Monday, March 26, 2012

root cellar

I have loved old fashioned root cellars for years and have dreamed about having one for just as long.  Root cellars are perfect for storing many types of garden crops to last through the winter, and since ancient times man knew that for foods to last a long time they had to stay cool and dark.  Over the last few years we began to talk more about building one, and last summer finally made a small step forward.  We had a back hoe out here to remove stumps from land we cleared behind the vegetable garden.  When large rocks were unearthed they gathered and placed them in a pile where the root cellar will go.   I also asked my husband to dig into the East facing hillside, I knew we couldn't go too far into the hill because he has to build a framework to pour the concrete, and then it then will be covered on the top and sides with soil. I'm glad we have step one complete. 

It's been fun gathering ideas on pinterest for us to know what we want to do before we begin.  I like the round entry door in the the photo above, and yet I would want it faced in stone like the one at the top, only with the rock from our own land.  The entry door will be thick wood with large hinges.  I'm also researching temperatures and humidity factors for a cheese cave.  It may need it's own separate room inside.  All four of these pictures from pinterest are on my site.  I just put the link on the sidebar today, they're under my root cellar board and you will find the actual website and articles where these pictures came from.

Shelves lined with summers bounty and the roots and fruits of the garden lasting through til Spring, this inspires me to keep the dream alive.  How fun to walk on a short trail from the house to the cellar and emerge with a basket of fresh food from the earth. 

I went out this morning and took a picture of the spot where we're planning for our root cellar to go. It's close to both the house and the garden.  This summer we'll gather more rocks and do some landscaping around it.  But it won't be built this summer, we need a goat barn first and that will be a summer and fall project.  For now I'm just dreaming on a rainy day, following 3 of the most beautiful days we've had since early February.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Equinox ~ flowers, preserves, and something new

Spring officially started at a little after one am today, we still have snow on the ground, and yet the robins have begun their spring morning melodies in earnest.  This is the vernal equinox, where you can supposedly balance an egg on end, I tried it, with no luck, maybe it only works at the exact time, which was the middle of the night for me.  This is the day when night and day are almost equal and tomorrow we'll begin to have more day than night. 

It's also the time of year to wake up and feel like growing again after winter's reprieve.  I'll be back to work at the end of this month 2 days a week, and I'm looking forward to the outdoor work of Spring after the long dark winter.  It's the time of year I'll be getting the vegetable garden up and going, and all the flower beds ammended.  Spending time outdoors working the soil in the fresh spring air is a yearly ritual I enjoy and look forward to.  

Can you believe I found the flowers in the photo above yesterday?  Weekday mornings I take my daughter to the bus stop at 7 am, it's at the end of our dirt road, Monday is also trash pick up day.  Set off to the side of the trash on the row of mailboxes sat this pot of flowers looking all cold and ratty, I knew someone had just thrown it out when it didn't look good anymore.  I picked it up and lovingly said "you need to come home with me, and  I'll clean you all up and get you warm".  Well, I sure was rewarded with the flowers recovering beautifully as you can see!  Just looking at them yesterday and today put a smile in my heart and a silent thank you for a Spring surprise! 

In other farm news, the baby bunnies have been all warm inside with me bringing the mother in for feedings.  I tried to have them outside but the second night lost another one.  Too cold for them, lesson learned never breed for the does to give birth in March.  We've been enjoying cuddling with the 3 baby bunnies and their mom Serendipity is loving all the attention too.  She's a great mother and I am proud of her, we'll be acclimating the kits over the next couple weeks to living outside.  I've been taking pictures and will do a separate rabbit post with their progress.  They are so cute and fluffy.

Last Saturday and Sunday it snowed all day so I had some time to pull out berries from the freezer and use some fruit I had that needed using up to make preserves.  I made 16 jars of strawberry, red current, pear/ginger and pineapple. I used the low sugar pectin because I still like to see and taste the fruit.  The red current is a jelly and I strained it to remove the seeds.  Last week I also got my dehydrator going with some apples, bananas, and pineapple,  we all love to stop by and lift the lid to sample them as they dry.  

So pretty, glimmering in the sun, I couldn't resist I had to open the strawberry
and pineapple and try some, and of course I added a dollop of fresh chevre...yum! 
I've discovered after several batches now that the best chevre cheese comes from the freshest buttermilk with a delicious aroma itself.  Now I'm making the buttermilk fresh the night before I make the chevre, so it's ready at the same time, then I add the fresh strained milk warm from the goat and mix in a half cup of buttermilk, and the rennet.  I let it sit covered overnight and strain it the next day, it takes about 7 or 8 hours to fully strain. I love the freshness, and it's a cheese you can eat the next day. 

Something new I've discovered is Pinterest, I kept wondering what it was all about and never looked further.  Well last week I went onto another bloggers Pinterest site and was thrilled to find it.  Of course I saw the value of it right away, and set up an account.  Now I have all sorts of boards and pins and neat stuff I want to look at further and some new things to try.  I'll be sharing it on my blog soon with the little logo where you can go on to see what I like.  I've found that it's especially useful for me to categorize what I like to help with areas in my home that I'm going to be working on.  So you may hear about my decorating forays, this is not my specialty but is something I'm working on.  The results are that I've been rearranging and decorating and nesting, using what I have with a fresh eye.  I've also been looking up stuff like root cellars, cheese cellars, pizza/ bread wood fired ovens, goats, chickens, orchards, cheese, etc.  It's addicting so I have to be careful of my time, kind of like blogging I have to monitor my time. 

There's lot's going on around here in the early Spring.  Along with decorating and Pinterest, I planted several fruit and nut trees last week.  Yesterday I gave Joon a dose of Selenium and Vitamin E, she's due to kid around the first of May.   I felt her babies kicking for the first time and now she's getting big, I'm thinking she'll have twins or triplets.   The goat fence with the new large pasture connecting the barn is a couple days away from completion.  My children are all growing and doing well in school, Jason has a car now and is driving and he's looking for a job.  Track starts for Tessa soon, and Kaley has been drawing some great pictures and reading some fun books. The puppies are both growing and learning everyday and are constant companions that make me smile and laugh all the time.  I'm thankful it's officially Spring!  Now if we can just have a few nice sunny days in a row.

Happy Spring!

Have you been on Pinterest?  What do you like about it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

seed starts ~ overlooking the garden in snow

The earliest vegetable seeds are started under lights and have warm roots as they sit overlooking the snow covered garden below.  It snowed again yesterday and most of this morning.  We've  had snow on the ground now for a month, except for the 2 days the snow all melted and came back the very next day. It's nice to know the vegetable garden is already started. This is my first year using lights, every other year I have just set the seeds by the windows with heat underneath.  We have a couple of radiator style heaters that I place under a heavy duty plastic mesh table covered in a sheet so the heat can be distributed equally, I have the heater on low and it's enough to keep the soil warm.


The seeds have all come up, I planted several different types each of tomato, broccoli, kale, and cabbage, they will be planted out in early to mid April, except the tomatoes which will stay in the warmth for an additional month then be put into a cold frame for a few weeks. The  celeriac and asparagus took the longest to emerge.  I also planted some lupine, delphinium, zinnia, and portulaca flower seeds.  The first of April I'll start my warm weather seeds that I'll plant out around the middle of May.  We're at around twelve hundred feet above sea level and are about 2 to 3 weeks later than the valley below us, we have snow right now and if I drive just a short ways down our hill there is no snow at all.  

A reader named Cheryl at Misty Meadows asked me a question about the lights and wondered if I had any tips.  Here's a few tips from what I've learned.  I simply have 2 flourescent bulbs in a standard flourescent light case, the lights are hung from the ceiling close to the starts, as they grow I'll move the lights higher, the better bulbs to buy would be full spectrum light bulbs.  I turn the lights on in the morning and off in the evening when I go to bed, so they're getting plenty of light.  I'll be transplanting the seedlings into their own pots as soon as they have 2 leaves.  These little seedlings will expand on my windowsill and I'll add another table, one without heat.  Most seeds are ready to plant out after 6-8 weeks and need a hardening off period, a couple of hours per day, and increasing the time over a week.  Then they go into the cold frame, and then are planted out in the garden.  It's a process of them growing up and getting strong enough to handle being planted out early in the garden.

I sure am looking forward to seeing the sun again and feeling it's warmth! 

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I never want to live without fresh goat chevre in my life!!!  The first batch is gone, I told everyone they better eat some before I eat it all.   From the first finger dipped into it, I closed my eyes and said yum, this is sooo good!  Why did I wait so long to get started making cheese!  Now that I'm addicted, I need more milk.  Once you have the goats milk, the possibilities with cheese are endless, this is the whole reason we end up needing more does in milk.  Over the last week as I milked Zolena, I told her about all the cheeses I'm making with her milk, how wonderful they are, and how thankful I am to her.  When you milk a goat everyday you create a special bond of love and respect.  Next year at this time hopefully she'll be getting ready to kid, because I'd love for her to have a doeling, so we can keep one to have another spirit like hers and another good milker like her. 

How did I eat the chevre, that was kind of like cream frache, or thick whipped cream.  I had it on a plate with strawberry preserves, eaten like dessert, on bread, on top of eggs, a dollop on top of chocolate pudding, and more with waffles and strawberry preserves.  I went to bed with a very full tummy and said, "Can I eat too much chevre?"

The mozzarella I made is delicious too, and the cottage cheese is good as well, I think I might have cooked the curds a little bit long, because they're kind of hard, but the overall taste and texture is wonderful.  I've been going onto other cheese sites and learning, so you will now get to hear all about my newest obsession... cheesemaking!!  Deep down inside I always knew I wanted to make cheese, and about 5 years ago I had a dream of me in another time, standing under a large old apple tree in a peasant dress with a child in my arms, and one at my feet.  Cows were in the distance grazing in lush pasture, and I had a milking parlor in the barn with an adjacent room that had shelves lined with huge wheels of cheese, cheeses that I had made. I have thought about this dream often as it always makes me feel good. 

An authentic cheese cave would be a dream come true!  Alas, the reality as my husband likes to point out is that we'll have to create an environment that duplicates the humidity and temperature and do it less expensively than excavating a hillside and lining it with rock and creating a thick wood slab door with big hinges... that will be down the road.  We're planning a root cellar, and are talking about the idea of creating an area that can double as a root cellar/ cheese cave.  We actually did have a back hoe out here last year and did phase one of the root cellar, excavating into the north side of a hill and placing all the extra large rocks that we find on our property whenever we dig deep, or do ground work.  It's amazing the size of the rocks underground, rocks are good building materials, and should always be put to use.

To create a temporary cheese cellar for aging cheeses many people use an old refrigerator, and place a pan of water in the bottom to keep the humidity up. The temperature needs to be kept around 55- 60 degrees, and I'll need a thermometer that gives both the temperature and the humidity.  So to proceed with aged cheeses I'm looking to get an old refrigerator...vintage, and will have to buy a special thermometer.  This will all come over the summer when we have more milk.  For now I'm happy to be learning all about making the simpler cheeses.  I need to get a few more starters from Hoegger's, one for feta, and another for stilton cheese.

Today, my husband who is always thinking ahead about what we need, went and picked up a sub zero refrigerator in perfect condition that he bought from a man who does remodels.  He had this refrigerator advertised on craigslist and it said make an offer, so he emailed him a low offer of a hundred dollars, as he did so he looked at me and said "you never know unless you ask".  They wanted it gone and said come and get it for one hundred fifty... so he went right away!!  He told me new these refrigerators are several thousand dollars, and as I cleaned it today I couldn't believe how nice it is, and how big it is compared to my other one.  We needed another refrigerator for the milk, cheese and eggs, and will use our old one for this, the new one we'll use for everyday food.  It's amazing to me the timing and blessing of it all, so now I'll have plenty of room to spread out with my food and to be able to see everything and not have it crowded.  I have both of them side by side.  Happiness!

On Wednesday and Thursday we had a couple of nice days with no rain, I pruned most of the berry bushes, all the espaliers, and most of the apple trees.  I'll be writing more about them soon.  It rained all day yesterday, and all night here, finally the snow is gone after many weeks on the ground for us. The robins arrived back on February 4th this year, so now mornings around here are filled with the beautiful sounds of them singing.  I love the sound of the robins singing in the Spring!

Friday, March 9, 2012

breedings by the moon

One and two day old nubians at My Enchanted Acres Farm
This is what we're hoping for five months from now! Cute kids from Jersey.  We went back for the fourth time to get Jersey bred, the last 3 breeding's haven't taken, well two haven't taken, one she had just gone out of heat so wouldn't stand for him, and the two before didn't take.  Kim and Tony, owners of My Enchanted Acres, and the original breeder where Jersey was born, own 40 plus nubians, and have bred them for over twenty years, said this has been a weird year for breeding's with the weather and other factors.  So this time around we tried another buck, his name is Reign, and his genetics are real dairy, which is what we're looking for, he also has a band around his middle kind of like a belted galloway, so is unique looking.  This time around, she also gave Jersey a shot to help her egg burst to aid with fertilization, this will be our last chance this year, so I'm staying hopeful.  Jersey seemed to like him and it was a full moon, maybe that will help too.  The moon was so spectacular to look up at as we drove home with her.

Jersey and Reign

Some of her nubian does inside the barn.
Everyone was curious about what was going on.

In the rabbitry, Hazel our Champagne d'argent doe that I thought was pregnant was not or she would have had her kits by now.  She was the one I never did actually see mate with Filbert, after watching them for fifteen or twenty minutes I just left her in the cage with him for the day, thinking they would.  Well, in her natural instinct she must have known better than I and wanted to wait.  Our outdoor rabbitry isn't like a burrow that wild rabbits can have their kits in that is cozy and warm, while they have protection on the top and sides, the air from the front and below, at thirty degrees is cold for babies, even with lots of hay, and a nest, kindling in cold weather can be deadly for them.  From now on I'll wait until March for any rabbit breeding's, so they can kindle in April when it's warmer.  Yesterday Hazel and Filbert had a full moon rendezvous, she  should  kindle  around the next full moon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

full moon cheesemaking

Today as the moon was reaching it's fullness I was making my first ever goats milk chevre cheese, and the other good beginner cheese, mozzarella.  Several days ago I pulled out all the frozen milk I had been saving from when I was milking Joon  and thawed it all out.  I used 2 gallons of milk for the chevre and one gallon of milk for the mozzarella, and I have plenty more for more cheese making tomorrow.  Cheese making doesn't take much equipment to start with, a good thermometer is essential because you will be taking the temperature of the milk a lot, Rennet is a key ingredient, as well as good cultured starter, like buttermilk, you'll need a couple stainless steel pots and glass bowls, along with a good book that tells exactly what you need to do. 

I was so happy working at making cheeses today, the sun was streaming through the windows and  it almost felt like Spring, except looking out the windows there is snow all over the ground.  I have been patiently waiting to order a few items that I needed through Hoegger goat supply, namely rennet and a few starters and cultures.  Chevre is the first beginner cheese, it takes about 12 hours of culturing, and 7-8 hours of draining.  Mozzarella is much more focused and timing and temperature are important, in between times when I was timing procedures I was reading all about making hard cheeses and Parmesan, of course I have to want to do the harder cheeses first, but I made myself do as the book said and start with a few simpler cheeses. 

Once several years ago I spent some time working at learning to make a few basic cheeses.  I was using a local jersey cow farms raw organic milk.  It was cost prohibitive to buy the milk for cheese making at four dollars per half gallon, yet I did practise making butter, cottage cheese, and mozzarella.  Cheese making needs good fresh milk, the better the milk the better the cheese.  I'm planning to make a brick cheese tomorrow and will have to improvise and make a cheese press.  I also will be making more chevre and ricotta.  Today I took pictures and will post more of each one of the cheeses I'm making over the next week or two.  I'm also looking forward to trying them both tomorrow to see how they taste.

Monday, March 5, 2012

kindling on a cold blustery night

Last night, right before bed I went outside to check on Serendipity our American Chinchilla rabbit, I knew she would most likely be kindling that night.  I had given her a nest box 3 days before and helped her line it with soft hay, plus I gave her plenty of extra to work with for nest building.  She's a first time mother, so I wasn't sure if she would know what to do.  Yesterday I began to wonder why she hadn't pulled any fur to line the nest box, I checked her throughout the day. 

First thing this morning I ran outside through the wind and rain to check on her, sure enough she had given birth to 6 kits.  But not in the nest box, and she had pulled very little fur, they were all chilled to the bone, and she was sitting on one that had already died of exposure.  I gathered them all up as quickly as I could and raced inside.  Once inside I ran and grabbed two hats, doubled them up and put all the babies inside, warming them by the fire.  I also filled a small bowl with very warm water, and submerged each one up to the neck to get warmth into them, and then softly rubbed the squeaking babies dry right beside the fire.  It took my daughter Kaley and I an hour to fully warm them.  In the end two of them had died before we brought them in, and four are all healthy and warm now, they're still all snug and sleeping soundly in the hat until I make them a special place for a nest.

I've been doing hourly checks on our Champagne d'Argent doe Hazel, due today or tomorrow.  I don't want to lose any of her kits to exposure or the cold.  She's also a new mother and doesn't appear to have good nest making skills,  this is my first time breeding these larger rabbits, so we're on a learning curve I'm sure.  The mini rex's that we've raised for years were the best little nest makers ever, they'd spend several days working on their nests and would pull huge amounts of fur to give their babies a soft, warm nest. 

For now I'm going to set up a nursery inside the house and bring the mother in for feedings, we'll put them outside when they have fur and it warms up a bit in a few weeks.  I may have to do the same for the other rabbit if her mothering instincts don't kick into gear soon.  It's always easier for the newborn animals when it's warmer, or at least isn't so cold and windy.  For now I'll be running out to check on Hazel throughout the day and may just bring her inside to give birth.

Have any of you had this happen with your rabbits?  I'm not sure what the right thing to do is, maybe I should pull fur from the mother rabbit and make a nest and put them back outside with her.  For now, I just want them to stay warm and alive close by where I can check on them regularly.

Tuesday morning update, after keeping the kits by the warmth of the fire in the house for 7 hours, they woke up hungry!  I had been watching the mother rabbit and can you believe this, she pulled her fur and made a nest after the fact, and seemed to be looking for her newborns.
After much thought, I decided to take them back out to her in the hat I donated to them, I rolled the sides down so they could stay inside their cozy spot.  Once back in their cage, I put them in her nest and put fur over them.  The mom jumped in the box several times, sniffed them, and then I watched her begin to nurse them!! just like that, it made me so happy!  In this instance letting nature take it's course worked out.    I checked on them several times throughout the night, since I'm on watch for the other new mom anyways.  Everyone is doing good!