Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Late Summer Days

We've been enjoying lovely late summer days here in Interior Alaska.  Just when we beginning to panic with frost advisories, crisp days and yellow leaves falling, it feels as though we've been given and extension. Today, although I had to run a bunch of errands in town, we made the most of the warm weather. Noah wore shorts, Avery a dress and sandals, and I wore a skirt and a gauzy white blouse. There have been a handful of days where I've just had to wear a skirt to town, as it might just be my last chance.

The sun is sinking lower in the sky and we are getting less and less direct sun. So, once the sun starts hitting the garden and the south porch, I am either at one or the other. On days we have to go to town, I try and be home by the middle of the afternoon when it is the sunniest. I move across the porch, scooting my chair as the sun crosses the sky. The kids are kind of over the garden, over being outside. I'm still insisting that we read, play, work, shell peas, paint and color outside - if the sun is shining, I try my hardest to be basking (or working) in it.

The nights are getting dark, completely dark. In early August I would wake up at two or three am and it would be dark. Now it is dark by eleven. I had to put on a headlamp to check on the bucks the other night. I thought someone was injured, but they are just in rut. It is a noisy time of year around here with goat kids being weaned and crying for their mom's, and does in heat, yelling at the bucks, and always, the sound of bucks bashing heads and moaning (there really isn't a better word) in the distance. It is a stinky time of year too. I open up the door to step outside, and have to remind myself why I have bucks, and then I wonder if two would be any less stinky than three? I doubt it.

Asia and her daughter Brie are doing great. Asia is taking to motherhood with great finesse. And her doeling is healthy, growing and just disbudded. I'm thinking August kid's aren't really so bad, and maybe I'll breed a few yearlings each year in the spring. As long as I get a couple month break between spring and fall kidding, otherwise the novelty of does kidding and caring for new kids wears of fast, (sleepless nights).

I'm trying to put something up each day, pickles, jam, sauerkraut, blanching herbs, etc. Tomorrow is scallions. I have a ton. So I am going to blend them with olive oil and freeze them flat, in ziplocs so I can break off chunks for finishing soups and pastas etc. It is an experiment. I love scallions. They have a permanent place on my winter shopping list, so we'll see if I can replace my winter scallion addiction. Everyone is asking if I'm in full harvest mode. Well, I tend to put off the mad pulling frenzy till the last moment, although I know I shouldn't. I did pull two rows of onions and all the garlic the other day. I figured with a few sunny days in the forecast it would be a good time to lay them out on the beds to cure in the sun. I started bringing green tomatoes into the house to ripen. So I suppose I'm in full harvest mode.  The garden could really benefit from another week or dare I say two, of this warm sunny weather- and so could I. Here's to dreaming!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fall goat baby, Brie

 Here is our new fall goat baby; Brie. The older goat kids are too big for my children to play with, as the goat kids like to jump and climb on us which knocks Noah and Avery right over. So they are enjoying the new little one. Asia is out of Xoe and Xavier. Brie's sire is a mystery. In order to register her we will have to do a paternity test. Asia has not been handled much and as a result; she is a wild thing. I vow that this will be my last wild new mom. It is going to take a lot of soothing handling and patience, before she a well behaved milker.

And it's a wrap. Kidding season 2011 is finally over. We have six freshened milkers, who gave us seven doelings and five bucklings. We lost two doelings. We currently have all five doelings. We have managed to sell one registered buckling for breeding, two whethers for meat, and we are raising two with plans to butcher them in the fall. All the kids, with the exception of Brie, are in the weaning pen, away from their dams. We are milking five does in the morning and getting between three and six pounds per doe, totalling about three gallons. If there were more demand for milk, I would milk twice a day and have twice as much milk - someday. We have a milker for sale and a couple doelings for sale, as the Doe barn is going to be too crowded come winter. Time to hang up some flyers around town.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Still mostly summer

The rain tip taps an uneven beat on the metal roof as it falls heavy from the Birch trees that surround the house. The fog is thick and envelopes the hillside and valley, working it's way over the forest floor. All is still as every creature must be sleeping in this late summer morning. Our rooster is not well and thus he no longer crows. He has a broken wing - escaped a fox I think. I thought it might heal if I taped it to his body, alas I think we need to put him out of his misery. He has been a good rooster.

Golden leaves lay scattered on the ground. There are clumps of yellow in the trees. The green summer lushness is fading to a worn out looking green. The trees look sapped, and the fireweed and grasses are wearing down, growing rusty and copper in places. I find myself thinking enviously of slower times; winter days with time enough for lounging, time enough for reading and knitting and house cleaning. I'm tired. I've been battling a cold for three weeks and I'm finally almost back to normal. I'm overwhelmed with everything there is to do and I'm not sure where to begin.

Last week I focused on berries. I spent two afternoons picking cultivated raspberries away from the house, and got about fourteen pounds total, the equivalent of a few gallons I think. On Saturday we drove for three hours round trip to pick blueberries in the rain. The kids spent the afternoon with Grandma in the travel trailer (thanks mom), while I actually enjoyed picking in peace, despite cold hands. The berries were big and plentiful. I only made it out to pick blueberries twice this year and have totaled about five gallons which is less than I usually have in the freezer going into winter, but this year I think it will have to do. I have been freezing the berries and haven't found time to make jam yet.

We butchered fifteen Cornish Cross last weekend. They were nice size, between five and seven pounds. There are more to do when D has another day off. Our doe Asia, surprised us with a doeling this week. We thought kidding season was over until she started growing an udder this past month. I was planning on breeding her for the first time this fall. Fortunately I recalled the late March day, where I'd arrived home from the Sustainable Agricultural conference to find all three bucks had jumped the fence and were in with a few does. The snow level was high, and the electric fence had been grounding out... So, now we have a fall baby. I had figured out Asia's due date and had been putting her in her own stall at night. She kidded on day 145 of her gestation. I had set my alarm for 3 am to check on her, and low and behold there was a doeling on the ground when I got up. I hadn't realized she was quite that close to kidding. Thankfully, moma did it on her own. The doeling is strong and healthy, black and brown, and her name is Brie, Wild Roots Brie to be exact. I've been having to hold Asia a few times a day, and direct the doeling to Asia's right teat, as Asia has been preferring her daughter to nurse on the other side, and the fuller and tighter the right side gets, the more stompy Asia gets about letting Brie nurse on that side.

We've got two female Peking ducks sitting on eggs, which are due to hatch this week. I should have gathered the eggs, but I'm a sucker for wanna be mamas - when it comes to broody hens that is. On warm rainy days, I think everything will work out. There will be time for the ducklings and Brie to grow strong before the weather gets too fierce. There will be time to harvest the garden before frost. Time for firewood and cleaning up outside. The weather is mild today, it still looks mostly like summer, but tomorrow could feel crisp and cool like fall. We've already had cool enough days that I've pulled out the kid's hats and gloves from last winter, and even their new winter boots. The days of bare legged children running around outside are coming to an end. For today, it is still mostly green and thus still mostly summer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Garden pictures

 Here are some pictures I've taken in the last week. Notice the tall fence posts outlining the south border of the garden. We've got two problem trees that bent over in our crazy ice storm last November. We should have taken them down before the garden went in. Now we have to cut them down before the fence goes in, and they will inevitably be falling on and crushing flowers and vegetable beds.

 My first fava beans, ready to pick.

 This has been a weak year for some crops. I made the mistake of thinking I'd put so much compost on the garden in previous years, that the beds might need a break, otherwise I might end up over fertilizing, or getting too lush of greens and not enough fruit - vegetables. Instead I've got smaller than usual broccoli heads, much fewer tomatoes and some of the carrots are woody and bitter, ugh. Every garden season comes with lessons.

 First tree that must come down.

Second tree that must come down.

Other garden notes to remember. Plant more shelling peas, fewer snap and snow peas. More cauliflower and bush beans. Start squash earlier. Pay more attention and add more compost to tomatoes. Add more compost to everything. Plant less onions and scallions. Can't succession plant cilantro enough!

Looks like the onion harvest is going to be better than last year. I ordered a Northern mix of onion sets this year. They are decent size now, if they can grow another few weeks, I should have some to be proud of. My beans and peas germinated late so I've only been picking them for a couple weeks now. I have five different types of zucchini, I'm managing to stay on top of them by picking them at six to eight inches, but I've gotten a couple whoppers when I've taken a break from checking under the plastic.On the other hand, out of all my winter squash I planted, I've got one decent size spaghetti squash. I think the season may be too short for the winter squash this year. If only they'd taken off faster. I'm great at growing lush green squash plants, that would provide many beautiful squash with a longer growing season.

As long the moose stay away, I'm going to have a nice number of cabbages. I've got around a couple dozen plants, a few red and savoy, but mostly a green storage type, which is doing well. It is time to do some mass beet and carrot harvesting, a thinning of sorts to allow the smaller ones room to grow. I neglect early thinning, and prefer to wait until the thinnings are of eatable size. Time will tell if this is a worthwhile practice or not. I should be eating a salad a day, or maybe a head of lettuce a day. Maybe if I make up some really yummy salad dressings, Caesar, blue cheese...

Well that is my garden, and geese... tell me, how does your garden grow? What did you learn this year? Successes? Things to do differently next year?

Final summer days

I have the worst cold ever. I could write an entire post detailing every part of my body that hurts, but instead I'll attempt to rechannel my self pity and share some of the goings on here, before the events are too outdated. D has been working about sixty hours a week, which doesn't leave much time for extra projects. But he got a couple extra days off last week and rented an auger, put in twenty-eight post holes, and planted ten foot posts around the garden. The fence has yet to go in yet. I'm beginning to worry more about an early frost than a moose attack. We've already had a frost advisory for low lying areas and I heard Delta had a hard freeze already. Usually our garden goes until mid to late September, as our hill location is buffered from the early frosts that put an end to low lying gardens. The last few years we have had beautiful August and Septembers, the nights are cool, but the days are sunny and warm, giving us an extended time to get the harvest in. This year something tells me winter is going to come early.

The trees are still green. I have to really scan the woods to find any yellow. The fireweed are in full bloom. The garden has finally reached peak season, with nothing but strawberries being on the down hill side of production. Usually once we get to this point, we have another six weeks of fresh eating. I'm thinking I've got at least a couple more weeks of enjoying peas, beans and zucchini. Maybe it is just that I feel so helpless, tired and low energy right now, but I am starting to panic. I haven't put much away yet. Once I'm feeling better, it is time to start mass harvesting, blanching and freezing. So far I've made and canned several batches of jam, and the salmon from earlier this summer. I finally got out for a blueberry picking trip this weekend, and froze about two and a half gallons of blueberries, and made a beautiful pie. I need at least one more successful blueberry run.

The Cornish are ready for the freezer. As soon as D has a day off, and I pick up two gallon freezer bags and sharpen some knives. The meat birds are looking great this year. We just recently lost our first one. We butchered two a couple weeks ago for some fresh chicken meals, which leaves twenty-two for butchering day. They are pretty uniform in size this year, I'm guessing most of them will be in the five to six pound range if we do them soon. I'm ready for the geese and ducks to move into their new home, once the Cornish are out.

And now for some more summer pictures:

We made rhubarb strawberry jam with half our own strawberries, rhubarb ginger jam, rhubarb blueberry jam, rhubarb preserves and then we froze a couple gallons of chopped rhubarb. Thanks Nancy for the rhubarb!!

Summer is winding up. The mornings and nights are chilly, and even some afternoons. There is so much to do it is overwhelming. Today is a good day for making lists, and just enjoying the sun and the green.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Flowers, garden and new fence

Flowers. This is the time of year when we are bringing in flowers to decorate our living area. There are finally enough blooming that there are plenty to go around, some to bring in and plenty to stay in the flower beds. I've been picking the most beautiful delphinium, they are a brilliant sky blue with pinkish centers in each little flower. I've been putting them in a tall vase with orange trollius, and yellow and orange poppies. Today the kids each picked violets and pansies out of their own mini gardens and arranged their own vases. Blue bachelor buttons, yellow, orange and pink callendula, lavender and daisies have also been making their way into flower arrangements. Today I picked the first sweet peas and now as I pass in and out of the kitchen, their fragrance follows me. I snipped the first bunch of crimson strawflowers to dry. I am becoming a great fan of dried flowers, which provide much needed color and cheer, long into winter.

I am boycotting vegetables at the store for the next few months, and am lacking in nothing, except avacados and corn. I'm still buying luscious heirloom tomatoes of all shapes, colors and sizes at the Farmer's Market. I am pulling garlic and onions as needed from the garden, which are huge staples for us. I cut an armload of garlic whistles/scapes, today and will use those as a garlic replacement in stocks and soups. I picked the first basket of green, yellow and purple bush beans yesterday. I think the Fava beans are ready to pick. I ate some fresh today, and they are bitter. I've never eaten them before - looks like I need to do some research. I prefer to cook everything simply at first; broccoli lightly steamed with butter and sea salt, carrots tossed in olive oil and salt, roasted till tender, tomatoes chopped and tossed with pasta, olive oil and herbs. Fresh tender vegetables need nothing elaborate to make them tasty. That being said, my carrots are bitter. I need to do some research, some sort of soil defficiency I'm sure.

Dustin has had a few days off from his hectic summer work schedule. He put in twenty-seven three foot post holes surrounding the garden yesterday and today. There is one left to do by hand, the rest he did with a rented auger. We are putting in ten foot wood posts, five foot woven mesh fencing with a few strands of visible electric fencing around the top. We don't plan on plugging it in, but we thought we've got the attachments and extra wire left over from horse and goat fencing projects. Our main priorities are to keep moose and goats out, along with keeping out all the poultry. Moose are the biggest scare for me. I have nightmares that I walk up to the garden and the peas, broccoli and cabbage are all gone. All of which are in their prime right now, and I have high hopes of enjoying them for approximately six to eight more weeks. It may sound silly, but the garden is going to feel like a REAL garden, once it is fenced in. I don't know what it is about a fence that makes a garden seem more real and serious to me. I suppose a fence says that what is inside is worth protecting, worth digging and tamping, well worth the money invested to see the produce safe and free from stomping and munching by four legged critters. Putting a fence around something, defining the borders, enclosing a space, it is going to feel different. I can't just walk in and out wherever, there are three exits and entrances, a wall to go around.

And now the kids are finally asleep, and it is time to put the goats to bed and then relax and not think about any chores, kids, animals or anything else on the to do list. Goodnight.