Monday, August 24, 2009

Late summer garden

This time of year I can not get enough of our garden. I could sit in the garden all day if my kids would let me. Nor can I take enough pictures in an attempt to capture the fleeting lush bounty of summer. Yesterday I walked down from morning chores with a pail of milk, and as much produce as I could carry; carrots, kale, swiss chard, Romanesco, thyme, parsley, oregano and basil. Onions and garlic are hanging in the house already. I had pulled out some local Italian beef sausage and cooked some red beans. Put everything together and I made a tasty pot of soup. We ate soup and cornbread for dinner, put six quarts in the freezer and still have enough for a few more meals this week. I've been drying and blanching herbs and picking veggies for each nights dinner. Other than that most of the garden is still in the ground. The green tomatoes are ever so slowly ripening. I've almost been thinking maybe they'd ripen up quicker in the house and then I could start amending and prepping some beds for next year.
When it comes to harvesting I tend to wait until the last minute. Last year we were hacking into the frozen ground trying to get all the carrots and potatoes out. I can't ever seem to tear out the flowers before the ground freezes solid as they just keep blooming until they are frozen and covered with snow. Luckily a lot of what is in the garden just keeps doing better in the cool weather like beets, broccoli, kale, cabbage and romanesco. The peas and beans are slowing down. Some low lying areas have already frosted. Usually their has to be a hard freeze in the twenties before I go out in a last minute dash to save everything.
And on another note; meet Zanzibar, our newest buck. He has a story to go with his introduction, but it is a story for another day. These pictures were taken the day I brought him home. He is already filling out and looking healthier. He handles well and is very sweet.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Up goes a house

Dustin and I began building our home in the summer of 2004, if my late night math is correct. We intended to build a simple home for the two of us. This house was not designed with children in mind. The upstairs is one room we all share and it is open to the rest of the house. There is not a lot of privacy, nor is it easy for one to sleep if there are others awake. In the winter we spend a lot of time playing indoors. We are quickly outgrowing our home. Our original idea for the addition was to add on a couple bedrooms off the south side of our house where we already had a large sturdy deck. We just keep dreaming bigger and now we have a two story building that is bigger than our existing home. The plan is for the main level to have two bedrooms, a small bathroom, stairs leading to the bottom floor and a living room/play room on the south side. The downstairs will include an area for a large wood stove, tools, water and food storage and possibly a craft/pottery studio.

This building went up in three weekends, five weekends including initial dirt work and preparations. The first weekend the guys rented the bulldozer, took down trees and leveled the area, the following weekend we planned and ordered materials and Dustin did some more work with the skid steer. Then the foundation went in. Last weekend was just a huge building party with tremendous results beginning with the bottom floor and ending with the roof trusses from Thursday to Saturday. Yesterday the guys finished the trusses and sheathed the roof. Next on the list is waterproofing the roof with some sort of fancy tar paper stuff and finish sheathing the outside, maybe a couple windows while the scaffolding is still in place. Then the structure will be enclosed and we are going to switch gears and build a new barn for the milking does and kids. We've got some animal shuffling to do before winter.

Here are some pictures of the last two weekends. In these photos you'll notice that the bottom foundation is smaller than the main floor. Because of the height difference and how our existing structure was build it made sense to do it this way. We would have had to bring in a lot of dirt to bring the ground level high enough. This way we have an eight foot wide hallway that we are planning on building a floor in and enclosing the ends of. We are also using the space as a stair way from the top floor to the ground floor so that the stairs don't take up so much room. We woke up Thursday morning to rain. The men quickly set up the tarp over the work area as the first step was insulating the floor. It rained off and on all weekend! Probably more rain than we had all summer! But then we should have known not to build a house during fair week, as the weather is always rainy for the Tanana Valley State Fair!
The weather cleared up in the afternoon and the tarp came down as the walls went up.
By Friday night we were able to walk out onto the second floor. Woke up again Saturday morning to more drizzle.

The men rushed to get ready for the truck scheduled to bring the trusses on Saturday afternoon. The truck's boom wasn't long enough to put the trusses in place but it was able to stack them on the roof. While the guys worked to get the trusses up in the rain, the house was full of commotion. We were getting ready to have a birthday party for our friend's five year old son. Inside we had six and at times seven kids under the age of five. We ladies had our hands full cooking dinner and keeping track of the children. It was a great time despite the rain, and we were able to look straight out the living room window to see the building progress. I had a refreshing break from the warm noisy house as I grilled chicken in the rain.
It started raining pretty hard and the guys were exhausted. They were nearing the end of the work day and ready for some food and partying. If you look closely you can tell that they are starting to have some fun.
Later that night after we got the kids to bed we all headed out to the new addition to check it out. It was raining and windy. The guys had tarped the whole structure so we were protected from the elements. Dustin lit some candles, turned on a shop light and plugged in the Ipod. We crashed one by one, but most of us were up until about four in the morning drinking beer and whiskey. I believe that in previous posts I'd mentioned that our friends who have been helping in this project live in southern Alaska. They use to live here, but have moved away in the last few years. This felt like a reunion of sorts, as we use to get together for overnight parties back in the day - in the day before the kids ran the party. The next two photos were taken on Sunday. You can see that even with the tarp up the floor is still pretty wet. This photo would have looked a little different if Stella hadn't cleaned up an entire garbage bag of beer cans and bottles earlier in the day.

The following photos were taken yesterday, Friday August twenty first. Wall and roof sheathed.
The top photo is from our driveway looking at the front and north side of our house. And below is a view from the south and future yard.

I am immensely grateful to all our friends who have helped out with this project. The men have labored in the sun and rain from early morning to late at night. The women have graciously taken on extra tasks at home and with their kids so that their men could come help. And the kids have spent less time with their dad's. Everyone has given and we are blessed. Thank you.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blueberries and a foundation

I wrote the following post over a week ago and never got around to finishing it. There have been so many exciting things going on around here (like a new framed out addition), that this post already seems outdated. The pace has slowed down around here (for a few days), so I'll try and get around to a more current post showing all the festivities and building that went on around here this past weekend. For now:

Blueberries and a foundation have nothing in common other than that we processed blueberries all last week and put in the foundation for the house extension. Two weeks ago we went on our first family blueberry picking outing of the summer. It was unusually hot and humid. Not a lot of shade or breeze. We reached our spot about one p.m. with blankets, toys, food etc. This particular spot is not a long drive from town and each year and is becoming too popular. I've been picking there for ten years. This year the berry bushes were picked over before they were hardly ripe. Usually if one spot is picked over we just keep walking and looking for a better spot. That is easier said than done with small kids in tow. We came home with close to sixteen cups of berries. Not as much as we were hoping for but it was a start. A week later Dustin took Noah out for a camping trip with the grandparents. Dustin stayed to pick berries for an hour or so and came home with three gallon bags full! Some help from my dad I believe. Each bag contained about five pounds of berries. Below is a picture of Noah helping clean the leaves and twigs out of the berries.

I made three batches of blueberry jam and put the rest of the berries in the freezer. We figure that we picked close to twenty pounds in all. Never enough. I ended up buying nine more pounds of blueberries at the Farmer's Market last week. I am going to make a big batch of blueberry syrup any day now.
Headed up for morning chores. Note the huge wood pile in the background!
While the guys were putting in the concrete Sono tubes for the foundation Noah sat entranced for hours watching. He had a great view from his perch on the front porch. We rented a post hole digger for the Skid Steer and spent the morning digging twelve holes. The guys were just getting the Sono tubes in place and putting handles on the new wheel barrows when the concrete truck pulled up. It was a bit hectic to say the least. By the end of the day we had a foundation.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Morning Chores

For the last couple months I've been doing morning chores wearing a tank top, skirt and sandals. These are the moments I dream about while trudging through the snow in heavy boots and thick layers doing similar chores in the winter months. We have had the hottest summer on record. We only had 5/8ths of an inch of rain in the entire month of July. I don't think I've worn a sweatshirt headed up for morning chores in months, until yesterday (photo taken by Noah). The last few days have been in the sixties and low seventies. The air is cool, but still surprisingly muggy and damp. We live in an arctic desert, and are not use to the humidity. I'm enjoying the humid air. It has that tropical - I can shut my eyes and envision myself in Hawaii- kinda feel to it.

On mornings where the kids accompany me on our chore route I don't have much time for relaxation or day dreaming. However, on mornings where I escape the house solo, I relish every moment of summer beauty:

Walking up the hill to the garden the Brahma rooster crows accompanied by an awkward chorus of adolescent roosters. The woods are busy with the cheerful and much more graceful songs of chickadees and small birds. As soon as the does catch sight of me they began urging me closer, calling me to them. Opening up the greenhouse warm humid air greets me and I step inside and pause for a moment surveying the tomatoes, baby eggplant and lush basil. Heading out and over to the ducks they get noisy with their excitement, eager to break out of their small confinement and waddle freely to and fro. If I was a bit cool leaving the house I'm thoroughly warmed after the walk and stand now in direct sun with no trees for protection. After reaching the tent, I set my milk pail and tote down, pull out udder wash, paper towels, notebook and pen. Out of the tent I proceed to fill six grain tubs, then toss hay into feeders and snap each goat onto their own chain. Two of the does are dry and the three kids are in their own pen and share one grain tub. After giving them their grain I lead the milking does, one at a time to the milking stand.

Here is Xoe. She doesn't have any kids nursing off of her anymore so I usually milk her first. Since I am only milking once a day, she only gets milked every twenty-four hours so I try to keep to somewhat of a schedule. We are not early morning farmers. Often I am out at night until midnight or later putting everyone to bed and making sure everyone has enough food and water to get them through the night and into the morning. The goat kids don't get put in their stall until at least ten p.m., sometimes closer to midnight. I like to be up milking by ten a.m. Occasionally I don't make it up till closer till noon. If I have an inkling that it will be a late morning, I toss everyone extra hay and put the kids away later at night.
Milking is generally relaxing and enjoyable. Rhythmic and soothing. The girls practically run to the stand and hop up eager to eat their grain. I close them in, wash their udder, teats and my hands. Sitting down beside them I grasp a teat in each hand and milk away. I do have to be careful that a doe doesn't lift up a leg and set it down in the pail. Each doe has her own personality. Usually milking takes about four to ten minutes (a little over a minute a pound) and I am usually done before the doe has finished her grain. Otherwise they will often get restless and impatient and the safety of the pail is jeopardised. Not all milking sessions are calm. Maggie might be annoyed that the kids are making too much noise and step in the pail, knocking it over and a whole pail of milk goes flying. By the time I get it rinsed out and wiped clean she is done with her grain and won't stand still for me to finish. I've found that yelling, scolding and smacking do nothing to help convince a doe to stand still on the milk stand. A calm and level disposition and quick reflexes are most helpful.
I weigh the milk. Lately I've been getting between three and six pounds depending on the goat and the time of day I'm milking. If I'm up milking an hour or two later than usual, there will be a noticeable difference in every one's production. Early in the season two of my does were milking close to eight pounds but since then I've almost completely stopped feeding them alfalfa. I would like to be able to feed the three milking does alfalfa each morning. Between the kids and the dry does, the alfalfa vanishes in minutes and they don't really need the extra calories like the milking does. If I were needing more milk or were wanting higher fat milk for cheese making, I could feed more alfalfa or gradually increase their grain even more. In return I would get larger quantities of fattier milk. As it is I've been enjoying being able to leave the kids in with two of the does if I am short on time in the morning. I've been getting between a gallon and a half and two gallons a morning, which is plenty of milk for us. When I have more time for cheese making I may invest more feed into the does and get more out of them.
I pour the milk into a stainless steel lidded tote. That way it is protected from spills and any hay, hair or dirt that could get blown into it. I record the milk weights in a notebook along with any other notes that may have affected the outcome. Like, "Maggie knocked over the pail"or, "kids stayed in with does". If I have a few minutes while a doe is finishing her grain sometimes I just sit and gaze around the garden. I may pick up a brush or the hoof trimmers and do a little grooming. Often I walk around the garden and peak at the zucchini growing under the large leaves or pick a few peas to munch. I always stroll by the flower bed and dead head a few things, (I toss the old calendula flowers and safe weeds to the goats). When all three does are milked I let the kids out of their pen and everyone off their chains. The kids still manage to suck some more milk out of their dams. At this point I am often tempted to sit and visit, but the sitting milk bids me not to dawdle as it should be processed and chilled quickly.
But before I go, I stop to make sure the chickens have food and water for the day. These are the cornish cross chickens that are in our extra goat pen. In a few weeks they will join the frozen and canned goods of the house and the goats may have their pen back. Headed down to the house I skilfully guide the ducks back into their home, checking on food and water levels. There are three more stops to make and I make them quickly or sometimes come back for a second round of chores. There are a batch of pullets and young cockerels in a chicken tractor by the does that need food and water daily. The bucks get hay and grain. And a stop in to look for eggs and check the adult layers food and water levels. This can get messy and time consuming as unexpected chores often come up and can be distracting. So if there is a lot to do I just put things off for an hour and head to the house.
After a thorough hand washing, I pour the milk from the tote through a filter and into gallon or half gallon glass jars. They are dated and placed into the fridge to cool. Most mornings I culture a gallon of milk to be turned into chevre. Then it sits at room temperature until the following morning when I pour in into cheese cloths and hang it above the sink to drain. I also have a quart jar of kefir that sits on the counter and each morning I pour off the kefir and add fresh milk from the days milking. What is left over goes in the fridge.

I enjoy these mornings immensely. If we are in a hurry to go someplace or if the weather is nasty, the kids challenging, well then the morning can seem like a lot of chores and mouths to feed. However, even in the winter when I am sitting outside in twenty below zero temperatures with bare hands squeezing hot streams of milk into an icy cold pail, I enjoy the ritual and rhythm of the morning. Coming down to the house with a full pail of milk and pockets full of eggs after spending quality time outside with the animals is rewarding and makes my day regardless of the climate. Having said this, I am hoping for a few more tank top and sandal mornings, followed by a couple months of sweatshirt mornings before heavy coats and boots are in order.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dirtwork, kids and ducks, oh my

We have had several fun outings in the last couple weeks. I have so many good photos of the kids and the beautiful Fairbanks summer and not enough time to download and write! But here are a few. These are photos of the kids at an outdoor wedding. It was a special time. We were on the edge of a beautiful green sloping hayfield, no houses around. Very simple, small group of folks. Handsome horses in the distances, lounging and browsing. We spent the night visiting, watching close friends get married, eating food, drinking punch and watching the kids run around in the hayfield, and the babies crawl around and off the blankets. Lovely time!

Avery has taken to climbing stairs as you can see in the photo above she is quite smug about her new found accomplishments. I can hardly keep her off of them. And she hasn't gotten hurt enough to know better yet. She has also climbed up onto a chair this week, very dangerous! And has also been caught pushing the stool around to things and then using it to climb up onto say the coffee table, etc. Very dangerous!
Flowers, ah... and ducks.... For a while I was letting the ducks out in the morning and leaving them out for most the day. However, they seem to relish my broccoli and cauliflower as much as I do. For a while they were not doing much damage. But as they've grown they went from nibbling on a leaf here or there to almost destroying whole plants. Now they just get to wander when we are in the garden, still once or twice daily. I think we have two girls and two boys and if that is the case we will be eating one male duck for dinner this fall.

In my last post I mentioned that some good friends of ours brought up their dump truck, skid steer and labor last week. In just a couple hours the men had taken down fifteen trees or so. We rented a bulldozer to take out the stumps and level the area to the west and south of our house. Our friend Bob did all of the work on the bulldozer while his son, Rob, and Dustin ran around cutting down trees, moving lumber, transporting equipment etc. Something about having heavy equipment around, progress happens quickly and drastically. Noah sat on either the front porch or the back porch depending on which spot gave him the best view of the bulldozer and the guys with chainsaws. I don't have a good picture of the cleared and leveled spot where the addition is going. It is below and to the west of the house. In the picture above Rob and Dustin are sawing up some trees. They had started on either side of the same tree but I was too slow to grab for the camera. They were sawing in woods as Bob was running the Bulldozer below them. Noah, Avery and I were hanging out on the back porch cooking dinner on the grill. Busy night. The bottom photo is of the newly cleared area south of the house. Our entire property is pretty much sloped woods. I am looking forward to having a small area close to the house that is somewhat level and grassy for the kids to play on. We also cleared this area as an access route to bring in supplies for the new building project and also as a way of clearing lumber and moving firewood. Thank you so much men for all your hard work. We truly appreciate you both.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Midsummer Garden

Here are a few garden photos. Above is a squash bed with summer squash, snap and snow peas. We eat the peas daily while in the garden. Few make it down to the house. In the back is the main gate to the doe pen. Below is a photo of some green tomatoes in the greenhouse.

Above is some greens and lots of broccoli and kale. In the third row down you can see Noah's garden. Corn in the back with dwarf sunflowers in front and carrots to the right. Below that is a row of garlic with more sunflowers behind. Below you can see the greenhouse with tomatoes and then a row of peas, broccoli and cauliflower, the middle row is carrots, beets and radishes and the closest row is broccoli and kale. We've been harvesting some decent sized carrots, lots of broccoli and some beets. The cauliflower, broccoli romanesco and cabbage are all growing nicely. We've also been harvesting the first of the shelling peas, some zucchini and green, yellow and purple bush beans. It just keeps getting better and better. I'm about to harvest all the onions as they've finished early this year. I need to plant one last batch of cold hardy greens in their place. Looking forward to enough shelling peas to make a meal or two. We've grown enough carrots, and broccoli, and maybe enough potatoes. We need to plant more of everything else.
And now for the biggest project of all. Below is a picture of the woods below our house. We had a couple friends come up for a visit and help by bringing their dump truck, skid steer and labor. We also rented a bull dozer which our friend Bob put in most of the hours on. They cut down several trees in a short time and processed the wood and now it is in a huge pile by the house. The area below the house is levelled as is the ground south of the house. I intend to make a new post to show all the dirtwork and wood cutting that has gone on in the last week. As of now the building for the addition is scheduled for about the thirteenth of August, doesn't give us much time to get ready...

I've been making it into town about once a week. I usually run in to friends I haven't seen in a while and they ask what I've been doing. I usually just say I've been hanging around the house taking care of the kids. But really that isn't even the beginning. We figured out that we do at least three hours of farm chores a day at the very minimum, four if we have to water the whole garden, and more if there is any building or animal moving going on. When we've had help doing dirt work or building I've been caring for both kids, the farm, and cooking for everyone. As I'm writing this my husband just came in from night chores, both kids are in bed and we are going to look over floor plans for the extension and possibly watch a little t.v. online whoo hoo. gooodnight.