Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On oatmeal chocolate chip coconut cookies

As we share an after-lunch cookie.
My three-year old, "do cookies grow in the garden?"
Me, "no, only good things grow in the garden. Cookies are not one of them." The dialogue I share with my toddler is growing most insightful.
I suppose if we made our own butter, honey, grapes (for raisins) and oats, this would be easier. Chocolate, coconut, flour, and leavening are something else altogether. I shall strive to snack more locally.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Although I raised a vegetable garden in 2006, these are all first-time major additions to our homestead.

  • planted our first organic vegetable and herb garden including
  • perennial starts of asparagus, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries
  • built a chicken coop and added laying hens
  • added red wiggler composting worms
  • rhubarb crowns planted
  • purchased two Nigerian Dwarf milking goats
  • built a shed for the goats
  • planted fall garlic
  • we added two cold hardy dwarf fruit trees to the front yard, one peach and one plum
  • and two elderberries
  • planted hops rhizomes
  • raised our own laying hens
  • first goat kids born
  • identified maple trees on property for tapping and syrup production
  • planted cranberry bushes and one concord grape on an arbor built in'09
  • shared our garden with our first CSA member
  • purchased bees and hive
  • raised and slaughtered two groups of meat chickens, Cornish cross and Red Ranger
  • added a milking room and kidding stall to our goat house
  • sold two doe kid goats
  • purchased buck goat as a kid
  • butchered a spring lamb
  • harvested and processed acorns
  • invested in land
  • ramped up hard cider production
Changes/considerations for 2011 additions
  • one fall raised group of Red Rangers on pasture
  • add two heritage breed piglets to make use of whey and acorns
  • build a root cellar for aging cheese and storing fall harvest
  • try to produce a brie/Camembert and waxed Gouda cheese from goat's milk
  • begin a small orchard on additional acreage
  • process two lambs
  • give bees another try
  • Meyer lemon trees in pot
  • begin an outdoor mushroom patch
  • add meat rabbits or begin hunting squirrel

Monday, January 17, 2011

Catching some sun on the coldest day of the year, so far

We were at -10 degrees F this morning, but this afternoon's sun brought everyone outside to warm up. During the fall, these goats build a layer of fine wool under their hair, and on the coldest days they fluff it all out giving them several inches of insulation.
so dignified...

I thought getting my toddler to hold still for a photo was difficult, but these girls are impossible

"Give us a kiss!" Our boy is already looking forward to next fall.

These girls are our entertainment in the dark long days of winter. Their personalities come through well in these photos. Cordial is always saying, "I'm beautiful, how was that shot?".

It's too tempting not to add dialogue to these photos. Ostara (left) and Trillium (right) are number 1 and 2 in the herd and they go at each other on a regular basis. Here they are sulking. Cordial (bottom left) is trying to get in the picture. Constance (middle) couldn't care less, as usual.

Ostara and Trillium are sparring here. Just in case anyone forget who was number one.

Glory Days is looking more like Elvis. He is such a charmer with the hair to match his personality.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Our first garden

We began our first backyard garden in May of 2007. It was my highest priority and took precedence over most everything. In fact, I started seeds using fluorescent lighting hung from random things such as kitchen chairs in our old upstairs apartment months before closing on our house. We ordered asparagus crowns, raspberry canes, blueberry bushes, and strawberry plants well before our big move into the first home we've ever owned. My husband had to talk very fast to keep me from also buying 25 chicks in advance of our transition.

Most people would spend their first months in a new home refurbishing and painting to get it the way they wanted. Instead, my husband and I were cutting trees and tearing out beach roots to make a modest area for planting. We worked outside despite the spring rain through exhaustion until dark most days to get a space ready for our garden. I was five months pregnant and this can only be described as intense outdoor nesting.

I still remember the look on the cashier's face when I rolled into the heavy equipment dealer to buy a chainsaw, pregnant belly protruding. He comically asked if I wanted to try it out...give it a spin. Oh how I wanted to, but kept my enthusiasm in check and declined his suggestion. We hadn't even bothered to plug in the TV, we were so busy. After a long day, my husband would sit in the floor, having no furniture, and I would play piano for our entertainment. It was a most unusual and enjoyable time in our lives.

To describe our freshly cleared garden plot as anything but sand with a layer of rotted leaves on top would be very generous. I can't really call what we started out with as soil, but we did a "soil" test and found most nutrients lacking and not surprisingly an acidic pH from all the leaves. This was good enough for the strawberries and raspberries, which are very accommodating and it was nearly suitable for the blueberries. The starting material did not dampen our enthusiasm and against better judgment we planted tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, peas, potatoes and so on. We discovered with that season how much work we would need to do in order to get things to grow and that it would take years to convert our plot into a productive kitchen garden.

Since then we have piled every last piece of goat poo and chicken bedding on top along with worm casings from our red wigglers and amendments from our compost pile. Every year our soil looks better and our plants show their appreciation through their productivity. In retrospect, it amazes me that we grew anything at all in 2007, but there are some things (like kale) that do well regardless of what they are given. Aside from fertilization, we have learned to use row covers (Agribon) for insect control and season extension. We also dutifully rotate the beds and stick to what we know will grow in our short and wet season.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My philosophy on food

I came across a NYTimes article this morning that nearly sums up my philosophy on food. Just wanted to share it...more later on the subject.

2011 kid reservation season is closed

Thank you for the wonderful response! We have closed our reservation list for the 2011 season with four interested parties. Depending on how our girls do with kidding, we may have more kids available than predicted. If you would like to be contacted this April, in case we have extra babies, please let me know and I will begin a wait-and-see list with no more than two names. We are especially excited to see what this season will bring and to find loving homes for our unborn wonders. Picture of 2010 doe kids from Ostara

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How I came to be a farmer.

Becoming a mom was my graceful exit from a career spiral down spin. After finishing my graduate work in immunology, I began a postdoctoral position in a laboratory that studied type 2 diabetes. It seemed like a good transition and a field with promising funding. I was not incorrect, considering the latest statistics on obesity and diabetes. However, I was extremely burned-out having spent six years working more than 60 hours a week on a project that was abandoned by my advisor, who was subsequently let-go by the university department. Long sad pathetic story that I will spare you.

My new position had promise but I did not. I kept coming back around to a central hypothesis, which was that most people must live where they can find work only to spend everything they make in order to live where they can find work. I was living in central MA, where living expenses are very high and postdoctoral wages are very low. My net at the end of the day was a loss. It was intended to be an investment in my career that didn't pan out. This was about the same time that Katrina came tearing through the gulf and everything I read on the NYTimes spelled disaster.

Instead of doing my job I was reading about cheesemaking and what Vermont, our neighbor to the north, had to offer on the subject. I also read about gardening and mushroom-growing. I felt isolated in my dependency on a system that could fail. I wanted to be independent enough to grow my food except that I lived in an apartment. We contributed a garden to our landlord's backyard and joined a CSA. I bought a pressure-canner and tried to teach myself how to cook with vegetables that I didn't recognize. It was enough for the time-being.

I resigned my position early to begin a cheesemaking internship in Middlebury, Vermont. It was my salvation. During my last days on the job I was so jaded that I proselytized about how one could do more for people by growing an organic garden and sharing it than by working in a laboratory to find a "cure" for a preventable disease.

My internship brought exhaustion at 12 hour days. I would wake in the middle of night unable to clench a fist from the manual labor, but I felt alive and accomplished for the first time in my working career. I realized that the only way to run a profitable cheesemaking operation was to have at least three unpaid laborers at all times. My conclusion has been that if I grow the food, make the cheese and cook the meals while spending the remainder of my time caring for and raising my children at home, everyone benefits. I get to have my hobbies, my family has nutritious food, my children have their mom at home, and my husband has his role as bread-winner. My personal goal is to reduce our living expenses to a level that would offset the earnings from any job I would be eligible for, in the long-run preparing us for a low-cost and thus early retirement. Instead of beginning my own artisan cheesemaking operation, I am satisfied by showing others how easy a process it truly is and encouraging them to provide for themselves in a similar manner. This is my utopia.