Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rainy days, kids, geese and the garden

 Each day I move this poultry shelter on wheels. The last few years we've raised turkeys and chickens in here. The three geese and two ducks are in here right now. They need to be moved twice daily, but I'm only moving them in the morning. I have been letting them out for brief periods when we are nearby. But instead of going off on their own, they prefer to follow me around through the garden, (which I also enjoy) except I have to keep a close eye on them and not forget about them as they can do significant damage in just a couple minutes. Soon they will join the ducks and adult layers who free range during the days when we are home. There are enough good things to eat near the coop, so fortunately our unfenced garden has not come under frequent attack by the laying flock.

 Here are two plants that are growing around the property that I believe reseeded last summer and the seed was hardy enough to winter over. The top plant is rape, I think. The below plant is a fodder turnip. Over the last year we have tossed out various fodder crops and grain seeds; rape, turnips, fodder beets, hardy alfalfa, wheat, oats, rye, barley, clover, peas and buckwheat. The turnips have by far been the most successful root crop, growing into decent sized roots on bare un-worked ground.

Much thanks to Grannie T, the kids now have their very own playground. After much deliberation we decided to build it up above the garden. It is my ardent hope that soon they will start playing independently and without the need for me to be a full time swing pusher. So far it is a great lure to get up the hill and into the garden/geese zone.

This week has been the first consistent rainy week of the summer. As you can imagine the garden is fast becoming a jungle. The weeds are taking over, tomatoes and peas need trellising. Beans, squash and peas are flowering. We picked the first couple zucchini. The beets seems as though they should be bulbing by now. I have been enjoying the rain, with high aspirations to tackle some house cleaning, but I've had a challenging time doing anything but making meals and supervising the kids. This morning they were ready to go out in the rain, so we geared up in rain pants and coats and headed up to the garden. Low and behold the sun came out for the first time in days and it is warm and humid out. After being outside for a couple hours the kids are indoors and playing well together, whew. Time to tackle a few things indoors so we can get out and enjoy the sun and lack of rain.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The bees and I

 So I checked on the bees yesterday. I had a friend over, so we had D watch the kids while we escaped outside for a peaceful quiet bee visit. I try and check on the bees during the middle of the afternoon. We were a little late, about five-ish. It was still very warm and sunny, but the tall spruce and birch on the west side of us were shading the hive area from direct sun. It was the first time since I put the second brood box on, that I'd checked on the bees. At first I was hesitant to get into the bottom box because of all the comb they'd built and filled that was in between the two boxes. I put the second brood box on a little early, before the very outside frames were drawn out. The bees had moved up before filling the bottom box completely- my error for being so eager to add on. I wasn't sure what the proper course of action was. But I decided to replace the outside bare frames with the partially drawn out frames that were filled in the middle of the top box.

 Everything else looked good. We found the queen doing her thing. There were just a few capped drone cells. I'm thinking I've got an ok queen but not great, from what I've observed of the population over the last several weeks.
 Two brood boxes are mandatory in Interior Alaska - or so we were taught in class. I'm not sure if that is standard elsewhere or not. 

When I am looking at the frames, I look for the queen, for eggs and larvae. I look to see how much pollen there is and how much capped sugar water or other stores. I also look to make sure there aren't any queen cells or too many drone cells. This is my favorite part, just pulling frames and checking them out.

 And this is right about when I got stung for the first time since keeping bees. I was partially stung a few weeks ago, but the stinger didn't stay in and within minutes there was no pain or swelling. This time it hurt. I got stung on my middle finger on my right hand as I was picking up the frame. It took me a while to get the stinger out. It didn't just brush off like I thought it would. 


 Trying to get the stinger out without squeezing the sack of venom into my finger.

 And time to finish up since my right hand is throbbing.

After closing up the hive I chewed a plantain leaf and put that on my finger. It helped but didn't relieve the symptoms as much as I'd expected. Then I tried some plantain tincture I made up last summer. As long as I kept the cotton ball on my finger it was soothing. Then I dabbed my finger into the honey that had come out of the comb I'd broken off, and the relief was instant and complete. I have reapplied plantain and honey throughout the day today as the tip of my finger is still still red, swollen and throbbing. I'm sure I'll be exploring bee sting remedies more in the future. 

For those of you with bee experience, feel free to lend some advice. I'm sure I'll look back on this and laugh at myself. I think it is time to consult with the local bee expert and make sure I'm on track. Regardless, at least there will be honey for us.Our honey pot is empty. I don't feel like I can afford to buy any local honey right now. So maybe I'll just hold out, even though going honeyless for a few months is unthinkable. I do relish a good drought when there is certain to be an upcoming abundance. I'm not buying beets or carrots now, or much vegetables at all. We are eating lots of greens and herbs. I'm enjoying clearing out the freezer. We just ate our last chicken from last year. We are almost out of jam, but still have lots of berries in the freezer, so jam day may be the next rainy day.

We butchered a goat this week, for the first time. I think the subject warrants it's own post, but I will say that it went well. I feel good about it. The meat is great, pleasantly surprised by the goats once more. We've been enjoying having our own red meat for dinner and in the freezer. The last two nights I rubbed sea salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil into assorted cuts; mostly goat chops and a front shoulder roast. Then I threw them on the grill over high heat and cooked them until medium rare, and then let the meat rest. Some bites could have been choice steak, others were a bit chewy - but great flavor. A pot of bone stock and another with goat fat rendering into lard, bubble away on the stove top.

We are just beginning to put food into the freezer. Forty Copper River Red Salmon, check, one full sized fatty goat, check. Oh, and is it officially summer finally - well feels like we are in mid summer here. Happy late solstice everyone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summertime goat pictures

 The goats start looking their best this time of year. They've shedded out their long shaggy winter coats - with the exception of Xavier (top left). Their summer coats are glossy and smooth. The goats are happy and stress free. Winter takes it's toll on all of us, and I will be the first to admit that the cold weather and long dark winter's are stressful on the goats.of the herd. Above and below are our three bucks. We keep thinking we should narrow it down to two bucks, but I enjoy having choices when it comes time for breeding.

                         The boys just want to be pet, loved, rubbed and fed greens or other treats. While they look a motley crew, they are big softies underneath. All three are very sweet and good tempered. Although, Zanzibar still plays hard to get when it comes to tying him up for grain or hoof trimming.

 All five does still have their kids nursing off them during the day. We milk in the morning and then let the kids out for the day. So, udders are tight and full in the morning, and fairly drained and saggy the rest of the day.  Zinnia is turning to look at me. Xanadu's bucklings on right.

                                 Above Zinnia with her two doelings on left. One of which is for sale.

                         Asia, dry yearling. I'll be breeding her this fall. She is out of Xoe and Xavier.

Avalon is our other dry yearling who will also be bred this fall. She is out of Xanadu and Xavier. We are starting to handle these two more often, putting them on the milking stand and giving them grain and brushing them. 

 Xanadu's whole family. Her oldest daughter Avalon in addition to her three kids from this year, Bali on the left. It is about time for wethering (neutering) the bucklings. I've been debating whether to leave one intact for another month or so. I have a feeling as soon as I wether all four, someone will want a buckling. I think Xanadu's broken chamoisee is probably the nicest buck out of the four, very handsome and sweet.

 Bali, is hard to get a picture of as she runs to jump on me and see what I'm doing the whole time I'm in the pen.

 The family groups really stick together. In the top picture are Rose, her eldest, Zinnia, Rose's new doeling Bramble on left and Zinnia's two doelings from this year. Rose is our meekest and mildest doe. She needs all the family support and backup she can get.

Zuri on left. Xoe on right with one of her two bucklings. We never have enough feeder space. Dustin just built a new feeder out of scrap lumber that was sitting around. The new feeder is awesome, and a big help. I still need another feeder that is away from the stall and free standing with a roof. You can never have enough feeder space. I hate throwing hay on the ground as a lot gets wasted and it is not good for the goats to eat off the ground. They are more likely to have higher numbers of parasites.

Well, that is our herd. Eighteen goats. Xoe is for sale, with or without sons. We have two doelings for sale. I'm waiting for someone else to make up my mind for me, I think Blue and ...? and Bramble? or Bali? Ergh! This is my first year not stressing about selling wethers. I'm tired of trying to decide who will make a good home for them and worrying about whether they are being taken care of properly. So, I'd rather eat them myself and know that they had a good life and were killed quickly and humanely. Writing it, and actually doing it will be a whole different thing, but that is how I'm thinking now.

First garden pictures 2011

The garden is off to a slow start, considering that I had most of it planted by mid May. Instead of being too cold, the weather was too blazing hot and sunny, and while I thought I'd hardened the starts off well enough, I was thinking they were strong enough to survive the cool nights, and had not thought I'd have the opposite problem. The brassicas especially, had it rough, but even the tomatoes, cucumbers and basil looked weary from the intense sun and heat. This last week as brought more seasonably reasonable temperatures in addition to some rainy days- which the plants have loved.

I picked a bag of bok choy the other day. We should be eating our first salad soon and it is about time!

                       Heirloom celery - something red? and snap peas

                     Beets and shelling peas. I've succession planted beets. This is the first crop made up of Detroit Dark Red and Detroit Golden, which are suppose to be more bolt resistant to our long daylight hours.

                     Hard neck Garlic, planted in the fall and risen from deep slumber.

Zucchini. I can't take credit for these. I started three types of zucchini indoors and then again by direct seeding and none of the seeds germinated. So I bought some starts at the farmer's market. However, all my other squash; Sweet Mama, Spaghetti, Early Butternut, Yellow Crookneck, Acorn and Sweet Meat, all came up fine and are growing.

                                          Bush Beans.
                           Perennial Comfrey. I've got big plans for the comfrey - mostly medicinal, but I have looked up some culinary recipes and if I ever have an abundance I'll make garden tea with it.

                                          My squash.

And Strawberries!

 The geese are next to the garden - they would love to be in it. As it is, they get lots of weeds. So far, the geese are very mellow, and not jumpy, skittish or afraid of us as our previous ducks have been. So far, I love the geese.

                                                     Cauliflower, I think.

And carrots! These are our summer carrots for fresh eating. They are purple, red, yellow, white and orange. I planted a couple varieties of storage carrots just the other day for late fall harvest. 

While it seems as though the garden is growing slowly, I have to remind myself that it is early in the season still. There is plenty of summer left. And yet our seasons are so short. Frost is only a couple months away, September if we are lucky. We get three months of eating fresh out of the garden, peas, zucchini, broccoli, beans, greens and herbs. I am ready for the bounty to begin.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Random June Reflections

I swerved for butterflies today. There are so many, everywhere, drinking from the bluebells, coupling in the greenhouse. I think I avoided most of them on the way to and from town. Next week it should be dragonflies. I keep thinking the dragonflies should be coming out by now. But maybe having July weather in May was deceptive, and they aren't really late at all. Although, not to cheat the dragonflies, but I'm hoping the mosquitos are on their last hurrah, with the lack of rain and moisture, they surely can't keep it up without water for breeding.

Looking out the windows, the woods and banks are lush green. Looking towards the chicken coop I can see a rainbow of laying hens, red, black, brown and buff, as they wander the green banks in search of bugs. This morning I couldn't think of what gives me more satisfaction than opening the doors to let the chickens and ducks out to forage for the day. Then I thought, well, I do love watching my children run around bare foot. They have been going off into the woods exploring together. Avery will follow her older brother anywhere. Often I have to come to the rescue, as she'll get stuck on a bank and can't get down, or amidst some rose or raspberry bushes...

I checked on the bees wearing a bikini and jeans today. I had been in the garden. The hive was temporarily shaded, and I forgot about the mosquitos (in the shade). There is something exhilarating about being in the middle of hundreds of bees, landing on my arms and belly, investigating and then taking off again. Today there were more bees all around the hive, buzzing around, busy, not just going too and fro but around and around. I'm not sure why. I had second thoughts as I lifted the lid, maybe it would be a good time for a suit with such bee action. I smoked them well, and was not stung. Noah watched close up this time wearing my veil. We saw the queen, eggs and larvae. I decided to add the second brood super, so the size of their house is now doubled.

My daughter is now asleep. I am headed out to enjoy one last walk. I'll tuck everyone in for the night, throw weeds to the geese, close in ducks and chickens, pet a few goats and toss them one last armload of hay. I'll close the greenhouses, stop to finger a tomato blossom or two, stray to pick a poppy, stop to peek at the bees, and always inhale deeply, consciously, and savor the rich scents of pungent damp green things.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My kids being kids

This is for all my non-goat loving family who follow my blog patiently, in anticipation of glimpses of the kids and our family. As always, they are busy doing what kids do best; dressing up, dressing down, getting dirty and getting clean, traipsing through the jungle we call outside, battling ferocious mosquitos....and the list goes on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Early summer farm update

We are in full summer mode here in Interior Alaska. The wild roses and bluebells are in full bloom. The perennial poppies are just starting to open and the columbine are forming buds. The Delephinium and Trolius are lush an bushy. The Iris and ferns are growing. With our long daylight hours and warm days, it is as though all living things sense the limited time and know to race ahead and make the most of these precious days.

May set a record for the dryest May in over a hundred years. We got something like less than a hundredth of an inch. It has also been warmer than average. This last week has felt a little cooler and crisp, but it is still clear and sunny with temperatures ranging from the fifties at night to seventies during the day. Some of our warmer weather was almost too much- well, I should say, too much for the new transplants in the garden, too hot for stall cleaning and too much for the kids to play outside in the middle of the day. Certainly pool/ popsicle/ grill weather.
I've been putting a hundred and fifty gallons of water on the garden every two to three days.  The time spent watering is paying off. I'm not sure how else the peas would come up, or the little carrot and beet seedlings could struggle on in the hot sun. I succession planted another row of storage carrots and beets yesterday. I need to find some more room to plant another batch of salad greens. I am most excited about all the blooms on the strawberries. It seems like it will be a while yet till I'm coming down from the house with a basket of produce, fresh picked peas, zucchini, beans and scallions. The salad greens and bok choi are finally ready to start snipping a little of. I've got herbs and chives and that's it.

In other news, the fridge overfloweth with milk. The milkers are all finally cooperating, and eating all their grain, and looking much better. We are getting three gallons of milk a morning from five does who are all still nursing kids throughout the day. I'm ready to start delivering milk just as soon as our shareholders are ready. I've been buying jars and better lids -BPA free plastic lids and half gallon glass jars. I've got a contract written up along with other farm info. Slowly but surely.

The bees are doing well. I had no idea how much I would enjoy checking on them. I am getting much more confident about not wearing protection. I've been checking on them wearing a skirt, sandles and tank top, no veil, no gloves etc. I have only been stung once - kind of, and I'm learning not to shake my feet or hands when they are crawling on me. The bees have almost filled their bottom brood super. I moved two frames from the outsides in so they could get filled up. My queen is busy busy, usually going from cell to cell, laying eggs, and being attended by a circle of female bees. There is lots of different stages of brood, (larvae), as well as pollen stores and sugar syrup stored in the corners. I am looking forward to putting on the next brood super.

We've had predator issues this past month. We've lost some full grown ducks to ravens. Total bummer, as three were good layers, and one was sitting on eggs. Now we are down to our three Pekings. At first we didn't have woven mesh cloth over the top of their pen, then we got it back up and still had a raven get in somehow. Then we lost a couple chickens to a fox. I hadn't done head count at night, and didn't realize a couple ladies were still out... Then yesterday I'd let all the birds out for the day as we've been doing when we are here and mostly outside all day. Avery and I were headed out to check on the goats and I see a fox wrestling with a chicken- at like ten/ eleven a.m.! So I chased the fox off and the chicken survived. I superglued a three inch tear in her breast- we'll see if she makes it. Dustin has a hunting/trapping license. We have never had to shoot any predators before. The ravens are off limits/against the law, but we could shoot the fox. We have been discussing the idea of a live trap...

Dustin is heading down to Chitina to dip net for Copper River Red Salmon. The forecast is looking good: lots of fish are heading up the river so there is an additional supplemental (we can get forty reds?39?/ one king) also, the water levels are low which makes catching the fish easier. The weather has been nice down there but sounds like that is changing. So, maybe in a couple days we will have our fish for the year- which is so exciting. Usually we get our salmon at the end of the summer, they are bigger, the crowds have died down. This is Dustin's last chance to go for a while as work is picking up. It will be great to have salmon to grill all summer, and not just going into winter with.

The kids and I don't have any big plans; hold down the fort, not loose any more chickens or ducks, milk goats, water garden, enjoy sun and stay fed. This morning I'm going to bust out some food for the day, I'm thinking a potato salad and some sort of baked bean dish, maybe some flatbread dough for grilled flatbreads. I need to get some popsicles going for the kids this afternoon. I also need to hang cheese,clean kitchen and sweep floor, before it get's much nicer out. By late morning I can't be inside anymore. We've got help with milking and farm chores for the next few happy days.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Udders, teats and orifices - and milk tastings

Above is a picture of Zinnia's udder. Udders, teats and orifices vary in size and shape, and some traits are clearly more desirable than others. Entering our fourth season in milking, I'm beginning to have a clearer idea of my ideal udder. We are also getting to see how udders and teats change over time. Zinnia is a first timer. She is producing about four pounds of milk (1/2 gallon) for morning milking, and then her two rapidly growing doelings are keeping her pretty drained throughout the day. Her udder is a pleasant shape, high and wide. The teat placement is great, they point down, for the most part. The size is good, not too big, not too small. The shape of her teats make for easy milking. And the orifice at the tip of each teat is good size, so the milk comes out easy. Zinnia is an ideal first freshener. She has one teat which is larger than the other because when her kids were just a few days old, she had a teat get chapped and raw. I didn't catch it right away and she didn't let her doelings nurse off that side, so one side became engorged and then I had to milk her out for a week on that side, because her entire teat was a scabby wound - as a result I'm guessing one teat will always be a bit bigger.

 Below is a picture of Zuri's udder, also a first timer. This picture of Zuri is not as impressive as Zinnia's. She has been averaging about 3 lbs. Her udder shows some promise. For one it is not droopy or pendulous. She does have good teat placement. The best part is the shape of her teats, They are not too narrow or too wide, nor are they too big - they are my favorite teat shape. They also point straight down. And, to top it off she has the biggest orifices. As a result, milking Zuri is a dream. She is my favorite goat to milk. Combined with her personality and willing and patient behavior for a first time milker, she is my absolute favorite goat. I expect that she will produce a significant amount more next freshening.

 Above is Xanadu. This is her third freshening. Xanadu has been our favorite goat to milk because of her teat shape, since our first year milking. However, this year, they are just too big for my hands! They have gotten bigger every year, which they tend to do. She has a nice udder. Fine but never phenomenal yield, this year she is averaging about five lb. She doesn't put everything in to milk, which is a good thing sometimes. I don't have to worry about her body condition, she is an easy keeper. We have always loved the shape of her teats, wider at the top, (but not too wide) narrow at the bottom. They are very comfortable and easy to milk - but they have gotten big enough that my hands have to work to hard to get the milk out. This is a personal preference. If Dustin was milking, or another man, or someone with big hands, they would probably love milking her. She has good teat placement. They angle in a bit - which is better than out. And, I think, overall her udder would hold up just fine in the show ring.

Below is Xoe's udder. Xoe has the weakest udder of all our milkers. It hangs lower down, somewhat pendulous. Her teats are huge, too big for me - it makes milking more of a work out - maybe fine if you are just milking a couple goats, but I tend to leave Xoe for last and then my hands just can't get the job done all the way. (Today I milked her earlier in the lineup and that helped). Not only are Xoe's teats different sizes, they also angle out, and they are too wide at the top, which makes getting the milk down, more work for hands. So, when I milk Xoe, I have to angle her teats in towards the pail, which is just one more thing to thinkk about when squeezing. To top all this off her orifices are smaller than anyone elses, so while they are not super small and tiny, they are smaller, which means it takes longer to get the milk out.

All this complaining and I still think Xoe is a decent milking doe. She has a great body. She is a willing milker, who can be very sweet. She is a decent mom. She is putting out between five and six pounds of milk in the morning and then feeding her sons all day. If she was someone's only milker, they may not mind these faults. I am selling Xoe this year. I do plan on asking a fair price for her, and I'm waiting for the right family.

So, here is Rose, totally lopsided, which happens, especially when she has a doeling who prefers one side over the other. Her son left for his new home this past week, and ever since, Rose has been lopsided - so apparently the left side must have been his. Rose is our highest producer and strongest milker. She has been bred every year, milked through the first three months of each gestation, because she just keeps producing. She does tend to put everything in to making milk, so I do have to watch her weight. Her udder shape is my favorite, high, wide and round (not so much round in this pic). Her teats have great placement, size and shape. Her orifice size is also fine. If I were to change one thing about Rose, I would change the shape of her teats just a bit to be a little wider at the top. I think Rose has a strong and lovely mammary system. She has produced up to eight pounds in one milking (that's a gallon folks). This year she has been in the five to six pound range. We've had some diet adjustments that we are finally catching up from, so I expect to see Rose improve over the season.

And now for milk tasting. We've been milking everyone and keeping their milk separate, once a week so we can do taste tests. We had a couple does with mild ketosis symptoms and one with mastitis, and their milk was off tasting for a while so we were tasting it daily and deciding whether it went to the chickens or into the milk tote. Thankfully, everyone's milk is tasting as it should. I think milk should taste clean, creamy, smooth and subtle. There should be no strong sweetness, or other perceptible flavors, including the aftertaste. It has been interesting to see how everyone's milk tastes and how it changes from week to week. Zuri and Rose have had the best tasting milk, creamier and smoother than the rest. Avery is our milk drinker. She loves to drink milk, but she is not very discerning about subtle taste differences.

Well, the kids are in bed. It is another phenomenal Fairbanks night. Sunny and clear, blue skies at ten p.m. The lure to head up to the garden is strong, if only the mosquitoes were not so ferocious. I'm at least heading out to say goodnight to the goats, and shut their door so they can escape the majority of mosquitoes. Goodnight.