotches of yellow, but it was everywhere, along with fireweed and currants turning crimson, and yellow leaves already dotting the ground.

There is so much to write about, but I'll save going in depth on some of what we've been up to for another day. We butchered the Cornish Cross this week. We've been enjoying roast chicken, bbq chicken, chicken soup, chicken salad, chicken burritos and at the moment I'm canning chicken stock. When the chicken stock is finally on the shelf I'm moving on to making and canning applesauce using local crab-apples from a friend.

Dustin has finally had a break from his busy summer work schedule. He has been cleaning out the doe pen with a skid steer. Today he cleaned out the Cornish pen and is now working on the Buck stall- I'm thrilled to announce. He has been cleaning out the woods, cutting up and stacking firewood from trees we brought down last year. Other priorities include digging some holes for root storage, putting a door on our milking area and installing a wood stove to heat our new addition.

Today I brought in bunches of garlic and onions that have been curing on the front porch. I also brought in all the tender houseplants that have been enjoying the summer outdoors. I've been packing away summer clothes, sandles and sun hats and have been replacing them with hats, gloves, boots and jackets, as I come across various bags of winter gear. We've been starting and ending the day in sweatshirts and hats, shedding layers in mid afternoon when the sun is shining. I've been making time to sit on the porch and bask in the sun in late afternoon when the day is at it's warmest - sixties and sunny - I'll take it.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse. Almost time to pull all the plants and stack boxes of green tomatoes in the closet to let ripen.

Just waiting on a storage option to pull the carrots and beets. We are talking about burying a few metal trashcans in the ground and then insulating the tops. Our first idea had been to dig into the hillside and frame out a root cellar - much more time intensive, and our days above freezing are numbered.

I've been picking sweet peas and bringing them into the house where they perfume the air with their intense and fabulous fragrance.
Sadly, my biggest winter squash, Sweet Mama. I've got a few more smaller ones, along with a small Sweet Meat, and one nice size spaghetti squash. I wish I had a couple dozen winter squash. They store so nicely in addition to adding nice diversity in the middle of winter. One of these years....

Leeks...mmmm.. Not one of the more cost efficient crops beings that I bought a bundle of transplants. But I'm excited about leeks for fall soups.

I think this week will find us pulling out the squash vines, tomatoes and green beans. We will probably pull most of the onions since they are mostly growing above the ground at this point. I've got greens under row fabric, in an attempt to discourage the moose. I may rig up some plastic covering as well to protect from frost once a hard freeze is expected, surely in the next couple weeks.

We harvested a bunch of raspberry leaves, dandelions and stinging nettles this week, that are now hanging under cover of our front porch. I'm planning on feeding them to the goats this winter. Other herbs I'm looking to harvest for medicinal benefits are plantain, wormwood and comfrey. We are still picking and drying chamomile and calendula although they are slowing. Several sunflower heads are going to seed, so I'll be saving those for the chickens and goats as well. I should be writing more now that the weather is getting cooler and we are spending more time indoors.