Friday, December 30, 2011

Sneaking Into Soap Making!

I'm really interested, okay obsessed, with soap making these days.  We're hoping to have baby goats and fresh milk in about five months (Go, buckling, go!).  The point of adding the goats to our little farm was to have another revenue stream and soap is the easiest path, without the regulations, restrictions and costs associated with selling milk and cheese.  Now that Farmers Market season and gardening is finished I have the leisure to pursue some extra interests.  Problem is, now is not an ideal time to make soap.  Soap making involves lye, a somewhat dangerous ingredient that must be handled very carefully; whenever it is used very good ventilation is always strenuously recommended.  We are at the time of year when we are constantly and consistently in freezing temperatures - not a great time to have windows open.  Furthermore, our kitchen is built in the middle of the house without any windows, only doors leading to other rooms.  And, the ventilation system is elderly and rather questionable.  May not be a great time to be messing the lye.

Noodles and milk, ready for the oven!

So what's someone who is soap obsessed to do?  Aside from bathing a lot in other people's products?  Well, have you heard of soap noodles?  I first read about noodles in the excellent book 'Soap Maker's Workshop' by Dr. Robert S and Katherine J. McDaniel.  It's soap someone else has made that is then grated or shredded fresh and shipped off to the end user.  The end user just has to melt it and then can finish it at will with added ingredients like fragrances, exfoliates and herbs.  This is a process called re-batching or hand-milling.  Soap makers will re-batch if they think the lye is not completely dissolved or the color or fragrance is not right - it's a way to correct and re-make a batch of soap.  Soap makers will also re-batch to add in herbs, flowers or other things that may be damaged in the high heat of the chemical reaction of lye.  You can make your own noodles by simply grating bar soap.

Going online to find soap noodles proved interesting.  You can buy soap noodles by the shipping container: apparently lots of large commercial soap sellers are not making their own soap from scratch!  I found smaller quantities at the site Soap Crafters, a wholesaler for soap and beauty product supplies.  They had a good assortment including a very simple goat milk noodle!  I ordered and was so excited to receive my box of noodles just before Christmas.  Rather a surprise then, when I went back online to make a note of the ingredients to find the Soap Crafters site closed down because the company had been sold to Elements Bath and Body Works!  It's taken a few weeks, but Elements is finally listing one soap noodle, a Shea butter soap.  Hopefully, Elements will add more noodles in the next little while!
First batch, more a bar than a block.

The process of working with the noodles is really quite simple.  The included instructions say to melt it in the oven, in an appropriate oven-proof container, at 200 F, stirring occasionally, until it resembles a very thick soup.  Pour into your chosen mold, cool, remove from mold, cut and cure for at least two weeks but six weeks for best results.  For my goats milk soap, the instructions called for 1/4 to 1/2 cup of goat milk to be added to one pound of noodles before putting into the oven, and fragrance, exfoliants and herbs are added and stirred in just before pouring into the mold.  The McDaniels' book says you can also do it in the microwave or a crock pot.

First batch involved some of the lovely, fresh goat milk from Brambles Nubian Goat Farm.  I made it just simple and straight forward, and did just one pound, 1/2 cup was all the milk I had to spare.  It took just over an hour to melt down the noodles.  Found my chosen mold, an old plastic bread or loaf holder measuring 4" wide by 9" long, was quite large for one pound of soap and I got about an inch of soap in the bottom of the container!  A few days later, with store-bought goat's milk I did a two pound loaf, which gave me a block of soap about two inches high.  For this one I added lavender essential oil, about ten drops.  Smells very nice, so far!  Yesterday, I did a three pound batch, adding 1/4 cup of honey and a cup of ground oatmeal, as well as the goats milk.  Three pounds made for better sized slices!  Now, for the waiting and the curing....

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homemade Dog Treats!

In the flurry of baking that went on just before Christmas, I finally got around to something I've been meaning to do for quite a while: homemade doggie biscuits.  As we progress in our quest to be more self-sufficient and eat as local as possible, we're working on including our animals as well.  I also like the idea of our doggies not having preservatives, colourings and other unpronounceable ingredients in commercial biscuits.  I chose to try this recipe for cheddar cheese dog biscuits, because our dogs love cheese!

The recipe calls for whole wheat flour, rolled oats, corn meal, eggs, milk, butter, water and chicken bouillon cubs, plus the cheddar.  I used a combination of local whole wheat, rye and spelt flours because I wanted to use up some of the grains in the pantry.  I also substituted my local oat flakes for the rolled oats.  The eggs, of course, came from our chicken coop.  Butter, milk and cheddar came from the store - but we're hoping to remedy that by spring when our goats, hopefully, have babies and start producing milk!  The corn meal and bouillon cubs were store brought, but I'm thinking I could replace the water with my homemade stock to get that 'meaty' flavor.  The recipe comes together quite quickly and is oven baked.

The result - a hit with my dogs!  The cookies are chewy, not crunchy like the commercial biscuit we've been using.  We gifted some little bags of the biscuits to friends with dogs, so I'll be interested to see what the reports will be!  Because there are no preservatives, the biscuits must be refrigerated and last up to a week.  We kept enough for about five days in the fridge and froze the rest.  We made a small size, an inch square, because we (mostly) have small dogs.  Because of the fiber, we've been cautious about feeding them - too much fiber can be a bad thing!

In an interesting coincidence, opening our presents Christmas Day, my sister Cathy had sent a great little kit for making doggie treats: a paw-printed container, a recipe book with eighty recipes and some cute cookie cutters shaped like a bone or a cat!  Stay tuned as we try some of these new recipes!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Fabulous, Fresh Christmas Present!

A fresh present!
When we went to Brambles Nubian Goat Farm to pick up our buckling, Rebecca gave us an awesome present: fresh goat milk!  I've never had fresh milk and it is beautiful: creamy, mild and a wee bit sweet.  Like so many things - blows away the stuff in the stores!  I can hardly wait until we have our own steady supply (Go, Buckling, Go!).  What to do with fresh goat milk a couple of days before Christmas?  Make cheese, of course!  And maybe a little soap.....

Heat until steamy and frothy, not boiling!
The tiny curds draining.
We've made cheese before; we acquired a great starter cheese kit on Etsy from Urban Cheesecraft, which has everything you need.  Making simple, soft cheese is really quite easy.  The milk goes into a heavy, stainless pot and is heated to 180 - 190 degrees Fahrenheit, until it's steaming and frothy but not boiling, stirring regularly.    Then, you add in citric acid dissolved in water.  Curds start to form almost right away - for our goat cheeses the curds have always been tiny.  Stir for a few minutes off the heat, then pour into a cheesecloth lined colander.  We capture the whey, the yellow liquid, because it's great for the chickens or in place of stock in soups and stews.  The cats quite like it, too!

Packing the curds into the mold.

The curds are left to drain for ten minutes, then kosher salt is stirred in.  Then, the curds are placed in a mold, or for a casual ball, you can just leave them in the cheesecloth.  We weighted down the curds for a firmer set, we put plastic wrap over the top of the mold and popped on a jar of jam.  After refrigerating for an hour, we have a nice, soft goat cheese!  And sooooo tasty!
The finished product!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Goatlings! Have We Got A Surprise For You!

Yes, that's him, hiding behind the Farmer!

This week brings the birthdays of all three of our little Nubian doelings!  Yesterday Chocolate turned one, today is Mabel's birthday and Saturday will be Goldie's first birthday.  We had decided months ago  that they would get a very special present, so yesterday we made a trip to Brambles Nubian Goat Farm up by San Clara, Manitoba.  Brambles is where the girls all came from and we needed something special for them that only Brambles could supply.

We returned after dark last night with an eight month old registered Nubian buckling, a gorgeous little guy who is brown with some white and black patches, mostly on his legs.  When Rebecca, of Brambles, introduced me to the little guy my first question was: "Is he old enough to do-the-deed?'.  Farmer Man came in the barn a short time later and asked almost the exact same question!  He is probably about twenty five or thirty pounds lighter than our three does (who admittedly may be a wee bit over-weight), and two or three inches shorter at the shoulder.  He is very festive looking at the moment with some bright green splotches: something about a tattoo ink bottle accident a couple of days ago, but Rebecca assures us that it will wash off easily or wear off in a few days!

Look at those festive, green ink spots!
He is just gorgeous; the full Nubian ears, a long slender nose, beautiful big brown eyes, excellent lines!  Farmer Man would like to call him 'Randy', but I'd like to get to know him a bit better before picking a name.  He smells like a goat buck with a musky, smokey scent that the girls don't have.  He has not, unfortunately, been the instant success we were hoping for.  The goatlings were in a bit of an uproar when we pulled up to the barn last night.  We've never both been away so long and the girls had not gotten their afternoon or evening grain ration and it was past their bedtime and we still hadn't 'tucked' them in!  We got the little buckling out of his crate on the back of the truck and set him in the corral where he promptly started to bawl and bleet.  I got some grain for everyone: we fed him in the corral and the girls in their usual spot in the barn but left the barn door open.  When they finished their grain, the girls came out for a look.  Chocolate promptly head butted the little fellow, Goldie chased him around the picnic table and Mabel just went back inside the barn.  So much for love at first sight!

The two doelings continued to be quite aggressive with the young buck so we decided to take the crate off the truck, put it in the barn and he could have separate accommodations for the night.  Farmer Man found a pallet that would fit over the open door so that the little guy wasn't completely cooped up in the dark.  This morning, Farmer Man went and hang out with them for quite a while; he even took all four for a little walk while he gathered kindling.  Mabel, as always, is sweet and gentle, just sniffing at him from time to time.  Goldie continues to chase him a bit, Chocolate continues to take runs at him, horns first!  He did show a bit more gumption today - pushing back a bit, so to say!  Other times, the little buckling goes to hide behind Farmer Man anytime the doelings approach.  According to everything we've read, once the goatlings even just smell a virile male, they should go into heat within ten to fourteen days, so there may be an attitude adjustment in the next couple of weeks!  And hopefully, some baby goats will be bouncing around the farm in May!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fresh Greens For Everyone!

We try to keep ourselves and our animals, as natural and chemical free as possible.  During the growing season our chickens, goats and Berkshire pigs are all in pastures: free to roam, nibble on fresh food and be what they are.  The chickens scratch the dirt to eat bugs and seedlings, the goats try to climb trees to eat leaves and bark, the pigs eat everything and wallow in mud.  Here in Manitoba now, however, we are now frozen solid with a bit of snow.  More snow will come, of that we're sure.  So how do we keep our animals eating fresh food?  Well, fortunately, they all appreciate a good winter squash.  The chickens love the seeds and like the flesh.  The goats love the skins and the flesh.  Fortunately, we have a root cellar and have a good stash of winter squash.  When we cook one for ourselves, we'll keep the seeds for the chickens.  It's too bad neither type of animal has much use for potatoes, garlic and onions, although a little garlic in the chickens' water is suppose to be good for them!

This is when our sprouter comes in handy!  We've blogged about it before here; we love this thing.  We've got a wide variety of seed mixes for sprouting and everybody loves them.  Farmer Man will have them on his sandwiches, the chickens go nuts for them and even the goats seem to be enjoying them.  We love the idea of everyone get fresh, nutrition-packed food!  As soon as the mania of Christmas is over, we'll start some flats of lettuces, which we'll share with everyone.  The trendy micro greens for salads for us, maybe a flat in the chicken coop for them to peck at -- and then they'll probably have a dust bath is what remains!  A double win for the chickens!  The goats are new to this, but they seemed to enjoy their first encounter with sprouts!  I may try to force some branches for the goats after Christmas to keep them in their favorite: willow leaves!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Goldie and Chocolate May Need An Agent!

Mabel never made it online - until now!

Our goats may be getting famous!  I posted the bottom picture of the goatlings getting on the roof on the Aagaard Farm Facebook page.  One of our 'fans' is our pal Michele McDougall, who just happens to be the Weather Person on CityTV's Breakfast Television in Edmonton.  She asked permission to use it on air and on her great blog of Fresh Air moments.  Check it out, including her on air comments!  We've already had a couple of great emails from new 'friends'.  Just don't tell the goatlings - don't want it going to their heads!  If you want to keep up on the goatlings - come on over a like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's Hard to Recognize Joel Salatin Without His Hat!

It's the same, for me, with many professions!  The hockey or football player is more familiar with helmet on, the way I'm used to seeing them!  Would I recognize Queen Elizabeth on the street, without a crown or fancy hat?  And who was that guy on stage yesterday at the Manitoba Conservation District Association conference in a navy blazer, dress shirt and tidy slacks?  Where was the Farmer Dude with the big hat and suspenders?  Ah, but when he started to speak, I knew I was in the right place!

We were glad to have a chance to see Joel Salatin speak yesterday.  What he writes resonates greatly with us!  We've got a couple of his books: 'Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal' and 'Pastured Poultry Profits'.  He's been on the forefront of the movement for healthy, natural, local food for many years now.  His books tell the often funny tales of his run-ins with commercial agriculture and government bureaucrats as he just tries to produce good food!  His methods are both old-fashioned and cutting edge, and full of common sense!

I wonder how many of yesterday's crowd had previously heard of Joel Salatin?  The MCDA is a provincial association of people and groups involved in watershed issues; they are a diverse group representing municipalities, utilities, businesses, habitat conservationists and more!  Mr. Salatin talked about the uncontrolled run off that had stripped most of the soil from his Virginia farm over the decades, the loss of the precious resource of spring run-off that he avoids by building natural ponds.  His natural way of managing his cattle on pasture precludes the need for manure retention ponds and the danger of leakage into ground water and water systems.  He spoke of how his family has been slowly rebuilding the lost soil using sustainable methods that don't require the use of fertilizers, which are expensive and can leach into water systems causing algae blooms.  I hope he brought some new ideas to the table!

I love that Joel Salatin's and his business, Polyface Farms, are about what he calls the 'whole-ism' of ecosystems.  He wants to let a chicken be a chicken, a pig be a pig and pasture should be what it was meant to be: perennial grasses.  In nature, the bison moved into an area, ate the grass down and moved on, allowing the grass to re-grow.  Why did someone figure that it is was better to pen them in tiny corrals and feed them unnatural grains and corn?  Not for better food, that's for sure.  It was for profit and convenience.  Mr. Salatin called himself a 'bio-terrorist' because he allows his chickens to cavort with wild birds!  If you don't raise poultry, you may not know about the issues of the avian bird flu scare.  Some in the industry claimed small producers, like Aagaard Farms, were vectors for bird flu because we didn't immunize and feed antibiotics to our birds and we allowed them outside where wild birds can carry the flu.  Poultry, like pigs and cattle, are suppose to be outside, we believe, eating what they're suppose to eat.  And their lives interesect on many levels: pigs root around trees, opening land.  Chickens eat parasite larvae from cow patties so that the cows don't get re-infested.  Cow patties fertilize the land, allowing fresh, healthy re-growth of food plants.  And so on!

We were fortunate enough to have two presentations from Joel Salatin yesterday.  Both were of great value to us, who are trying to 'grow good food for our neighbors'.  At this time of year, when we reflect on the past year and plan for the new year, it's just great to have been touched by the enthusiasm and vigor of someone like Mr. Salatin!  And as he said, to paraphrase, if it didn't go well, keep trying!  And we will!  And we're wishing that everybody gets a copy of one of Joel Salatin's books in their stocking this Christmas.  We think every single Ag student should have to read one!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dark Days 11/12: Week 1

The Dark Days Challenge is underway!  We decided our first meal of local food for the challenge would be Monday, which we've been observing as Meatless Monday  Not too much of a stretch for us as we are vegetable growers!  Looking around, we decided on baked beans, from our stash of 'Jacob's Cattle' which we harvested this year.  Also had a 'Small Wonder' spaghetti squash on the counter, very ripe, so thought we'd use a recipe for a squash pancake that we haven't used in a while.  We usually do a bean recipe with rice and although we do have some local wild rice, we decided to use 'Cavena Nuda', a rice substitute that is actually a type of hulless oat or naked oat!

There is a lot of conflicting information out there on using fresh, dried beans.  We harvested ours late in September, it took us a few weeks to get them cleaned and ready for storage.  Some info says you shouldn't have to soak fresh beans at all and they should cook quickly.  Other sources say you should still soak them for a short period, if nothing else but to remove the sugars that can cause the 'musical' effect.  We did soak them for a couple of hours, changing the water a couple of times.  They plumped up nicely but lost most of their lovely cranberry/ivory color!  We then chose to use our home canned marinara sauce for baking the beans..  This is a multi-purpose tomato sauce from Sherri Brooks Vinton's excellent 'Put 'em Up!'.  All tomato sauce ingredients were from the farm.  We sauteed a bit of our onion and garlic and then mixed beans, sauce and sauteed veg in a baking dish and into the oven!  The mixture was done in about an hour and a half - so very quickly for baked beans!

We roasted our little spaghetti squash (and roasted some butternut, too, for a nice soup tonight!).  We used Molly Katzen's recipe for the squash pancake, from here.  We didn't get the full amount of cooked squash called for in the recipe and adjusted the ingredients on the fly.  Our chicken coop supplied the eggs, our flour is local and organic: De Ruyck's that we get from Two Farm Kids, and we just skipped the salt and pepper.  When I cracked one of the eggs it was a double yoker, and may have made the pancakes a little too 'eggy', but they were good nonetheless.  Alongside were our nude oats, which are an excellent rice substitute!  They are chewier than rice, but a lovely wheaty flavor - and good for you!  A tasty, hearty dinner for one of our coldest nights so far this year!  Have you cooked a totally local meal  recently?  Even if you're not blogging, feel free to join in  The Dark Days Challenge by telling us about it in the comments section!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Making Largely Local Lip Balm

We're rather interested in anything we can make for ourselves these days.  And the more local the better!  If you're not aware, we're participating in The Dark Days Challenge, a group of bloggers writing about the challenges of eating local food through the winter.  If you follow us on Facebook, we're sharing links for everything from making dog biscuits to Christmas decorations to bath and beauty products!  It's interesting to contemplate just how self-sufficient we could be - supplying most of the ingredients ourselves!

We're working on bringing a little boy goat here shortly, so that we will have our three little goatlings pregnant for the spring and will be milking by April.  We hope to provide ourselves with milk, cheese and butter, and to add to our farm income by making and selling goat milk soap and creams!  I use goat milk soaps now, which are fantastic for my somewhat sensitive, dry skin.  Selling milk and milk products is way out of our means, involving regulations galore and investment in a commercial grade kitchen and equipment. In the quiet days of winter, I'd like to get started on trying some products.  Stay tuned for an easy entry into soapmaking!  I remembered a great little recipe for lip balm in one of my favorite magazines, The Herb Quarterly,  in the Summer 2010 issue.  The recipe is by Janice Cox, whose excellent book Natural Beauty At Home I've owned for a while.  With cold weather here to stay, lip balm is something we'll be using regularly!

The basic recipe in the magazine calls for 1 tsp. coconut oil, 1 tsp almond oil and 1/2 tsp. grated beeswax.  You simply microwave the ingredients on low for in short bursts for a total of one to two minutes, mix well and pour into little jars or tubes.  Little pots and tubes are easy to access at craft stores, or online at eBay and the many websites for DIY soap/body product makers.  I tried a batch of this last week using local canola oil, and it is quite nice, but light.  I didn't even think to take pictures, just got motivated one afternoon to make it after I ran across some beautiful, local beeswax from Hive on the Hill at a craft market!  I think I was a little light on the beeswax, got to pack it a bit after grating.  We've got coconut oil here, which we've been experimenting with for cooking and baking because of its health benefits.

I decided on trying a batch with Manitoba Harvest hemp oil, which we use regularly in our smoothies because of it's high level of essential fatty acids; it's local, organic and has some great skin benefits (I'm using a lotion from Manitoba's Hemp Lady right now)!  Because hemp oil has a very low boiling point, I melted the coconut oil and beeswax first, in ten second increments, stirring between blasts, until it was liquid, than added the hemp oil for another twenty seconds.  Total microwaving was about sixty seconds!  I stirred well, than poured into little waiting pots.  I like this balm much better: it's richer and more emollient.  Because of the hemp, it is a lovely green shade, but that doesn't show up on the lips.  It does smell and taste a wee bit 'grassy', but I don't mind that!  Now, I'm wondering what local product could replace the coconut oil, but that's a tough one!  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, which makes it great for balms, and it has it's own skin benefits.  Maybe a vegetable shortening, although everything in the stores has soy or cottonseed or something not even slightly local.  More research is definitely required!  I've also been thinking about natural colors: I've read about dehydrating beets and carrots and grinding them to powders to add color.  I'm wondering if that would make the balm more prone to spoiling, again more research is required.  I've also got some strawberry 'leather' here that I made this summer but it does have the seeds in it; it might give flavor and color but again, might spoil!  But, I've got all winter to work on it!  Have you ever made your own balms or lotions?  I'd love to hear about it - please leave a comment!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Making Bread!

If you read this blog regularly you know that I'm a big fan of 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day' and 'Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day', both by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  I first started baking bread with these books, attracted to them because it was 'five minutes a day', no kneading required, healthy and artisan.  It really is quite a simple process for most of their breads:  you mix your ingredients in the container you will store the dough in, let it rise, refrigerate and then, on baking day, grab a chunk and let it rise before putting it in the oven.  The recipes are largely for hand-formed artisan style round loaves and have become our daily bread.  However, they don't make a great sandwich!  Farmer Man has had a hankering for a proper sandwich!

Now, the artisan breads can be baked in a loaf pan for the shape but it just wasn't what Farmer Man was craving.  I had seen a recipe on one of my favorite blogs FarmGirlFare for an Easy Farmhouse White loaf.  'Easy' sounds attractive and I've always had such good luck with the recipes I've tried from this blog that I though I'd give it a go!  The thing about making bread is that you've got to be around for three or four (or more!) hours and you've got to be mindful (or have a loud timer).  The thing for the newbie bread maker is the learning curve with terms and descriptions.  Just what does it mean that the dough 'springs back' when you poke it?  But it's like that with so many things: you've just got to do it one time and it all becomes much clearer!

So, first rising went on quite a while.  The recipe said sixty to seventy five minutes and two hours later I'm thinking 'maybe' it's doubled.  I carry on with the kneading and the rest of the directions and get it in the pans.  Sixty to seventy five minutes later is hasn't come any where near filling the pans like the picture on the blog!  Two hours later, the loaf pans still aren't anywhere near full!  It's getting close to bedtime so I decide to go ahead and bake.  The bread comes out and is very tasty but short and dense, quite dense. And I had what was decribed as 'exploding' sides, an indication of too much energy left in the yeast.  Just so happens the next day I was heading to the winter indoor Farmers Market downtown to trade in my empty honey bucket for a full one with Mann Apiaries.  Georgine Mann makes a ton of bread all season long for the markets so I asked her about my lack of rising.  In discussion, we decided that it is probably because our house is quite cool this time of year.  She recommended that the next time I try, use quite warm water with the yeast and preheat the oven for one minute and then use the oven for the rising.  I'll keep you posted and, and by the way, the bread is delicious!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Have You Got A Date With Joel Salatin?

Is Joel Salatin in your datebook?  Don't forget he's going to be in Brandon on December 13th!  He will be here as one of the keynote speakers for the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association annual conference.  Get all the information you need here!

If you have any interest in local food, sustainable food systems, freedom of choice in your food, well, you'll want to hear Mr. Salatin.  He's an interesting and passionate speaker - should be good!  Hope to see you there!  If you're not familiar with him, check out Polyface Farms, his family farm in Virginia.  Polyface and Joel Salatin are on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Getting to Our Least Favorite Chore

Being on a small farm, you might think our least favorite chore would be cleaning out the goat pen.  Or, perhaps, cleaning out the chicken coop.  It might be hauling half finished compost, or turning the compost pile that is in use.  Perhaps it could be weeding or watering on hot, sultry summer days.  But no, our least favorite chore and the one we procrastinate at is:  grooming our dogs.  Of course, the longer we leave it, the more of a chore it becomes and trimming The Three Bears involves not only fur but sticks, burrs and other unidentifiable stuff!

In a good year we might just ship them off to a groomer and put up with the jokes and incredulous looks.  But, this hasn't been one of those years so we're doing it ourselves.  Thank heavens, in a good year, we invested in a really good set of clippers!  Still, with three little doggies and one set of clippers, this is going to take a few days.  The clippers can only go for so long before they overheat.  Then there's the wiggling, teeth-baring and, finally, snarling that predicts an end to the current session.  The Bears are waaaaaay over due and there are mats to take out carefully, dew claws to watch for and personal aversions each dog has to having certain body parts shaved.

There is an awkward period...
We really should have done this in September but we were still rather busy with Farmers Markets and CSA.  October was Saturday Farmers Markets, trying to finish the potato harvest and curing and storing winter squash and such.  November has been clean-up, close up and chores like winterizing the chicken coop and goat barn.  So, an end of November clipping involves finding the dogs' little sweaters and getting them washed up 'cause there will be some shivering going on!  Blaze the Border Collie will need some attention, too.  He hasn't had a good brushing for a few months which means that a shopping bag of fur will come off of him!  Probably needless to say, the vacuum will be getting almost as much use as the clippers in the next few days.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Reprieve in the Weather

A couple of the barn cats grab some sun!

The Chickens grabbing some rays and a dust bath!

The Goatlings get out and about.
We've had a nasty cold snap for November: the kind of temperatures we'd accept in January just seem so wrong right now.  All the animals, and us, have been huddled in our respect homes for a few days but yesterday turned into a beautiful day.  Winnipeg set a record high and Brandon
I thought the sunflower heads were for the birds but...
came close!  Time to get out and enjoy, and get some of those last chores crossed of the 'to do' list.  Farmer Man still has firewood to collect and is still gathering wood for fence posts from our shelter belt.  A good time to let the goats do a little free-ranging while he could keep an eye on them!  Everyone soaked up a few rays and enjoyed it immensely.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dinner Rustica!

We could say that we were practicing for The Dark Days Challenge, coming up.  We could say it was because we were organizing and cleaning the freezers.  Nonetheless, we ended up having a largely local meal, from disparate parts.  I made tomato sauce for the first time this summer.  I used a marinara recipe from Sherri Brooks Vinton's excellent 'Put 'em Up!'.  It's a multi-purpose sauce that, with tweaking, can become almost anything: pizza sauce, pasta sauce, bruschetta base.  I had some cooked, cubed butternut left from making this delicious pilaf with quinoa, cranberries and nuts for Meatless Monday.  In tidying the freezers, we found one small package of a gift from our neighbors Mike and Naomi of homemade deer/pork sausage.  There is a good chance the deer was harvested from our farm, and the pig was raised by a friend of Mike's.  The sausage was delightful with a smokey flavor and coarse texture.  After cooking the sausage, everything went into a skillet to warm.  We boiled some spaghetti, store bought admittedly.  We'll get back to making pasta from scratch, now that things are almost closed up on the farm.  We accompanied the meal with home made bread from the much-used 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day' by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  The pasta was topped with some grated parmesan, also store bought.  This time next year we hope to be having homemade goat's milk parmesan.  Dinner was followed by a cup of tea from homegrown spearmint, hung to dry in the back room! Now, that's not bad for eating local without really trying!  Are you still eating local food?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Combining Two Chicken Flocks

Rocky the Rooster and The Hens have lived in their insulated coop since it was built.  The Chicks started out in Farmer Man's shop in their incubator, then moved into the greenhouse when they got bigger and then into the new shed/coop when it arrived.  We have always intended to combine the two flocks in the insulated coop for the winter.  Combining two flocks can be interesting: roosters and hens alike can fight, pull feathers and cause general mayhem while establishing their 'pecking order'.  We were particularly concerned because our ten Ameraucana chicks had turned into six feisty roosters and four hens.  We really like Rocky: he's a gentleman and a great protector of his little flock; we'd hate to have anything happen to him.  We're not quite so fond of some of the Ameraucana roosters; they are aggressive, randy and don't really look out for the hens.  We had put the Ameraucana roosters on our local web site eBrandon as breeding stock but no takers.

We did have the knowledge that the two flocks had been free ranging together for the last two months with few problems.   We were still debating the best way to go about the whole thing when Mother Nature decided for us, as is often the way on the small farm.  A forecast of 10 - 15 centimetres of snow (3 - 6 inches) with forecast lows of -22 C (about -10 F), freaky cold for November.  There was no decision to be made anymore: The Chicks had to go into the insulated house or perhaps freeze to death!  Farmer Man got busy installing new, more extensive roosts from willow scavenged from our shelter.  The willow is a great example of reusing, recycling because he had originally cut the heavy branches for feeding the goats, choosing ones that were big enough but not too big for roosts!  The goats eat the leaves and the bark, so the branches were nice and smooth for chicken roosts.

We let The Chicks go to bed as usual in their shed that evening and, with snow falling, we carried the sleepy Chicks into the insulated coop where Rocky and The Hens were already cozying up for the evening.  So far, no big problems.  We can certainly see a few hens with some missing feathers, but no big fights have ensued.  The biggest problem for us is that not all The Chicks 'get' their new home yet and return to the shed each evening.  In cold, windy, snowy conditions Farmer Man and I have had to find them and return them to the insulated coop each night.  Three or four that have been laying their eggs in the barn are also insisting on maintaining that habit, too.  We've had to step up our egg gathering so that we find the barn eggs before they freeze!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Child and Chick Reunion

Pal Deb brings her grandchild out to the farm sometimes.  We love touring people around Aagaard Farms; young children are particularly fun.  Ayla is almost three years old; she was out for a visit in early June, when the chicks were very small and fragile.  We had to be careful because she was young enough to be too rough, without meaning any harm.  How thing can change in five months!  Not only is Ayla bigger and talking a mile-a-minute, but the chicks have grown an incredible amount!  The little girl showed a healthy respect for the chickens this time, and was even a little intimidated by the bounding goats!  Ayla loved her time out here: first it's the dogs, who greeted her as she was being helped from Grandma Deb's car, then she spied the chickens because some of the Black Sex Links were free-ranging in front of the house.  We took her around to the barn and got some scratch grain; Ayla was giggling as all the chickens came running for their treat!  Feeding and petting the goats, petting the barn cats, back to the chickens.  She was crowing with delight and saying many things, although we're not sure about all the words we know 'shiggen' was called every time a rooster crowed.  After all the outdoor excitement, we all came inside for juice and a snack where Ayla met and made great friends with Doodles the kitten!  Next time, we promised, we'd help her ride a goat!  Haven't talked to the Goatlings about that yet...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Dark Days Are Here Again - Yeah!

It may sound like a bad thing: The Dark Days.  And it's true: winter is closing in, we've already got a persistent dusting of snow on the ground and it's snowing a bit right now as I type.  Daytime highs are just barely getting above freezing and night time temperatures are four or five degrees (at least) below freezing.  It's dark 'til late in the morning and it gets dark again before we've had our evening meal.  But what I'm talking about here is The Dark Days Challenge!  Organized for a number of years now by the great blog The Urban Hennery, The Dark Days Challenge is about eating local through the winter.  It's one thing eating local when your garden is growing and the Farmers Market are in full swing, but what about in the dead of winter?  That's why it's a challenge: can you find local food all winter long?

The Dark Days Challenge is a great community of bloggers from all over, with varying climates offering varying access to fresh, local food.  The challenge encourages us all to cook one SOLE meal a week and write about it.  SOLE stands for sustainable, organic, local or ethical food so if you can't find it local at least make it organic or Fair Trade or sustainably grown.  The blog posts will present you with a dizzying array of awesome recipes and some great stories of finding ingredients or amending recipes.  All the information you need to get involved is here; anybody can join in the fun!  If you don't blog, you can still join in by posting about your meal in the comments section here on The Vine!  Recaps of all the blogs are posted for perusal and I'll keep you updated with links!  Hope you'll join in!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The First Pastel Egg!

We've waited a while for the Chicks to start laying eggs.  In the last few weeks we've gone from three eggs a day from the old Hens to about fourteen a day!  When the Chicks really get going, we should get about thirty eggs a day.  But, what I've been waiting for is a pastel Ameraucana egg!  It's why I got the breed, aside from the fact that they are beautiful hardy birds, because they lay gorgeous blue/green eggs!  The  eggs are ultimately no different in taste or nutrition to any other egg, and you don't get the shell served on your plate with your eggs, but still I had a yen for some pretty eggs.

We've been getting brown eggs from the Sex Links, in a small way,  for about two weeks. Finally, yesterday morning, an Ameraucana Hen laid an egg!  Unfortunately, she chose to lay it by the front door, on the outdoor bed for Blaze the Border Collie.  Blaze was the first to spy it and promptly picked it up, brought it to Farmer Man's feet and dropped it!  Splat! went my first beautiful egg.  We figure Blaze thought it was a wee ball and wanted Farmer Man to throw it for him.  There on the pavement was a gorgeous, deep yellow yolk and bits of a truly lovely egg: somewhere between sky blue and mint green.  The picture doesn't really do it justice - it is really a lovely shade!  Oh well, I don't get to eat my first pastel egg but there will be more to come! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


In the straw stack!

This post could also be entitled 'The Problem With Free Ranging Laying Hens'!  The Black Sex Link chicks have started to lay eggs.  Gorgeous, tiny brown eggs in various shades, some with speckles.  The problem is they are completely ignoring the nests in their coop.  The first egg found was in a little depression in the bedding in their coop, on the floor underneath the nests and we continue to find one there on a regular basis!  The next was found, a few days later, on top of a bale of straw in the barn.  Then, one was found in a crate up by the garage!  These had to be destroyed because we weren't sure how long they had been there.  Now, collecting eggs involves a flashlight and a complete search of the property.  We're looking through the barn, under trees, behind cans: anywhere the Black Sex Links have been hanging out!  What worries us is just how many we may be missing!  And so far, no little blue or green eggs from the Ameraucanas!
In the goat's stall in the barn.

Monday, October 31, 2011

More Spooky Pumpkin!

A late email from Connor and Jason; Farmers Market customers whose gorgeous pumpkin we posted last year!  This year they've come through with an awesomely scary pumpkin!  Boooooo!

Happy Halloween!

We love to get pictures of our pumpkins, carved by our customers!  We met Alexandra through Facebook, she had seen some info on the 'Stock the Food Bank's Pantry' and posted on our Wall that she was so happy to find a great way to donate to the Food Bank.  She and her partner arrived at  Saturday's market with a very generous donation!  We had a great time with her and her partner (whose name I cannot remember, to my great chagrin); introducing them to all our different potato varieties and all  the types of squash laid out.  They actually had to leave to find a banking machine they were so enthusiastic about all the good food!  They left loaded with goodies, including two of our nice carving pumpkins.   We asked for pictures, as is our habit, but they wouldn't promise as they hadn't carved a pumpkin in years!  Well,   the proof is in the pictures and these two have talent!   Love it!

 To everyone: Have a scary, spooky and safe evening!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes..well, Hubbard Pancakes!

I've been wanting to try this recipe for pumpkin pancakes for a while.  Today was going to be the day; I intended to roast and freeze some 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin for winter use.  But, pal Deb dropped by for coffee, we were playing some cards and Farmer Man was hungry for his promised pancakes.  I did have some roasted Hubbard squash in the fridge, intending on a loaf or more muffins.  So, off I went with Hubbard squash pancakes.  Easy and simple, a batch only requires half a cup of roasted meat.  The batter was really thick and the pancakes did not really spread out on the grill.  They ended up high and fluffy!  And tasty!  And very good with our Manitoba Maple Syrup from Oakman Enterprises in Portage la Prairie!  I made the recipe 'straight up' this time, next time I will use 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin and I will probably substitute some of the flour for whole wheat or spelt flour!  Very yummy, and the squash gives an extra bit of nutrition!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Goats Like Squash, Too!

Yes, our obsession with growing winter squash seems to have rubbed off on our animals.  I make part of the food the dogs eat: a big 'boil-up' of rice, ground pork or beef, oil, garlic and a vegetable.  They've had winter squash in the mixture with no objections.  The house cat has had a little spoonful of the same mixture with similar results (Blondie has been known to carefully eat around every single pea).  Chickens go absolutely nuts for the seeds of any winter squash and will peck at the flesh.  So why not goats?

 We had some of the bigger Hubbard squash damaged on a very cold night earlier in the week.  They were outside, under tarps but still developed some water-soaked spots on the skin - totally edible but not so pretty.  So, Farmer Man decided to roll a big thirty pounder into the goat pen; if nothing else they might play with it a bit.  We have, through the summer, offered the goats some summer squash and once they got the hang of it, they liked it.  Goats only have teeth on the bottom of their mouth, the top is a plate all about grinding leaves and twigs.  It seemed difficult for the goats to take a bite of a zucchini unless we broke it apart for some rough edges.  The large Hubbard proved an instant attraction; fortunately it had gotten dinged getting in place and one, Goldie of course, started to nibble.  Her interest led to the full attention of the other two goatlings and soon they were all gnawing heartily!  They love the skin, chomped through the meat and nibbled delicately at the seeds!  The nice thing is it amused them the whole afternoon, and saved us from the increasingly fruitless search for leafy twigs.  Having a stash of squash will be good for everyone this winter!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Manitoba Sweet Potato Harvest!

Harvest time for the sweet potatoes!  We've waited as long as we can, but with nights now regularly dipping below freezing, everything in the hoop house is finished.  Time for clean-up and close up!  The leaves of the sweet potatoes looked quite good until last Tuesday, when we had an overnight low of -11C (10 F).  The next morning the foliage was blackened and shrivelled.  Fingers crossed, we took the pitch fork and a bucket into the plastic house.  This started back in June, when we received cuttings, check it out here.

This is our second year trying to grow this 'impossible' crop but we hoped that this year, with the protection and extra heat of the high tunnel, and the extra care extended to the surrounding tomatoes, we'd fare a little better than last year!  Certainly, the foliage was much better this year, more lush, longer vines.  First couple of plants proved less than exciting:  three or four tubers about the size of Farmer Man's thumb.  Then, things started to get better: Four or five under each plant with one of a size comparable to what might be available in the stores!  Total harvest of seven pounds, with three tubers weighing in at a pound or a little less!  Waaaaay better than last years' harvest!  We started with a dozen cuttings, and lost one plant shortly after transplant.  Not bad!  The biggest, most unfortunately, we broke so we have to eat it - we'll let you know how it tastes.

Questions abound now: we should probably eat some, especially those that we broke or dinged.  Will we be able to save little ones for replanting or will they perish through the winter?  Should I take some root cuttings now to pot up?  Should we not eat the one perfect large one and save it for replanting?  Was this really worth it, seeing how we paid more for the cuttings than it would cost to buy three decent-sized sweet potatoes?  If we can save our own seed potatoes, does that make it more worthwhile?  And if we'd received the cuttings earlier (or had our own seed to plant early) would we get a better harvest?  And how the heck should we cook what may be our one and only feast of home-grown sweet potato?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Chicks Have Started Laying!

There's always a wee thrill when you find the first egg from a chicken!  We've been waiting since the beginning of June for the Black Sex Links and the Ameraucanas to start laying.  We had thought they would start laying at the end of September, like the Browns and Leghorns a few years ago.  We had to wait a few weeks longer, but they've started!  Problem is, they don't seem even slightly interested in the nesting boxes in their coop - the first egg was found on top of a straw bale in the barn, in a little depression.  The second and third were found underneath the nesting boxes. The problem is that we've allowed these birds to free-range, so it is possible that they will lay under trees or, well, anywhere.  Added to the list of daily chores: having a little tour around with a flashlight to check under trees and bushes in the areas they tend to frequent!

So far, no little blue or green eggs from the Ameraucanas, just brown eggs from the Sex Links!  I can hardly wait to find a little pastel egg.  And these are definitely the eggs of young hens, which are often called pullets.  The eggs are about half the size of regular eggs, but still perfect and tasty with some of the brightest yolks we've seen.  In the last few days, we've gotten two each day, so that number should go up quickly - if we're finding all the eggs!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Preserving Butternut Squash!

We've had a good harvest of butternut squash this year, which I love!  It's not a squash that stores particularly well because it is a bit thin skinned.  In our root cellar, it will be one of the first to break down, get moldy and grow soft.  It can still be used if the skin is moldy - just clean well and peel, but it will get soft quite quickly, too.  We don't want to feast now, and then have none, so we want to preserve some.

Winter squash cannot be safely water-bath canned because it doesn't have the correct acid level and it is too dense to heat up enough to reliably kill bacteria.  It can be pickled, but that's not what we're looking for.  I haven't found any recipes for a jam or butter that could be canned, but filling it with sugar is not we want, either.  So, yesterday I was freezing it!  Quite a simple process, really.  I oven-roasted a whole bunch of butternut, halved and with seeds and membrane removed.  Once I could easily pierce the skin with a fork, it was done!  I scrapped out the cooked meat into a large bowl.  I've noticed this year's butternut has a high water content, so I put scoopfuls in a strainer and let moisture drip out.  Quite an amazing amount: about a quarter cup of liquid for two cups of cooked meat!  I then portioned it into freezer bags and froze!  I've done the bags in one cup portions because we've really been enjoying these muffins with different winter squash.  Now I'm ready for muffins, soups and many other things all winter long!  Hmmm, maybe I need some muffins now!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Talking Potatoes and Squash in Hartney!

The Hartney Horticultural Society invited us back this year for a fall vegetable talk.  We'd done a squash night last year that was great fun!  This year, we thought to focus on potatoes and baking with winter squash.  We've got quite a unique collection of potato varieties: twenty eight kinds!  Figuring that everyone has had a basic red, white and baking potato we took five of our more unique and rare varieties.  Monday afternoon we steamed up German Butterball (like Yukon Gold, but yummier), Russian Blue the all purple potato, Alaska Sweetheart which is all red potato (yes, skin and flesh is pink/red), one of our favorite fingerlings Linzertans Delicatese and the rare fingerling Pink Fir Apple.   We also baked a butternut squash and Hubbard.  The evening was hosted at the delightful Red Door Cafe in Hartney, so we had access to a kitchen.

Farmer Man gave a little info on growing potatoes and different kinds.  We warmed up our five kinds and served out tastes one by one, just plain so that people could really experience the flavor.  German Butterball and the Pink Fir Apple seemed the favorites of the evening!  Next, we talked a bit about winter squash and baking with it.  We served up a taste of butternut and Hubbard plain, simply roasted.  Then, we offered a taste of a loaf made with Kabocha Japanese pumpkin, and Claris from the Red Door offered tastes of pie and cheesecake made with Boston Marrow, a relative of Hubbard that we had gotten to her earlier in the week.  I think everyone had a chance to try something they'd never eaten before, which we love!  And, we shared with everyone just how easy it is to bake with real pumpkins, or hubbards, or butternuts......

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meet Doodles!

Doodles and the very hairy Grizzly Bear cuddling
on Farmer Man's lap.
Farmer Man had put his foot down a few years ago:  No more pets.  There was hardly any room in the bed for him between the little doggies and the cats.  But then, we lost Peanuts.  And then, he met Doodles.  Doodles is one of the barn kittens.  From the outset she was friendly, curious and would follow Farmer Man in that galloping, unsteady way that kittens have.  He described her as 'doodling around' the barn.  As the weather has taken a chilly turn the last few weeks, Farmer Man would appear, doing light chores, with the kitten stuffed in the front of his vest.  She would try to follow when he took the dogs for a walk and would end up tucked into his jacket, getting a full tour of the farm.  As we started to try to find the kittens home, to my surprise Farmer Man said that Doodles wasn't available.

Two nights ago, Doodles became a house cat.  Farmer Man brought her into the house and set her down to explore.  It was just kind of assumed she wouldn't be going back out to the barn.  It's a delicate situation with a small pack of doggies and one rather surly house cat, Blondie.  I got the pet carrier and set it up with an old towel for bedding, a small, plastic sandwich box for kitty litter and a small bowl for water.  We showed her to all the dogs and told them to be nice; growling or baring teeth received a correction.  We kept a close eye on her as she wandered and explored; it was all so exciting that she quickly settled in for a nap on Farmer Man's shoulder.

The good thing is the Grizzly Bear seems to have taken to her.  We still supervise every minute, but he really seems to be fascinated in a good way.  He's even given her a few 'kisses' and let her curl up on his back this morning.  If Doodles has been down and wandering, we just look for Grizzly, who seems to never be far behind.  He wants to play, but we admonish him to be gentle because he's so much bigger.  We're hoping they end up good friends.  The rest of the doggies are stand-offish and so far Blondie the cat seems to be afraid of the kitten!  Teddy Bear seems rather put off so far; poor girl started out as an only child and now has to share the attention with a number of other 'friends'!

At bedtime, Doodles is secured in the pet carrier.  When we left Saturday morning to do the Farmers Market, Doodles was secured in the pet carrier.  That will be the way, for a while.  There are hazards in any house, although ours is pretty pet safe!  We also can't completely trust the doggies and Blondie - these are animals and remain unpredictable.  And Doodles is just sooo small right now - and too nice for this crowd!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kittens Meet the Chickens!

The kittens are scampering in the protection of the greenhouse!
Yesterday, Farmer Man was out working in the back yard on a little patio he's constructing and Little Mama decided a walk was in order.  She's quite bold what with the doggies around, but I guess she assumes Farmer Man and I will protect her.  The kittens and the free-ranging chicks found each other quite interesting.  We actually intervened at one point because we thought the chicks were going to start pecking at the kittens!  The June chicks are almost full grown at this point; quite a contrast in size!  A great adventure for the little kittens, I just hope they don't start free-ranging themselves yet because it's a dangerous world out there!  Anybody looking to add a kitten to their home?