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Archive for July, 2011

Yesterday, we went into town, as we had to pay the electrician (or, rather, put some cash on the visa to pay the electrician with…apparently nobody takes cash anymore…).  Wednesday and Saturday being Farmer’s Market days, and the market having posted on facebook that a BC fruit truck was coming, we decided to give it one more chance.

 

Unfortunately, it still sucked.

 

The “BC fruit truck” was a guy with a van and boxes of cherries, peaches, and apricots, a far cry from the reefer semi unit shading groaning tables of peaches, plums, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, nectarines, tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, and grapes that my mind conjures up when I hear the words “BC fruit truck”.  It must be an Alberta thing.  The other vendors still just had one or two things – maybe a couple of onions and some jars of jam, or a few types of baking, or a couple bunches of beets or bags of new potatoes.  None of the tables looked all that impressive.

 

Disappointed, we headed off to the Co-op grocery, as their flyer advertised decent sales on peaches and blueberries.  On the way, though, we saw a 5-ton truck with “Fruit and Vegetable Stand” painted on the side, parked in a vacant lot.

 

“Ooh, ooh, ooh”, I gestured at Hubby, but unfortunately, his ESP was on the fritz, and we passed the stand before he figured out what I was getting at.  We actually had to drive halfway around town (stupid construction) to get back to the stand, going the right direction (stupid median), but actually, it was worth the impromptu tour of the city.

 

They had raspberries.  Big trays, loaded with raspberries, and lots of them.  And carrots, and beets, and saskatoon berries, onions, new potatoes, and cabbages.   THIS was what I had been expecting to find at the Farmer’s Market.  I made a comment to that effect, and asked why they were not there.  The fella running the stand told us that they used to participate, but had been asked to leave, because they “had too much stuff”, and were not complying with the market’s fixed prices.  Had too much stuff?  Huh?

 

Now, I have no idea if this is actually true, but I can’t think of a reason for the fella to lie.  The fruit and veggie stand was great, though, and we bought 10 pounds of raspberries, and have plans to go back, particularly around corn season, as they said they do have corn.  If the guy was telling the truth, that would explain why the actual Farmer’s Market is so pathetic, with each table having only a couple of things, and also why the prices are so high.  What I don’t understand, though, is why any organizer would pursue policies that so obviously hurt their market…

 

At any rate, we still stopped at the Co-op on the way home, and got 8 pounds of blueberries (from BC, yay!), and 17 pounds of peaches (from California, boo!).  We headed home, and I did a marathon session of canning, getting 7 pints of canned raspberries, plus a batch of jam, done before bedtime.  I knew the forecast for today was +30, and so far, the weatherman has been pretty accurate.  Today, I did up some flavored liquor (set a couple pints of blueberries in vodka to soak for a nice midwinter drink), and some flavored vinegar (the same, but with white wine vinegar, for vinegarette salad dressings later).  I also picked a big handful of basil from the front bed, and put it in vinegar to soak…apparently herbed vinegars are quite the specialty item.   Since we scooped up six 250 ml jars of white wine vinegar on an excellent sale ($1 each) a few weeks back, I have no reason to skimp!  I have been a little obsessed with preserving in alcohol and vinegar this year, partly because it is so quick.  Last year I made up peach and raspberry vodkas, and they were a smash hit, prompting a whole range of new flavors this year…

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Last night, for supper, we had green beans and broccoli, fresh from the garden, steamed with a shake of hot pepper flakes, and topped with a bit of butter and salt.  It was fantastic, and a nice change from potatoes.

 

We’ve been harvesting and eating potatoes for maybe a week?  Ten days?  They and the onions had been the only produce that was far enough along to consider eating, though the peas started coming a couple of days ago.  With the garden starting to get going, we’ve been trying hard to eat at least one meal a day that was mostly, or completely, produced right here at the Acreage.   We’ve got several flavors of very local jellies – wild rose, dandelion, saskatoon, but that doesn’t cut it for supper.  Instead, we’ve been eating potatoes with fennel and chickpeas, curried potatoes, boiled potatoes with butter, creamy dilled potatoes with beet greens, and, quite frankly, I am glad to have a garden meal without the things!

 

However, I am not looking forward to the glut of beans that I can see developing on the plants.  They, along with the peas, will probably be the bane of my existence in about a week.  I plan to blanch and freeze a lot, dry a few, eat a lot (peas and beans fresh from the garden are favorites for me), and even feed a bunch to the chickens, but I suspect we will still be doing some drive-by produce drops on a few neighbors’ front steps…

 

Having said that, though, Hubby thought I was insane when I came home with 400 onion sets to plant (I wanted to try several varieties, and the sets came in bags of 100).  I thought I was insane, too, especially when we decided to plant the whole lot of them (no point leaving them go to waste…).  Now, though, as I am using 2 or 3 onions for almost every meal I cook, Hubby has started to wonder aloud if 400 onions is really going to get us through until next year.

 

I’m pretty sure there will be no wondering with the beans – four rows (!) was probably a little enthusiastic…just like the rest of the garden, I suppose.  I do have a back-up plan, though.  Once I’ve frozen enough for the year (20 pounds?  30?  I’ll probably just keep going until I am sick of dealing with them), We will designate one or two rows for fresh eating, and leave the others to go to seed.  Just quit picking, and let them grow and grow.  We can pick those beans in the late fall, and shell them in the winter, once they’re dry, and have them for use in soups and chili.  Should save some guilt and heartache with the general harvest, too…

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After several frustrating attempts at getting various fencing supplies out to the Acreage, Hubby and I caved and acknowledged that we really do need a truck.  So far, friends have been very kind in helping us get the things we need out here, but most of our friends are not from our immediate area, and we have to wait for them to be passing through in order to use their vehicles.  The Co-op Agro Centre will deliver, but they charge basically a dollar a kilometer, so whatever we get delivered had better be big, as it’ll cost us around a hundred bucks.  That is not really the preferred option, since we were planning to do the house renovations, fencing, and barn roofing as we could afford it, $200 here and $500 there, but it makes no sense to do that if your material delivery makes up a third of the material cost.

 

Once we recognized that we needed a truck, we started saving up for one.  We had seen some appropriate vehicles advertized locally – our plan was to go for our usual:  a fairly cheap older model, preferably ugly as sin, but in decent mechanical shape.  I hate to be the first to scratch the paint on a vehicle, and this truck is going to see some heavy use.   A good friend of ours, a mechanic, even sat down with us and helped us find some good options, and offered to test-drive vehicles in his own area on our behalf.  We figured we’d saved enough for purchase price plus insurance, as we started the hunt.

 

Then, last weekend, the stove bit me.

 

When I say bit me, I mean, sent a jolt of 220v up my right arm, totally unprovoked.  I had set the kettle on for a cup of tea, and it had boiled.  I reached over to turn the burner off, and whammo!  I dropped the kettle (luckily without spilling boiling water all over myself, and went to lean against the wall and cradle my arm and whimper for a minute.  I got a funny twitch in my right eye, and my heartbeat did a few swoops and skips, but I was mostly okay.  The stove, however, clearly had to go.  Hubby went downstairs and turned off that breaker, and I finished making my tea.
Of course, the stove, being quite probably older than Hubby or I, was actually hard-wired to the breaker box, and could not just be unplugged and moved.  Noooo, we actually had to get a professional in if we wanted to fix it.

 

We had actually purchased a new stove back in March or April, when we ordered the new fridge – those darn delivery charges made it more economical to buy a stove we knew we weren’t going to use for months, rather than getting it delivered later.  It has been sitting in the corner of the kitchen, quietly accumulating stacks of papers and holding up various half-finished projects.  While I would rather have been using it the whole time (you would not believe how filthy the old stove was), that little wiring problem promised to be just a little too expensive to be worth it, at least until we had a few more bucks saved up.  Then, of course, life intervened…

 

On Monday, I started calling around for an electrician, and the first place I called assured me that they could get someone out the very next day…for a price.  Hourly rate for the travel time, to be precise, plus mileage.  The fellow I talked to was very pleasant, though, and I liked that he did not talk down to me, despite me clearly not knowing much at all about electrical, and being a gal, to boot.  I booked an appointment.

 

Tuesday morning, the workman arrived, and he was also pleasant and personable, with the added bonus of being able to explain what he was doing in little words for the non-technical.   There were concerns that the wire running to the old stove would not be heavy enough to support the new stove, and that would have added a hundred bucks or more to the bill – apparently copper is expensive, these days – but luckily, we did not have to replace any wires.   He had a nice, shiny new outlet wired into the wall in short order, then, I told him that I would like quotes on a couple of other things, while we were at it.

 

I know the panel in our house is ancient, probably dating back to when Rural Electrification actually made it here, likely in the early sixties, though it is also possible that it dates right back to when the house was built.   Since then, someone installed a light fixture here and a dryer plug-in there, and added a bunch of circuits to the panel, without adding enough breakers to manage them.   As well, the service is 60 or 70 amp, not nearly sufficient in a time when 100 amp is considered to be standard.  I asked the electrician for a quote on fixing the incoming service and replacing the panel, as this place is unlikely to sell without that being upgraded.   He took a look, and told me he would mail a quote later, though he suggested I be sitting down when I look at it.  Ouch.

 

I also took him around the yardsite, and asked him what it would cost to bring down all the wires running to various buildings, then re-run proper service to the barn.  He went around with a little tester, and discovered that there is actually electricity to a bunch of buildings that I thought were not working anymore, plus he discovered a wire just laying on the ground (formerly running to one of the garages) that was also hot.   I am so glad I asked him to have a look around, as Hubby was planning to mow that area, with the metal scythe, later this week.   My little 220v jolt was unpleasant enough, I can’t imagine what hitting a main wire with a metal implement would be like.  The electrician fixed that one up right away, and said he would send a quote for the rest of the work later.   I would love to get a light or two in the barn, and maybe even a plug-in, though I expect that will be out of our price range for the immediate future.

 

At any rate, we got the bill today, though not the quote for fixing that stupid (dangerous) electrical panel.   I’m thinking we’ll have to start over with saving up for the truck…

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Back in Alberta, we used to drive to a nearby town in the summertime, and get cases of fruit, fresh from BC, for $25 to $35 per 20 pound case.  Peaches, plums, nectarines, concorde grapes, even tomatoes, you name it.  The lady ran the stand, sometimes with her daughter, while her husband was back in BC, picking fruit at their mixed organic farm, or arranging to sell other growers’ produce cooperatively.  We had consistent access to relatively cheap, definitely high quality, tasty produce, Wednesday through Saturday, just a ten minute drive from our house.  The lady would even set cases of stuff aside for regular customers, and additionally had less-pretty fruit available for a discount, if she knew you were into canning.  In the autumn, there were several Taber corn trucks that also tended to spring up,as well,  from which you could buy a 72-cob bag of premium Taber sweet corn, for under $50.

 

This town is not going to be like that, I’m afraid.

 

Based on having been spoiled in Alberta, I assumed I could continue to pick up whatever I might need, for a reasonable price.  So far, however, there has been only one fruit stand in evidence, and when Hubby and I dropped by to check it out, the quoted prices were nuts ($85 for a 20-pound case of sweet cherries, $60 for a case of nectarines).  In addition, more than half of the fruit in the trays had little store stickers on them, indicating they had come from Washington, California, and Chile.  So much for fresh BC fruit.

 

We thought maybe the farmer’s market would be a little better, and we went there today, since we happened to be in town on market day.  We were hoping to find some reasonably-priced raspberries, as canned raspberries are a staple around here.  The one fella who had brought raspberries had already sold out, and anyways, the prices were not all that reasonable – $5 for about a pint.  We’re used to paying $10 at a U-pick for a gallon bucket.

 

We wandered around the market, and were generally really disappointed.  Outside of the guy who was out of raspberries, there was a table that had two onions and two pints of red currants, a few tables selling jams and pickles, three tables of baking, a seller offering various sausages and meat, and a table full of green and yellow wax beans.  Where were the new potatoes?  The snap peas?  The saskatoon berries?  We have been harvesting all of these here at the Acreage.  I know for a fact that summer squash and salad greens and radishes and dill are all ready right now, as well as basil, strawberries, sunflowers, baby beets, and who-knows-what-else…all of these things should, in theory, be on the tables at that market.  This town is at least two or three times the size of the Alberta town where our little fruit stand was, and all of these things would be on offer at that farmer’s market right now, along with cucumbers, hothouse tomatoes and peppers, flower bunches, stone-oven-baked fresh bread, local fruit wines, freshwater fish, and BC fruit.

 

Maybe next year, we’ll plant a bigger garden and add some variety to that sad little market.  I am really worried about how we are going to source local fruit and veggies that we haven’t grown for ourselves.  I think our corn, and maybe also our cukes and squashes went in too late to bear in the short season we have, and outside of wildcrafted berries, we don’t have any fruit here at the Acreage at all.  I guess we could buy stuff from the Co-op or Safeway, but I hate to spend that kind of money and see it all go to the middlemen, rather than the farmers.   Not a happy camper, here…

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The Good:

There were some peas in the garden at just the perfect stage of ripeness.  Not enough for much more than snacking…yet…but boy, were they tasty.  I went out to supervise Hubby weeding – you know, keep him company for awhile, and ooh and aah over the progress he had made, which was pretty significant.  Overall this summer, the weeds have been winning most of the time, but when we bushwack our way back down to dirt in any given row, we keep discovering that the vegetables are still there, and doing fine.  After getting through the weeds, Hubby thinned the beets, and the bundle of greens was big enough to be a side dish for a meal.  While we were at it, we dug up a couple of potato plants, just to see what was under there, and were pleased to find big healthy potatoes, ready to be cooked up into lunch.  I pulled up a couple of immature onions, and went inside to make something to eat…

Recipe:  Creamy Dilled Potatoes

12 small potatoes (or 3 or 4 big ones), cut into bite-sized chunks

2 immature garden onions (or 1/2 of a regular white onion, or a good handful of green onions)

a little butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp dried dill

salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes in a little salted water water until tender.  While the potatoes are cooking, chop the white part of the onion and fry in butter until just translucent.  Chop the green part of the onion and add that, too, once the white is mostly cooked.   add the milk and heavy cream (or just add a cup of light cream – we happened to have heavy cream around, about to go off, and I did not want to waste it), and the dill, salt, and pepper.  When to potatoes are done cooking, drain the water, then put them back in the pot and add the cream sauce.  Simmer briefly and serve.  We had ours with steamed beet greens with a bit of butter and lemon.  This is very rich, and would probably be best as a side dish with a lighter meal like grilled chicken and steamed veg, but we liked it just fine as the main course, too!

The Bad:

Last weekend, Hubby found one of the chickens in the coop, laying on her side.  She was not in any distress, but seemed to be unable to get up.  We put her in a box with a bit of straw for bedding, and brought her into the porch.  She ate and drank happily enough, and seemed fine, except for an inability to stand.  After five days, she was no better at all, and seemed weaker and in some discomfort from laying on her side all the time – some of her feathers were getting loose, and she just did not look well at all.

I told Hubby that I would not participate in anything that involved blood until after my morning coffee, so he sharpened the axe and took the chicken out to the woods at 7am and dealt with it by himself.  She has joined the chicks in the little cemetery in the woods, as we don’t know what sort of bug made her paralyzed like that, and didn’t really want to eat sick chicken.   Hubby said the experience was “gruesome”, but he thinks slaughter time will go fine.  I am proud of him – he has never killed anything bigger than a mosquito before, but he was able to do the humane thing, and made a clean kill.

The Dessert:

Last week, I was experimenting with making candied peel, and tried making candied ginger while I was at it.  A few years ago, Mom had this lovely box of chocolates that had candied ginger in the centres, and taste-testing my home-made candied ginger reminded me of that for some reason.  I had a chunk of Bernard Callebeaut dark chocolate in the pantry, bought for some long-forgotten recipe that I failed to get around to, so I broke out the candy molds and the double boiler.  I made half with the candied ginger, but Hubby is not a big ginger guy, so at his request, I filled the other half with dollops of saskatoon berry jam that I made earlier this week.  Both types were fantastic, but they look exactly the same, so we have to be careful which end of the mold each chocolate comes from, lest Hubby get a nasty surprise!

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…as in the weather has been hot.  Damn hot.  And surprisingly humid, for a part of the world that normally sees around 16 inches of precipitation…annually.   While it is not as hot as, say, Cairo (37), or Seville (38), or even Atlanta (34) or Houston (33), the temperatures have been up there, lately.  Today, our thermometer read 30 degrees for most of the day, and Environment Canada indicated that our humidity was around 50%, adding at least five degrees to the “feels like” temperature.

 

Our house, being of late-50’s vintage, and having never even had the kitchen linoleum updated, let alone the climate control system, has no air conditioning.  I actually don’t mind this too much, since a/c always makes me feel sick, with a scratchy sore throat and a headache.  Even though Hubby’s car has air, we normally just roll down the windows.  We’re such Luddites…

 

Since the heat effectively grounds the mosquitoes, Hubby says he does not mind it at all, and he has been out working in the garden the last couple of days.  This afternoon, I took him out a big ole bottle of homemade iced tea, to help stave off heat exhaustion.  I stayed to supervise the weeding for awhile, and  got myself a bit of a sunburn…unusual, considering the tan I have acquired this year – one of the better ones I have had since I came back from North Africa.  Turns out, one of the latest meds has photosensitivity as a side effect, I (somewhat belatedly) discovered.

 

While I was in North Africa, I made a bunch of discoveries about coping with heat.  I got so good at it that even the locals in Aswan in southern Egypt shook their heads and called me crazy when I set out on a ten kilometer uphill walk on a 45 degree day.  I was fine, I might add, though I drank over 5 liters of water in just under 6 hours.  What I discovered is that salt, sugar, and caffeine are your friends.   The salt replaces what you sweat out…it may sound counter-intuitive, but you need salt in your system to keep your cells hydrated.  The caffeine helps with that droopy feeling you get when you are too warm – it constricts your blood vessels, which tend to relax in the heat and slow your circulation, making you feel sluggish.  The sugar is a quick energy boost when your body is too hot to put much effort into real digestion.  Then, you need water.  Lots and lots of pure water.  Liters of it, consumed a sip here and a swallow there, before you actually feel thirsty, because in real heat, by the time you feel really thirsty, you will have a hard time getting enough water in you to compensate for what you are losing in sweat.

 

Another trick is to hold your hands in cold water up to the wrists, or soak your feet.

 

Having never lived in a house with air conditioning, I have also learned tricks to stay cool enough to sleep.  First and foremost, don’t add to your misery by running the dryer, or cooking on the stove.  Those ones are obvious, but I have also found that running a computer can heat up a room in an awful hurry.  Though we don’t have a TV or video game system or big stereo, I would guess that they would also throw off a significant amount of heat.  Pay attention to what is heating up the room, as this can add five or ten degrees, maybe more, and ten degrees can be the difference between a sweaty night of tossing and turning, and an acceptable snooze.

 

Mom always closed all of the windows and blinds first thing in the morning, then opened everything back up in the evening to catch the cool breezes and cool the house.  We don’t have blinds on most of the windows here, yet, and the sheer curtains in the living room don’t do much to keep out the light or heat, so we take a different tactic.  We keep windows on the cool sides of the house (west and north in the morning, east in the evening) open to catch whatever breeze we can, but cover the windows as best we can (even using blankets) when the sun hits them.  In the hottest part of the day today, the house was substantially cooler inside than out, and not muggy at all.

 

We feed the dogs ice cubes and keep their water dish as cool as possible, as our poor husky is really not built for summer temperatures.  The cats, on the other hand, get all offended that I have blocked off all of their sunbeams.  Go figure.

 

Someday I will build myself a summer kitchen, or at least acquire a barbeque, but in the meantime, meals have been along the lines of ricotta and crackers, or milk-and-frozen-fruit smoothies, or veggies and dip.  Ice cream with canned fruit has been a lunchtime favorite lately, and I have been known to snack on frozen strawberries.  I suppose we could do sandwiches, if we had any luncheon meat, but neither of us has really been interested in sitting down for a ‘proper’ meal.  Tomorrow, when it is cooler (the weatherman is calling for rain), I will make up more ricotta, and do any other cooking that might be necessary, like pasteurizing milk and canning up all of the saskatoon berries Hubby picked for me earlier this week.  You have to plan ahead for this stuff.

 

Come bedtime, if it is still too warm inside, and there is no breeze (like tonight) even with all the windows open and the ceiling fan in the living room going full blast, I make a point of going to bed with wet hair.  Even a brief duck through the shower (or, in my case, a bucket of cool water poured over my head) can cool you down substantially.  I also wipe my arms and face with a damp cloth just before laying down.  If it is really hot, I wet a dish towel, then wring it out until it is just damp, and use that instead of a sheet.  Of course, this only works if the humidity is low (which is usually in in Saskatchewan), but as the water evaporates, it cools the towel (and me), which is sometimes the last little bit of cooling I need to get to sleep…

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Every Farm Needs…Alpacas?

Hiccup:

 

 

…and Obsidian:

 

 

 

They’re pretty cute…

 

 

We could have gotten a donkey or a wether (fixed boy goat) to keep our buck company when we separate him from the girls, but the alpacas were about the same price, and this way, we’ll get wool as well as companionship…

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There is a concept in permaculture, in which you re-frame a pest or a nuisance into a resource to be used.  As in, here at the Acreage, we don’t have too many mosquitoes…we have not enough chickens.  Or, rather, chickens in the wrong places.  After thinking for awhile about the million billion trillion mosquitoes in the barn, we decided to try putting some chickens in with the goats.

 

After milking and feeding were done, Hubby guarded the chicken coop door, while I grabbed ten chickens at random, and heaved them over the Ladies’ stall door.  The goats immediately started following the chickens around, wanting to check out these new creatures, chasing them all over the stall.  We had ten very put out chickens for about five minutes, but once the goats were over their curiosity, the chickens got down to mosquito eating.  They were very efficient – so efficient that they cleared the stall of mosquitoes, including pecking several right off the goats!

 

We opened the Ladies’ door to the goat yard, admitting another flood of bugs, and retreated to the house to deal with the milk.  By evening chores, we had two goats and ten chickens, all bunched together in the yard, hanging out.  Milking was much less of an ordeal than it has been recently – I only got bit twice, and Saffron was hardly bothered at all.  Now, we are trying to figure out how to give the chickens access to the rest of the barn without letting them up on the hay stack – goats are extremely picky eaters, and I don’t want to run the risk of the chickens pooping on the goat hay and ruining it.  What I would really like to do is free-range the lot of them, but we’ve seen a red fox in the yard, within twenty feet of the house, twice in the last three days, so I somehow doubt the chickens would last long outside of the fence.  Oh, well, at least the bug problem is somewhat solved…

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Saskatchewan is apparently having a record year for bugs, particularly mosquitoes.  That is pretty impressive in a province where mosquitoes are jokingly referred to as the provincial bird.   It contributes to a high level of general misery here on the Acreage, as every mammal on the place is being mobbed constantly.  The barn cats go, quite literally, crazy, rolling around on the hay pile, trying to scratch the bugs off.  The dogs do their business, and make a beeline back to the house, where they retreat to the living room to scratch at their poor bug-bitten snouts with their front paws.

 

The mosquitoes bother poor Saffron the goat so much that milk production goes substantially down on calm-ish, damp-ish mild days like we have had lately – she is so busy trying to get the mosquitoes off that she hardly touches her grain, and there is the additional challenge of trying to keep her from putting a foot in the milk bucket when I am trying to milk, and she is trying to kick the mosquitoes off her udder.

 

The only critters not bothered by the mosquito invasion are the chickens.  They eat them.  Hubby does not mind the chicken part of the barn chores at all right now…the coop is one of the only respites on this whole place, right at the moment.  He hangs out and watches the birds eat the bugs, while poor Saffron and I get eaten alive at the milking stand.  We need to get those chickens free-ranging, but the fox that keeps trotting across our back lawn has really been discouraging us from letting the birds out without a good, strong fence.

 

Hubby, who is not overly fond of the heat, has been wishing for 30+ degree days, just so that he can get into the garden to do some weeding.  Even dripping with the highest-percentage DEET formulations we can find, we are just moving meals for the plague of bugs around here.  On hot days, they go to ground for awhile, and we can at least move somewhat freely around the mowed parts of the Acreage.

 

Mosquitoes love the bush and tall grass, so even though I can see ripe Saskatoon berries in the forest, we cannot reasonably pick any of them.  I braved the forest for about four minutes a couple of days ago, and despite being mid-day and 30 degrees, and me being quite literally dripping with bug spray, I was chased out before I even got to the berry bush I was trying to pick.  The problem is the thick undergrowth and chest-high grass where the bugs find shelter.   There are so many stray branches and lumps and bumps and occasional rocks on the ground that it is impossible to mow anywhere near the forest, so the grass has really gotten out of hand.

 

After brainstorming for awhile, we decided to buy a scythe.

 

I know, I know, most normal people would get a weed whacker.  Electric is not an option, though, and gas powered anything is a real pain in the butt out here, as we are half an hour from a gas station, and always seem to forget to fill the jerry can when we are in town.  These delicate machines seem to break on me with alarming regularity, and they are expensive!  I reasoned that a scythe, while not exactly cheap, should require only minimal repair over its lifetime, like, say, tightening a bolt on one of the handles, or sharpening the blade.  The input, muscle power, is plentiful around here, unlike gasoline at $1.20 per litre.  I hate the noise of the mower (I can’t stand the vacuum, either), so a weed whacker would just be one more annoyance, whereas the swish-swish of a scythe is actually kind of pleasant.  Once my back heals up, there is a fair chance I will even do some of the grass cutting, a duty that  generally falls to Hubby just because I hate the noise of the lawnmower so much.

 

The other bonus is that the scythe goes through chest high grass quite nicely, and leaves nice, neat piles of greenery that are easy to scoop up and dump in the goat troughs.  The goats love it.  We may even try cutting the back pasture and leaving it to dry for hay…why not, if it’s free?  After just a few minutes’ practice, I can see that Hubby will be able to really motor with that thing – it might even be faster than a lawnmower, at least in the really tall grass.  The big trick will be keeping Molly the barn cat out of swinging range…

 

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We have started weaning Tuscan, the baby buckling goat.   Last week, we began feeding him his milk out of a bucket, which was actually a lot easier and less messy than I had anticipated…I got him sucking on the nipple (without attaching it to his bottle), and slowly lowered it into the milk in the bucket, until he was sucking up milk, rather than sucking on the nipple.  It only took about three tries before he caught on.   If I had realized it was going to be that easy, I would have gotten him on the bucket a long time ago, as it is much easier to fill and clean than the bottle was.

This week, I am substituting water for milk at the morning feeding, and offering him a larger portion of goat ration.  Goat ration is mysterious stuff that comes from the Co-op in bags, looks like little pellets, and presumably involves grain at some point in its manufacture.  I actually intend to blend my own goat feed at some point, but for now, the Co-op feed is easy and it is cheap enough, and we know it provides appropriate nutrition to Saffron (the milker) and the growing babies.

We have been using Saffron’s milk to feed the little guy, as she has plenty for him, plus a bit left over for us.  We pasteurize it before feeding it to Tuscan, as there are some nasty goat diseases that are passed through milk, and they are sort of like goat AIDS – hard to test conclusively for.  Most breeders take the babies from their mothers immediately, and only feed pasteurized milk, which is the only known effective prevention tactic.  Our breeder had Tuscan on this CAE prevention program, so we continued it here.

Anyhow, with Tuscan being given half as much milk as before, suddenly we have LOTS in the fridge.  Lots and lots of nice rich milk, that really should be used up, instead of allowed to go sour.  We’ve been experimenting with making yogurt, but the results have been…goaty.  I have been quite disappointed with this, as I have eaten a lot of truly delightful goat milk yogurt, and I can’t figure out what I am doing wrong.  I have narrowed it down to three possibilities:  wrong kind of goat (apparently they have different levels of goaty-ness in the milk), wrong starter culture (I have just been using yogurt from the store), or improper handling (too warm, or for too long).  In the meantime, the dogs have been eating lots of yogurt, which is lucky for them, but sucks for us.

Being somewhat sick of failed yogurt experiments, I decided to try a simple soft cheese.  Most cheese making requires some fairly specialized stuff – in particular, rennet (to make the milk coagulate), and bacterial starters (to give it real flavor).  With our crazy fridge full of milk, I went online and ordered a bunch of cheese making supplies, but they won’t arrive for another week or two.  In the meantime, I pulled the cheese making book down from the bookshelf, and was flipping idly through the pages, and discovered that not all cheese requires starters or rennet – some just need a gallon or two of milk and some lemon juice or vinegar.  Ricotta is traditionally made from the whey left over from making other cheeses, but can be made with whole milk…Yay!

I got out the stock pot, and got going.  Here is the recipe I used:

Whole Goat Milk Ricotta:

1 gallon of fresh goat milk

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tsp kosher (or pickling) salt

Bring the milk to 206 degrees (Fahrenheit).  It is not supposed to boil, but mine did, and although the cheese is a bit firmer (rubberier) than I would have expected, I still got cheese, so I am not too worried about it.  Add the apple cider vinegar, and stir it in.  In a few seconds, you will begin to see the milk curdle (form lumps) and settle out of the whey (leftover liquid).  keep stirring until the whey is quite clear.  Let the mixture sit for a few minutes (five or so), then pour it through a strainer lined with cheesecloth (or a clean dish towel…whatever works).  Let drain for 20 minutes (give or take.  I forgot about mine and left it for longer than that).  Stir in the salt when breaking up the curds for storage.  Keep refrigerated.

I additionally split the curds into two different piles – one for keeping plain, and a second bunch that I sprinkled about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning over.  The herbed ricotta is fantastic on crackers, and has been my dinner two nights in a row!

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