Sunday, October 30, 2011

Settling In to Winter

Onions from the garden. (Much bigger than last years)

We are settling into winter here in Interior Alaska. I feel as though folks everywhere are letting out a sigh of relief and acceptance. If there were still a few things to do before the snow came, toys and tools to clean up, we are past that now. The ground is frozen and covered with a light layer of snow. For us, there are still daily farm chores, complicated by snow and cold temperatures. It is too cold for the kids to be outside for long. We are getting into a winter routine. I get out for an hour and a half for morning chores. Then spend most the day indoors cooking, cleaning, reading, doing home-school lessons and crafts with the kids. Dustin is spending time prepping firewood each day and working on our house addition.

Until this week we have not purchased vegetables (with the exception of the occasional avocado or bag of corn) since early summer. We've got enough vegetables stored to last us into early spring. We've been eating carrots daily, potatoes,celery, beets, onions and garlic. We've got frozen blanched greens I've been putting in soups, jars of sauerkraut and around a dozen heads of cabbage stored. I felt like I was indulging by buying herb salad greens, a bag of snap peas, a bag of colored peppers and some fresh broccoli at the store. Everything looked fine, but upon eating we discovered the peas were overripe and a little rubbery, the peppers were tasteless and under ripe, the broccoli bland and a different texture. The greens made for a nice salad. Oh, how fortunate are we who know and enjoy vegetables directly from our own gardens.

 Decorating the house with dried flowers from the garden.

Beet soup swirled with carrot ginger soup and creme fraiche.

 We've been enjoying harvest dinners with family and friends. At each feast, I think to document it with notes and pictures, but I'm too busy savoring the food and company. Most meals begin with our mold ripened chevre and crackers. A friend made a tomato tart with homemade puff pastry and her own heirloom tomatoes. We have been enjoying grilled Dall sheep, Caribou and Moose, courtesy of my brother; the mighty hunter of the family. At the last meal, I made the above soup. To finish the meal, I brought an applesauce goat cheesecake with a gingersnap crust and cranberry honey topping. Made with Nancy's crabapples, our own cheese, cranberries and honey - of course. 

I've been thinking that the key to being as excited about winter as I am, is to either spend your summer farming. Or at least, have an outdoor job where you spend as much time enjoying and loving each warm day that spring, summer and fall bring us. I am overjoyed to be entering into winter. I think I have enough to do this winter, that I won't be bored until February, and by then it will be time to start seeds and prepare for goat kidding season. 

This morning is special because it is the first day I have a heated milking parlor to milk goats in. Yesterday Dustin installed our wood stove in our new addition/ milk parlor. I have to mention that Dustin calls the area his "man cave". The goats are forever taking over. "Milk parlor" I say, hah! For the last four years I have milked outside, in the goat stall and in unheated shelters. Milking outside isn't really so bad. Even when it is twenty below zero, I find it rather thrilling- just don't touch the stainless steel pail with wet hands! However, now that I have a heated area, I'm sure I'm going to love it. This morning the temperature is in the single digits outdoors. As I milk in a warm room, I have the ambiance of a beautiful new wood stove, with a glass front so I can watch the flames flicker. Everyone say "ooooh".  Now the molasses and olive oil are going to pour much easier too and I won't have to carry the bucket of soaked grains indoors so they won't freeze and be crunchy cold in the morning.

Best wishes to you wherever you are in your fall or winter preparations.

Monday, October 24, 2011

First Snow days

Our world is white once more. It started snowing last Sunday, and it is still here. Here stay for a long while I'm sure. We are getting accustomed to watching our step as we navigate the paths carrying water jugs and armloads of hay to the animals. The temperatures have been mostly in the twenties. Goat water tanks and chicken and duck water heaters are all plugged in so that their water containers won't freeze solid. At first the kids were pretty excited about the snow. Noah tried sledding the first night it started to snow. He tried out three sleds on the hill, but was disappointed that none of them would work on the half inch of snow that lay on the driveway. The first day the snow was moist enough we could roll snowballs and have snowball fights. Now it is too dry as is typical for snow here in our arctic desert.

Now that Dustin is home for a while and done with summer work, I'm getting out on my own in the morning for milking and chores, which take about an hour and a half. Then we are getting the kids outside in the afternoon to play till they get cold. Otherwise, we are all thrilled to be spending the day indoors. We've been keeping the woodstove going, so there is the pleasant glow of the fire in our living area- and it is toasty warm. I've been baking bread, pita, cornbread and biscuits to go with all the different soups; chicken noodle, white bean with pancetta and vegetables, goat curry and many more. I've made two meat pot pies in the last couple weeks. I should say, they were the best pot pies I've ever made, phenomenal actually. One was with goose and the other with ribeye steak leftovers.

I'm thoroughly enjoying beginning every meal with our own onions, garlic, celery and carrots. Then all of our own meat of course. We are having an egg shortage around here. First egg drought since we got chickens. I think some of our old layers are taking a longer break than in past years and the new layers haven't started yet. We've bought eggs twice in the last couple weeks, gasp! (And even the organic, cage free hen eggs are nothing compared to our lovely orange yolk eggs).

In other random news, we've got a local lynx paying us regular visits. Handsome young guy. Not too timid. The first time I saw him, he was about twenty feet away, and he sat down and watched me, watching him, till we were bored of inspecting eachother. The second time I saw him, I was putting free range pullets away, of which he had already gotten three of. They had taken shelter in the buck pen, under their ramp. So I had to scoop them out in the presence of three excited bucks while the lynx watched from the edge of the garden licking his lips.

I sold Asia and Brie this weekend. I would have liked to keep another milker going into winter. For a first timer Asia was doing pretty good, producing well. I loved milking her tiny teats. She has a nice udder, and in most areas seems improved upon her dam. Our doe barn is overcrowded and I've been trying to sell a couple goats, and these were the two that sold. I felt really good about the buyer. She seems like a very nice lady who has a few goats already, and takes good care of them. So, thanks Brenda, if you are reading this! This was the first time I've sold any of our does. I've got a few more I'm ready to sell, but it looks like I've got a couple interested buyers lined up for late winter/ spring. So, looks like the barn is going to stay on the crowded side. As a result, I'm going to keep milking the milkers, and breed them later than usual.

I am turning my mind away from harvesting and preparing for winter, to winter crafts and holiday preparations. I've been playing around with felting. I'm beginning some knitting projects. I have big plans for homemade holiday gifts, so I'm starting now. We are homeschooling Noah, and I've been behind with everything else going on. Now I'm ready to commit to more of a planned schedule. I am looking forward to doing lots of crafts with the kids. So far we've been painting together with the Waldorf approach. We've also been playing with wool and beads, and working with colored beeswax and bake-able play doughs.

Here are a few final pictures of fall. These are from the last time the kids and I were in the garden, letting the goats nibble on the few remaining pea vines and sunflowers.

 I've plans to start writing more here. I'll be writing more on milk, cheese making, goat feeding and how meat butchering has been going for us. Happy fall/first snow days to you!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Final Autumn Days

We are trying to make the most of these final days. I took these pictures about a week ago. We've been letting the geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens out when we are home all day and planning on being outside. The two turkeys are huge, they don't look it but they feel like it. They need to be butchered and it is just a matter of finding time. Meanwhile they are eating a lot and rapidly growing heavier. Last year none of the turkeys would fit in our oven. I grilled one, chopped and ground one, and then we cut one in half and cooked the two halves in each of my mom's large ovens. The largest one weighed in around thirty four pounds. We are not going for such large birds, it just kind of happens around here.

My husband is still working away from home between sixty and seventy some hours a week, until the ground freezes solid they say. We appreciate the income but we are behind on winter preparations, namely; firewood. I don't write much about my husband. He prefers to fly under the radar. However; this time of year I am ever so grateful to him for working such long days, outside in the cold from dawn to dusk, so that we can live this lifestyle we've chosen. I am hoping that we have at least another week or two before the snow settles in. It is just so much easier to move wheelbarrows and move about the property now, before we are walking on narrow trails, dealing with snow drifts and slippery stairs.

Rosie the goose who is the only nice goose right now, hopefully she stays that way. She enjoys following us around and is very curious. She genuinely seems to enjoy our company. We enjoy her's as well.

Noah, riding down from the garden, leaning on a bag of kale.
In other news, we have added on some new shareholders. We are up to seven and there are two more families interested. So nine is a nice number and close to the ten I was going for. Now we will just have to see how long we can provide milk for. I am currently milking six does and putting a seventh junior doe on the stand as well. I am getting about three and half gallons of milk. Everyone's milk is tasting good. Up until last week I was carrying a bucket of milk up to the birds two to three times a week, but I think I'll be able to reduce that and at least carry up smaller quantities and not the entire morning's milking. I am looking forward to having time to make cheese. I'm hoping D will have time to look at my cream separator and use his genius to fix it soon, as it has quite working completely. And now I've dallied long enough and it is time to get out and milk. Happy autumn days to you and yours!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Last of the garden, Cornish, first goose and more cranberries

 Asia, our newest moma, and new milker.

 Tomatoes, finally.

 Lavender and herbs moving in.

Flowers drying for winter cheer and crafts.

I've been thinking that life is about to slow down anytime now. Now that the garden is harvested I'm feeling better. Although, I'm coming to the conclusion that as ready as I may be for slower paced days, I'm never going to get everything done that needs done before the ground freezes solid and the snow comes for good. I suppose I shouldn't say never, maybe when the kids are grown and out of the house? - not that I even want to think about that. Today the beds in the garden were feeling pretty crunchy- approaching frozen solid. I'm accepting that once again that I am not going to get around to pulling weeds once more, adding compost and turning the beds as I would like to.

I am proud to say that I haven't let much if anything go to waste this year. So I didn't blanch all the beet greens, but I did feed them to the goats. There is one more bed of kale I plan on eating through over the next couple weeks. I've already frozen as much as I want in the freezer. Today I pulled a few stray carrots and beets that had been overlooked, picked some partially frozen shelling peas, chamomile flowers and last of the lettuce and cilantro from the greenhouse. I think I might even get around to turning the bag of nasturtium seed pods I picked into capers (nasturtium capers). 

This time of year is full of goodbyes. Each time I pick a bouquet of sweet peas, cut another sunflower, find a plump shelling pea, I think this may be it, the last time I do this. I imagine gardeners all over Interior Alaska bringing in armloads of the last of their cut flowers, lining their hallways with squash and boxes of ripening tomatoes. I am so ready to turn inwards and begin meal planning with fervor. As much as I absolutely love simple summer meals, I spend just enough time in the kitchen to get it done. Keep it quick and simple. Well, I'm ready to have time for specialty breads, time to make my own crackers, tortillas and noodles. Yesterday the kids ate ice-cream (strawberry rhubarb goat milk ice-cream) cones on the south porch. It was only in the forties, but with the sun shining on the porch it felt at least mid fifties; another small goodbye.

This week we butchered the last of our Cornish and one male goose who bit me when my back was turned. We had seven Cornish leftover from several weeks ago who we should have butchered then but it just didn't happen. They were huge. I cut them all up into pieces, yesterday, made a pressure canner pot full of stock and tomorrow I am going to can it. I roasted the goose yesterday. I should have saved him for a special meal with family, as my family would really appreciate the meat. It was very good, more like red meat than poultry. He wasn't very crowd presentable. It was a pain to pluck, and so he was a bit hairy for company. I saved the feathers and down for a small pillow, and the fat for cooking. We've been picking cranberries the last two days. We had a hard frost last night, so this morning the cranberries were coated in frost and partially frozen. They looked like the fake fruit that adorns holiday tables, plump sugar coated grapes and such. So now I've got three more gallon bags in the fridge full of cranberries to dehydrate.

In other news, we've sold a few more goat shares, so we are up to seven paying shareholders which sure helps out with the feed bill. A young lady stopped by to look at buying a couple milkers or doelings yesterday. So it looks like we might drop our numbers a bit going into winter which would help out a lot. As of now the doe barn is going to be too crowded come the cold days.

Ah, October.