Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Garden Chore of 2012

The garden is covered in snow, and it is very cold.  The year winds down; it's time to complete the chores of 2012!  The last chore, which has been hanging over my head for some time, is to finish the dried beans.  A rather large bucket of 'Jacob's Cattle' beans, still in the pod, has been hanging around in the sun room since October.  I usually get this chore finished in November, but this year I was a little distracted by soap making.  'Jacob's Cattle' is an awesome heirloom bean, used in baked beans, soups and stews.  It's also gorgeous: deep red with white patches, although the coloring is lost in cooking.

There are many ways to shuck beans; most instructions involve putting all the pods in a gunny sack or feed sack and smacking it on the ground, or beating it with a hammer or crunching them with a rolling pin.  This shatters the brittle, dried pods and releases the beans.  We've done this for a number of years now, and I always find those methods messy.  It's just really hard to separate the beans from the debris; even outside, allowing the wind to take some of the chafe, it's still messy.  So this year, I've settled down in front of the TV in the evening and hand-shucked the beans - like shelling fresh peas.  I feel I'm multi-tasking, too, so watching TV doesn't seem as decadent a thing!

It's taken about eight hours of casual hurry, no pressure!  The beans I have produced are very clean, and won't really require any more labour.  Like any dried bean or lentil or such, we'll still rinse them and pick through them before cooking, but one should always do that sort of thing.  I had the big bucket on one side, an empty bucket for the debris between my knees and a small pail for the beans in front of me on a low table.  After a while it's a rhythm, a Zen thing....the work gets done while hardly thinking about it.  I found, after a while, the moment I picked up a pod I could tell if it was good or bad, and sorted beans right on the spot.

Worth the effort? Well, yes!  If we were thinking of selling these they would have to be a ridiculous price, to cover my labor.  But, it's for our use and for re-planting, and enjoyable!  Fresh dried beans are a delight to use; at this age these beans will hardly require soaking before using.  And 'Jacob's Cattle' is a very tasty bean!

So, just as I though I had wrapped up the 2012 gardening year, I discovered that our onions weren't storing very well.  We struggle to store onions: outside is way too cold, the root cellar is too humid (good for potatoes, carrots and beets in sand).  This year we thought we had cured them well, and tried our back bathroom, generally unused, dark and cool, and had stashed the sacks of onions there.  These are all small onions, the left overs so to speak, we were just hoping to use as seed next Spring.  On inspection, I could see that onions were sprouting and I could smell a bit of decay.  So, they must come out of the sacks and be picked through to get out any bad ones if we have any hope of saving some.  I'd better get that done today, if I want the 2012 gardening season truly finished!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Homemade Beauty Products!

Facial Moisturizer, the latest version! Luv it!
You know how one thing can lead to another?  Well, getting interested in soap making has led me on a path that may soon see us buying virtually no bath and beauty products!  It's not like this is any huge epiphany or turn-around; at Aagaard Farms we've been making our own stuff and avoiding unnecessary chemicals for a long time!  We've been using baking soda and vinegar for cleaning for years, making our own jams and jellies with our home-grown fresh fruits, raising and drying our own herbs and beans.  It's hard to believe that even six or seven years ago I was happy to pay $40 for a jar of moisturizer, but not any more!

Like everything we get involved in, I did a lot of research about soap making before I even acquired goats.  I wanted to make sure it was the right move, the right investment in time, energy and money.  As I learned about soap, I learned about skin, about butters and oils, and learned more about essential oils.  I've been using essential oils for years for fragrance.  I haven't worn over-the-counter perfume in a long time, always essential oils in a base of skin-friendly carrier oil, but none made by myself.  Now I know so much more about their qualities for nourishing the skin, improving health, cleaning, removing bacteria, mold and, yes, even viruses!  The teat dip we used on the goats was all homemade and largely essential oils in a witch hazel base.

Our own interest in a green and sustainable life style, and learning about soap making took me online where I discovered a world of #DIY beauty and health products.  Not just soap, but everything you could possibly need from cough drops to deodorant!  Looking to test the market before we were ready to make soap, I decided to make some lip balm and lotion bars from one of my favorite skin care ingredients: hemp oil.  I could see if my Farmers Market customers were interested and I'd have them for my own use!  And hemp oil is a local product: we use 'Manitoba Harvest' hemp oil in our morning smoothies as well as our skin care!  I acquired some lovely bars of natural beeswax from Manitoba's  'Hive on the Hill' and I was off-and-running in the beauty biz.  The balm and lotion bars were well received, and I was gratified that some CSA friends and other people with eczema had great luck with our all-natural products and have been return customers ever since!  And my sensitive skin was quite happy so it was all good!

As I was running out of my commercial face moisturizer, I happened to get hooked up with Diane Kidman's wonderful herb books.  Her book Beauty Gone Wild' had the recipes that really got me thinking that I could make my own!  Now, I'm not going to share her recipe here, because she works really hard and I think you should buy her book.  The e-book is $4, just four bucks and she deserves it! (And if you don't have a Kindle you can download free software so you can read any Kindle book on any type of computer.  You knew that, right?  And did you know that the Canadian blog/Facebook page Joybilee Farm lists free Kindle books everyday?)  Anyhoo, back in the summer, for a $9 bottle of organic olive oil, I got a couple of big jars of a lovely (although somewhat heavy for summer) facial moisturizer. With some olive oil left over for salad!  Yes, that's right - about $9 for two large jars of moisturizer!  One I kept refrigerated, since the cream contains no preservatives, until I had used up the first.

The time had come for more moisturizer, but this time I know so much more!  Plus, the soap making has had me acquiring different butters and oils, as I became interested in new recipes.  As I could afford it, I've added new essential oils and more exotic ingredients to my arsenal.  So, Diane's basic recipes calls for, among a few other things, a cup of olive oil and up to 32 drops of essential oils.  This time, I replaced some of the olive oil with sweet almond oil and jojoba oil - both known to be very good for the skin.  I also had, this time, rose hip seed oil and geranium oil, replacing most of the lavender essential oil I used in the first batch.  Both the rose hip oil and geranium oil are very good for mature (cough, cough) and sensitive skins!  And wow - do I love this cream!  The smell is lovely but light, the texture is a little lighter but still rich enough for winter, and it sinks in nicely!

My shower routine now starts with a gentle facial scrub of ground oatmeal, honey and a dab of goats milk (all local - love that!)  from my other favorite resource: Janice Cox's 'Natural Beauty at Home'.  The scrub is also fabulous for hands: weather-chapped, goat slobbered, chicken pecked, kitty scratched, chore-doing hands!  I've also made bath soaks, body scrubs, and soon, eye cream from this book!  A great resource.  If you're thinking of making your own, do also check out the fab-u-lous website Fresh Picked Beauty - loads of great stuff!  Another great source, not just for skin care recipes but also loads of other crafts and gardening ideas is Garden Therapy; I've also recently picked up her e-book and follow her on Pinterest too - the good stuff just keeps coming from Stevie!   It's her recipe for easy bath bombs that some of our family will be getting in their Christmas presents this year, along with a little soap, of course!  When I get to it, I'll let you know how the homemade eye cream goes!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It Must Be December: I've Got Nails!

It's that time of year...the garden is under snow, the chores are minimal and.....I've got finger nails!  Just in time for the Festive Season!  They are not pretty: my cuticles are not groomed, I've got scratches and dings on my hands, the nails are not shaped or painted....but they are there!

As a market gardener and caretaker to livestock, it's impossible to have nails.  During the growing season there is sooo much stress on nails!  I'm constantly scrounging in the soil weeding or harvesting, often without gloves because I just find they impair my ability.  I'm grappling with elastics and bags trying to bundle and portion our produce.  I'm trying to rip into bags of feed, fighting with gates and pens.  Lots of water is involved: hauling hoses for watering veggies and animals, hauling buckets, trying to get into those chicken waters.  Plus the almost constant hand washing as I go from chicken coop to goat pen to making supper to harvesting vegetables; my hands must get washed fifty times a day!  My nails grow fairly well (must be all that fresh goats milk and fresh veggies!), but are always nicked and the longer they are the harder it is to clean them; finger nail brushes just don't reach down that far!  So, during the season my nails are trimmed very short all the time.

Jacob's Cattle bean, waiting to get shelled.
With the arrival of winter, things ease up a bit.  The only chore left from the 2012 growing season is to shell the beans we grew for soups and stews,  the yummy Jacob's Cattle!  I become a bit more of a house wife in the winter, with lots of soap making, baking and such.  Yes, I still have animals to care for, but with the snow and cold weather they are more confined to the coop and barn.  We're not even milking anymore - the goat mamma's are dried off as we assume they're growing lovely baby goats again and we want all their strength to go to that!  I find, even though it's below freezing, I'm still without gloves a bit as I go about my chores.  It's just impossible to do somethings with gloves on, like finding that little strip to tear off a new bag of feed, or trying to get into one of those pressure-sealed chicken waterers.  So my hands are red, and still a little scratched from playing with Doodles or barn kitties and a myriad other things.  I believe they're not as bad as they could be, partly due to our lovely, gentle goats milk soap and our nourishing handmade lotion bars - which I'm applying constantly!

The nails can't last.  As someone with chickens, goats, cats and dogs nails of any great length are a hazard.  I might poke someones eye, or cause myself great pain by catching a nail and bending it back.  But for the Holiday Season, I'll trim them a bit and nicely, maybe give myself a little manicure.  Maybe between Christmas and New Years I'll even put a coat of paint on them!  And then, they'll be gone again....because soon we'll start growing, getting seeds started inside!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Soapmaking Is Addictive!

Our Simple Goats Milk Soap, in the flat tray molds.
Soaps are frozen in the mold to get the lovely ivory colour
and to keep the milk proteins from scorching.
Farmer Man is calling me the 'Soapmaking Kitchen Witch'! I'm often in the kitchen, melting fats and oils, stirring big pots of goop, geared up in gloves and goggles before mixing lye, pouring out fresh soap into molds.  Our freezer is often crowded with goats milk in ice cubes trays, getting frozen for soap making.  Or, there are molds full of soap taking up space - waiting to be frozen, before being removed from the molds and cut.

I am officially hooked on soap making!  Much of my time is spent in not only making soap, but reading about the properties of various fats and oils, researching natural additives and essential oils, cruising websites and blogs concerning soap, looking at soap recipes and planning how to change them into goats milk recipes, and scrutinizing packaging and displays.  It's almost like a full-time job, without the pay check (so far)!  Of course, I also spend some time each day caring for my little goaties...and the other critters around here.  But I always seem to get back to soap.  I've subscribed to newsletters from soaping websites, I've got books here that I can pick up at any time.  We want, like the food we grow, to offer our customers a wonderful, natural product - without harmful chemicals (aside from the lye, which is potentially harmful only to me during the process of making soap).  I've been deepening my knowledge of essential oils for fragrance - no fake chemical fragrances for us!  I've been learning about the benefits of ground oatmeal, herbs and natural clays and so much more!

The original Hemp Soap, with the dark spot in the middle.
The picture doesn't show it's pale green colour.

I love all the soap I've made and tried, but my favorite so far is our hemp soap.  It's very gentle and moisturizing, lovely sudsy, and doubles as a shampoo very nicely!  I had decided to make it in a loaf mold, to distinguish it from our Simple Soap.  In the loaf mold, however, I got a funny spot in the middle, as you can see in the photo.  Now, to preserve the benefits of milk and to produce a lovely, pale color I freeze all our soap as soon as it is poured in the mold.  In cold process soap making, the molds are usually insulated to encourage heat to build up so that the soap goes through what's called a gel phase.  I'm trying to avoid that gel phase and the resulting heat; so much heat can be produced in the chemical reaction of lye with oils and fats that the milk can be scorched!  This would destroy some of the benefits to the skin of the milk as well as discolour the bars.  To this end, I mostly use flat tray molds, so that the heat doesn't build up and dissipates quickly in the freezer.  But, I didn't have enough tray molds and was trying to produce soap quickly, so I started making the hemp in a loaf mold.  Heat builds up in the middle, even in the freezer, and I get a spot in the middle that has gone through the gel phase.  Doesn't really effect the soap - it's still lovely but I didn't like the look.
The latest Hemp Soap, not frozen.  No centre spot,
but the colour is more yellow/beige.

So, I've tried different things: letting the oils cool longer before adding the lye/goats milk mix.  I've stirred the final soap longer and longer, hoping to release some of the heat before pouring it in the mold.  All, to no avail.  So, I decided to make a batch without putting it in the freezer, insulate the molds on the counter and let the stuff go through the gel phase!  Result: a bar with a different colour and texture, and no spot in the middle!  Now, I really shouldn't judge this new loaf of hemp soap.  It's just come out of the mold and needs to cure for a month or so, during which time it will change.  However, so far I don't like the colour as well - it's a bit more of a yellow/beige/green whereas my first bars were a pale, pale minty green.  The texture is a bit more coarse, it's not as smooth and creamy as the first batches.  And, of course, I haven't used it yet and won't for a number of weeks and that will be the ultimate test.  I'll draw my final conclusions when the soap comes in the shower with me!  Wow, that sounded so....scientific.....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm Lovin' a Soap Saver!

On the right, my well-used soap saver!
We've been testing out our soaps the very first minute we can.  No long curing has been going on here!  Anytime I've made something new....we wait the minimum time, test it with a pH strip to make sure it's safe and then into the shower it goes!  We're loving all the carefully chosen recipes, and we're certainly luxuriating in fresh, handmade soap, creamy with loads of fresh goat milk, full of natural glycerin and skin-loving butters and oils.  No dry, detergent-stripped skin around here!

We have noticed that our soaps can get a little soft sitting in the shower.  And I've become aware that that can be a 'thing' with handmade soap.  Glycerin is a natural by-product of soap making; commercial makers often remove it to sell and use elsewhere, leaving a harder bar of soap.  Many commercial soaps are actually just detergent whereas our soap is fats, oils and fresh milk, saponified with lye.  Then, when we don't let them cure for very long before trying them.....well, we have soft soap.  I've been reading, for a while, about soap bags or soap savers or scrubby bags....whatever you want to call them!  On the Web, there are mentions of them on soaping sites, crafty sites and frugal-living sites.  And I'm loving mine!  Highly recommend it!

A soap saver or soap bag serves a couple of purposes.  It is a crocheted bag (preferably handcrafted locally with natural fibres), your bar of soap goes in the bag, then between baths or showers you can hang the bag up.  Thus, you avoid leaving your soap sitting in a puddle and the soap dries out fully.  You can put your smaller pieces of soap into a bag and use them to the last little bit - which is the frugal part.  They are also excellent for exfoliation - like a wash cloth but way more sudsy and easy to handle!  I got mine from local Etsy seller Ritzys All Naturals, who sold her crocheted wares at The Global Market this summer.  (I also got awesome cotton dish clothes from her, which I've used all summer for cleaning up the goats!)  I enquired with some crafty friends, and our CSA friend Sharon made some up for me to sell with our soaps - in some beautiful pastel, multi-coloured cottons!  If you do crochet, apparently a quite easy #DIY project - Sharon whipped up a bunch just watching TV over a couple of nights!  Here's a link to a bunch of free patterns here!

We're so excited to be bringing all our wares to the Art Gallery of South Western Manitoba's 'Gala of Gifts' on December 1st.  Stay tuned for more details!  And, if you're not in the area, watch for our announcement about online shopping...soonish.......

Friday, November 9, 2012

Time To Dry Off The Goat Mommas!

Dot will miss her fresh milk daily!
We're hoping that Randi the Buck has done his job, and that our Goat Girls are now pregnant.  He's been with the ladies 24/7 for over a month, and was very enthusiastic to get on with his work!  We are currently still milking the does, but the time has come to dry them off.  Once a doe has been pregnant and produces milk, theoretically you can keep milking for a long time: we've heard of does that milked for more than two years steadily!  That is, as long as they're not pregnant again.  Making milk takes a lot of energy, making babies takes a lot of energy so it's either one or the other.  Apparently, you can milk a doe through the first three months of their five month pregnancy, which means we could milk until the end of December.  However, two considerations for us: first, we had a Randi 'break-out' before we put the buck and the does together and Choco may have gotten pregnant early.  Second, we're about to get so cold weather-wise, that we'd rather give the girls a longer, healthier break from milking.  And us, too; we'll actually be rather happy to have a break from the routine of milking.

Drying off a doe - getting them to quit making milk - is going to take us about six weeks.  Like everything around here, we're going to do it fairly naturally.  We have started this week by going to milking just once a day, in the morning.  The first night was quite amusing - we went up to the barn at our usual time but instead of taking out a doe, we just gave them a little grain ration to share, right in their pen.  Mabel, always first to get milked, stood up on the gate, watching and waiting.  She didn't head for the grain, she kept waiting to be taken out of the pen.  From there, usually, she would go on the milking stand and get her own (private) grain ration to enjoy at her leisure.  As we gave a little grain to the kids, tossed a little scratched for the chickens in the barn and fed the cats, Mabel continued to watch our every move from the gate.  She seemed to be in disbelief.  Feeling sorry for her, we put a little more grain ration in the girls' bowl, taking the scoop right past her to entice her, then said good night and turned out the lights.

The next morning we went up a little early, not sure what to expect.  None of the does seemed in any discomfort, although all three were very enthusiastic about heading for the milking stand when their turn came.  There was no bulging milk bags, no cries of pain - all things we thought possible.  Mabel and Chocolate produced about the usual amount of milk, Goldie produced a little more than usual.  Again, in the evening, we just put everyone to bed as usual, giving the does a little grain ration in their pen.  During this week, this has easily become the new normal with no problems.  We'll do this for a couple of weeks, lessening the grain ration that they receive each morning, which will also help with the transition.  In a couple of weeks time, we'll go to milking every second morning, then milking every three days, then we'll just stop.  And with that, the does will be dried off, ready to grow beautiful, healthy kids!

We'll miss our fresh, raw milk.  We're an all-goat-milk-all-the-time household right now.  We do have milk frozen, which will get us by for a while.  Probably late winter, before the new kids are born, we'll have to buy commercial milk.  We're not looking forward to it: our fresh milk is beautiful and delicious!  Probably, the one who will miss it the most is our little barn kitty 'pet' Dot, who is in the habit of following us to every milking and getting a little bowl of fresh, warm milk to enjoy!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Revving Up The Soaping!

Goats Milk, Oatmeal, Cinnamon Soap.
CSA is finished, the Global Market is finished, the gardens are largely finished.  What's left?  Making soap!  I'm getting ready to participate in some craft fairs.  I was able to make small batches of soap thru the summer, which sold nicely at the Global Market, with great feedback from customers.  One needs volume to participate in a craft show, though, so I've been soaping up a storm!  I've been aiming for a batch a day...although that hasn't always happened!

Like everything we do, we're looking to make soap as simply and naturally as possible.  No swirling, twirling, no glittering or glamming!  We're making skin-nourishing goats milk soap with no artificial colours, no artificial fragrances, no preservatives, no chemical sudsers - just natural ingredients!  We're super-fatting with fresh, fluid goats milk - no dehydrated milk powder here!  It's harder than you might think to find info, so a certain amount of experimenting is going on in the kitchen!  Farmer Man and I, and a few friends, have been washing up with some odd-looking, but still very usable soaps!

Our 'mainstay' soap is a cold process soap which we're calling our 'Simple Soap': just coconut oil, olive oil and lots of goats milk.  All ingredients that are good for your skin, and coconut oil makes a nice lather.  We'd love to keep our soap ingredients 'local', but it's hard to make good soap with just what is available: canola oil, sunflower oil and hemp oil!  We could get into rendering lard, a classic soap ingredient but...we'd need a lot and I just don't really want to get into it!  We have also made a hemp soap - very popular at the Global Market and a good pairing with our hemp lotion bar!

To keep our soaps the lightest colour possible, we are freezing the mixes as soon as they go in the mold.  The common practice, in cold process soap making, is to insulate the soap in the mold and leave it 24 hours.  During this time the soap goes through a 'gel' phase, during which the chemical process involving the fats, oils and lye is completed.  A lot of heat is generated during this phase which can scorch milk fats and darken the colour of the bar.  We can keep more of the milk solids unscathed and the colour lighter by avoiding the gel phase.  Our soap will be a little softer, and may take longer to cure, but more benefits to the skin!  We're making most of our soaps in flat tray molds, so it freezes quicker and to avoid heat build-up.  The hemp soap I've been making in a loaf mold, and have had the centre darken, meaning it was warm enough for a short time for the gel phase to start.  Still great soap - maybe we'll call it 'Hemp Heart' soap or something!

So far, we've got a good stash of our Hemp Soap, Simple Soap Unscented (great for those working in hospitals and such where fragrance is frowned on, or for people who don't want their soap to interfere with their perfume choice), Simple Soap with ground Lavender and Lavender essential oil, Simple Soap with ground chamomile and chamomile infusion, a goat milk, oatmeal and honey soap (from a recipe on the Web), a shampoo bar and a shampoo bar with Rosemary essential oil (for scalp stimulation).  Today's experiment:  a goat milk, oatmeal and cinnamon soap which I am not going to put in the freezer.  I'm making it in a loaf mold and since the ground cinnamon is going to colour the bar anyway, I decided to see what would happen if I didn't freeze it, but insulated it instead!  I'll post some pictures on our Facebook page when I take it out of the mold in a day or two!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

End of the Growing Season....

Everyone enjoys the fountain each summer!
Yesterday, we could park our truck in the garage, for the first time in probably four months!  It means the season is just about finished here in Manitoba.  During growing season, the garage is 'action central', where we gather the harvest, clean, package and sort into CSA boxes or crates for Farmers Markets.  One side of the double garage is always for processing: a couple of long tables with our scales, bags, accessories and space to put down crates of to-be-weighed-and-packaged veggies.  The other side gets tables set up all around, where we lay out all the crates; on Tuesdays and Thursdays for our CSA families, Fridays and Saturdays for The Global Market.  In September, in particular, the garage is crammed with crates and crates of potatoes, onions and garlic drying and curing before being sold or stored, then it's floor is covered with all the Winter Squash we've harvested.  It's hard to walk around let alone park a vehicle!  So, when the truck can finally go back into the garage - we know things are almost finished.

There hasn't been a blog post in a while: the last CSA delivery, the last Global Market all bring a sense of 'end' to us, and we take a little break from writing and, well, talking to people.  We've hardly left the farm for a couple of weeks, just the occasional grocery shop or feed store run!  We're still busy, though, very, very busy!  Farmer Man is still doing clean up/close up.  All the potatoes have been moved to the root cellar, all the Winter Squash is in the sun room.  Anything that can be dug, plucked or pulled has been.  It has largely all been dealt with too; there are just soup beans, Jacob's Cattle, that still need to be shelled, cleaned and stored.  Farmer Man has started some tilling, to clean up some growing beds and he's been cleaning the shop, the garage, the green house and the barn.  He's gathered tomato cages and stakes, picked up hoses, organized tools and a myriad of other small chores.  Work has already started, in a small way, on winterizing the barns, cleaning and updating goat pens and chicken coops.  Those, however, are chores that can wait until the first snow fall forces him off the land.  Me, I've been cooking, baking and making soap - hoping to be ready to do some craft shows this Holiday Season!

One of our final chores, just before freezing weather sets in, is to dismantle the fountain by our patio.  It's a work of art every year - stacked stones, a deep basin of water and a pond pump.  Everyone enjoys it: not only do we enjoy it as we sit on the patio but dogs, cats, chickens, assorted wild birds and even bees and wasps stop in for a drink.  When the fountain is taken down it means that Winter is looming right around the corner.  Farmer Man has threatened a couple of times to take it apart, but I always look at the long range forecast and tell him to leave it a few more days....

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It's Officially Mating Season for the Goats!

A little primping!
It's time to start thinking about having adorable baby goats bouncing around next Spring!  No, really, you've got to plan for these things!  Last year we bought our buck, Dandi Randi, in the middle of December.  We thought we were being so smart; we'd have babies in May, when the weather was nice.  We wouldn't have to worry about babies getting chills, there would already be nice, fresh leaves and grass for the Mommas for sweet milk!  Well, turned out to be a critical error: we should be planting out our seedlings in May, and keeping up on the weeding of newly seeded rows!  Between the late nights monitoring the Mommas, sitting with goats in labor and bottle-feeding babies - we were worn out and weedy before our CSA season even started!

So, this year things will be different! Although Farmer Man and I have had some spirited discussions on just when to put the buck and the does together, we agreed on October 1st, looking to have baby goats in February or March.  Maybe the beginning of February, if one of the girls is receptive right away.  February is a little early for my taste; we can still be very cold in February but we have heat lamps and insulated boxes so everything should be alright!

A bit too enthusiastic right away....
Fall is the normal mating season for goats.  It can be manipulated - apparently the females can come into heat just by being around the male or smelling a rag impregnated by his scent.  Brambles Nubian Goat Farm, where we got all our lovely goats, is having babies now.  Our late Spring baby girls: Marble, Cherry and Chica, are really too young to breed right now, so that's a disadvantage we hadn't thought about last year, either!  Boys mature early, Gaffer, Marty and Myrvan are ready to breed (boy, they really think they're ready) and are currently for sale.  Their dairy goat genetics are excellent and their temperaments are all delightful, and they should make awesome sires and be a great addition to some dairy goat farms somewhere.

Our Buck, known as Dandi Randi, has been ready to breed since the middle of summer!  A goat buck's idea of making himself attractive involves urinating on his Randi has been smelly and sticky and loud and pushy for some time!  He has continually tried to get out of his pen, tried to get at the girls and generally been a little hard to handle!  His name became Readi Randy and we've been getting tired of his antics.  Finally, the last couple of weeks, we noticed the ladies were getting a little difficult.  More obstinate, petulant, cranky and milk production has been down!  Seems everybody is getting in the mood.

A little dinner...
So, October 1st started with a wee grooming for Randi - to get him ready for the ladies!  After milking the girls and putting them all out to pasture, we got Randi on the milking stand and fed him his morning grain ration while doing his hooves and giving him a (fairly) good brushing.  Having his scent on the brush may help the ladies get in the mood!  When we led Randi out to the pasture - did his attention perk up!  We let him loose but stayed to monitor things.  He was immediately on the hunt - pursuing poor Choco around the field for a good five minutes.  Strange noises, licking, sniffing - quite the sight!  It was interesting he picked Choco because she was the last to have her babies this past Spring, so the last to succumb to his advances!  Maybe he could smell that she was in heat, or maybe he likes a challenge.  After a little while, things settled down and we went and cut willow for everyone, and it seemed quite quiet in the pasture the rest of the day.

The buck and the does will stay together 24/7 for more than a month now.  Does are in heat (known as estrus) for only about one day, but will come back into heat in about three weeks.  We want to make sure the 'deed' gets done so we'll give them lots of opportunity - as long as Randi stays a gentleman and doesn't appear to be getting rough with them!  We will not take the chance of the ladies being injured so we're keeping a close eye on things - one of us will be around them regularly throughout the day!  Kind of like a chaperon, don't you think?  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

CSA For Sept. 27th

Hand-picking the ripest pear tomatoes!

Hard to believe that it is the last CSA day for the year!  It will feel very odd next Tuesday and Thursday - like there's something we're forgetting, something we should be doing.  It will take us a few weeks to 'stand down'.

Today's last pick up is about stocking you up a bit: there's a choice of potatoes, cured and ready for storage.  Depending on your share size, you'll get varying amounts.  Potatoes do best with dark, cool storage - but with some moisture, not too dry.  If you've got a dry space in your pantry or kitchen, try placing a pan of water in with the potatoes.  Dry storage isn't a big problem - the skins will just dry out faster and become harder.  Not a huge issue 'cause you'll probably eat these potatoes within the next month or so!  You know that the skin holds half the nutrition - so just scrub 'em and keep eating the skin when you can!

We've also got a spaghetti squash for everybody - they store really well so you can pick from some 'ready to rumble' or one that you can eat with Christmas Dinner!  Although we don't think the flavor or texture is quite as nice, it is easy to microwave winter squashes - and cut your cooking time down by more than half!  Here's simple instructions for microwaving spaghetti squash - but it applies to all the squashes.  If you like it spicy, how about a mac-n- cheese style Spaghetti squash with jalapeno cream?  For something a bit more exotic, and not even slightly local, how about spaghetti squash with shrimps or scallops?  If you cook up a big one, this breakfast loaf sounds awesome - we may try it this weekend!

The variety of tomatoes going to CSA! The bags
of slicers have some to ripen on your counter!
Everyone is getting to choose from among a number of different tomatoes today.  There are some yellow pears, a very limited amount of 'Indigo Rose' and a few cherries.  There's also bags of Aunt Ruby's German Green (which seems to have become a CSA favorite), Brandywine, Opalka, mixed bags of the low-acid Husky Gold and Lemon Boy, as well as some conventional red.  Most of these are ripening in our sun room because of cold nights - they'd all be dead and done if we hadn't picked them last Friday!  Enjoy the last of summers' fruits!

And for everyone: what's a late September CSA without a pumpkin?  Everyone's getting a pumpkin today - some gorgeous Sorcerer, or a bit of Sugar Pie is available, by choice!  Sorcerer is a beautiful, big pumpkin, totally appropriate for decorating but also good eating!  It's not quite as smooth as Sugar Pie or quite as sweet - but delicious none the less!  The hefty size makes it an awesome selection for freezing!  We just roast pumpkin, take out the meat, mash it a bit with a fork, then we pack it into freezer bags in one cup portions - perfect for a batch of muffins or a pumpkin loaf all winter!  Just remember, if you're following another recipe and it asks for canned pumpkin - it may assume that the spices are in the canned product - so you may need to add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove yourself!  Here's the pumpkin pie spice mix I use, and I make up a bit to have in the spice rack!

It's been so nice seeing everyone every Thursday - a great group of enthusiastic 'local foodies'.  We've had so much fun swapping recipes and cooking techniques, and even dehydrating tips (Thank, John!).  We'll be at the Global Market Saturdays until October 13th - hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

CSA For Sept. 25th

CSA 2012 is not going out with the bang we might have wished for.  It hasn't been a great harvest and we're just squeaking by the value set on everybodys' share.  In better years, we'd meet the value on the final pick up day and then have a bonus day - but this is not that kind of year.  Still, the last CSA pick up is always a sad day for us: we have so many delightful people within our CSA families and we won't be seeing them for a while now!  Oh, we'll see a few of them at the remaining Global Markets, some will come to the farm to buy eggs or potatoes through the winter, but mostly we're saying 'good bye' today - until next year!  The last CSA day is also a wee bit of a relief for us - the work, the toil is done for another year; maybe next week on Tuesday I'll finally give this house a really good cleaning!  Or maybe the dogs will finally get a haircut....

It's a spaghetti squash kind of a day - 'cause that is what the harvest is!  Everyone is getting spaghetti squash, in varying amounts, depending on the share size!  It's the most unique of Winter Squashes: once baked, it comes out of the skin like threads of spaghetti pasta!  It's nice as a side dish, either served savory with spaghetti sauce, or sweetened up a bit with maple syrup or brown sugar.  Treat is like a pasta, and toss it with veggies and feta cheese.   Keeping with a Mediterranean theme, how about a Chicken and Spaghetti Squash dinner?  Spice it up Moroccan style - yummy!  Cook up a big one, 'cause there is soooo much more to do with it:  we love these spaghetti squash pancakes from the divine Mollie Katzen!  How about a Spaghetti Squash and Meatball Muffin?  Or, mash it up good and use it in a snack muffin, like this recipe!

Everyone is also getting a 'Sorcerer' pumpkin, a medium size pumpkin.  Yes, it would make a good carving pumpkin for Halloween, but it's also good eating.  Not quite as smooth a texture as Sugar Pie' pumpkin, not quite as sweet, but still good eating!  Hmmm, pumpkin spice pancakes!  Yes, just roast a the pumpkin, mash up the meat for fresh pumpkin puree!  We've made a version of these before: just delightful, and the house smells so good!

We brought along a variety of potatoes, and everybody got a selection, based on the size of their shares.  There was a basic good red, 'Roko, the classic baked potato 'Russet', the delightful 'Island Sunshine', the very tasty 'German Butterball' and another red 'Purple Viking'.  Everyone also got to pick from a selection of tomatoes: cherry, classic red slicers, low-acid yellows, Brandywine or Aunt Ruby's German Green.

We also brought half of the watermelon and cantaloupe harvest; the other half will go to Thursdays' families.  It wasn't a big deal: they are generally small and unripe.  We've been covering them every night for almost two weeks - there's another chore we won't be sad to see finished.  On the kitchen counter, they should ripen within a week, you'll know when the fragrance of the fruit is apparent.  We're not sure how a family of four will split these little guys: maybe a spoonful for everybody in yogurt or on ice cream!

We've so enjoyed our Tuesday CSA families!  We hope you've all enjoyed the fresh-picked food - harvested just for you!  We hope we've introduced some new food to some of you and shared some good recipes!  We've love to hear from you and get ideas for next year:  Caryl mentioned at today's pick up that she'd love sunflower heads, ready to harvest sunflower seeds to roast!  That's doable!  What would you like to see next year?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More Than Just Frost....

Another bucket load to unload at the garage!
With just a touch of Mother Nature's hand, the growing season is largely done for us!  Friday night was not just frost, or even hard frost: Friday's night's temperatures went well below the freezing mark.  Our thermometer read -7 C (about 18 F) at 6 AM Saturday morning.  Vegetables are done growing for this year!  There had been hope for the summer squash and cucumbers after the touch of frost last week: the tops had been touched but the inner plant was okay and they had started to flower again and had some new growth.  Now, all hope is gone and the plants are all blackened, collapsed heaps, almost unrecognizable.

We had some warning in the weather forecast - although it did get even colder than predicted!  Thursday was CSA day for us so we were busy harvesting for our families, but taking a little extra of everything when we could.  Friday was all-out last-chance harvesting.  Where do you start when it might be your last chance to harvest?  Well, first you prioritize:  anything in the ground like potatoes and beets will be fine.  Then you look at the economic value of our products and those products in demand.  For us, priorities were winter squash and tomatoes.  Everyone is tired of summer squash: they've sauteed, muffined, loaved and frozen to the max!  Winter squash, from pumpkins to Kabocha to Delicata, that's what customers and CSA families are looking for now.  And tomatoes - well, you can never have enough!  Lots of customers are still looking for good paste or plum tomatoes for canning sauces and salsas!
The tomato plants are just crispy now!

So, Friday morning right after milking, the harvesting frenzy began.  I set to work on tomatoes, Farmer Man to winter squash.  Farmer Man definitely had the harder task (as is also so!), because he was cutting squash, filling the tractor bucket, unloading at the garage and doing it all again.  That included twenty pound carving pumpkins, fifteen pound Marina di Chioggia, heavy Australian Blue pumpkins, ten pound Red Kuri and numerous five to ten pounders of everything else.  We briefly considered not attending the Global Market, to get in as much as we could.  We decided we could get enough done, and still be there to sell as expected - just a wee bit more disorganized then usually.  I set to work in the tomatoes, starting with the Romas, Margeritas and Opalkas, using a three bucket system: ripe, almost ripe and green.  We both left lots of small, under ripe product in the field - just not worth our time and space!

Fortunately, Henry and Derrick came to help and got right to work in the tomatoes with me.  We worked feverishly all morning.  About 1:30 we stopped to prepare for the market.  Fortunately, much was at hand and we knew how much we needed to prepare.  Potatoes were already curing in the garage, getting ready for winter storage in the root cellar.  Farmer Man bagged potatoes, I portioned tomatoes, we both weighed and labelled winter squash.  Off to Global Market for me, Farmer Man returned to the farm to keep harvesting!

Basil in the hoop house is largely okay,
except for a little patch right by the wall.
I must admit, even with the knowledge I had, I was not fully prepared for the temperature drop at the market Friday night.  I was freezing, just freezing by the time Farmer Man came to pick me up!  I had big plans to keep harvesting, but after milking the goats, I was assured that there was not much more to do except cover excess squash that was on tables outside the garage.  Up early Saturday morning to prepare for market and we could see the damage had been done!  Prepping for the Global Market Saturday morning was quite easy because everything was right at hand!  A peak in the hoop house, and everything there seemed largely okay!

Even though the 'growing' season may be finished, the work is not done by any means.  There are still potatoes and beets to take up.  Garlic still has to be planted.  Stakes and cages have to be removed from tomatoes, assorted other tags, fencing and such has to be picked up.  We'll leave a lot of plants in the ground, as is, for winter, to help capture snow and decrease soil erosion.  And maybe, just maybe, our late planting of lettuce will still grow and we'll have a fresh salad in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

CSA for September 20th, 2012

Left, Hubbard blue and orange, right, Kabocha orange
and blue!
I noticed this morning, during milking, that the goats' coats are getting thicker and rougher.  I noticed it particularly on Choco, who has the shiniest, silkiest coat of all the goats!  Winter is just around the corner.....

This is the second to last CSA basket of the year!  It still has some of summer's great flavors - the tomatoes have been doing all right in their protected little spot, although not ripening very quickly.  The weather forecast predicts a cold night for Saturday, so we may pick everything in the tomato patch Saturday afternoon.  This could be the last taste of truly vine-ripened tomatoes.

Some of the Full Shares and the Single Shares are getting Hubbard Squash today.  This is a very old American variety, said to be part of the Native Americans 'Three Sisters' plantings of corn, beans and squash.  The Fulls mostly have a blue Hubbard, although some have Kabocha, the Singles have orange Hubbards.  Now remember: for the Part Shares who have blue Kabocha 'Confection' - Winter Squash recipes are largely interchangeable!  I like the look of this custard pie made with Hubbard squash - sounds like a family heirloom recipe.  This Maple-Nut Hubbard side dish sounds really yummy, too - and simple!  I think it would be great with pork!  This weekend we're going to try this recipe for Sweet and Spicy Kabocha Squash - maybe with chicken.

We're sharing two of our favorite potatoes today!  I think we've mentioned that 'Sangre' is the one we use the most, but today's choicest get used a lot, too!  We've bagged up 'Linzer Deleketess', a beautiful old fingerling: waxy and dense, but beautiful nutty flavor.  Great in tinfoil on the BBQ, great roasted - and make too much: they make awesome hash browns!  'German Butterball' is the other selection today.  It's similar to Yukon Gold, which used to be a fav, but the flavor is just outstanding!  Good for fries, boiling, mashing!

So, for the FULL SHARES:  4 lbs. Linzer fingerling potatoes, 4 lbs. German Butterball potatoes, garlic, lg. Hubbard or Kabocha squash, beets, Aunty Ruby's German Green tomato, slicer tomatoes, pint of mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, cucumber.

For the PART SHARES:  3 lbs. Linzer fingerling potatoes, 3 lbs. German Butterball potatoes, garlic, Kabocha 'Confection' winter squash, beets, Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato, slicer tomatoes, Husky Gold tomato, pint of cherry /grape tomatoes.

For the SINGLE SHARES:  2 lbs. Linzer fingerling potatoes, 2 lbs. German Butterball potatoes, garlic, Hubbard squash, beets, Husky Gold tomato, red slicer, pint of cherry/grape tomatoes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

CSA for September 18th!

From left, regular tomato, top Lemon Boy, Husky Gold,
below Pink Brandywine, ripe Aunt Ruby's Green,
far right unripe Aunty Ruby's.
It seems very much like Fall around the farm!  The garden renters are pulling their gardens; what was productive growing space just a few weeks ago is now barren earth, with little piles of brown, crispy vines and bushes.  Throughout our own gardens, touches of frost are evident in the open spaces everywhere and all the plants are looking tired and drooping.  Along our driveway and throughout the shelterbelt, the frost has started the process of leaves turning.  The early fall colour - particularly ash, is already bright yellow, and the Manitoba maples are well on their way to gold!  Even the goats seem to feel it: their favorite treat, willow branches, seems to be attacked with extra urgency, as if they know they won't be getting it much longer.

With the coming of Fall and the end of the growing season, so too comes the end of another season of CSA.  Next week will be our last delivery of boxes!  CSA has gone longer this year than last - every growing season is different, it seems.  We'll reminisce about the successes and failures later - meanwhile we're still hurrying to get things harvested and finished for the last week!  We'd like to finish our potato harvest, to give the varieties adequate time to cure for good winter storage!  We're hoping to pick a lot of tomatoes before it's too late (which could be any night now!) so everyone can have some green ones to ripen over the next few weeks.  So many tasks still to complete.....

It is a tomato tasting day for Tuesdays CSA!  A lot of our interesting heirlooms are always late.  Everyone has the golden 'Husky Gold' to try today, a low-acid, sweet, juicy tomato.  We've included the weird and wonderful looking 'Aunt Ruby's German Green'; just a delightful tomato that stays green.  It is ripe when it's a little soft and has some yellow tints to the green.  Hardly anyone is getting one that is actually ripe today but just give it a few days on the counter.  The Full Shares also have Brandywine, probably the most famous heirloom.  It is pink when ripe and just awesome flavor.  As Farmer Man likes to say: "If you go somewhere for a $40 hamburger, the tomato on it will probably be Brandywine!"  Enjoy the taste sensations!

Everyone is getting a 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin today.  This little pumpkin is the one for pumpkin pie; although all pumpkins are edible, this one has smoother flesh and sweeter taste.  It is also excellent as a side dish, simply roasted and mashed a bit.  We also use it in muffins and loaves.  It would be great in this recipe for Curried Squash Soup with Lentils.  Don't forget to save the seeds for roasting!

So, for the FULL SHARES: 3 lbs. Mark Warshaw potato, 4 lbs. Cherry Red potato, lg. bundle of beets, Sugar Pie pumpkin, Bush Delicata winter squash, cucumber, assorted tomatoes, onions, garlic.

For the PART SHARES:  2 lbs. Mark Warshaw potatoes, 3 lbs. Cherry Red potatoes, sm. bundle of beets, Sugar Pie Pumpkin, Bush Delicata winter squash, Lemon Ball cucumber, slicer cucumber, assorted tomatoes, garlic.

For the SINGLE SHARES:  2 lbs. Cherry Red potatoes, sm. bundle beets, Sugar Pie Pumpkin, Lemon Ball cucumber, slicer cucumber, assorted tomatoes, garlic.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Open Farm Day Manitoba, 2012!

Set up and ready to go first thing today!

Today was Open Farm Day in Manitoba, and we opened our farm to the public.  The last couple of years, we've had an Open House late in September for our CSA members and Farmers Market regulars, so we knew how we were going to do it.  We had a couple of tables out, with some of our produce that was fresh and ready to go.  We had some of our neat heirloom tomatoes and rare potatoes out on display.  And we had our hand-made soap, and natural skin care products.  We had our CSA promo board and the few brochures we have left, plus lots of business cards.  We even brought outside the thirty year old aerial photos of the farm, for contrast.  We had no idea how many people we may see during this province-wide event.  We were wondering if we'd just see some of our usual suspects.....especially with Veteran's Way being marked as 'Closed - Local Traffic Only'.

The Squash display, with some heirloom tomatoes!
Well, the goats and us made some new friends this year!  We had a great turn-out; we were very steady all day and met some awesome new people and families!  Yes, we did have a good showing of CSA members, and we did see some of our Farmers Market customers - a number who had never been here before.  But, we loved making new friends, and had sooooo much fun with all the children who came out!  Yes, the goats were a hit!  The chickens got over-fed with scratch treats.  The barn kittens, unfortunately, scratched a few people this afternoon, but they are just not used to so much attention.  Our doggies, Blaze in particular, were in heaven with all the love and pats!

It is so fun to see a child 'meet' a real chicken for the first time!  Some poor families are going to be listening to 'cock-a-doodle-doo' for some time - kids loved the roosters crowing!  So many gorgeous giggles!  Some youngsters were climbing into their cars still crowing - and I'm sure Mom and Dad would have to put up with it at least until the next farm!  For kids the animals were definitely the attraction, but we had some great conversations with Moms and Dads about food, about CSA, about Farmers Markets!  We had some gardeners who loved looking at, trying and talking about growing all our unusual varieties of tomatoes, potatoes and squash, both summer and winter!  We had some grain farmers visit and had interesting conversations about growing a whole bunch of different stuff, rather than one crop.  A fabulous day, all around!

Bad blogger that I am, I got a few photos early and then the camera got rather forgotten in my pocket as I went from hostess to tour guide to shopgirl to the 'Vanna White' of winter squash!  Oh, well!  Fortunately, a few CSA members were around taking some photos (Looking forward to them, Naomi!) And, The Brandon Sun and the Western Producer were here, so there may be a few more photos out there!  Loved hearing, too, about the number of farms people were planning to visit: I hope all the participating farms had as much fun as we did!  Thank you to everyone who came for a visit - hopefully see you next year!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

CSA For September 13th!

Left, common red, Lemon Boy, Husky Gold, below
that a Pink Brandywine, big monster is Aunt Ruby's Green
and an unripe Aunt Ruby.
First morning that I've reached for my little down vest.  We love our down vests:  Spring, Fall or Winter they are that perfect little extra warmth without adding bulk or weight.  This is the first day since, oh, April maybe, that I've reached for it!

It's a tomato-tasting kind of a day.  You all have some variety in your baskets!  Everyone got an heirloom 'Aunty Ruby's German Green' - a tomato that is ripe when it is green with a yellow/orange tint and somewhat soft to the touch.  It is not sour like an unripe tomato - it is juicy and sweet and delightful!  You mostly all got one unripe - let it sit on the counter for a few days!  There's a mix of the yellow, low-acid tomatoes.  The warm yellow is 'Husky Gold', the paler yellow is 'Lemon Boy'.  Both very tasty without the bite of red tomatoes.  The Full Shares also got a pink Brandywine - perhaps the best known of the heirlooms for outstanding flavor!  Brandywine is rarely pretty - but always tasty.  Everyone has a basket with mixed grape/cherry tomatoes.  The red cherry and yellow and red grapes you've had before.  Also in there is the heirloom pink/brown 'Chocolate Cherry', a juicy burst of flavor.  And everyone will get 'Indigo Rose', although not all are ripe.  It is ready to eat when it is purple/black with a distinct Rosy pink end!  If you get an unripe one, leave it on the counter for a few days.

Spaghetti squash is very unique in that it's the only one that comes out of the shell in pasta-like threads. Pretty much all the rest of the Winter Squash come out with a texture like mashed potatoes.  We love spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce, or just butter and brown sugar or maple syrup.  Here's a great recipe we shared on our Facebook page for a spicy spaghetti squash with black beans!  So cute, served using the skin like a bowl!
From left: yellow grape, red grape, Chocolate Cherry,
cherry tomato, Indigo Rose.

The Winter Squash are sooo awesome for baking.  A pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin is the best!  If you're roasting up a squash for dinner, sneak out a cup of the cooked flesh for baking with later.  We use most of the Winter Squash interchangeably in baking recipes; we'd have trouble going back to using the canned stuff.  Our go-to recipe is here for muffins.  We've made the muffins with the 'Sugar Pie' pumpkins, Hubbard, Kabocha and Butternut squashes!  All great, all different in small ways!  Don't forget that a lot of canned mixes have the spices included, so if you're substituting in a recipe, you may need to add the cinnamon, ginger, allspice or clove, and nutmeg.  You can make up your own little jar of 'pumpkin pie spice' to have on hand: here's a good mix here!  You've all got the classic 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin today  - the best for pies and baking because of it's smooth texture and sweeter flavor!

So, for the FULL SHARES:  4 lbs. Roko red potatoes, 4 lbs. Island Sunshine potatoes, mix of slicing tomatoes, pint of cherry and grape tomatoes, garlic, onions, Sugar Pie pumpkin, cucumber, a dozen corn on the cob, zucchini.

For the PART SHARES:  3 lbs. Roko red potatoes, 3 lbs. Island Sunshine potatoes, assorted slicing tomatoes, pint of cherry/grape tomatoes, garlic, onions, Sugar Pie pumpkin, cucumber 9 corn on the cob, zucchini.

For the SINGLE SHARES:  2 lbs. Roko red potatoes, 2 lbs, Island Sunshine potatoes, assorted slicing tomatoes, pint of cherry/grape tomatoes, garlic, onions, Sugar Pie pumpkin, cucumber, six corn on the cob, zucchini.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CSA For September 11th.

A touch of frost on Sunday!
The day started rather sad, with all the coverage of the memorials for 9/11.  Hard to shake the feeling, especially as it was cold, cloudy and windy as we got started this morning.  I was wearing the most layers I have this season - and rather wishing for a hat!  Time to get into the chest and get out my beloved caps and fingerless gloves!

A touch of frost on Sunday.  It is really just in evidence in one part of the gardens, in the top of the slope on the east end, where there is no shelter belt.  Odd place, as frost is suppose to sink.....Some of the winter squash are all that appear damaged, and it is only a minor set back.  The top-most leaves have 'crisped' up a bit, nothing major!  It certainly does make one feel the season is drawing to a close; the renters are starting to clean up their plots, leaving bare, sad little patches.

We hope you're coming to see us this Sunday, during Manitoba's Open Farm Day!  We'll be giving little tours from Noon to 4 PM, and we're just five minutes east of Brandon!  All the instructions are in the previous blog post.  Pet a goat, pat a doggie, chase a chicken...and a free barn kitten with every visit!

Everyone is getting a little tomato taste fest today!  Everyone has a golden tomato, a 'Husky Gold'.  All the golden tomatoes are low in acid, and great for people with stomach problems, canker sores and such.  They are also very tasty - sweet, juicy without the acid 'bite' of red tomatoes.  Everyone is also getting a mixed pint of cherry and grape tomatoes.  It includes an heirloom 'Black Cherry', golden and red grape and the wee cherry tomatoes.  The Full Shares also have an 'Opalka', an heirloom  Roma type tomato often used for sauce and salads: meaty and flavorful!

So, for the FULL SHARES:  5 lbs. Bintje white potato, 5 lbs. Roko red potato, slicing tomatoes, pint mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, cucumber, 9 cobs of corn, spaghetti squash, mixed bell, jalapeno and Hungarian Hot Wax peppers, garlic, onions.

PART SHARES: 3 lbs Bintje white potatoes, 3 lbs. Roko red potatoes, slicing tomatoes, pint mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, cucumber, 6 cobs corn, spaghetti squash, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, onions.

SINGLE SHARES:  2 lbs. Bintje white potatoes, 2 lbs, Roko red potatoes, slicing tomatoes, pint mixed cherry/grape tomatoes, cucumber, 4 cobs corn, small spaghetti squash, bell pepper, garlic, onions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Open Farm Day 2012!

Grizzly Bear would love to meet you!
Last Spring, we were contacted by Manitoba Agriculture, Farm, and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) about participating in the province's Open Farm Day.  We had come to their attention thru Food Matters Manitoba, I believe, and seemed a good choice because we were close to Brandon, a mixed operation and kind of known in town.  Since we already do an Open House for our CSA members and Market regulars, we figured we may as well!  So, next Sunday, September 16th, noon to 4 PM, are you coming for a visit?

What should I tell you about coming to the Farm?  Well, we're not a quaint, pastoral little place.  We're a messy, noisy operation working seven days a week!  We're weedy, slightly unkempt, our chickens free-range and we take goats and dogs for walks so there will be, ummm, excrement. If there's no rain this week, it will be dusty on our tour and there may be bugs.  The chickens may be squawking, the roosters will probably be crowing and the goats may be calling; it probably won't be peaceful.  Our goats are in their natural state and have horns, which require some respect.  (The goats will be in pasture, not free-ranging).  We have two roosters, largely nice boys, but they deserve a wide berth and some respect 'cause their spurs can rip your pants.  Sounds like fun?

We would really be delighted to show you around!  We just want you to be prepared!  Dress very casually, wear comfortable, sturdy shoes that can get dirty.  Dog and kittie treats will be well received.  We are just five minutes East of Brandon, quite easy to access.  You will head east on Veteran's Way, a road officially closed due to the construction on the Bypass.  You will be 'local traffic' on Sunday, so just go past the barrier.  Veteran's Way is straight, curves at the RCMP office (at Grand Valley Strawberries, if you're familiar), straightens out again and then coming up almost right away on your left is a little gravel road called Chalmers or 107W.  Turn left onto Chalmers, going north, and we're at the top of the hill, on the east side.  To get you oriented, we are directly east two miles from ACC On The Hill!  We'll have some signs out that day, that MAFRI has been kind enough to supply!

Not close enough to visit us?  There's lot of farms of all types all around the province and around the country that are open! Check out to find out what's going on around you!  If you're in America, there's probably something to be found with your local extension office.  So get out of the city and visit a farm this weekend!  Give a hug to the people growing your food - we could use it! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The End of One Chapter for the Goat Triplets!

Farmer Man feeds Marble, one last time!
This morning was the last morning that our little goat triplets will get milk.  Yes, Marble, Myrvan and Marty are now officially weaned!  They grow up so fast!

If you follow this blog, you know the triplets were rejected by Mama Mabel at birth, and we've been bottle feeding them since the beginning.  It was, originally, a big daily chore:  the babies got milk four times a day for the first few weeks!  We'd milk the does in the morning, feed the triplets, a few hours later we'd warm milk in a 'bain marie' style, and feed again.  We'd do that again in the afternoon, milk and feed again in the evening.  The chore went down to three times a day, then two times a day.  Two times a day was fairly easy to fit in because we fed them at milking time, morning and night.  Our Mama Goldie takes a long time to milk; we'd milk Mabel first, fill the babies' bottles, then Farmer Man would feed them while I milked Goldie.  The feeding itself never took long - the babies could empty a full bottle quickly!  Not necessarily neatly, but quickly!

Myrvan and Marty are big boys now!
Milking has been a messy, sloppy chore!  We got used to coming back to the house somewhat splattered and changing into clean clothes!  Bottles would drip, goats would stop to sneeze, milk moustaches would get whipped off on Farmer Man's shirt!  It was, however, good bonding time and we really see the difference in how comfortable the triplets are with people, particularly in contrast with the twins who came last and were well cared for by Mama Choco.  Gaffer, being the first born and only kid for a few weeks, has always gotten lots of attention.  The twins came last, almost a month after Gaffer and two weeks after the triplets, and it's not that we were bored with's just we were busy with the triplets, and busy with planting, busy with weeding and Choco was keeping them in line!

The amount the triplets have been getting at each feeding has been slowly reduced over the weeks from ten ounces each feeding, to eight, back up to ten when we went to down to two feedings a day, then eight, then six, then four ounces.  We went to just a morning feeding a couple of weeks ago and bumped the volume up a bit, then reduced, reduced, reduced until this mornings' feeding was really just a mouthful!  It was all over in seconds!  The triplets have all taken to a grain ration with gusto, enjoy their hay and love, love, love some willow tree!  We're sorry to see the shared time go...but perhaps we'll just turn it into grooming time - so we can still hang with the triplets! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

CSA For September 6th!

Some interesting things for the trade table!
Lots of signs of the imminent arrival of Fall around the farm today!  Our day started with the barn cats being very interested in getting into Farmer Man's shop, where the feed is stored.  Once we got into the shop, definite signs that a little critter had been feasting on the sunflower seeds that the goats get as part of their grain ration.  More signs of mice in the bean patch, where lots of beans were discarded because of mice bites! The mice like to eat out the seeds in the older beans, nibbling a perfect little half-moon out of the bean.  We apologize if any nibbled beans escaped our scrutiny!  Also, while in the bean patch this morning, a flock of wild turkeys went overhead - a very distinct sound.  They were followed shortly after by a flock of geese, honking on their way south west.

Some interesting things on the trade table today!  Some different tomatoes, including the golden 'Husky Boy', a low-acid tomato but very sweet, juicy yet meaty.  There is also a heirloom cherry tomato called 'Black Cherry', a dusky purple/rose coloured tomato.  Very tasty, not really sweet, kind of 'smoky', but very juice!  Maybe try some Lemon Ball cucumbers, an old variety that's round, yellow, thin-skinned and very tasty!  Some tomatillos are available, as well, if you've been yearning for some fresh Salsa Verde!

We've dug a few new varieties of potatoes for you today:  'Blue Mac' is a blue/purple skinned white potato with a lovely flavor, smoother texture - but not as creamy as Sangria.  We've also got 'Island Sunshine', the first dig of a baking potato.  This one has the fluffy texture of a 'Russet Burbank' with a more golden flesh.  Excellent baked, mashed or good for fries!  A good pick on corn, tomatoes and cucumbers for everyone today.

Everyone is getting spaghetti squash - the rather unique Winter Squash whose cooked flesh will come out of the skin like spaghetti!  We usually cut them in half, remove the seeds, rub with butter or oil, and bake face down in the oven at about 350 C. until the skin can easily be pierced with a fork (for the big guys, maybe 45 minutes to an hour!).  You can cook them in the microwave and cut your time down by more than half, but we don't think the flavor or texture is as nice.  Once cooked, the meat can be scrapped out with a fork and comes out quite like spaghetti!  You can eat it like spaghetti with tomato sauce, or just with butter, salt and pepper.  I like all my winter squash, including this one, with a little brown sugar or maple syrup!  Cook extra of the squash and try this recipe for spaghetti squash pancakes - they're very good!  Remember, uncooked piece of Winter Squash will hold nicely in the fridge for 7 - 10 days, so don't be intimidated if you got a big one!  Try to leave the seeds in a half you won't be cooking right away!  A whole Winter Squash, kept in a dark and cool place, will keep for months!

So for the FULL SHARES: 4 lbs. Blue Mac potatoes, 4 lbs. Island Sunshine potatoes, 8 cobs corn, cucumbers, Lemon ball cucumber, 2 lbs. tomatoes, 1 lb. Dragons Tongue beans,  Romanesque zucchini, Crookneck squash, Patty Pan squash, Spaghetti Winter Squash,

PART SHARES:  3 lbs. Blue Mac white potatoes, 3 lbs. Island Sunshine potatoes, 5 cobs corn, cucumber, 1 lbs. tomatoes, 1 lbs. Dragons Tongue beans, Romanesque zucchini, Crookneck squash, Patty Pan squash, Spaghetti Winter Squash.

SINGLE SHARES:  2 lbs. Blue Mac potatoes, 2 lbs. Island Sunshine potatoes, 3 cobs corn, cucumbers, 1 lbs. tomatoes, 1/2 lbs. Dragon Tongue beans, Romanesque zucchini, Crookneck squash, Patty Pan squash, Spaghetti Winter Squash.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CSA For September 4th!

A couple of garden renters were a little
overwhelmed with tomatoes!
I started to type August in the title...just habit I guess!  With the changing of the month, we also see a change in the gardens today.  The Summer Squash looks, well, tired.  The plants are a little broken and battered from all the harvesting, there is not much on them and just a little flowering going on now.  (There may be a collective cheer going on right now!)  However, with cooler days and a little rain, they may rebound!  The Dragons Tongue Beans are also winding down, this is probably the last Tuesday pick for them!

But, as one thing ends another comes on.  The field tomatoes are doing tremendously right now!  Some of the tomatoes today came from a couple of our garden renters: they went away for a week vacation to Banff and came back to an overloaded garden!  They don't can tomatoes, took what they could use and asked us if we'd could make use of any of the ripe ones!  The peppers are coming nicely and we have high hopes for the watermelons and cantaloupe.  The Winter Squash is just beginning, and the late potatoes, some of our most interesting varieties, are getting to be a decent size!  Our onions are a disappointment this year - not enough rain for the sandy soil we planted them in.  We're also not sure the broccoli will be able to recover from the attack of the flea beetles.  Every year it is the same in that some things do well, some things just don't.  It's one of the reasons we plant a wide variety of stuff, and work with growing partners.

We have a wide variety of Winter Squash growing.  You'll probably be able to try things you've never had before!  Today, everybody is getting a Butternut Squash - probably one of the best known kinds.  It's famous for its' sweet, nutty flavor and smooth texture.  Just a reminder:  with Winter Squash you do not eat the skin and the seeds are eaten only when roasted.  Cut the squash down the middle, scoop out the seed packet and then roast or BBQ in the skin, or peel, cut into chunks and boil or steam.  One of Farmers Markets regulars, a very elderly lady, has trouble cutting into Winter Squash, and freely admits that she takes them into her garage and throws them on the concrete floor!  The broken pieces are then washed and prepped!  Any recipe for Winter Squash can be used with any of the varieties; the complexion of the dish will change with the varying aspects of the different squash.  Buttercup and Red Kuri are a little drier, Kabochas and Butternut are a little creamier.  Winter Squash, unlike Summer Squash, keep for literally months if cool, dry and dark.  They continue to ripen and particularly Kabocha improve with curing!

Here's a link for doing Butternut on the BBQ!  Here's one of our favorites:  Curried Butternut and Apple Soup - we served it at the farm's Open House last year!  Butternut, really any of the Winter Squash, can be used in any recipe for pumpkin pie, muffins or cookies!  We just bake a big one, mash it up as a side dish that night with dinner, and use the rest directly substituted into a muffin or loaf recipe.  Or how about healthy baked Butternut Chips?

So, for the FULL SHARES:  4 lbs. Sangria Red potatoes, 4 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cucumbers including a Lemon Ball, zucchini, lg. Butternut squash, green pepper, 7 cobs corn, 1 lb.  Dragon's Tongue beans, tomatoes, onions.

PART SHARES:  3 lbs. Sangria Red potatoes, 3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cucumber, zucchini, med. Butternut squash, 5 cobs corn, 1 lb. Dragon's Tongue beans, tomatoes.

SINGLE SHARES:  2 lbs. Sangria Red potatoes, 2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cucumber, zucchini, small Butternut squash, 3 cobs corn, 1 lb. Dragons Tongue beans, tomatoes.

Monday, September 3, 2012

And The Berkshires Are Off...

It looked like it was going to go sooo well! 
Today was set to be the day the Berkshire pigs were going away, going to market, going to Disneyland: how ever you'd like to put it.  It is Labour Day Monday, but East 40 Packers, our processor, receives today so that everybody can be busy tomorrow, I guess.  This has, historically, been a difficult day for us, sending away an animal that you've raised from a baby can be emotionally trying.  We have, this time, been a little more careful to treat the Berkshires as livestock: no naming, no scratching behind the ears, no hanging out with them.  They made it a little easier, too, by biting Farmer Man and attacking a chicken over the last month.  Still, there is a certain sadness sending them off to their fate.

Their departure will lessen the daily chores a little bit, which will be nice.  Ten less mouths to feed and, boy, were those hungry mouths!  It will be a little easier on Farmer Man not to be loading those large bags of feed, or hauling over big buckets of veggies twice a day.  I'll be happy not having their aroma wafting towards our bedroom window when the wind blows a certain way!

We're were hoping for easy loading; we didn't want to startle or frighten the pigs, we wanted everything calm and cool.  Farmer Man had been 'training' the Berks for quite a while to follow him with the buckets of veggies and bread.  He'd lead them down to the loading end of the pasture and feed them there. worked to a certain extent.....

Our cattle-raising neighbors, the Oxleys, had graciously agreed to take them in, since we don't have a stock trailer.  Martin O. drove up early this morning, after goat milking, scoped out the situation then positioned the trailer at the west end of the pasture.  The trick would be to herd the pigs into the trailer, channelling them through some loose fence panels.  Martin's girlfriend will forever be 'Ms. T' in our minds, after Mr. T. of A-Team fame, because she held her side of the fence all morning, even though confessing to be newish to farming and a complete newbie to pigs!  And, yes, it took pretty much all morning!

How about a little bread?
 Farmer Man did, indeed, have the Berks trained quite well.  They did follow him right up to the trailer, right away!  All ten.  The step up, into the trailer, proved the problem.  Even though he had tantalizing food such as dry bread, apples and cucumbers laid out deeper inside the trailer, none of the pigs could seem to get up into the trailer, a matter of less than a foot.  Farmer Man cajoled with food for over half an hour, even going to get the cobs of corn we had planned to freeze this afternoon!  No dice!  Eventually, we got five of them corralled in the loose panels, and forced them to climb in by slowly shutting the heavy door of the trailer behind them - they had nowhere else to go.  Now, however, the other five pigs were onto us....and had to be slowly rounded up and herded toward the fence panels.

We ended up getting the last five in pretty much one by one.  Herd into the little 'corral', head into the trailer by closing the heavy trailer door behind them, etc, etc.  There was a few break outs, a few of us got a finger caught in the panels, got knocked around a little or got stepped on but no major injuries!  The pigs would always run down to the far end of the pasture, back to their wallow (just so they could get us really dirty), so it was a lot of walking and herding, a lot of patience.  The last two proved quite difficult; fortunately father Oxley, Mike, arrived with some press board panels, which helped close off any chance of escape.  Finally, all ten were loaded, happily munching on all the good veggies, and they were off!  Thank you to the Oxley clan for all your help!  Now, we look forward to some awesome Berkshire pork in our freezer for this winter, meat we know has never been fed antibiotics or hormones, that was raised with kindness, lovely pasture and lots of naturally grown vegetables!