Saturday, March 27, 2010

Soap Making from Scratch

Today was soap making day. It had been so long since I'd made soap from scratch (a year and a half), that I'd forgotten the steps involved and had to thoroughly re-read the instructions more than once. There is only one store in town that sells Lye or Sodium Hydroxide, as far as I know of and that is Samson's Hardware. They recently moved locations and during the meantime I couldn't find lye anywhere and it is not one of those ingredients that you can just get online and order. I do have a recipe for making lye from wood ash but that is one of those projects that I wouldn't undertake just for the fun of it, although I feel prepared having the printed recipe stashed away. Over the last few days I've been looking at recipes and taking stock of what I have on hand. Fortunately between my friend and myself we had most of what we needed. Unfortunately it had been so long since we'd made soap together last that I'd stored away some of my supplies so well that I couldn't find them. In the past my girlfriend and I have made soap together as well as lotions, lip balms and candles. We both stay fairly stocked on supplies so it was nice not have to buy much, er anything. Last time we made soap we got together at my house where we had both kids here and Avery was only a couple months old at the time. D had been here to watch the kids but needless to say our four batches of soap took us late into the night whereas today we made the same amount of soap in five hours and that included lunch and cookie breaks.

The most dangerous part is measuring the lye and adding it to the water. It is recommended that you wear safety goggles and gloves, I've got my eyes protected at least. I was relieved not to have to worry about pets or kids under foot. Once the lye is added stir carefully and don't splash! The temperatures rise quickly into the high hundreds. After stirring for a minute set the bowl somewhere safe, in our case we'd set it outside to cool and then check it every so often with an instant read thermometer. The temperature has to come down to between eighty and a hundred for most recipes.

Just when you are starting to take a breath the fumes blow your way and should not be inhaled if possible. Can't be good for you.

Next step is measuring the liquid or solid oils. Liquid oils go into the mixer. An accurate scale is a must. Liquid oils can include olive oil, wheat germ oil, almond, avacado, and castor oil just to name a few.

Solid oils get measured into a saucepan and heated until liquid then cooled to between eighty and a hundred depending on the recipe. In most of our recipes coconut oil and palm oil made up the bulk of our solid oils. Although we also used cocoa butter and vegetable shortening. Other solids may be shea butter, mango butter etc.

Once the lye and oils are cooled to the appropriate temperature, carefully add the lye to the oils while mixing at low speed. Mixing takes anywhere from ten to twenty minutes or more. You know it is finished mixing when a spoon dribbled on the top leaves a trace. In this picture you can see that the spatula drippings are still melding back into the mixture, that is the trace, and it is ready for the goodies. Then you add extra ingredients that you wouldn't have wanted to evaporate or cooked off like essential oils, honey ( if you want the raw properties of the honey) colorants, oatmeal, herbs, flowers etc.

Then it is time to pour your soap into a mold. This time we just used boxes lined with waxed paper and some greased pyrex pans. Previously we've used pvc pipe for round soap bars, soap molds, loofahs and we've rolled soap into balls once it has cooled overnight. The soap sits covered overnight and continues to heat up and saponify, or in another word; cook. The following day, take the lid of and let the soap sit undisturbed in a not too cool or drafty location until it is hard enough to cut, anywhere from a couple days to a week. Don't wait too long, or it will be too hard to cut, luckily we haven't had that problem yet but I can imagine. After that you lay the bars onto paper bags to cure for a few weeks. It gets milder and gentler with curing. At some point flip the bars over so both sides get air.
All four soaps look and smell beautiful. You can see that the green soap has a textured surface because it finished mixing and cooling quicker than the others and took us by surprise so when we poured it in we had to try and smooth the top with the spatula.  The recipes we used are out of Susan Miller Cavitch's  The Soapmaker's Companion. On a side note, if you are buying a book on making soap make sure that the recipes are actually from scratch, at least if that is what you want. I once bought a book on how to make soap and when I got home and started reading the recipes they just called for plain soap which you then dressed up with extras and molded to your fancy.

The top recipe is a rich white soap with rose petals and scented with jasmine, ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils. The peachy soap is colored with annatto seed oil and specked with safflower threads. It is scented with Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon and Orange essential oils, very fruity and citrusy.

The Green soap is in two containers, making do with what we had. It is colored with spirulina and scented with Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Cedarwood and Rosemary essential oils, invigorating and refreshing. And the pinkish looking soap is called EIEIO. We had made it before using goats milk and farm eggs. This time I forgot to take goats milk so we had to use store bought milk that my friend had in her fridge, dope! But we did use my own calendula flowers, along with lavender buds, oatmeal, bee propolis, honey, local eggs and we scented it with lavender, lemongrass and orange essential oil , (mostly smells like lavender which is what we wanted with a hint of citrus). Can't wait to check out the bars once they are cut and curing. Should be enough soap till fall, as long as I don't give away too much. The problem with making several different types is you never can decide which type to give someone and end up giving away too much. Soap making is time consuming and expensive when you use quality ingredients. I'll be treasuring this soap, and it was a fun day too boot!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Afternoon at the Ice Park

Last week we had a nice family outing to the Fairbanks Ice Park. Every year we enjoy seeing all the ice carvings. As the children are getting bigger and sturdier I can see us visiting more often and spending more time especially on the slides.

Here are some impressively fast and long ice slides. They work best with sleds which most locals with children know to bring already. Noah tried going down once on his bottom and that worked as well, just slower. Note, keep hands and feet in the sled - you wouldn't want to get snagged at such high speeds. Wider individuals or sleds may not fit in the chute. We all went down several times and had lots of fun. Noah would have sled down this hill all day if we'd let him.

There is an extensive children's ice playground with a large maze, slides for all ages, tunnels to crawl through as Noah is doing here, and ice spinny baskets that kids can climb into and spin around in.

There were so many ice carvings divided into single and multi block carvings. We didn't even see them all as Avery fell asleep on my back and we'd been outside (twenties in the sun) for a few hours.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

March Ramblings

I've had a head cold the last few days so I haven't been up for much. I am hoping to get some photos up of our trip to the ice park along as well as some pictures of my new grain mill, baked goods, awkwardly pregnant goats, seedlings etc. All in good time. Here are some various ramblings about this and that:

Chickens: The chicks are all doing fine. Our Welsummer hen did finally kick the bucket about a week ago in case you were wondering. She died after being inside and dropper fed for almost two weeks. If I had been more adventurous I might have opened her up as I sure would have liked to know what was wrong. The same day she died we discovered our last Brahma hen dead. Then we noticed a sick Ameraucana hen, who died shortly after coming to our attention. I don't think the deaths were related as they had different symptoms. We have had a few chickens over the year with serious external injuries, (dog bites, head injuries, not able to walk for weeks). They have all recovered with a little pampering. Usually once we notice a hen with no obvious injuries who is sick and droopy, it is already too late. So I was pretty surprised that the Welsummer hung in there that long, I may have just been prolonging her suffering by nursing her along. Chickens die unexpectedly sometimes and for this reason I like to keep more than we really need. We still have seventeen layers and the Ameraucana pullets are starting to lay more eggs. The two Welsummers are laying as well as the Sexlinked hybrids which is quite impressive - although they were about four months behind in starting.

We have three very pregnant looking does due in mid April. They are beginning to lay around much more. I reported recently that Xoe's udder has been filling out. Soon after, her two year old daughter Yin started nursing off her again. We had this problem last year when Xoe kidded as well, so much for Does drying their kids off on their own. Yin waits until Xoe gets up on her hind legs to reach they new hay on top of the feeders, then she darts a quick suck before her mom comes down and buts her away. It is so wrong, as Yin is actually bigger than Xoe who probably has three kids inside, and is trying to produce all the colostrum and good antibodies that her kids will need once born. We were looking in Hoegger goat supply at an udder cover that would prevent Yin from being able to nurse.

What we really need is that second doe pen we were hoping to have by kidding season, but is filled with deep snow and fallen trees that need sawed up. So last night we decided to take a gamble and move Yin along with the two doelings up into the vacant pen next to the bucks, risky business indeed. They have a low ceiling hovel in adjacent to a partially complete stall that just needs another wall and a door. It has been warm enough that some of the does have been choosing to sleep outside as it is so we decided they would have access to both protected areas in addition to the pen. The risky part is that they share an interior woven wire mesh fence with the bucks. It also has a couple strands of electric fence, but the snow is so deep that the fence is hardly four feet off the ground.

We tried to breed Yin this year yet I believe she remains dry. I'd prefer that the doelings wait till fall to breed, however, they are almost a year old. I doubt that they will be coming into heat this late in the spring as Lamanchas are seasonal breeders and we are pushing the end of the season. If a buck gets over the fence and the does get bred, we decided it wouldn't be the end of the world. The doelings are about a year. Worse case we might have a fence to rebuild and some August kids. The benefits are that the three awkwardly large pregnant does get to lounge around and enjoy their final weeks of pregnancy without their daughters taking advantage of them. Once the kids are born there will be less chaos and more room for moms and kids as well.

Seedlings. If you live in Interior Alaska, now is the time to be starting your tomato and celery seedlings, along with slow growing herbs, onions if you grow those from seed, and any flowers that say to start eight to ten weeks ahead indoors. I've got some herbs started. My plan was to start tomatoes, peppers and celery today if I can sum up the energy.

In the Kitchen: I've used my new grain mill four times now. This last time I wore a handkerchief over my face as previously I was sneezing and blowing my nose all day after grinding. I guess I'm sensitive to the fine particulates in the air. So far with success I've baked 100% whole grain bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza rolls, savory wheat thin crackers, graham crackers, pita, biscuits and pizza dough. The secret seems to be in soaking the wheat overnight in buttermilk. Not only does it improve the digestability of the whole grains, but also does wonders for the texture of the final product. I've been very impressed with how soft and light everything has baked up. I recently bought Peter Reinhart's book Whole Grain Breads which is where I found the pizza and pita recipe. Both the bread and the wheat thin like cracker recipe came from Annette's blog; Sustainable Eats . Thanks Annette for some great recipes and the inspiration to begin with!!!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Our house is filled with the sound of chicks cheeping once again. After a sunny family outing to the ice park, we stopped at our local feed store and looked at chicks. They don't have the selection that will be available in the coming weeks, but the basics were covered; Broad Breasted white and bronze turkeys, Rouen ducks, assorted bantams, Cornish Cross, and a half a dozen or so egg laying breeds. We picked up six Cornish Cross and six Black Sex linked layers. Today we are going to stop in for six Rhode Island Reds that were not available for take home yesterday as they had just arrived.

Setting up the chick area took about twenty minutes. I grabbed a chick waterer and feeder along with a tub, electrolytes and a heat lamp from our chicken storage area. I scooped a bucket of feed out of the storage container and ground it up for the chicks, adding a few pinches of herbal wormer on the top. The only item that would help is a bag of wood chips. They are in our hallway under the seed starting rack. In a few weeks we'll probably move them up into the lower chicken/duck coop. We only have three ducks and two roosters in the lower coop presently. We have plans to kill one male duck and the extra roosters this week, leaving two ducks which can easily move into the greenhouse or hoophouse, leaving the better insulated structure for brooding chicks.

I've been keeping an eye on Honey, our Cochin who you'd think would be going broody anytime now. If she goes broody in the next month or so I'm going to put some duck and Ameraucana eggs under her. In mid April sixty ducklings will be flown up from Holderread Waterfowl Farm, of which about twenty five are for us, the rest for a couple friends. We have thirty Cornish ordered with McMurray for early June. We picked up six yesterday as our frozen chicken stash is down to just a few and I don't want to be out of roasters come grilling time in June and July so the plan is for these six Cornish to hold us over till the end of summer when the rest are ready.

We were hoping to raise an assortment of heritage turkeys but we just found out that the feed store isn't carrying any heritage turkeys this year except by special order, which may be more hassle than we are up for. I had looked at ordering heritage turkey poults directly from the hatcheries, but needed a minimum of fifteen. I am thinking we may just buy four Broad Breasted Whites. We have a small movable hoophouse on our top mini flat spot, I'd say pasture but that would be an exaggeration. We raised four Bourbon Reds in there a couple summers ago and it worked out fine. Four BB Whites would provide three times or more meat that the Heritage counterparts anyways. I am looking forward to grinding up at least one turkey for ground turkey meat and sausage.

For now, I'm happy to be listening to the sound of the first chicks of spring.....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Days

I was feeling kinda blue this past week. Dustin has been working more and as we are a one car family in the winter, I've been home with the kids more than usual. Avery's molars have been pushing through so she has been a bit cranky. Noah hasn't been socializing as much as he'd like so he is wanting more attention. Needless to say I haven't had much time to myself and have found myself practically pleading to be left alone to sit and look at a book or whatever for just a few minutes, which in turn has the opposite effect I'm going for. I end up with two kids climbing on me, tackling, tickling me, bringing me books to read, wanting me to play with them, I know, poor me. I can see how silly it seems, "poor me, I don't want to play that I'm an Ankylasaurus getting eaten by a Tyrannasaurus Rex anymore!  I want to make lunch and sweep the floor!"

On a brighter note, we've been getting outside to play when it is warmest (teens and twenties) in the late afternoon. Noah is into digging and hoeing snow ditches. He has been placing old pvc pipes on the hillside and then burying them with snow. He wants me to bring water out for him to play with, so far I've avoided this adventure, the prospect of going back and forth through the house, taking boots off, putting them back on, hauling water  from the kitchen sink hauling to get dumped onto the ground is not appealing. One or two pitchers would never be enough. Avery is pretty entertained by just walking back and forth on the driveway. She likes to visit the chickens and the goats. We've been brushing Chana, who is shedding. I got Noah to take some pictures of Avery and I yesterday, with much guidance as to where to point the camera, (down, towards Avery, back up, towards me, up a bit) he managed to get us in the frame a couple times.


 Avery has been having fun putting her brother's hat, gloves and boots on and pretending to go to town. Although after we say "bye bye", she gets frustrated when I don't open the door, so I guess she isn't really pretending.


 D has tomorrow off so we are thinking of taking the kids to town for a visit to the ice park.  There are slides made out of ice in addition to other toys made out of ice and lots of cool ice carvings. The weather has been clear and sunny, getting down to zero at night and up near twenty during the day. The difference between standing in the sun and the shade is huge. Indoors we've been basking in the sun. Our living area is filled with sun from mid morning until sunset and we love it. On overcast days I find myself looking at the sky periodically hoping for a break in the clouds, a glimpse of the sun. I forget how much I love this time of year. This is one reason we live in Fairbanks Alaska as opposed to other areas in the state, we get lots of clear weather year round. Yes it is dark for a few months, and cold, but at least the majority of our spring, summer and fall days are clear and sunny. I'd rather the weather be cold and sunny than warm and overcast...I guess I'm a Fairbanks girl.

We have three does looking rather pregnant, they are due in five to seven weeks. Xoe's udder is filling so we are sure she will be kidding. The other two, we won't know for sure until their udders fill, or they kid. I'm relieved that at least one doe will be kidding shortly, for we are just finishing the last of the frozen milk and chevre, and I am already panicking. Next year we will be milking a doe through the winter and not breeding her so that we will not be out of milk, ever!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I first read about the health benefits of Kombucha a few years ago when researching kefired milk. Kombucha and Kefir are both probiotic beverages containing many strains of beneficial yeast and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship. When I was expecting my son and we were on vacation, we bought some bottled ginger pear Kombucha that was very tasty and refreshing. Not long after we noticed our store started carrying the same brand. Now there are at least two brands and multiple flavors to chose from at our store. Last spring a girlfriend brought me a Kombucha starter and I've been brewing our own Kombucha tea ever since. 

When I brewed my first batch of fermented Kombucha tea it took me a while to start drinking it. At first taste it is strong and vinegary. This sounds silly, but I kept brewing over the course of the summer without really drinking it. Knowing how healthy it was, I fed it to the chickens but couldn't bring myself to drink it. Ha. Well one day I felt a cold coming on and I poured myself a small glass of Kombucha. A couple hours later I drank some more. Throughout that day and the next I continued to drink a shot or so every couple hours. I never got that cold. This past fall and winter every time I've felt a cold coming on I've increased  my Kombucha consumption and managed to avoid every cold until January when coincidentally we were out of Kombucha.  Ideally my family would all be drinking Kombucha on a daily basis and have strong immune systems. Realistically the kids only take sips now and then. Sometimes it finds its way into smoothies. I go through Kombucha fazes where I drink it daily for a couple weeks and then take time off.

So before I go on, the top picture is a bottle of my favorite store-bought ginger berry kombucha next to a glass of my own home-brewed kombucha tea blended with grated ginger root and raspberry syrup (picked from local raspberries and made this past fall). I am proud to say that in the taste off I preferred my own kombucha to the store-bought equivalent. I tasted for carbonation, ginger and berry flavor. My drink had a more rounded deeper raspberry ginger flavor, but a little less carbonation. I did like the carbonation level of the store-bought drink and will shoot for that in the future. 

Before we go into how to make it, here are a few things you should know, most importantly what is it and why bother??

Kombucha is a fermented tea made up of beneficial yeasts and healthy bacteria. It contains high amounts of B vitamins, antioxidants and chemical compounds made up of various acids which work together to provide numerous health benefits including: immune stimulating, improves digestion and liver function, blood cleansing (detoxifying), thereby energizing and even a cancer preventative. Drinking Kombucha tea on a regular basis contributes to overall health and vigor, side affects range from healthier skin complexions to healing long term health ailments. Have I got your attention yet? 

There are numerous easy to find sources on the benefits of drinking kombucha tea. One of my favorite sites that I ran across discusses different studies done by Russia and Germany, and covers everything from feeding kombucha to chickens to the specific acids in kombucha tea and what they provide for the body:

The Food and Drug Administration cautions against the use of kombucha tea for the main reason that it can be brewed in the home in a non sterile environment. As with most food making endeavors (handling and cooking raw meats, hand washing, refrigerating foods etc.) you need to have some knowledge and common sense when it comes to preparing food in a safe manner or in this case a fermented beverage, use clean hands, clean pots and utensils etc. so that your kombucha mother is not contaminated with foreign molds or other home pollutants. Knowing what a healthy starter looks like should prevent any casualties. When in doubt throw it out and start a new one from a new source. It is recommended that you drink small quantities initially as some people may have allergic reactions. Also, if drank in too large of quantities it can cause stomach upset (it is very vinegary so it alters the ph of your digestive tract in a good way unless your body is not use to it) 

Kombucha has been brewed and consumed by entire families safely for thousands of years.  It is an ideal home remedy. It doesn't need or want light or soil to grow. It doesn't need to be refrigerated. All it needs is a clean environment, air, tea and sugar. 

There have been studies done on Kombucha tea, mostly in Russia and Germany. For some reason there have been no official human studies reported in any major medical journals. Therefor many would conclude that there is no direct evidence to support the health claims for drinking Kombucha tea. I would have to point out that there is not a lot of money to be made by any major drug companies; "What? A tea that can cure digestive disorders, cancer, depressed immune systems, what?" What have doctors, hospitals and drug companies got to gain?) (OK, I have trust issues when it comes to big companies, the FDA etc. and am married to a conspiracy theorist) With the exception of companies who are brewing and selling kombucha tea or the mother cultures, there is not much money to be made.

  Here is the recipe I've been following for brewing a batch of tea if you have a baby scobe or mother already: 
3QT filtered water
1 cup sugar 
2 tea bags black or green
2 cups starter solution from previous batch if you have it

Bring water to a full boil in a non aluminum pan. If your water is not filtered boil for a few minutes to get rid of some impurities. Add sugar and stir, continue to boil for a few more minutes. Sugar should be completely dissolved. Turn off heat and add tea bags. Brew until room temperature. Pour into a glass jar or crock. Cover with a paper towel or flour sack cloth and secure with rubber band or yarn. Place in a draft free, no direct light, out of the way sort of place and leave sit for at least ten days to two weeks. 

After the brew time is complete with clean hands remove the scobe to a clean surface pour out all but two cups of the remaining tea into a clean glass jar. Inspect your scobe, does it have babies hanging off it? Does it look healthy? If you can't tell or are afraid to drink the resulting brew, get online and look up pictures of healthy mothers to reassure yourself. Taste the brew. It is better once it is chilled and carbonated. Put a lid on the jar and you can place it directly into your fridge or back on the counter to get some fizz. 
Extra notes, warnings etc.:
  1. Sugar, initially I read that it should be white, that is all I've used but may venture into other sweeteners 
  2. Tea, I go back and forth between black and green. I've heard contradictory notions on why each is better than the other. Tea should be preferrably organic as tea has lots of pesticide residue etc.
  3. Once you've brewed a batch you'll have starter solution which helps each batch get off to a good start. Initially I believe you can use a few Tb of vinegar. 
  4. Always wash your hands, containers and anything coming into contact with the scobe or tea. I've never actually sanitized measuring cups or pots, but I do use hot soapy water and that has worked for me. 
  5. Make sure your cloth over the top can keep out dust and doesn't sag down onto the mother, I initially used a nut sack for straining almond pulp from almond milk. I think the mesh might have let fine particulates in, I now more densely woven flour sacks. Don't put a lid on the top, it needs air. 
  6. There have been reports that brewing in ceramic glazed crocks can be a source of lead or other poisoning from the minerals in the glaze leaching into your tea. Don't use plastic or aluminum. You don't need to be brewing BPA into your health tonic!!!
Ok, so you don't have a kombucha scobe and are looking at buying a culture online, well you can but I don't know if they are any better than one you can start yourself if your local supermarket sells kombucha tea. Make sure your bottle of Kombucha tea is unpasteurized and raw etc., I don't know if they sell tea that isn't but I wouldn't be surprised. So here is what you do once you've got some kombucha tea, it doesn't matter if it has juice added:
  1. Pour a cup of kombucha tea into a clean pint glass and cover with a paper towel or cloth and secure with a rubber band. 
  2. Let sit at room temperature for ten days to a week and check on it. It should have developed a baby scobe on the surface. If it is transluscent, leave it for a few more days. 
  3. Once nicely developed, brew a batch of tea according to the above instructions and once cool, dump your baby and all the starter brew into your clean jar or crock containing the room temperature tea. Secure the top with cloth etc.and leave in a safe room temperature location for ten days to two weeks or longer.
Side notes:  You could make a half a batch of tea for your baby starter as opposed to the entire batch, it might take over faster, but I don't know if it makes much difference. Also, I've heard of adding tea and sugar to you original drink for an added boost, and I think I did that once but can't remember if it did better or not.

SCOBY is what many call this mushroom like pancake that grows on the surface of kombucha tea. SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It is scientifically classified as a Zoogleal Mat. Others call it the mother as it grows, multiplies and divides during each brewing cycle. In the photo above I had taken a couple baby scobies from a brewed batch of Kombucha and put it in a fresh crock of tea. This photo was probably a five days to a week along, you can see two babies, one on the bottom and one on the top. The one that surfaced is growing a scoby the size of the crock diameter. Within another week it will look like the picture below, solid. The baby probably stayed on the bottom of the new scoby and I most likely pulled it off and discarded it. I usually just feed the extras to the chickens, but they are supposedly super healthy if you can bring yourself to eat them.

The scoby above is a fresh young healthy looking specimen. The scoby below is also fine and normal but is older. I've had them grow up to three inches thick at times when I wasn't tending them regularly. Generally I don't let them get much thicker than the one pictured below. Depending on how the mother looks, sometimes I'll discard the top layer and keep the newer growth on the bottom.


Above is the finished product jarred, and ready to sit at room temperature for a few days to carbonate before heading into the fridge. Below is a picture of a mother that has divided on it's own.

So you have gone through all this work and don't enjoy your healthful tonic, well never fear there some extra measures to take. Well, first of all play around with brew time, carbonation time. Shorter durations of brew time make for a milder flavored beverage are most likely less effective. Chilled kombucha fresh out of the fridge is best. Also, you aren't suppose to be drinking a pint of the stuff. I started out drinking an ounce or two, now I usually drink a four ounce glass at a time. I started reading labels of all the kombucha drinks at the store. They usually contain tea, kombucha cultures and fruit juice. So you can try adding different juices to your finished product, or jam, (whisk and strain), or as I've been doing add berry, fruit or herbal syrups. The combinations are endless.

This is one of my most recent batches of kombucha tea ready to sit and ripen for a couple days. I've been experimenting by adding homemade raspberry and blueberry syrup along with fresh ground ginger root to the brewed kombucha. Once I have all of the kombucha in jars and the scobies are in a fresh batch of tea, I pour about a quarter to a third of a cup of berry syrup into the tea, grate a teaspoon of fresh ginger and drop in and shake. I open the jars each day and taste them to see if they are carbonated to my liking. When they are I put them in the fridge which slows down the carbonation and fermentation. I am going to start filtering out the ginger root, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. If you leave your jars sit out for too long without checking on them they could technically explode from the gas build up. They will also start growing a new mother and you'll get all kinds of phlemmy like chunkies in your tea, mmm.

Final thoughts: for best results drink on a light or empty stomach. I have gotten to the point where I've started craving kombucha tea if I don't have any for a while. Seriously, the next time you feel a sore throat coming on start gargling with and drinking kombucha. I find that a two week brew time is just right for my tastes. Depending on your room temperature and tastes that may change. Once you are brewing, there are all kinds of other things you can do with kombucha tea, including making your own vinegar (just let it keep sitting), feeding it to your pets, putting it into smoothies and I've even heard of bathing your skin or wounds in it for skin health and speedy healing. (I wouldn't recommend putting a fresh serious wound into it). Finally, if you've never researched Kombucha before and you are now thinking of brewing some, I'd recommend that you do some more research, can't have enough knowledge before embarking on a new and exciting adventure. I'd be interested in hearing about other uses for kombucha tea, other recipes and your stories whether successful or not. Happy Brewing folks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More of the kids and sick chicken

Here are a few more pictures from the last couple days. Here Noah and Avery are eating homemade fruit leather (their favorite snack, sugar sugar). They just finished drinking some carrot juice, but Avery dumped most of hers on her lap and got cleaned up. Noah's mustache is hiding behind his snack, but you can see it in the picture below. Dustin recently brought home a couple pop up tents, the kids love them. They stay up better than blankets draped over chairs. 


We had dinner out at my folks this past weekend. Here are the kids with their new and first cousin Aidan, three months old. I took a ton of pictures and someone was always a moving blur. But here they are, the first of many cousin pictures to come.

We got outside to play today. It was pretty chilly, about zero, but the sun was shining. We checked on the chickens, gathered eggs, sled down the hill and cleared snow off the back porch before heading inside to pull bread out of the oven and eat some warm cinnamon rolls.

Healthy and happy chickens in the sun. They were in most of the day. I waited till the afternoon sun was full strength before letting them outdoors for some sprouts and kombucha tea.

And here is sick chicken. She has been more active over the last twenty four hours than all week, and yet it feels kinda like her last hurrah and not like she is truly better. She hasn't been touching any food for days so I've got wheat grass sprouts and molasses in her water. I've been feeding her with a dropper to get nutrients in her. After talking to a friend last night, we moved the chicken to behind the wood-stove so she would be warmer. She got real active and wanted out of her box so she has been hanging out around the wood-stove all day, making noises when the kids get too rowdy or close.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Silly Kids

I've been waiting for the day when Noah and Avery would finally start playing together fairly well. I still have to keep a watchful eye, but Avery is getting more sturdy and less breakable. They play pretend together. Avery likes to round up all her dolls and stuffed animals into one area and then take care of them. She has bottles and pretend fruit and vegetables to feed them. Noah is big into his work tools, so his sister is as well. Together they fix (bang on) all kinds of things. I try to keep them from banging too hard on the walls and direct them towards less dentable surfaces.

We eat a lot of blueberry jam. I try and make sure Avery is shirtless or wearing purple when I feed her blueberries. She doesn't tolerate a bib, so I gave up early on. We still have two flats of mixed raspberry and blueberry jam and syrup. I don't think it will last till berry picking season, but it should get us into summer. I open an eight ounce jar of jam every other week at least which doesn't sound like much, but at the moment we have four types of homemade jam opened as well as a jar of lemon curd. We eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I am pretty sparing on the jelly with the kids, heavy on the peanut butter. We also eat jam on popcakes. I've been brewing kombucha and adding blueberry and raspberry syrup to the tea to increase it's yummyness. I'll be posting about the health benefits and my experiences with kombucha soon.

We still have an ailing chicken in our house. Tonight we've moved her closer to the woodstove with a light bulb above her. She also has a '"hot hand" hand warmer under her rear in hopes that if she is egg bound all the warmth will loosen her up. Over the last couple days I've thought she was going to die any minute, and then she perks up and starts making chicken noises, so I'm clueless really. I did reach up with a finger and see if I could feel anything without success. 

Other than that, not much new around here. Finished up the last of the seed ordering. Waiting on chicks. Watching the first of the early herb seeds germinate and begin to grow. Been feeling rather motivated in the kitchen. Over the last few days I've made jerky, fruit leather, bread, crackers, cookies and regular meals. We've been either making smoothies or juicing carrots daily. I've been sneaking frozen kale into the smoothies, and nobody has noticed, ha! We got our new mill in the mail, so I've been using fresh ground whole wheat and spelt in all our baked goods. I took some pictures of the mill and flour so I'll be sharing those experiences soon as well.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hay Figurin

One of the biggest goat myths I've heard is that goats will eat anything. I can only guess that this myth came about because they mouth everything in an attempt to check it out. Unlike  my horse who use to eat every last speck of hay in her feeder and on the ground, the goats are quite picky and selective eaters. I've read that they waste about twenty percent of their hay and that sounds about right, more if you throw it on the ground. You would think that if we didn't feed them as much they would return to their picked through hay and eat more, they do, but it is never completely gone, just scattered. For the record, goats do not eat clothes or other unedibles either. Goats will not mow your lawn. They prefer not to eat off the ground. They love moss, bark, brush and the tip tops of most shrubs and grasses. The above picture is Zuri eating off this round bale pictured below as well. This is the last bale of hay up by the bucks, the does are excited because it is new to them. We bought three eight hundred pound round bales from a farmer in Delta for $120 a bale plus $45 dollars to deliver them, which is a pretty good deal considering that it would have cost us a whole day plus gas to drive down there and pick up the bales, plus we'd have to rent a trailer. This is about as cheap as I see decent brome hay in Interior Alaska.
We've never purchased large round bales before until this last summer. What I like most about them is how much less effort it takes to load and unload them. You don't have to buck up twenty some bales and unload and stack them. A machine loads them, then we just tie them to a tree and pull forward. I think I like stacking them flat instead of how this one is stacked, as it is easier to flake the hay off. 

I have to say after eleven years of owning a horse and three years of keeping goats, I still know very little about hay. Brome hay is most common here with a small amount of other grass hay or Timothy grown here and there. I've never heard of anyone growing Alfalfa, as it does not survive the cold winters and usually isn't harvestable until it's second year of growth - at least here, or so I am told. 

Fifty pound bales tend to range from seven dollars in the field to fourteen dollars delivered, much more if you buy it from a feed store. If you look hard enough or have a good source you might be able to find hay for less than that, but in my experience if the hay is cheaper than that it has dirt, sand, harmful weeds or mold in it. Or it is wet, brown, doesn't smell good etc. The farmer's here in the interior have a shorter hay season than most places and short windows between rain to get it in. There have been a couple years where we have had a lot of our hay mold because it was too damp when we got it, and opening bales, spreading them out and keeping a close eye out for rain is a pain, or even worse, realizing in the middle of winter when the snow is piled high, that all of your hay is completely molded.

I know to look for green hay. It should smell sweet. It should be mostly grass and not a lot of weeds. Now that I'm feeding goats, weeds might be good, but not horsetail. The goats do not like stemmy or brown hay. They will waste even more than twenty percent if they don't like it. Before buying hay sight unseen I have learned to tell people that I am feeding dairy goats that are extremely picky. They need green leafy hay, not stemmy. With this last batch of hay we got, after I told the farmer this he said he had some second cutting  hay that was leafier and better quality that he would bring out instead. It is very nice hay and the goats think so too.

Here is our hay pile down by the does. We had six thousand pounds of this delivered for thirteen dollars and fifty cents a fifty pound bale.(If you are reading this post from elsewhere in the world, you are thinking we are crazy, I know.) It is pretty nice green leafy hay. The folks we bought it from have taken first place at the fair for their hay in years past. It was eleven dollars a bale if we came and picked it up about forty miles away. With gas prices, trailer renting and our time, it was worth it to us to have it delivered and stacked, at least this year. The bale on the left is a hundred pound of alfalfa from the feed store for forty some dollars. We try to feed a flake of alfalfa a day to the does, especially once they are bred. I'd feed more if it wasn't as expensive. Alfalfa is a high protein legume. The alfalfa we get here is pretty stemmy, I don't know if it always like that. The goats mostly pick through and eat the leaves, leaving behind lots of course green stems.


Above is a close up of our fifty pound bales. Below is the Alfalfa.

The picture above is  a close up of the hay below, an eight hundred and fifty pound bale of brome hay that the goats are not fond of. We bought two bales from the same source earlier in the summer that was great; bright green and leafy. We got two more bales at the end of the summer and this is what it looks like. If I'd seen the first bale before Dustin left to get the other one, we probably would have just kept the one. Some of the hay is green, but there is a good bit of brown hay as well. It isn't really stemmy, nor does it have broad leaves, it is spindly. I'm hoping the bucks are not quite as picky as the does, otherwise this will just be bedding. By the way, a horse would gobble up every speck of this hay. It isn't weedy or moldy. Some would say that it is good hay.. Maybe we just aren't as picky because there isn't a lot to chose from and hay is in high demand around here.

I've heard that hay grown in Interior Alaska is low in certain vitamins and minerals. My vet was saying that some areas are low in selenium, but not everywhere. Most livestock owners I know feed a lot of supplements, (vitamin and mineral supplements, kelp, salt, selenium etc.) in an attempt to make up for our hay, which we generally assume must be poorer in quality than hay grown elsewhere.

As far as prices go, they've doubled and trippled since I my first hay bucking memories in 1996. I've had a few hay farmers who have all told me that the cost of fertilizer has gone up significantly over the last few years, because of fuel and shipping costs I'm guessing. I had two farmers tell me that they have manure spreaders for fertilizing their fields with manure. This year when they put the manure down, it didn't rain for a month and the manure just sat there hard as rocks resulting in hay that didn't grow until July, when it finally did rain. 

So I've been doing some hay figurin. I actually kept track of all the hay we've bought since May last year. We puchased a total of thirteen thousand eight hundred pounds of brome hay. At a rough glance I'm guessing we've got a little over four thousand pounds left, which may barely just last us till first cutting. I took the amount of hay we've used and divided by ten months and we are feeding just under a thousand pounds a month to nine goats. Doing some online research most sources agree that about five pounds of hay per goat is a starting number, less for kids, more for milking and bred does. So with that in mind, I should be feeding about forty five pounds of hay daily. Looking over this past year I've been feeding closer to thirty five pounds of brome hay a day, but four of my goats are under a year. Also this number doesn't include the few pounds of alfalfa the does have been getting this winter.  Over the course of the summer the goats get more browse and veggies from the garden. 

So what do I make of all this. Well I'm looking forward to selling some milk and cheese shares sometime in the future so the goats can start paying for some of their feed. I feel like we've had a successful hay year; lots of variety of hay and not a single spot of mold. I would like to find some other types of hay, other grasses or timothy, just for variety. The most ideal situation which I hope I get to experience some day, is owning our own pasture. If we could grow our own hay and grains that would be fabulous. Keeping the goats on a piece of land that has lots of trees and brush with tall growing weeds and grasses would meet most of their nutritional needs. If we could harvest grains, root crops, legumes and dry hay for winter feeding, while keeping the goats in a wooded area where they can still eat bark, spruce boughs and moss (on enough land that they don't kill the trees), well that would just make for about as happy and healthy goats as we could have, with the exception of moving somewhere with milder and less snowy winters....which probably won't be happening. 

 Raising our own meat birds, milking goats and making cheese is all fine and dandy. I appreciate the experience and knowledge we are gaining in addition to knowing how our food was raised and handled. Yet at the end of the road with this many mouths to feed could be a tricky situation if push come to shove. In reality we depend on the trains and trucks that bring human and animal feed, fertilizer and gas to run machines. The only way we get beyond that is going old school, planting by hand, using animals to fertilize the ground, harvesting by hand and learning how to store everything we've grown, not just veggies, but piles of hay and bushels of grain.