Wednesday, September 30, 2009


We have had a light layer of snow on the ground for over a week now. Above freezing temperatures during the day have melted enough that we can see the frozen ground with it's covering of leaves but there is still a partial coating of crunchy snow. We pulled and shoveled at least a hundred pounds of carrots, the last of the beets and potatoes last Thursday night. I've spent the past week scrubbing and bagging carrots. The only plants left in the garden are swiss chard, kale, beet greens, endive, escarole, mache and a few other hardy salad greens. They are all under either plastic or fabric row covers. I'm experimenting to see how long they last and how hardy they are.

I had a brief window last Sunday to plant garlic. This year I grew four varieties of garlic that I purchased last fall: Siberia, Northe, Chezchland Race and Killarney Red. I also had planted a mix from the plants I'd harvested from the previous year that I think were similar to the varieties I'd purchased. For whatever reason my second year garlic was much slower to start, less vigorous, smaller bulbs and finished early. The Killarney Red also did poorly for me this year. I harvested the Killarney Red and my own mix by early August. The bulbs were small but were just fine as far as texture and flavor goes. I'm guessing I got about a pound and a half from the first harvest. We start almost every dinner meal with chopped garlic and onions, and have already used up all the first harvest garlic over the last couple months. I harvested the majority of the garlic just a couple weeks ago. In the picture above I've got four piles. I think the unmarked fourth pile in the top left corner was just a bundle that I'd harvested early. When I pulled the garlic I wrapped the bundles with twine and kept the label with each bunch. Then I hung the bundles for a few weeks before cutting the tops off. The Siberia and Northe are both Marbled Purple Stripe Hard Neck Rocambles. They were my best performers. The Chezchland Race is a Hard Neck Rocamble, but not a Purple Stripe. The bulbs on it were smaller but the plants were vigorous.
I had about three and half pounds of garlic from the final harvest and I'm guessing that I harvested five pounds total this year. I ordered two and half pounds from Filaree Farms in Washington, the same farm I've ordered from the last two years. The bulbs are much larger than my own. In the picture below left to right are Killarney Red, Siberia and Chesnok Red. In the center pile of Siberia the clove in the bottom right is my largest Siberia bulb. Hm, I wonder why my second year garlic did so poorly? Beings that you plant the biggest cloves off each garlic and given the drastic comparison in size, I think I'll keep ordering garlic until my own crop is doing better. I ordered garlic before I had harvested any. I'm glad I bought more Siberia. I wish I'd ordered more Northe and maybe not the Killarney Red. I was hoping to plant more of my own garlic but since I'd harvested it so late it wasn't cured all the way when I went to plant. If the garlic isn't dried all the way the cloves are very difficult to separate and it is probably not good to plant it so soon. So I planted most of what I purchased and a small amount of each variety I'd grown.

From left to right are Killarney Red, Chesnok Red and Siberia. I broke up most of the bulbs putting the largest ones aside for planting and the rest for eating. Last year the garlic didn't last much past December so this year I am going to keep enough garlic whole for the next couple months and puree the rest with olive oil. I'll pour the pureed garlic into sandwich ziplocs and lay them flat. That way I can easily break of chunks for cooking with.
Fortunately I had turned this whole bed and worked in Bone Meal, Blood Meal and Greensand a few days before the snow fell. Broccoli and Kale had been planted here this summer and I had mulched with goat bedding and had limed before planting. So as I was working the bed I didn't add any lime, but there was still visible goat mulch which is full of nutrients. I walked the row and it is about twenty-five feet long. I planted three rows of garlic about four inches apart. I planted about two pounds. You can see I had entertainment and frisky company.

I don't get out much on my own so to be outside in the afternoon, planting garlic and watching the goats romp around was enjoyable to say the least. It was a lovely afternoon despite the overcast cool conditions. After planting garlic I headed indoors to prepare some food for a special harvest dinner later in the day, which will be the topic of my next post.

Harvest Dinner

For the last few years we have been celebrating the end of summer's harvest with a special dinner made up of multiple courses featuring our own vegetables and any other homegrown and local ingredients. The date and details of the dinner are planned far in advance, mostly by my mother and Nancy, a close family friend, advanced gardener and gourmet cook. This meal was officially our second harvest dinner of the season. We celebrate the arrival and bounty of ripe tomatoes in mid to late summer with a "Tomato Fest" and it tends to feature tomatoes as the star player appearing in various roles throughout the meal. Harvest dinner is easier for us all to make contributions as we are all have a bounty of something by fall whether it is tomatoes, chicken, cheese, caribou, turnips or carrots... The following pictures do not do the meal justice but perhaps my descriptions will help. It was a fabulous meal. Several wonderful bottles of wine accompanied the meal. I intended to include the pairings, but failed to keep track.

The very top photo is a picture of the dishes I prepared before leaving the house. I had spent the afternoon planting garlic and fortunately was able to throw everything together rather quickly. I wanted to be able to relax and enjoy the night so I tried to keep things simple so that I wouldn't have to make anything on the spot. On the left are three small cauliflower heads out of the garden, notice that each cauliflower is a different color, white, cheddar yellow and graffiti purple. I blanched the heads and pressed on a buttery Parmesan bread crumb mixture with red onions, thyme and parsley, all out of the garden. The middle boat is my own garlic drizzled with olive oil and a little salt. On the right is our goat cheese mixed with our own sun dried tomatoes and herbs and pine nuts (not ours) and also drizzled with olive oil. I was able to just put everything in the oven at the right time and then pull them out and enjoy.

The first appetizer bite was scrambled quail eggs on a toasted slice of baguette and topped with slivered bacon. (Quail eggs from Chris and Nancy's quail, prepared by Chris and Nancy)

Next we had some fabulous bread with roasted garlic and the chevre spread. (Bread brought by Patrick, garlic out of our garden, thanks to the goats for the very nice chevre, with a bit of work on my part).

This is tomato sorbet on top of diced tomatoes in a pool of fresh basil oil with a garlic Parmesan tuile. I'm not sure if either salsa or relish is quite the right word for the diced tomatoes, I remember that green zebra and tangerine tomatoes made up either the sorbet and/ or the relish. I must say that this appetizer was both unique and exquisite. I savored every drop. (Tomatoes and basil grown by Nancy, prepared by Nancy)

I was a little late trying to get a picture of this course. A beet salad with oregano and walnuts paired with a small serving of grilled caribou. We realized after taking our first few bites that the beet salad was missing the crumbled chevre and we paused as mom rushed to put some chevre in a bowl to pass around. The beets and caribou complimented each other nicely. ( Beets and oregano grown by and prepared by Marylee, chevre from our goats. Caribou prepared by Adam. He didn't actually kill it, but it is my understanding that he helped an older gentlemen get it and was given half of the meat in return for his work.)

And for the main course: Roast chicken with sage pesto, fried turnips and roasted cauliflower heads. This chicken was some of the tastiest chicken that I have ever devoured. I was a bottomless pit, helping myself to seconds and thirds.
(Chicken raised by Chris, prepared by Nancy. Turnips grown and prepared by Adam. Cauliflower grown by myself).

Dessert: Carrot cake and Pumpkin Pie (actually Sweet Meat winter squash - better than pumpkin) and coffee and tea (neither local.) (Carrots grown by Marylee, cake and frosting made by Marylee with help from Noah. Squash grown locally, from the market I believe. Pie baked by Adam.)

This time of year I'm spending more time indoors looking at cookbooks and food magazines. The fridge, freezer and shelves are stocked with enough produce and food for winter. I feel like I should be making some sort of pledge to not buy any groceries for a few months. While I'm not that hard core I will say that we are eating mostly out of our own garden. Each day I'm looking at what needs to get eaten or preserved. This past week I sliced up ten pounds of cabbage and started some sauerkraut. Yesterday I cooked up about ten pounds of tomatoes into sauce. We've eaten the last of this years peas, beans and zucchini. On the list for this week is carrots. I'm planning on making carrot soup, carrot juice, carrot muffins and possibly canning some.

Looking forward to a winter of good food and many more special meals shared with loved ones.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First snow and frost

Yesterday we woke up to large flakes of snow coming down from the sky. A quick glance at the thermometer reassured me that the snow wouldn't last long. The snow continued to fall most the morning but melted as it met the ground. We dawdled in the house as long as we could, making banana cranberry muffins, drinking tea and tidying. By late morning all that was left was a muddy mess.

This morning there is a light layer of snow and frost over everything. The lavender daisies on the back porch are still open as are the vibrant orange yellow gaillardia blossoms, but they are encrusted in a layer of snow and ice, frozen and still. The herbs and plants are still vibrant green but as the day warms and the plants thaw, I'm guessing many plants will wilt and turn to mush. The birch are looking rather bare and exposed. Only the most determined orange leaves still hang by threads. I would be more inclined to embrace this beautiful and exciting time of transition if we were more prepared for the snow and cold. Instead this time of year has us panicked and running around in circles trying to decide what takes priority; harvesting the garden, building the new goat barn, chopping wood, building the hearth so we can bring the wood stove back indoors or tidying up anything on the ground that we don't want to lose till next spring.

Fortunately I harvested most the garden this past weekend. We pulled the rest of the tomatoes and brought them indoors to ripen. Picked the last of the cucumbers and snipped all the herbs. I spent all day sunday blanching and freezing herbs and kale. I cut all the cauliflower and cabbage heads, they are filling our back up refrigerator at the moment. I picked the beans, peas and zucchini plants one last time before putting the plants in the compost pile. On monday Noah and I harvested a row of carrots and a row of potatoes. So far we have three two gallon bags of carrots and have only harvested a third of the crop. I pulled and scrubbed beets yestereday and prepped a bed for planting garlic. All that is left in the garden are carrots, potatoes, a few remaining broccoli and kale plants, and some swiss chard and hardy greens under row covers. I think we'll get to the rest of the potatoes and another row of carrots today. All in all, feeling pretty good about the garden harvest.

Dustin is about to have a couple extra days off. We are hoping to get the roof and walls up on the goat barn. We'd also like to get the wood stove hearth ready for tiling. These are the mornings for wood fires but the stove is sitting on the front porch. So much to do and so little time. I remind myself that one fall we were living in a tent and trying to get the roof on our house this time of year. Most years since we've been building some animal housing last minute. We've got the foundation in and the rafters up so I think the goats and chickens will be settled in their new homes within the next couple weeks. For now as I sit here looking out the window at the cold blustery day I remind myself that the sun is sure to come out again and temperatures will warm in the afternoons. There are at least a few more days of thawed exposed ground. The cool weather has me looking forward to the end of big outdoor projects. Lounging around in a warm house cooking soup and watching the kids play is sounding more enticing every day.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Autumn Days

In the midst of summer I dread winter and the cooler shorter days of fall. I enjoy all the seasons, but we have a disproportionately long winter here. I find myself looking forward to spring and summer, but rarely fall and winter. However, now that it is fall, I am reminded just how much I truly do love this season. I think that our fall days here in the interior can be even more fleeting than the long days of summer. The leaves change and drop to the ground over the course of a few weeks. Frosts in late August are common. Snow in September is not unheard of. Fortunately we have been having a warm dry September. Last year at this time we only had yet to harvest root crops. This year everything is still slowly growing and ripening.

The mornings are cool and have us leaving the house wearing socks and sweatshirts. In the warm afternoons we pull off our socks and long sleeves, relishing the feel of clover and dirt beneath our barefeet once more. We close our eyes and turn our faces to the sun, savoring the feeling of the sun on our bare skin.

This week I've made and canned sixteen quarts of chicken stock and six quarts of applesauce. The chicken stock was from our own chicken carcasses and garden vegetables. The apples were local crab apples that a friend picked off her trees and gave us. We've been picking low bush cranberries and a few rosehips. Today I'm going to make and can another big pot of chicken stock and some chicken soup.

We finally have our own ripe tomatoes. I've brought forty pounds of green tomatoes indoors to ripen. My favorites are the Black Krim, Black Cherry and Sun Gold. Some of the tomatoes are ripening well and taste fabulous. Others are lacking in flavor and juicy texture so I'll dry those. I've got a batch of salt brined pickles in one of my glass crocks, and a Kombucha mushroom in the other. I was trying to think of what I was going to do about making Sourkraut, and realized I'll just pack it into some gallon glass jars.

I do forget how much I enjoy cooking and canning indoors when it is cool and crisp outside. I'm looking forward to getting back to bread baking and cheesemaking, just having more time indoors for cooking meals and cleaning without feeling the urge to get out and enjoy the weather while it is here. For a few more weeks we'll scurry about, trying to get the house chores done in the morning while it is cool, and save the garden harvesting and berry picking for the sunny afternoons, trying to get the most out of these lovely autumn days.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Candle burning

There is a candle burning in our woods tonight.
It lights the departure of our first milking doe, Maggie. Over the last few weeks we've known that something was wrong with Maggie. She has been our herd leader. The strongest and smartest doe in the group. Recently she had been bloated and looking obviously uncomfortable. The course of action for bloat is usually feeding the goat oil to help lubricate the rumen and help the feed pass through. It seemed to help but temporarily, but then she would be bloated again. I thought that she was eating too much, or the new hay disagreed with her. I tried giving her oil again and penning her up so I could monitor her hay intake. I called a friend and local goat expert who said I'd done about everything he would recommend. I called the vet who suggested I take her temperature, but thought it sounded like bloat.

A goat's temperature should be around 103, and Maggie's was 106. We gave her antibiotics. The next morning her temperature had dropped to 99, which is too low. It remained low for the following days. We continued the antibiotics and also administered an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. By now she was in her stall with fresh water and a small amount of hay. All along she also had access to a multivitamin and mineral supplement along with baking soda. I was trying to get her to ingest some probiotics and vitamin B supplement by sprinkling them on a small amount of grain, but she wasn't interested.

On Monday when I checked on her she wasn't able to stand up. The vet came out and gave her calcium right into her bloodstream along and some oral probiotics. She said her rumen sounded as though it was working fine. Maggie was alert and excited about food. The vet said that she didn't think Maggie was going to make it much longer and said I should make her comfortable and give her whatever she wanted. The vet said it was something serious, as she was not responding to the antibiotics, but didn't know what the problem was. I gave Maggie alfalfa, calendula flowers and kale and broccoli leaves much to her delight. The vet sent in blood samples to test for everything we could think of. The results were due back tonight. Over the last few days I'd noticed that Maggie wasn't peeing or pooping. I gave her 60 ml of peanut oil twice yesterday at five hour intervals and again this morning, hoping to push whatever it was through.

Talking to the vet today, we decided that she must be impacted in her rumen. The vet said that the oil should show results in twelve hours or less. We were feeling desperate and decided to operate tonight and figure out what was causing the problem. First the vet opened her up on her left side where her rumen is located. She quickly found the problem which was and impacted abomasal. Not good. The abomasal is the fourth compartment in a goat's digestive tract. The vet said that it felt like a football four times the size that it should be. She couldn't get to it to find what was blocking it. So she stitched up Maggie's left side and opened up her right side. All along Maggie is under with injectable anesthesia, shaved in both spots and poked with lots of Novocaine.

On the right side of Maggie was a little trickier as all of her intestines were in the way but we quickly found the abomasal and the intestine leading from it. There was a big firm flat area and we decided she should cut into it and see what it was. It was just food. Not what we were hoping for. I thought that maybe Maggie had eaten some insulation out of the side of her stall. But we didn't find any insulation. The next idea was that we stitch her intestine back up, and feed her a bunch of mineral oil and hope that it would loosen the inside of the abomasal. All along the vet had been exclaiming that Maggie's rumen, her intestines and all of her organs looked angry, red, inflamed and irritated. She had been quite frank that she thought there was a good chance Maggie wasn't going to make it. I had been trying to prepare myself over the last few days, but was feeling rather optimistic while she was operating. This same vet has performed two emergency operations on our dog, saving her life both times. I kept thinking that she would fix the problem, stitch her up, and we'd be injecting lots of antibiotics and pain reliever over the next week. Well, while the vet was stitching up her intestine, another part of her intestine burst and shot blood and intestine juice into my left eye. Lovely. I was concerned about my stinging eye, but hadn't seen the greater picture. Maggie's intestine was so irritated and worn out that it was falling apart in the vets hands. She tried to stitch up the new hole but it was just getting bigger and was really, just, falling apart in her hands.

She said that it was time to put Maggie down. If we tried to finish stitching her up, when she woke up she was going to be miserable. I probably wouldn't be able to get the mineral oil into her. And dying by internal infection and leaking intestine would be a horribly painful death. I held Maggie's head in my arms and cried as Tamara put the lethal injection into her neck. I kept my hand on her pulse as it faded away and felt so sorry. Maggie was our first doeling. I thought we'd have many more years together, and can't help feeling as though there was something I could have done better or sooner to keep her healthy and alive. I failed Maggie. I failed to read her symptoms and what she was trying to tell me. The only thing that would probably have helped was feeding her a lot more oil, but sooner. It was probably too late by now.

It is my understanding that in the Fairbanks area it is legal to take your dead livestock to the dump. I cannot fathom dumping my dead animal amongst a pile of trash. Digging a hole on our property is hard work, not easy loose soil, but Dustin dug a nice big hole in the ground in the dark tonight. We slid Maggie in. She landed in a nice position, with her head turned and resting comfortably on her body. It seemed a shame to cover her with dirt. She was such a beautiful creature. It was a decent burial though. We left a candle burning for her, in the dark night.
Above is a picture of Maggie, about five months old. I use to let her and Noah run around and play together (before she started knocking him over- which is what she would do to him these days if she had a chance). Below is a photo of Maggie and Lew the first day that we got them. We had shipped them up from Washington. After bringing them home from the airport in their kennel, they had a great time exploring their new home.

Maggie was a great doe. I am most disappointed in that I thought we'd have a much longer relationship together. She gave us a doeling and a buckling this spring and we are keeping them both. Her daughter is named Zuri. She is the spitting image of her dam. Her son is named Zoro. We had been intending on selling him as a neutered male. It is a good thing that we kept him as he is out of Maggie and Lew.

I knew when we started raising goats that I'd be seeing them all die, but really (naively) had thought that they would all live long, productive, healthy and happy lives first. I am learning the hard way. Animal husbandry is more brutal and real than I could have imagined. Entering the world of goat husbandry I felt a false sense of knowledge and confidence. The confidence of someone who read the book thoroughly and feels prepared for the test, but has no real life experience. The older I get, the less I know. The same applies to my goat experiences. I am realizing that I never knew as much as I thought, I need to know much more, and hopefully I will learn from these hard and rutheless losses.

By the way, in case you are worried about the candle starting a fire. It is in a cleared area, on wet dirt and in a tall glass candle that should put itself out if spilled.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Avery's First Birthday

A year ago today I was in active labor and getting ready to push Avery into this world. My labor was as quick and peaceful as it could be. It was a cool misty fall morning. The wood stove heated the house. We had candles lit all around. I was in active labor for about two hours before climbing into our tub to have her. The midwives showed up just as I was beginning to feel the urge to push. I had Avery at about eleven in the morning. I remember smiling and feeling exhilarated in the midst of labor, as I could tell that it wasn't going to take long. I remember looking at the clock and thinking I'd be in bed with my baby by noon, and I was. When Avery first came out she was very blue and covered in a thick white greasy coating of vernix. After we got into bed Dustin made us all breakfast. The bed was set up on the floor in the living room. It was a Sunday and Dustin had the t.v. on to see some of the footbal games. After the midwives left, the baby slept. I rested, but was too excited to sleep. I laid in bed and just stared at my beautiful new baby.

This picture is of Avery just a couple hours old. Before I'd put her first clothes on her. We keep our house pretty toasty, so neither of my children wore many clothes when they were new babies. We mostly just laid around in bed with them, lots of skin to skin contact and soft blankets. My parents brought Noah over for a visit to meet his new baby sister Sunday evening. He spent the night at their house so the three of us could have a peaceful night together.
Here are some pictures of Avery during her first few days of life. She was born one week early, although she was late according to her due date. She weighed seven pounds. I was blessed to have enjoyable easy pregnancies. Never got sick or too uncomfortably heavy. My labors were a lot of work but I had natural deliveries as I had planned. Most importantly I gave birth to two healthy children who were delightful and easy going babies.

This final picture if of Avery at about six months old. She was just a jolly little thing. Chubby, drooly and happy. Noah and Avery and I are having a nice day around the homestead. We are about to get out for farm chores. We might make some applesauce and chicken soup. I think we'll pull out the photo album of this last year and look at it together. Tonight we are having friends over who also have a daughter who just turned one year old. We are having roast chicken and a baked cauliflower head. Maybe some apple pie made with apples I bought at the market. Should be a special day of memories and a celebration of Avery's first year of life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chickens in the freezer

This weekend we harvested twenty-nine Cornish Cross meat chickens and a couple Welsummer roosters. At the beginning of the summer we told my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and a close friend that we would raise five meat birds for each of them in exchange for help on slaughtering day and a bag of feed. My parents came up as did our friend and his son to help kill and process the birds. Dustin and I decided to give the birds to everyone( whether they helped or not on butchering day) as a thank you for all the help that we have received this summer and in general from our family and close friends. I've been intending to designate an entire post to my summer help and farm hands but haven't. So thank you: Adam S., Tricia, Heath, Mekiah, Shanee and Emma, and my parents. At the start of summer Dustin got a job working six days a week, long hours. I had an entire garden to plant, goats to milk, chickens everywhere and was feeling overwhelmed just taking care of the kids, the house and basic chores. So for May, June and July we had help most days. Adam, Heath and Mekiah came up and milked the goats, fed and watered all the animals, and watered the garden. Mekiah was our only paid help and at thirteen years old he was a great help. He would start the day feeding animals, milking goats and then would labor for a couple hours moving soil and animal bedding or chopping wood. My sister-in-law comes up once a week and watches the kids for a few hours so I can get out for a peaceful morning of chores. My girlfriend Shanee also came up several times when I was in a pinch and helped watch the kids, as did my folks. So thank you everyone! We feel so blessed to have this help from our loved ones and when we can we thank them with eggs, veggies, milk, cheese and as in this weekend; chicken.

We started on Saturday about two p.m. and finally finished cleaning up by seven p.m. This was our second year processing birds, but last year we didn't have near as many. This year we borrowed our friend's plucker. It was awesome. Thank you Chris and Nancy. For anyone that is a pro at killing chickens, you may be wondering why it took us all day with so much help. There were a couple areas we could have improved on. We had three guys killing chickens and bringing them down and plucking them. I think we were overly obsessed with the birds not sitting around waiting for evisceration so they were doing one bird at a time and trying not to get ahead of me. I was in the house taking out all the innards and then bringing the birds back outside and putting them in coolers. My mom watched the kids. My first couple birds I was pretty slow on and then started to get the hang of it. My dad started helping me and then we were moving fast each side by side taking about five minutes a bird. Then we got ahead of the guys.

We ran out of ice and one person drove to town for more ice. Our water cooled off and had to be replaced four times. So there was delay as the birds don't pluck well if the water is too cool. So hopefully next year we will remember more ice, maybe a device for keeping the water hot, and kill more birds at a time = less trips up and down the hill. We sent birds off with everyone and kept ours in ice water overnight. Today I dried, weighed, bagged, labeled and froze chickens. We put nine whole birds in the freezer, cut a few up into pieces, made soup with a couple and put one in a brine for dinner tomorrow.

We would probably need to keep thirty chickens for ourselves if we were to only eat our home grown chicken all year long. I'm guessing these birds last us till spring. Our birds weighed mostly in the six and seven pound range with handful of eight almost nine pounders and a couple five pounders. We received chicks in early June. They were almost fourteen weeks old. Cornish Cross grow extremely fast and I think we could have slaughtered earlier if we had gotten them outside sooner, and if I had fed them commercial grower feed. I fed them my own mixed whole grain chicken feed for their first eight weeks or so. Once they started eating twenty pounds of feed in a day I reassessed my priorities and bought some bagged grower feed.

Did we save money in raising our own chickens? We paid a couple dollars (almost three?) a chick in addition to shipping, maybe about four dollars a bird? I can't remember for certain, but I think they were about seventy dollars for thirty birds. I can't even begin to guess how much feed we purchased. I hope to keep track better next summer. Bags of grower cost about seventeen dollars at the feed store and I know we bought about eight bags for their last six weeks. Adds up to one hundred thirty six dollars. Not counting labor or electricity for their heat lamp, feeders or waterers, or feed for the first and slower eating half of their life, it looks as though we put at least seven dollars into each bird. Which would be about a dollar a pound. However I'm sure if we accounted for the rest of the feed I didn't keep track of it would be closer to two dollars a pound. When we do buy chicken at the supermarket it costs two to four dollars a pound, organic and free range etc. So maybe this was a little less expensive than store bought chicken if you take the labor out of the equation - (which was lots of labor).

These chickens were raised outside, with fresh air and sunlight, some room to roam. This breed of birds themselves are not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as other heritage meat or laying breeds. They grow so fast that they don't move around much. They move to get to the feeder or waterer. It was not uncommon to see them begin to walk a few feet and then lower themselves down for a rest and then stand back up to make it the final feet to the feeder. Rather pathetic indeed. Yet even so I found myself making eye contact and thanking them for their lives they were about to give unknowingly. As I carefully placed the birds in the freezer today I thought of pulling them out one by one throughout the winter for special meals. We are one step closer to self-sufficiency. Step by step we are teaching ourselves and our children where meat really comes from. We know how these animals lived, were killed and processed and that is what this is all about.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Local produce, my dollar, my vote

I am a farmer's market addict. I have a weakness for beautiful local produce in it's prime. I walk past large unblemished heads of snow white, cheddar orange and purple cauliflower, tomatoes of every size, shape and color, cumbers, herbs, red and gold beets with their vibrant greens, baskets of turnips, rutabagas, celery and onions, leeks, cabbages, potatoes and carrots! I reach out a hand to caress a winter squash and can't resist the urge to pick it up and then another and another, putting them on the scale. Walking to the truck carrying as much squash as I can and dreaming of roasted squash, steamed squash, squash soup with shallots and sage, squash pie, maybe a whole squash as a Thanksgiving center piece with soup inside. The squash was a dollar and fifty cents a pound, I bought one sweet meat, two sweet mamas and some sort of orange sweet mama looking thing for about fifty bucks. Was it a good deal? It wasn't a steal. Last year squash at Fred Meyers was priced about the same. I'm sure I'll be able to find squash for less money a pound at Wall Mart some time this winter. Will the Wall Mart squash be comparable in quality to the local squash? Undoubtedly no. Winter squash serve as our only fall decorations, adorning a shelf or table with their lovely shapes and colors. They last well into the winter sitting at room temperature. If they are not keeping I move them to a cooler floor location or cook them.

I do like a bargain. We do not have extra money to throw away. I know that locally grown produce is fresher, healthier and tastier, better for my family, farmers and the local economy in general. Many of the vegetables are grown organically, although only one farm that I know of is certified organic. Choosing where my dollars go are in my power. My dollar is my vote, and when I can I'll vote for the Alaskan Farmers any day. If you compare prices at the Farmer's Market to those at the local supermarkets bargains are hard to find, but you can find them if you shop often and early. Some of the better deals I saw this summer were large garbage sized bags of broccoli for fifteen dollars, and beets in bins without their greens by the pound as opposed to those sold in bunches. The Spinach Creek Farm carrots are always a score, especially the big bags of ends and pieces. The best deals of the summer are found during the last few weeks when you can find fifty pound bags of potatoes vs. five pound bags and so forth.

Tomatoes are available beginning in mid June at six dollars a pound. Initially I was daunted by the price. Who wouldn't be? For those of you far away, produce prices are much higher here in general. Standard tomatoes usually run two to four dollars a pound at the supermarket. Putting things in perspective, I know what it takes to grow a ripe tomato in interior Alaska. These tomatoes are started by hand in January or February and transplanted into greenhouses heated by wood or fuel. The farmer's selling these tomatoes are not trying to rob the innocent consumer. They are making a living. The more succesful farmers are full time farmers with down time in the winter, but most have full time jobs away from their farm. On another note, I sure don't have tomatoes by mid June. Although in some years I have had tomatoes by the end of July.

Some folks I know abstain from buying tomatoes until they are harvesting their own. I'm just not that patient. I want to eat what is in season when it is in season whether I've grown it or not. I also must say that some winters we have gone without store bought tomatoes, enjoying the local tomatoes and then our own. Often our own tomatoes ripen up all fall into November indoors off the vine. Last year I dried a gallon of sun-dried tomatoes for winter eating. I do confess that last year we bought organic heirloom tomatoes at the supermarket throughout the winter. They were like jewells, orange, white, green striped, black, brown, purple and yellow, coming in all shapes and sizes and guess what, they were six dollars a pound. They were not local, not in season, but they were tasty and we relished them. I'd rather pay more money for a quality product or go without, than purchase the regular tomatoes that line the supermarket shelves. I don't need that slice of red on a sandwich if I can't even taste it.

We try to eat locally when possible. I play a little game with myself in the summer where I try not to buy any vegetables from the store. We eat out of the garden or buy it at the market. A couple of exceptions that we made this summer were for corn on the cob and a couple avocados. I went without shallots for a couple months, but I bought a few the other day. We've been eating our own onions and garlic for the last couple months as well as potatoes, carrots, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, peas, greens, herbs, zucchini and a couple exotics like eggplant and a few cucumbers. All summer I've been buying tomatoes and cucumbers at the market. Last week I bought a couple cauliflower and some bulk beets. Dustin was giving me a hard time as we have a long row of beets and some nice heads of cauliflower in the garden. But it is not like we aren't going to eat them all. And I can't pass up a good deal. The heads of cauliflower were three and four dollars a piece and big! Ours are still growing so I've been holding out on harvesting them until the last minute. We can't have enough beets. I think I spent eight or ten dollars and filled to gallon Ziplocs and stuck them in the fridge. We've been eating beets for a while but they are doing so nicely in the cool weather. I've just been harvesting the big ones and leaving the rest to fill out. I know how much labor I put into growing vegetables; starting them from seed, nurturing them along, prepping beds, transplanting, lots of hand watering, and then waiting and watching and more watering. Then some plants like cauliflower put out one head. You watch it grow trying to get as much as possible from the one plant. I do feel a little silly buying things from the market that I have growing in the garden. As long as it all gets eaten, then it is money well spent.

So wherever you are I'm guessing your local farmer's market is in full swing. Take advantage of the fabulous produce while you still can. And for those of you in interior Alaska I believe the Tanana Valley Farmer's Market is open for at least two more weekends. You'll see me there. Hopefully early in the day and looking for some good last minute deals.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A fall day

Fall Splendor

Tall birch trees fully dressed
in their finest
gold garments.
Breathing slow and steady
less a strong wind blow
their fine clothes off.
Soft baby blue sky intensifies
into true blue,
brilliant orange birch,
arms outstretched, reaching up...

Other than the usual; dish and diaper washing, floor sweeping, house tidying, goat milking, cheese making, animal feeding and meal making... I am hoping to start a batch of dill pickles. Can't decide whether to make an old fashioned brined recipe or a quick batch of refrigerator dills. I am using farmer's market pickling cucumbers and my own dill and garlic. The highlight of the day will be picking cranberries. This afternoon when the sun has warmed the ground and the kids are willing, I'm looking forward to walking down below the house and sitting and picking low bush cranberries in the sun.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Animal husbandry; harsh realities and decisions

About six a.m. is when we are serenaded by a chorus of awkward adolescent roosters competing for the best crow. I would just smile, roll over and fall back asleep if they weren't waking the kids up. I've been enjoying sleeping with the windows open to the fresh cool air but this morning I shut the windows in a desperate attempt to muffle the racket, with minimal success. The Welsummer rooster pictured above left his fellow Welsummer flock to go live with the Ameraucanas and Sexlinks in the top mini pasture. I've been opening the two chicken coops in the morning and letting the birds free range all day. It has been so enjoyable watching them forage on the banks and hillsides. We have adult birds and the oldest pullets and cockerels in the main chicken house and then another batch of laying adolescents higher up on the hill in a hoop house on wheels. I think this guy needed his own space and flock. He left two other Welsummer cockerels and an adult Brahma rooster for a batch of younger birds where he is the top cock. Fortunately for him he is a nice looking guy so I think we will probably keep him right where he is at until we move this batch of birds into winter housing. Below is a photo of a different Welsummer cockerel and in front of him a Welsummer pullet. I find these birds so attractive. The hens are so pretty. I love their coloring especially through the neck and breast, yellows and pinks. I cannot wait till I find the first Welsummer egg of the year. I will photograph it so you can share my admiration.

I got around to jotting down some bird numbers the other day. We've had more losses than I would have liked. Somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent. We had thirty two Cornish crosses and lost three. Two disappeared and one was a runt that died. Out of thirty laying chicks that we bought we lost seven. One died as a baby chick, one got taken out by a raven, and five died as adolescents from unknown causes. Four of those were Welsummers, so I'm not sure if that was just a coincidence or if they are less hardy. We hatched five of our own chicks which remain alive and healthy.

Last year we had eleven layers going into winter. We lost three in the middle of winter, one in the spring and one this summer. We are down to, two Sexlinks, one Brahma, one Cochin and two Ameraucanas. We've been getting two to four eggs a day and the Ameraucanas have not been laying, although they were laying well most the summer. The Sexlinks by far lay the best. We almost get an egg a day out of each of them. They were the only birds that continued to lay in January. Lessons learned: 1. keep more birds than you really want; chickens die. 2. Heritage breeds are nice, variety is nice, but keep a good number of strong layers. Hence I am excited to say that this year we have eight sexlinks of which the oldest are beginning to lay lovely brown pullet eggs. We also have three Welsummer pullets, two Brahmas, one Delaware, a few new Ameraucanas and a couple of our own mutts. Making a total of at least eighteen new layers. Added to the adults gives us twenty-four layers. A very nice number indeed. Oh, and one female duck. That's right out of our four khaki-campbells one turned out to be a female. We are planning on keeping her along with one male.
And here is Xavier, looking in rut and a bit shaggy. I thought his coat would shed out like the does but it didn't. He is rather handsome in rugged goaty sort of way. He is very sweet. I feel bad for bucks because really all they want is attention and that is the very thing we try to avoid for about half the year. In late spring and early summer I can pet them and work with them somewhat. I make sure to keep up on their hooves before they enter rut. Now, I give Xavier his hay and grain after I do all the chores and then I come straight down to the house and wash up. As I sit here I can still smell the faint buck odor on the backs of my hands. It takes some serious scrubbing to get the smell off my skin and I didn't even touch him. In the winter I have a pair of carhart coveralls that are just for working with the bucks or taking the ladies in for their dates. I don't wear them for anything else, and they don't come into the house.

Xavier and Lew have been the buck duo since we first got them as bucklings. Over a month ago Lew developed a golf ball size swelling above his jaw on the side of his face. I thought it was just a bug bite or something. When we brought goats in from reputable herds in Washington I knew they were CAE free, and I assumed that they would be free of other diseases. I had never tested for anything, but I'd been thinking about doing so recently just to make sure. I called the vet and when she arrived we first took blood samples of all the does and Xavier. While we were looking at Xavier, Lew tried to come out and when we pushed him back in his lesion burst and puss went everywhere. Well, this was the worst thing that could have happened. As CL is not contagious until a lesion burst.

CL is a bacterial disease, the pus is the bacteria. The lesion is the bodies attempt to rid itself of the bacteria, it forces all the bacteria into one part of it's body in an effort to push it out of the body. The vet said that the location and size of the swelling was a text book CL lesion. Well I spent the day on the computer researching this disease. It is spread by goats with open abscesses. The puss falls to the ground and can survive for a long time and withstand extreme cold temperatures. The worse thing about CL is that it is highly contagious and there is no cure. The good news is that a goat can have CL and still live a quality life, the abscesses are the only symptom. If properly treated some goats have one abscess, and never have another. However, sometimes the abscesses are internal and cause other problems. Most sources suggested that once a CL positive goat was kept in a pen, never to keep negative goats in the same area. Removing the top two to four inches of soil and replacing it with clean soil was recommended.

I would have liked to test the puss or his blood to make sure that he actually had CL. However, it would take two weeks to get the results back. Meanwhile we had no place to put Lew. Most sources I read said that a lesion of that size, shape and in that location was almost certainly CL and that it was redundant to do blood tests. Our problem was that the lesion had already burst between our two buck pens. For the afternoon we had Xavier in the inside pen and Lew in the outer pen, but we only have electric run on the insides of their fencing to keep them from rubbing and pushing from the inside. Lew was pushing in from the outside wanting back in with Xavier. On the day all this happened we had a bulldozer rented and two friends up from southern Alaska helping with the dirt work and taking down trees for the new addition. If I had a place to quarantine Lew I would have done it, but we didn't. The possibility of putting up a quick fence somewhere else on the property was tempting, but would have brought all other progress to a halt. We had the vet put Lew down and we used the bob cat to drive him up and bury him in a deep pit that we had been filling with stumps. We cried.

The hardest thing about the decision for me was knowing that Lew could still have lived a happy life. The downside was thinking of Lew living on his own, Xavier needing a companion, makes three boys total. The bucks eat a lot when they are full sized and each shelter in the winter has a heat lamp, water heater, electric fence, (dollar signs). Keeping a quarantined, CL sick pen was a possibility. The other problem was that when the vet tried to clean out his wound Lew freaked out and there was no restraining him. He was pissed. And so I was also trying to imagine what it was going to take for me to try and keep his wound drained out and clean without knocking him out each time. Or having an internal lesion causing problems and not knowing what was going on inside of his body. I felt that I was making the best decision for my entire herd. But in essence the damage was already done. His lesion had already burst on our ground. The biggest mistake I made was not testing the puss after we had put him down just to make sure. At the time I thought it was pointless as we had already put him down. But in retrospect it would be nice to know for sure whether that is really what he had.

Where do we go from here? Well, good news: the herd tested clean for CAE, CL and Johnnes Xavier is still in the buck pen and may have been exposed to the bacteria. I did go out the same day everything happened and clean all surfaces, gates and fencing with bleach water. But we will be testing Xavier again in the spring. We are also moving him out of the area and up into the stall and pen where the does are currently located. We are going to keep his current pen and stall available in case he should get a lesion. Meanwhile, we will be breeding him to most of the does this fall. Even if he was exposed to the bacteria he will not be contagious until he has an active lesion so the risk of our does getting CL from him is non existent.

Zanzibar and Zoro. Before the vet came out to look at Lew a goat owner contacted me and thought I'd be interested in one of her Lamancha bucks. I pointed out that I already had two and that was enough. Well by the end of the week I had one, and I emailed her again. At first I was suspicious as to why she was selling him as she had just bought him and shipped him up this spring. Turns out she raises a couple other breeds of goats and had bought two Lamancha bucks but only had a couple Lamancha does, and only needed one buck. I had a brief amount of time to make a decision as she was bringing up some goats for our fair show and could bring him along. After talking with her and emailing his previous owner we decided to buy him.

We brought Zanzibar home and put Maggie's buckling in with him to keep him company. We knew that our buckling was very nice and we'd been putting off wethering him because he was out of Lew and our strongest doe. We were not planning on keeping him because he is related to four out of seven of our does. Three of our adult does have daughter's from Lew in the herd. Using Xavier this fall will give us more does that we can breed to Zoro. Maggie's son was two months younger than Zan but bigger, longer, stronger. We decided we'd better keep him too as you never know what is going to happen next. And now we three bucks! Xavier is going to be so excited to have Zan and Zoro for company as soon as they are big enough to withstand his affections. If Xavier gets a lesion we'll put him back into his previous pen and go from there. Meanwhile I am hoping to do more research and look into other immune boosting benefits for Xavier and possibly a CL vaccine for the rest of the herd. Whew.

We have a lot of fireweed growing on our banks. It is a weed, but oh so pretty. Especially this time of year at the end of it's cycle with a few remaining violet pink flowers and cotton candy seed tufts. The goats and chickens like it, and I know that it is good for them. A local herbalist told me that she puts it in a custom tea blend for her partner. It is good for male health. I dried some last year intending to make Dustin a tea blend, but ended up feeding it to the chickens mid winter instead.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sunflowers and cauliflower

Yellow leaves are falling and the crisp cooler temperatures of autumn are here. Most of the Birch still have a majority of green leaves, but there are a few trees that are already completely golden. We have had enough rain over the last week to make up for our dry summer, or so it seems. We welcomed the rain when it began. Enjoying the rain on the tin roof while we slept. Watching the mushrooms pop up from the spongy forest floor. Before long we were bemoaning yet another day of rain, checking the weather forecast and wondering if we were ever going to see the sun again...revealing our true finicky nature.

Thankfully the weather cleared up today and the kids and I enjoyed our morning chore routine together. We harvested a couple eggplant, zucchini and a nice size cauliflower head. I made a layered eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower and tomato dish with lots of fresh herbs, goat cheese, olive oil and bread crumbs for dinner. Last year we had such a rainy cool summer that many of my sunflowers succumbed to frost before ever blooming. This year the sunflowers began blooming in July and are still looking impressive.

Broccoli Romanesco. I've got several heads yet to harvest and they are big and solid. Romanesco has the texture and a similar flavor as cauliflower but with a fun shape and a lime green color and was easier to grow. They are not early maturing and I didn't know how well they would do as it was my first summer growing Romanesco. I am a fan.

This is my third summer attempting cauliflower. The first summer it bolted and got ricey. Last summer I had tight but tiny heads. This year I have nice heads, they are still growing and keeping well in the cool temperatures. I've got a few purple cauliflower plants as well, but their heads are barely existent but growing. At this rate I wouldn't be surprised if we get a couple more weeks before a hard frost.

Noah and Avery are beginning to pall around more and more. She is starting to play more independently but also loves it when Noah plays with her. He tries to get her to follow him around or copy him, but she goes her own way. He ends up following Avery around, crawling after her and mimicking her actions, much to her delight. We've had such a dry summer that for weeks I've been able to put Avery on the ground in the garden and she crawls around, gets a bit dirty but is past eating inedibles and such. This week has been more challenging as she is use to getting down but the ground is muddy. She puts up quite a fuss when I try to leave her on my back or put her in the play pen. Recent accomplishments include going up and down the stairs, standing on her own and taking a few steps. She has taken up to six steps on a couple occasions. Fortunately it will be a little while yet before she is running around.