Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring week in pictures

It rained this afternoon for the first time this year. The snow is slowly receding. I'm flirting with the idea of starting cucumbers and squash today - although it is a bit early. I am soaking nasturtiums and sweet peas, which I usually direct seed, but I want them to have an earlier start this year. I've got lettuce seeds in my jacket pocket waiting for an opportunity to make it up to the garden. I've got a cold frame ready for planting.

I brined and smoked a ham from our pig we helped butcher last fall. I smeared the ham with maple sugar and sea salt before smoking. Then finished it smothered in marmalade before serving. It was divine. We've been eating ham and fried egg sandwiches on brioche toast. A pot of split pea soup is bubbling away on the range.

I'm expecting goslings and ducklings today or tomorrow. Haven't yet set up their spot, but I do know where everything is at- which is something. I am getting a little overwhelmed with everything that we can almost do - but frustratingly can't quite start on yet. I guess it is time to keep on top of house chores and stock pile some meals while I can still stand to be indoors.

Happy spring everyone!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dreaming of strawberries

We ate some very nice looking but poor tasting strawberries this morning. I think of all store-bought produce, strawberries have got to be about the worst as far as looking tempting but tasting bland - or worse, moldy even though I don't see any mold. In the winter I feel good about my shopping cart when it is filled mostly with produce, usually apples, oranges, bananas, scallions and broccoli. In the summer it is the opposite- I try not to buy any vegetables but occasional corn or avocados. There is always that tinge of guilt knowing how many fossil fuel miles are in most all our groceries up here. My excuse is my sanity, my health and that I'm feeding small children. My kids love bell peppers, cucumbers, peas. Noah is in a phase where he loves asparagus but is tired of broccoli and beets. Avery is the opposite, doesn't like the asparagus, but enjoys beets daily. If we were trying to eat just what is in season around here, or what we stored, it would be slim pickings. I'm out of our own onions, garlic and potatoes, beets, carrots and squash. We are down to bags of frozen kale, frozen broccoli, frozen vegetable soups and frozen tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes and canned green beans. We all like variety. We mostly prefer our vegetables fresh and lightly cooked. I guess it comes down to, while I aspire to grow a large portion of our own food, and while I would like to be able to be self-sufficient if needed, I'll be taking advantage of all the fossil fuel laden foreign looking produce while I can -especially while trying to feed children real food- and as many vegetables as possible.

Now, I'm dreaming of my own strawberry patch. Last summer we planted a three foot by fifteen foot bed of established Toklat perennial strawberries. I'm thinking that if my entire garden space was strawberries it  wouldn't be enough. There are too many fruits I cannot grow here. Strawberries are not one of the them. We are just beginning to purchase and plant berries and fruit trees here. Last summer we bought an apple and a crab apple tree along with a couple plum trees. We also dug a trench and planted some Boyne raspberries. For this summer I've ordered some golden raspberry canes, a black and white currant bush, a couple Nanking cherry trees and a couple Saskatoon bushes. I'm trying venture into what should actually do well here instead of dwelling or putting my efforts into fruits that are marginal here. Mostly, I'm excited about strawberries. I wonder how I can keep the kids from eating them all before they even ripen? Cloth covers maybe?

On a side note, my son saw a picture in a kid's book of a cross section of a loaf of wonder bread, and he asked me what it was - he didn't recognize that it was bread.  Avery pulled out some candy out of a pocket of Noah's old rain coat. I think it was leftover and forgotten from the parade last summer. I was able to take it away from her and quickly stash it, as she didn't know what it was - didn't realize it was candy. I am relieved that my kids are not obsessed with candy or junk food - yet.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Looks like winter- feels and smells like spring

I've been trying to figure out where the smell of dead animal is coming from. At first I was sure it really was a dead chicken or duck that died over the winter that I'd forgotten about. I keep sniffing around the pile of chicken bedding - recently removed from the coop, but I don't think that's it.  The cold weather has it's advantages: our place only smells half the year.

I've been thinking of notes to self lately as I do chores. The top note to self is to keep my mouth shut more often. I don't think I spend much time walking around with my mouth hanging open. I think I must sub consciously breathe through my mouth when things are stinky and that is how I end up catching nasties.  I can't remind myself enough to:
  1. Keep mouth shut when pitchforking and cleaning out the chicken coop, goat stalls and manure bedding in general.
  2. Keep mouth shut when trimming goat feet. Poopy chunks of goat trimmings fly in all directions.
  3. Indoors- keep mouth shut when scrubbing the toilet.
This week while driving to town Avery kept saying "whats that?" I was like what? that house? the trees? the other cars? and finally she said, "No, that icky brown stuff." I replied, "that is dirt". Then we had a whole discussion about how the dirt was really there all along just covered up and hidden by the snow, which she was skeptical about. We still have snow pretty much everywhere on our property. Today there was some dirt exposed up against the goat barn and the kids found it. Noah said something like, "ooh dirt, look there is dirt here" and he began running his hands through it, grabbing, squishing and digging in it. Then of course there wasn't enough dirt there to go around and he told his sister she had to go find her own dirt. Avery found a muddy puddle and said, "ooh mud, mom can I splash in the mud with my bare feet?"  And I was like, lets keep our rain boots on for now, it is too cold still, but soon!

We are all ready. Ready for mud. Excited to see dirt. I think it is going to be a few weeks before the snow has mostly disappeared. It is going to be a late spring.

I've gone to two bee classes now. I'm learning lot's. Yesterday we watched a hiving demonstration and checked on a recently hived hive. The bees were much more mellow than I expected. No one got stung. The bee guy did everything without gear, veil or gloves, using his bare hands to brush bees back into the hive etc. It was kinda like magic. I've been very inspired by the class and I'm thinking I'm actually going to enjoy bee keeping itself, in addition to having our own honey.

The start up cost is pretty intimidating. I'm not sure it is really worth it when I think about how much money we are investing in bees, hive and equipment and how much honey we are going to get. The bees start at $125 for a three pound package, $25 for an extra queen. So I decided to step it up and buy a Nuc, which is a small colony already started and going with a proven queen for $175. The start up recommendation for here is two deep brood supers and two medium honey supers, with a queen extruder the cost is 350 unassembled, 400 assembled - and just needs paint. Smoker, veil and gloves... It is getting expensive. Stumbling across some used unwanted equipment would be great, but I don't see that happening in the next couple weeks.

Our first batch of ducks and Ameraucanas is due to hatch at the end of next week. We've got a few geese and ducks arriving the same week. Time to dig out some heat lamps and brooder tubs for the hallway. I like to keep them close in the house at first. The goats are all doing great. We have one more goat due for sure. Xoe is due the first week of May. I'm going to enjoy sleeping through the night for at least another week. It is getting busy and exciting like spring around here. It just looks like winter.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    A week of spring fun

    While it is still mostly white out, the days are getting nicer, slowly but surely. This week we had a kid party with games, a treasure hunt and cake. We had family up on Noah's Bday for presents, clams, fried halibut, oven fries and milkshakes. Yesterday it was warm enough (fifties maybe) on the south porch, the kids were running around barefoot playing in the water that dripped off the roof. At some point they got wet and cold enough that they put on clothes, boots and rain gear, pulled their hoods up and continued.

                                                                 Dividing up the treasure.

                                                               Kids making their own pizzas.

    This weekend = goat meeting, bee class, lots of goat visiting/still helping new babies nurse, maybe kids in rain gear at the playground, hopefully starting cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and 4-6wk flowers, and have I mentioned that D has been tiling the milking area - grouting this weekend. Getting busy around here.

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Meeting the new goat kids

    Avery and new wobbly doeling.

    doeling in front, brothers in back.

    Flashy buckling left side.

    Right side.

    Can we keep her mom?

    Can we keep her mom?

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Xanadu kids to triplets

     First buckling out.

     Second buckling out.
     Third buckling out, oh no, a doeling whew!

     I dry everyone off while Xan licks and re-wets them.

    Happy healthy family, yeah!

    Wild Roots Goat Share Program

    So here is how our Wild Roots Farm Goat Share Program is going to work, or so I think. As it is illegal to sell milk in the state of Alaska, but it is legal to drink milk from your own dairy animals, we are going to sell shares in our goat herd. Goat shares do not extend beyond milk, so fresh cheese and other dairy products are not allowed. Furthermore, it is illegal to transport raw milk off the farm, unless it is denatured or labeled for animal consumption only - or being transported to an owner or co-owner of the animal. We are starting out small and simple. This program is not our "make it rich scheme" or even a successful business plan, nor is it designed to pay for all of our goat herd expenses, (although that is a longer term goal and would be swell), but rather compensate for a significant amount of their feed bill and expenses. I'm planning a future goat feed cost post that will break down how much it costs to raise a goat up here, which should make the following prices seem reasonable, if they don't already.

    1. $75 buys you a share in our herd.  All $75 is refundable if you would like to sell back your share to us at anytime.
    2. Ten dollars a week pays for the care, board, milking, and milk processing of your share of a goat and finally a portion of the product: one gallon of fresh milk per week during milk flow months The weekly charge is due at the beginning of each month, before the first milk pick up.
    3. This year we expect the milking season to begin in June and end around December, 7 months of milk. Once we get going we may be able to continue a little later than December. Next spring our goal is to be able to supply shareholders with milk by mid April. The length of the season depends on several factors, some of which are not always in our control, how much milk the goats give, how soon or late we sell kids, when we breed in the fall etc.
    4. There is an annual $50 fee to be paid at the beginning of each season with the exception of the first year. This goes towards the feed and care of your co-owned goat when it is not lactating.
    5. Inital start up charges including first month of ownership/milk delivery: $75 buy in, $40 monthly (roughly) $115.
    6. At this time Sunshine Health Food Store is going to let us use their building as a drop off/ pick up place. They are not selling the milk for us. They are not handling paper work, money or doing anything other than providing a handy location and refrigerator. We will deliver milk to their in store refrigerator. Shareholders stop in and pick their milk up and drop off their clean jars from the previous week. 
    7. There will be a sheet with shareholders names on it. Shareholders will check that they picked up their milk and check that they dropped off their jars. When jars are broken shareholders can replace them or we can add a jar charge to the following month.
    8. At this time I am planning on dropping off milk on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The shareholders are responsible for picking up their milk on the designated day. Any milk leftover at the end of the day will be donated to the store employees. So if you can't make it to pick up your milk, find someone who will, or email me in advance.
    9. Shareholders may not sell your full share to someone yourself. We will have a waiting list of potential shareholders in line to buy available shares.
    10. At this time we are not going to deal with half shares for those who only want a half a gallon of milk per week. I would suggest finding someone who would like to share your share with you.
    11. We currently have ten goat shares available, apart from our family and farm helpers with goat shares. I expect to have more shares available as the summer progresses and we wean and sell goat kids. I am starting out small because we like to have a plethora of milk around here for drinking, cheese-making and hopefully this year cream separating and butter making.
    12. I am going to accept shareholders on a first come basis. Those of you who have already emailed me are at the top of the list. The next step is sending me a check for the buy-in. In return I will send out a contract along with our milking procedures, policies and raw milk safety precautions etc. Or,
    13.  I am thinking that we will have an open house prior to or at the start of the share program. I would like everyone who is interested to see our goats, our milking area, milk procedures and so on. This would be a great time to sign contracts and go over raw milk safety guidelines and any other questions shareholders may have.
    If you are interested in our goat share program you can email me at emilycstahl@gmail.com
    Please send me an email before mailing a check, just in case we've filled the available shares.
    Please send checks to, and make payable to: Emily Stahl,  PO BOX 80662, Fairbanks AK, 99708

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Late snow, birthday preparations and goat shares

    There are a couple inches of loose white powder blanketing everything; railing, porch, rocking horse and trike. The birch are once more outlined and frosted in winter. As long as our winters are, a fresh snowfall is always pretty, however, we are having a birthday party for Noah tomorrow. We were hoping to use the back porch for games. There were just a few clumps of dirty ice that needed chipped away, that we were eying and hoping they'd take care of themselves by melting in time. It is suppose to be in the forties today and tomorrow, so maybe the porch will at least clear itself into puddles and wet boards.

    These gray days get to me more than the cold and dark. I'm trying to look ahead, plan, dream and take what action I may. There is so much to be excited about this time of year. Five flats of seedlings are started. Duck eggs are set. Today I'm adding chicken eggs to the incubator in hopes that all the eggs will hatch within a day or so of each other. Last night I separated the goat kids from their moms for the first time, so I can get more than a few cups of milk. The kids are three weeks plus. Their dams were starting to get restless being penned up every night.

    Xanadu is due on Sunday. I suppose she is either waiting to have her babies till Dustin goes to work tonight and I'm home alone with the kids, or until the birthday party tomorrow. I'm excited for more kids. Xanadu is a reddish brown doe. Her paperwork says she is Chamoisee, sounds elegant. She is bred to Zanzibar, our pinto buck. So, this is our last chance to see something different this season.

    I've been doing some raw milk, goat share research. This is something we've discussed since we first started milking. The herd has been growing and eating, more and more. I've decided that it is time for the goats to start earning their keep, or at least paying their feed bill. I think I'm finally up for it. My kids are sturdier, older, and in some ways easier to drag along for chores. We've got committed farm help for the summer as well. To be honest I'm not looking forward to dealing with customers, paperwork, money, and milk drop offs etc. This is the sort of commitment that there is no coming back from. Once we start, there will forever be a group of crazy (no offense) milk customers hungry for milk. I get monthly emails and phone calls from folks looking to buy milk, even with stating that I don't sell milk. So, if you are one of those hungry milk customers who has emailed or called over the last few years, get back in touch with me. I'll be posting more details and prices soon. I'm starting out small and will probably be taking more customers as the summer progresses. There is limited room, so...emilycstahl@gmail.com is the way to reach me.

    I'm baking a cake today. Noah requested a strawberry short cake. I'm making almond butter cake layers, a strawberry sauce and tomorrow, whipped cream. Other than that, I'm doing some spring cleaning, making some lemonade and a bean and maybe a pasta salad to go with some local beef/moose burgers for the party, and watching a soon to be in labor huge goat. The snow is starting to plop off the trees. I imagine it will be like living somewhere else today, somewhere that gets snow once or twice a year, but turns to slush and puddles by afternoon.

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Homemade soaps and salve

    I made some herbal healing salve the other day. Zinnia (new goat mama with twin doelings), had a sore cracked, bleeding, scabby teat- (sorry if that is more info than you needed). I started off putting bag balm on it, which is what I had on hand. I wanted something more healing and nourishing. I usually keep a healing salve on hand, but the tins I rummaged up all had little bits of rancid salve in the bottoms. I did have a jar of fresh calendula infused olive oil and a jar of dried comfrey root olive oil. Comfrey use to be known as "knit bone", it has that kind of super healing powers. I also had a couple teaspoons of Vitamin E oil which I added for moisturizing and nourishing oil.

    I put three parts of a combination of the two oils in the saucepan above. Then I measured one part beeswax into the oils and gently warmed it up till the wax was melted. I measured a fews drops of various essential oils and tinctures into the bottom of each tin. I used lavender essential oil for soothing and calming properties, tea tree oil/antifungal and rosemary for healing, red thyme for purifying. I also put just a few drops of goldenseal tincture for antibacterial use and st. johns wort tincture for pain relieving properties- I didn't have st. johns wort oil otherwise I would have used that. I keep all these ingredients on hand and close by, so while it might sound complicated, I spent twenty minutes making the salve, and most of that was spent gathering supplies from different corners in the house.

    Finished salves cooling. Should be enough for all the cuts, scrapes and bug bites for the next year- for both the goats and we humans as well. I've got tomake these things now; salves, lip balm, lotions, bug spray and sun lotion. Helps me feel prepared for summer. While they don't take long to make- I don't want to spend any more time than necessary indoors during the summer.

    A girlfriend and I recently shared a soap making spree. We made four soaps in an afternoon. It was a bit of a soap making fiasco. In the past we've been content to make simple soaps with no more decoration than some lavender or calendula petals. This time I'd been looking up some professional soap maker sites and was inspired to raise the bar to the next level. I had great hopes and ambitions for layered and swirled soaps. I knew exactly what I wanted our soap to look like, and that is why I'm disappointed. I'm a little embarassed  of  the appearance of the following soaps. The bars I've used so far do have a nice fragrance and lather- so thats something. At first I thought about cutting them all up and making cobblestone soap, but I'm running out of soap making days- and they work. Should be enough soap to get us to next fall when the days slow down again.

                          Both above and below are lavender soap. Lavender essential oil and lavender buds.

                     Above is goat milk soap with cedarwood, eucalyptus and lemongrass. Great fragrance.

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    My kitchen, and stuff

     I love my kitchen. I cook at least two meals from scratch a day, the other meal is usually leftovers or something simple. I make our bread weekly, fresh cheese, yogurt, dog food and all sorts of snacks, not to mention canning and preserving in the summer. Everything has its place, everything has a purpose and just a couple things are solely ornamental.

    Cooking is a sensual practice for me. The ritual of making a meal begins with pure ingredients, my bare hands and simple tools.When we think of cooking, seeing and smelling food is a given. Knowledge and labor are both required. Enjoying the process is not essential, but it sure helps. It is the act of scooping chunky sea salt with my bare hands, chopping vegetables with my sharp chef knife in just the right pattern that makes all the onion chunks fall apart at the last minute in equal size, and stirring, enjoying the way my wooden spoon curves to fit my hand, that makes the process of cooking sensually rewarding and therefor a soothing task.

    A quality tool is both functional and beautiful. As much as I appreciate my mixer for reducing the time I spend kneading- I don't enjoy it as I do a roomy wooden bowl with plenty of room for tossing or a nice piece of pottery with a snug fitting lid. While I'm still enjoying being in my kitchen, before I am too busy to keep it tidy, I thought I'd share some of my favorite kitchen sights. Above left is an oil and vinegar set I made several years ago. One of my few rarely used items. On the right is my sugar dish made by a fellow potter.

                           Herbs, rosemary, basil, mint and oregano - not located in the kitchen but used frequently.

    Wooden spoons and salt vessels. Have I ever admitted my love and addiction for various types of salt? On the left is coarse sea salt with fine on the right. There is a big price difference, so I use the coarse for soups, boiling water or surface texture. I have at least a half a dozen other types of salt on hand; non iodized salt for pickling and cheesemaking, fleur de sel sea salt, coarse red and black salt from Hawaii and a few other packages of salt I've picked up while traveling. I love quality ingredients in general. They don't need to be expensive in price, just not cheap in quality. Fresh, pure, simple, local when possible, seasonally when possible.

    Here's to enjoying the simple things that make the process more enjoyable, whether it is cooking with your favorite wooden spoon, painting with your favorite brush or just using the perfect tool for the job.