Cheese and Honey and Beer and Everything!

Gah! I just cannot seem to get my blog on lately. Things have been bumpin around the Domestead, but it’s not like I’ve been so busy I couldn’t spare a moment to write about it. Just not feeling like writing I guess.

But that’s just nuts, because here I am, with so many of the goals and dreams I have been working towards for so long finally coming to life! And I’m just like, meh. I also haven’t been taking many pictures, which is the very most effective way for a blogger to self-sabotage, because a post without pictures just hardly seems worth the trouble.  Sad really, because I started the blog more as a record for myself of all the progress I’ve made on my different projects and schemes.  It’s a nice place to visit and reflect on where I started and where I am now.

So stop being such a lazy schmo and write a damn post, lady!

Okay, here goes:

CHEEEEEESE!

*doing the cheese dance* (very sexy)

Wonderful delicious chevre!

Wonderful delicious chevre!

The last ball of my second batch of fresh mozzarella. Hard to keep on hand during tomato season!

The last ball of my second batch of fresh mozzarella. Hard to keep on hand during tomato season!

So far we’ve made mozzarella and chevre and both are just so so good it hurts.  Roomie Paul’s ultra homemade margherita pizza with fresh from the garden tomato sauce, basil right off the front porch, and our own goat’s milk mozz? Yes please! Or would you prefer the flatbread with garlic and herb olive oil, shaved summer squash and whole padron peppers from the garden, and homemade chevre? Umm…are you kidding me?

*more cheese dancing*

Peaches and our new doe Lily are producing about 2 quarts a day, although we’re trying to dry off Lily because we’re hoping she’s prego.  Kind of too bad as Lily is a dream to milk, the only hard thing being getting her off the milking stand once we’re done.  Peaches has finally settled into a much less violent milkstand routine, thank goodness.  I think she didn’t like sharing her babies’ milk with the humans.  She found it offensive and wrong (regardless of how much grain and adoration we plied her with).  But now the babies are gone and Lily is here and things are working well. We haven’t had to buy milk for weeks! Our 3 little wethers all found wonderful families to live with, and although it was sad to see our little buddies go, we have plenty of baby goats in our future. Which makes it a very bright future indeed. And cheese!

Look at all that milk! And we're splitting between two households, so that's just half a week's worth. Cheerios anyone?

Look at all that milk! And we’re splitting between two households, so that’s just half a week’s worth. Cheerios anyone?

My bees are going gangbusters right now which is so good to see. We harvested one frame from them and after one million years (I’m pretty sure) of straining the crushed up honeycomb, we now have a very cute amount of dark, delicious Ranch honey! Yay! And I only got honey all over myself like 5 or 6 times throughout the process, so hey, lookin good.

Cute amount of honey. And credit to sister for the adorable little honeypot!

Cute amount of honey. And credit to sister for the adorable little honeypot!

Next up: the Fella and the Pa have become brewing buddies! They currently have a batch of IPA fermenting in the bottles and 5 gallons of honey porter (YUMMEH) to get started this weekend. Unfortunately 5 gallons of honey porter requires significantly more than a cute amount of honey, so they might have to be un-homesteadly and go retail for that part of the recipe.

American IPA, currently hiding out in the dark waiting for the big reveal in two weeks.

American IPA, currently hiding out in the dark waiting for the big reveal in two weeks.

And other stuff, like I won my case in the California Supreme Court and was in the newspaper and got interviewed on the radio and everything (still waiting on the paycheck though…anyday now guys…for real). And we’re almost finished redoing one of our bathrooms, taking out the junky vinyl and putting in real tile and all that jazz.

Phew! So that’s a pretty comprehensive update. I won’t be a phony and promise more regular posting, but I will say that I will try.  Adieu for now!

When to Admit Defeat

I know, it’s been a while.  There’s actually plenty going on around the Domestead to report: the potato box we built last month now has lots of cute potato plants in it.  My other seedlings are coming along, and the garlic and onions and kale I planted in the winter garden are huge. Spring is in full explosion here in Nevada County, and the world is green and flowering and full of bugs. The goats are losing their winter coats and beginning to look svelte again.  I’m even getting ready to begin an exciting new project with my sister involving a cottage food business selling fancy cocktail mixers made from seasonal organic produce. Oh, and the Freedom Rangers are 8 weeks old and weighing between 3 and 4 lbs a bird.

But all that good stuff just cannot cure my blues, because all I can think about are those three new layer hens with the pasty butt problem. You see, they are not getting better. Not really at all.

Here’s the regimen I have been employing: Regular (not daily but nearly so) epsom salts baths; topical treatments of iodine and Gentian Violet; unfiltered apple cider vinegar in their water; a daily mash of organic oatmeal mixed with raw coconut butter and heavy-duty probiotics.  They get to spend their days foraging in what can only be described as a chicken wonderland, full of fresh spring greens and grasshoppers and worms, and their nights in a freshly cleaned coop stocked with scratch grains and layer crumble and fluffy fresh straw.

They’re living at a spa, basically. And they are not getting better.

They’re happy as clams, mind you. They’re laying, they’re eating voraciously, and even getting along pretty well with the other chickens, who don’t seem too interested in bullying given that they all have plenty of food and space and diversions. Feathers are starting to grow back on sad little tail knobs and the smell is far less offensive. But they aren’t getting better. Pasty butts and constant watery discharge are unabated.

I am switching to the big guns now. The natural remedies are not working, so it’s time to get some drugs. I’ll be picking up some Monistat cream AND suppositories today, and starting tomorrow they will get all of the above plus some cream up their hoo-has and a dose of suppository down their gullets. Yes, that’s right. You actually feed them 1/3 of a suppository daily. Goes without saying we won’t be collecting eggs for a while, which is a shame given that the forage is especially fine at the moment and the yolks have been coming in bright orange and big as saucers. But no, I’ll be chucking eggs for the next few weeks until the drugs are out of their systems. And, because it’s very hard to tell which egg belongs to which hen (somehow even the sickies are laying clean, fresh looking eggs out of those nasty bottoms), I won’t be able to keep any eggs.  Just in case you’re keeping score, that’s going from 4 beautiful eggs from 4 healthy hens each day a month ago to NO eggs after acquiring 4 new chickens.

And if they aren’t better after that? I think it will be time to admit defeat. So you see, even with all the promise and life and abundance surrounding me at moment, I am feeling the gloom that comes from contemplating one’s defeat.  The possibility of having to wring the necks of three otherwise perky hens with incurable vent gleet has got me in a deep-winter funk even as I sit among the lilacs and butterflies.  And so, to you on this glorious spring day, I bid you a bah, humbug.

Spring Stumbles In

I am sitting at my dining room table looking out the big windows into the yard and the tangled forest beyond, watching as spring stumbles into the world.  It’s an early, clumsy entrance that I welcome as I would the unannounced arrival of an old friend for dinner – I’m happy but unprepared.

The lilac sprouted its leaves on Saturday. From bare twigs to green leaves in a day!

The lilac sprouted its leaves on Saturday. From bare twigs to green leaves in a day!

We need a lot more rain before spring can really happen. There are more than a few buttercups blooming, but without a good soak the rest of the Ranch’s celebrated wildflowers have no chance.  The black oaks are sprouting leaves but the dry ground makes me fear that the trees will be too brittle by summer and we’ll lose a lot of them before the year is out.

Luckily rain is in the forecast. And other springtime things. For one, I will be getting new bees! I have determined that I lost last year’s bees to varroa mites. This is frustrating because I tested them several times and never saw any, and as I’d been advised that first year colonies rarely succumb to mites, I never treated them. But when I opened the hive I saw plenty of dead mites on the bottom board, and there were very few dead bees in the hive.  There was also a TON of honey (mostly from all the sugar syrup I fed them) which I was glad to see because I meant I hadn’t starved them.

There is an upside to the discovery of varroa as well: it means they didn’t die from American foulbrood. That is a huge relief, as I would have had to burn all my equipment and start over completely from scratch. There’s no way I would have been able to afford to do that this year.  Additionally, I moved the hive closer to the house, which will make the regular powdered-sugar treatments for varroa I plan to do much easier.

Also, the Freedom Ranger chicks are growing like monsters. I’ve never raised meat birds before so I’m not sure if they’re growing especially fast for the breed, but they’re definitely impressing me.

Feathers everywhere!

Feathers everywhere and fluff disappearing by the minute!

I just planted seeds for my tomato, tomatillo, fennel, and eggplant starts. I’m going to have to do some online shopping for my pepper seeds. For whatever reason, the stores around here are only the most boring kinds of peppers in their seed selections. Meanwhile I’m pondering how the veggie garden will be organized this year, and how I will fit everything in with the chard and kale and other things already planted that I don’t want to pull out. Hmmm….I need a bigger garden!

Peaches the goat is hopefully bred – we’ll be getting a sonogram (!!!) in a few weeks and then we’ll know for sure, and whether or not there are multiples in there. Nigies are known for having up to FOUR kids at a time.

Oh, and guess what? It just started to rain. Okay spring, come on in and make yourself at home.

A Blue Egg, a Chicken Tractor, and a Watched Pot

Ever stare at your tea kettle or your pasta water? Even though you’re not supposed to, because that particular old wives’ tale happens to be true. It’s as if the beams of expectation from your eyes are a cold fog that suppresses the bubbles of steam you so eagerly want to see.  Just by looking, wanting, yearning, you smother it.

Sometimes homesteading can feel a little like that.  Not always, of course. If toiling on the land were equivalent to watching the pot, there would be no point in working, no visible results from your efforts. And of course that’s not true. The hard work does produce results, but damned if it isn’t slow sometimes!

I know for a fact that my capacity for patience and perseverance has greatly expanded since I left the city and moved to the woods. I am reminded when city friends come to visit and, though we remain alike in so many other ways (musical tastes, political views, etc.) I have become a little quaint to them, while they have become a little frantic to me.

But still. Sometimes things happen too slow! I can’t help it. I want to think it and then have it be so. Maybe a little sketching and a budget drawn up in between but that’s it. Ready, set, GO! All of this nonsense with growing seasons, gestation periods, and of course having to build things ourselves, they’re a real drag on my progress.  It seems eons ago that I decided I wanted to have a dairy goat so I could make cheese and have raw milk. More than a year ago for sure. And tons of work went into it. Rebuilding the barn. Learning about goats. Finding a breeder. Choosing a doe. Choosing a replacement doe when the first one died. Waiting for her to come into season. Waiting for her to get bred. Waiting for babies to get born. Waiting waiting waiting. I mean SHEESH.

But unlike the pasta water, these projects can’t get set on a back burner if they’re ever going to get done. They need constant tending. Maybe not frantic tending, at least not all year long. But you can’t do a little work and then run off to some new thing when waiting for results gets too boring.  Just because the bees didn’t work out this time doesn’t mean we give up on bees for good. Just because we are doing broilers this year doesn’t mean we don’t also have to plan (and plant) the garden.

Now, of course my whining is about 97% sarcasm. I absolutely love my life, and the slowed-down pace has been so good for me.  I am healthier, happier, and more conscious than I have ever been. I have so much! I am so lucky! But sometimes the excitement necessary to get a thing started produces a side effect of antsyness to see the thing done.  It can’t be helped.

And then, all of a sudden, when you had almost given up, the water starts boiling.

new blue egg

After months and months of feeding a bunch of freeloader chickens, we are finally getting eggs from all of them. Even the Ameraucana holdout.

And in the same week I did the broiler budget, and looked at dismay at my calculations for the cost of building a chicken tractor – not to mention wondering when on earth we’ll have time to do it – this one shows up on Craigslist for $40!

All we need to do is add a partial roof and some wheels and we're in business!

All we need to do is add a partial roof and some wheels and we’re in business!

Funny how one blue egg and a clap-trap arrangement of wood and screws and chicken wire can set a soul on fire, but I will gladly accept that it is true.

A Five Day Fire

5 day fire

Once again, I rose at 4 AM, with the Fella.  As he prepared to leave for work, I crouched in front of the fireplace and with a few breaths, coaxed the coals in the fireplace back to flames. This fire has been going for five days now. Five days in which the nighttime temperatures threatened to freeze the pipes (but thankfully didn’t) and the daytime temperatures never warmed up enough to thaw out the crunchy ice that pushes up the mud and leaves along the path. Five days in which the downstairs of our house remained cold enough to see your breath, this fire kept the upstairs cozy, sometimes even balmy, and the pot of water with orange peels (for the humidity and the scent) on top in constant need of refilling.

It’s the seasonal migration that happens here every year. In the summertime, the upstairs is so hot and stuffy one only comes up here to grab a change of clothes and later to sleep in front of open windows and beside an electric fan.  In summertime, the downstairs is a dark, cool cave; a place of refuge from the crackling dry heat outside. We live downstairs in the summertime. Upstairs in the winter, when the first floor feels like a walk-in refrigerator and there’s literally no concern about forgetting to put away your leftovers after dinner, because your pot of chicken soup will be cold to almost-frozen in the morning.

The days are getting longer. I sit and listen to my five day fire, looking at the frost-flecked leaves outside my office window, but my mind is full of springtime plans. The materials list to make the chick brooder. The seeds to start for the next garden. Red wigglers. Baby goats. Cheese caves. The tendrils are tiny but they are growing, fast and strong, reaching for the sun.

What Have I Got to Say For Myself?

I am acutely aware that I haven’t posted in a while.  The thing of it is, this blog started out as a sort of social outlet, a conversation if you will, about my daily life and my dreams for the future.  It was a way to keep my momentum going.  But I was single then.  It seems terrifically unoriginal, disappointing even, that I feel less inclined to blog now that I have a in-person human partner to share things with.  “Sara got a boyfriend and now she never hangs out with us anymore. So lame.” But it’s true.  I’m not really the type that loves to just talk about myself all the time, so it’s a bit hard to muster up the inspiration to do so when I feel like I’ve been sharing everything with someone all day long already.

On the one hand, I am happy to trade a blogging life for a love life.  Fun as it is to post pictures of my adventures on the internet and receive feedback from this growing community of people both familiar and strange, it’s even better to carry in the firewood and draw up the chicken tractor plans with a real live person.  On the other hand, I don’t think blogging and having a partner are mutually exclusive.  Plenty of other people do it, after all.  I may no longer be able to call myself “a single girl” going back to the land, but the overall mission is still the same.

The truth is, I might not post as often, but there will still be plenty of plans and schemes to share.  Before and after pictures to boast about.  Even some moments to wax rhapsodic now and then.

So with that in mind, allow me to fill you in on the latest Domestead news!

1. We are observing Sober January. Between the Fella and the Roomie and I, we have been known to put away the ale faster than a Shire-full of hobbits.  This merry-making naturally crescendos to a bit of a frenzy during the holidays, and by New Year we’re all a little worse for the wear and in need of some rest and, well, detoxification.  Last year Paul and I were alcohol-free for all of January and it was such a good thing there was no doubt we would observe Sober January again this year. The Fella is on board, as are the rest of the Ranch Folk.

2. We will break our alcohol fast with our own home-made beer! The Fella and I are totally committed to reducing costs and adding creativity by making our own brews.  We won’t break the fast until the beer is ready, and, if I have my way, we won’t be buying beer at all 2013 (okay, except maybe for special occasions.) Turns out my Pa is into the idea as well, so we may have a little Ranch brewery bubbling along in the not too distant future.

3. Peaches is getting bred this month! That means little goaties and goat milk (finally!) by June. Very exciting to know this project will be moving forward after stalling slightly due to my lack of funds.

4. The winter garden is chugging along. It’s been COLD. But the layer of straw on the beds has kept everything – kale, beets, peas, onions, garlic, chard – alive. We harvested the mature kale plants heavily for New Year’s dinner, but they are super resilient and are already sprouting new leaves. God I love kale.

5. We are getting about 1 egg a day from the hens. They are smaller than the eggs Flora and Fauna used to lay. I think the old girls have officially retired. The new layers are the two Barred Rocks I got as pullets this summer.  The one lone Ameraucana still hasn’t started laying, but maybe she’ll start now that the days are getting longer (it’s still awfully cold though, she might wait until spring).

6. The bees, sadly, didn’t make it. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion about that for a while, but the rain kept me from checking. Well, the rain and my dread about facing it.  I’m not sure yet what happened. I feel like I stopped feeding them before I should have. I was confused by conflicting sources of information (i.e., my instructor said ‘don’t feed in winter,’ but did he mean winter as in ‘when it gets cold,’ or winter as in ‘the specific season before spring’?; the organic beekeeping lady said it was wrong and unhealthy to feed bees sugar; the wild bees by my uncle’s house are thriving; etc. etc.). They also could have had varroa, although I hadn’t spotted any when I tested them, and was told that new colonies are usually fine the first year. Sigh. An expensive undertaking that I have to start over with. But I definitely want to try again. Hopefully I’ll be able to reuse the hives and frames (depends on what killed them off.)

7. Haven’t been riding in a long while, although I pass by old Hammer on my walks to the river. He’s just as cheerful yet wizened as ever.  That is definitely something I need to put some effort into this year. No more slacking on riding!

So that’s the long and short of it. Some good, some bad. Such is life on the Domestead.