Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Keeping It Clean

Believe me, I'm as surprised about this post as you are. Over the past few months, I have been barely keeping my head above water and have had little to post about, since I have basically been doing jack shit around the farm. But that's all changing. We'll talk about that later. Though I have forgone most of my "making it from scratch" schtick to Trader Joe's convenience (it just had to be), I realized there was one thing I just couldn't give up on. Homemade laundry detergent.

My sister-in-law, Stephanie, gave me this recipe for the liquid version and I cannot live without the stuff anymore after having thoroughly enjoyed my first batch, which, I might add, took almost 5 months to use up. Though skeptical of its effectiveness, my SIL's husband, who works in the restaurant business, is the true testament to how well this soap gets the job done. If this detergent can get out restaurant grease, then it can certainly take care of my dirt. And boy, has it!

Once I tell you how easy it is to make, if you aren't on the make-your-own-laundry-soap bandwagon already, you're going to kick yourself for not having tried it before. And the savings! I think it comes out to be about 2 cents per load. How can you beat that?

Liquid Laundry Soap

1 bar of soap (I used Kirk's Castille with my first batch and my own homemade goat's milk soap with this last one, which is why the color is kind of orangey - I put calendula in my soaps)
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda (not baking soda)
3 gallons + 1 quart water

Grate bar of soap. In a pot, combine the quart of water with soap flakes. Heat until soap is melted, but the water is not boiling. Add the borax and washing soda and stir until it thickens. In a clean 5 gallon bucket, pour in 3 gallons of warm water. Add the contents of the pot and mix well. Leave the mixture to stand overnight. It will thicken and become kind of lumpy and gelatinous. Don't worry, it's supposed to look like that. Stir before use. I use a big paddle; my SIL uses a broom handle.

Now you have lots of soap to clean your nasty, filthy clothes. Easy peasy, no? Truth be told, my ultimate motivating factor for making this detergent the second time was when I realized that it would actually be more of an effort to walk the half block to the store and stand in line to purchase it. You can't argue with that. Trust me, I tried.

I have heard that some folks have had trouble finding washing soda. I get mine at the local coop and have seen it in "regular" grocery stores from time to time. But did you know that you can actually MAKE the stuff from baking soda? Yeah, that shit blew my mind. Apparently, this is due to their close similarity in chemical composition, but to explain that would make me have to get all sciencey and shit, and that's actually beyond me at the moment. So here's a link on how to do it. I found out about this neat little trick through Lori's Latest - And other tales from the homestead. She's got fabulous tips and interesting things that she posts on her Facebook page. Go "like" it and tell her Itty Bitty sent you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seeds Are Here

Like most gardeners, I have a surplus of seed from years past. So I went easy in my ordering this time around. I only purchased from one company, my favorite, Baker Creek, and chose a small handful of things I have been eager to try. Here's this year's highlights.

Streamline and Scarlet Runner Beans - I've never had too much luck with beans around here. The summers are never hot enough to get really strong plants before the pests come in. Runners like cooler weather so we'll see if that does the trick.

Pepino Melon  - There's a lot of debate about how well this eggplant relative, native-to-the-Andes plant can grow in the Northern Hemisphere. It requires a long growing season, but tolerates cooler weather. I'm figuring since chayote, another Andean native, grows like a weed here, the pepino should do about the same. I'm also curious about the taste, which is said to be melon-like. I'll let you know. And btw, the chayotes that I put in last year grew phenomenally well.

Chinese Lantern Gigantea - Similar to ground cherries and tomatillos, this plant produces a husked fruit that can only be eaten when fully ripe. The husks are bright orange, which I think will be a gorgeous addition to the foliage on the farm. I've had great luck with ground cherries in the greenhouse and am not sure how these will fair in our cool summer.

Cucumber Dragon's Egg  - Yeah, I bought these because of the name. I'm a sucker for anything with the word "dragon" in it, like the Dragon Tongue bean from Baker that is oh so groovy colored and tasty. This variety of cuke, developed in Croatia, is said to be bitter-free. I have found that most varieties that produce well in Russian-ish areas, do well in San Francisco.

Mexican Sour Gherkin - These guys look like tiny watermelons and have a lemony flavor. I thought they might make interesting pickles. Also they have a 70 day growing season, which is just the right amount of time to fruit in our short summers.

Little Green Eggplant - Usually eggplants require a tremendous amount of heat to produce well. This is another Russian variety that might work in cooler summer areas. Fingers crossed. I would love to get an eggplant to fruit here.

Lemon Basil  - Well this one just sounds amazing, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want a hint of lemon in their pesto? This variety received rave reviews on the Baker Creek site. I can't wait to see how it does and what it actually tastes like.

Are you growing anything interesting or new this year?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine Goats: They're in the Mood for Love Simply Because I Said So

After using up the last of my frozen goats milk, I realized that if I ever wanted to have it again I would need to get somebody knocked up. I dried off Lucy at the beginning of December since her production had gone down to a cup and a half per day, which didn't seem worth the effort anymore. She had a great run though. Usually goats stay in milk for 10 months; Lucy went 15.

This time around, I really want to get Ethel preggers. She has failed to settle (conceive) twice now, once with a buck named Flapjack in Lake County and once with Lucy's son, Fred. In order to boost the girls' fertility, I gave them both an injection of BoSe, a selenium and vitamin E cocktail that is said to regulate the lady goat cycles. I then sent them off to Prundale where Fred now resides.

Remember Fred? He is such a manly man now, I hardly recognized him. Isn't he gorgeous? 

Fred is as wily as he has always been, if not more so. For a period of time, he lived with Pam of Peaceful Valley Farm along with his sister, Ginger, but he kept busting out of all the fences. Pam re-homed him to Leslie's little farm in Prunedale, where he continues his escapades of breaking fences and entering places he doesn't belong, like Leslie's house... and in her bed. Nice, Fred. Real nice.

I wanted to give Fred one more go with Ethel as I thought they would make some cute babies together. Ethel has been acting like she has been in heat for about two months straight and as soon as we arrived at the farm, Fred was VERY interested in her. So interested that he didn't even recognize his own mama. Have you ever seen a goat buck woo? The courtship involves a lot of knickering, tongue waggling, and raspberries (a.k.a. the Bronx cheer) being blown all about the doe's face and neck. Here's Fred off to a good start

By the time I left, Fred had given it to her at least 10 times in less than 20 minutes. Poor Ethel was done by that point, as can be seen here

Can't you just hear her crying "Help, get me away from that sex maniac!"? Too bad, lady. You need to make some babies!

While Ethel and Fred get busy, Lucy's intended is this gorgeous white pygmy (possibly a Nigerian cross), Ozzie. Here he is with Leslie. Is he not the most adorable buck you have ever seen?

The hair kills me. I immediately nicknamed him Ozzball.

Well let's hope the girls make some good love connections. We are desperate. I am now having to *gasp* buy milk from the store.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflecting on the Past Year and Heading into the New

2011 was a year of ups and downs on the farm. We received recognition for our accomplishments, some positive and some outright slanderous; we educated folks about urban farming; we welcomed new friends and said goodbye to others; we continued to build and expand in some areas, yet wreaked destruction in others.

Now it's time to look back at last year's goals and see what we have really accomplished around here. A little check in the rearview mirror before forging ahead, I like to see it as. Did I do what I had set out to do? Or did I get distracted by sparkly, shiny things and not complete one cotton pickin' thing from last year's list? Knowing myself, the latter is likely. Well, let's look at that post from last January and see.

1. Improve Organization. Um... er.... well... yeah, I guess that kind of happened. But my iPhone apps didn't save me in the way I thought they would. I started out the year strong, entering dates on my calendar, setting alarms, and making chore charts. However, this is a serious weak spot for me. I have good intentions, but in the long haul I tend to fall short. I guess I will just have to get back up on the horse with this one. Wish me luck.

2. Keep Production Records. I was so very proud of myself. I kept detailed records of every last thing I harvested on this property last year, from veggies to meat to honey. And then somehow in the New Year, in a blink of an eye, the app that I was using to record my stats disappeared off my iPhone without a trace. And, of course, I wasn't backing it up on my computer. Aaaarrrrrgh!!!!! Hence my current New Year's resolution: letting go. I may just forgo tallying up the harvest totals this year, as I seem to have lost my motivation after this debacle.

3. Offer Urban Farm Classes. Check. I also had four interns over the course of the year and gave tons of tours and talks in the area.

4. Build Attractive Fences. This goal was partially accomplished. I put up some new fencing that looks fine for now, but this next year I'm hoping to get something more permanent in.

5. Get Bees. Check! I was even able to harvest 15 pounds of honey, even though my hive split mid-summer.

6. Learn to Be a Better Gardener. I am ever improving in this area. I had a lot of success with cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, carrots, and greens. And I even grew a melon. One tiny, itty bitty melon.

7. Annihilate Rats. Check. There was much rat killing in the beginning of 2010 and ever since, things have been fairly quiet on that front. The new enemy? Mice and lice. 2012 is their year to die.

8. Install Drip Irrigation, Gray Water and Rain Water System. Check on the drip irrigation, but still haven't gotten around to gray water and rain water. 

9. Build a Deck Cover. Check. I never posted about this. One of the interns got an awesome picture of me hanging over a beam with my drill gun about 10 feet in the air. I'll try to dig that up. I felt super badass that day.

10. Install an Herb Garden. Check. Too bad the goats escaped their enclosure and ate three quarters of the contents and knocked over the brick walls. Letting go. I am letting go.

Wow, I accomplished the majority of my goals! I shall now pat myself on the back.

What I Want To Do in 2012

1. Maintain. The beginning of the year has brought about a huge transition in my life of a personal nature. I'm not going to go into it here on the blog, but suffice it to say that activities on the farm will continue as is with little growth. I will be focusing on maintaining and improving upon what I've already got going on. I have a tendency to become scattered in the excitement of acquiring new and interesting things, often biting off much more than I can chew. Not this year. I've got bigger fish to fry.

2. Scale Back. Sounds counter intuitive, eh? Well when you push the envelope, it's gonna push back. Recently, there have been complaints about my bees so I had to get rid of one of the hives. I'm also feeling weird about having taken over my neighbor's yard. I know they don't use it and all, but I feel kind of like a colonialist. They're renters and not native to this country, as are most of my neighbors. I think they might be letting me boss them around. I could well be reading too much into the situation. The goats and chickens DO keep the lawn mowed, which I will probably continue to let them do, but I would like to get all of our construction materials and my hoop house off their property. The Itty Bitty Farm is an experiment in using what you have available to you to provide for your food needs, not an attempt to usurp someone else's space like plundering 18th century British sea captain. My goal is to be a good, generous neighbor by tending to the previously neglected space without dumping all of my shit onto it. Maybe I'll sprinkle some flowers over there so that it looks pretty.

3. Get a Job. I know that doesn't really sound like it has anything to do with the homestead, but you all have to remember that I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country, own a house that is deeply under water due to the worst housing crisis our country has ever faced, and cannot keep what I have built if I don't continue to pay my mortgage. So it's back to the grind for me. Anyone need a professional goat wrangler?

4. Run Some Farm Camps. There is one area in which I am hoping to branch out and that is in the way of education. A friend of mine down in Santa Cruz, Pam of Peaceful Valley Farm who owns my goat Lucy's daughter (Ginger), has successfully run farm camps for young kids on her property. As a parent of an elementary schooler, I am always privy to the struggles of working moms whom struggle to find care for their kids over the holidays, spring break, furlough days, and the summer. I was thinking that an urban farm camp might be a neat option for folks who would like their children to be outdoors in nature, but who also can't make the drive to an out of town destination before their work day starts. In the next couple weeks, I will be creating a flyer to advertise for a trial run of this idea over SFUSD's spring break, the last week of March, and posting the details here on the blog. If anyone out there has any interest, please contact me.

5. Get Rid of Shit. A Lot of Shit. I have way too much crap. In fact, that is a HUGE understatement. I'm a person with many hobbies and interests whom has developed a tendency to acquire all of the accouterments that go along with said hobbies and interests. I also have a love of thrift stores and estate sales. In a word, I am a clutterbug. But no more, people! I am swearing off stuff and getting rid of all the unwanted and unneeded things that are clogging up my mental and physical space. I want to be free! Free to find the things I am looking for! Free to move about my home and backyard with ease! Free to not be worried about the pile of crap in the corner that I have been looking at for as long as I have lived in this home! I might even post about my exorcism of possessions as I know there are probably many of you out there that are in the same boat. 

Well that's the sum total of the list I want to make for this year. I'm going for minimalism. That way I won't disappoint myself. I'm sailing some rough seas this year and it will probably take all that I've got to keep my head above water. But I shall forge ahead, take the challenges as they come, and let the homestead I have created be a refuge from the storm.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Cheese

Happy Holidays my lovelies! Again, I must apologize for the lack of posts. I have a slew of happenings that I have been meaning to relate to you, but when it rains, it freakin' pours. For the past month, my nephew has been in the hospital. Last week, he was airlifted from Dallas to Cincinnati, where he is now at the children's hospital receiving excellent care. My daughter and I are flying out there tomorrow to help out and help drive my sister and her three boys back home to Dallas. The stress and uncertainty has been unbelievable, but I have to say, the Ronald McDonald House has been an amazing beacon of light in this mess. For all the crap I have talked about the fast food chain, the foundation has done excellent work for families with sick children in times of crisis by setting them up with a free place to stay, food, activities for kids, and an incredible amount of generosity, kindness, and unconditional love. As an advocate for healthy food, the irony is not lost on me. However, I thought people should know about some of the good work that the RM Foundation does.

I didn't want to let the season pass without sharing something with you all so I thought I would post about my Christmas cheese. Everyone knows how tasty goat chèvre is, but something that you might not be aware of is that the breed of goat can determine the flavor of the milk and cheese. Nigerian Dwarf goats, the breed we keep here, have a milk that is sweeter than the cow's and lacks that twang that we are used to in a good chèvre. In the past, my cheese has come out tasting like a creamy ricotta, lacking that depth of flavor that one looks for in a chèvre. Fortunately, my chef friend Tabitha of Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. gave me a tip of adding a touch of lemon zest. It doesn't replicate the flavor of the classic chèvre, but it increases the zing on the palate. This is also a great way to make chèvre with cow's milk, as the flavor of the milk is similar to the Nigerian Dwarf's. Here's how to do it.

Nigerian Dwarf (or cow) Chèvre

  • chèvre culture - available from cheese supply stores. I got mine from Hoegger Goat Supply. I prefer a culture that you can use direct set, rather than creating a mother (like a sourdough culture requires). We don't make enough cheese around here to warrant a mother.
  • rennet
  • 1 gallon of fresh milk
  • lemon zest, I prefer that of the Meyer lemon
  • soft cheese molds or cheese cloth
Pour milk into a non-reactive pot and get it to 72 degrees. Add 1/8 tsp. of chèvre culture (or as directed on culture packet) and stir until dissolved and combined. Add 2/5 of a drop of rennet by adding 5 Tbsp. of water to a jar with a drop of rennet and then extracting 2 Tbsp. of the watered down rennet mixture and adding it to the milk. Stir. Now add lemon zest. I only use the zest of half a lemon. This is really a personally taste thing, so feel free to improvise. Let sit covered in a warm place, ideally 72 degrees, for 18-24 hours. At the end of the resting period, you will see that the cheese solids have coagulated into a firm, creamy mass in the center of the pot. You can check for set by pressing gently against the cheese near the edge of the pot with the back of your fingers. The cheese will yield to the pressure and you will see the whey having clearly separated. Pull out your molds and spoon the solids with a slotted spoon, preferably one of those flat ones used for this type of thing, into each mold. This recipe fills up three of these small basket molds. Pace the molds on a deep tray and cover. Allow them to drain for two days. Pouring off whey as needed. I usually let them sit in the refrigerator. You can also use a cheese cloth and hang it to drain. Some people salt their cheese after it has fully drained. I usually add the salt as I am spooning the solids into the molds. This way, I can alternate solids and salt to make sure that it is seasoned throughout. Once you have finished draining and salting the cheese, wrap it up in saran wrap or put in a glass container in the fridge. Serve with your best preserves. For a holiday party, I usually serve the cheese with my tomato jam, pepper jelly, green tomato chutney, and chipotle plum sauce. Delish!

I hope all of you out there are having a wonderful and stress free holiday season. A merry merry and happy happy to each and everyone of you. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marek's Revisited

What better time than Mercury retrograde to revisit old problems (as Californians, we have the obligation of referencing astrological happenings with every possible opportunity) and as long time readers of this blog well know, one of our biggest problems on the farm has been Marek's. What an appropriate time for one of our hens to fall ill.

The other morning when I opened the coop door for the ladies, Ruby, our Black Australorp, hopped to the ground and just kind of stayed there, crouched and unable to fully stand. Crap! No need to consult the experts on this one. I knew. But just to confirm, I picked her up and pressed a finger into the center pad of a foot. Nothing. Paralysis was setting in. This was definitely Marek's. But all our birds had been vaccinated, which is 95-98% effective! Pretty much sums up my luck with chickens.

I should have known that she might not have been right since she hadn't been on the roosting bar for a couple months and had stopped laying. However, it's winter so I figured that she had stopped laying due to dwindling daylight. The roosting thing I chalked up to her being low on the pecking order. But I guess in retrospect that didn't make much sense since she had been one big ass bird back in September.

As always , it was my little Googlebear to the rescue. But this time it had nothing to do with a cure and everything to do with a practical solution: compost pile or dinner table. Don't cringe, my dears. We've lost so many birds to this disease that it seemed like such a waste to bury another.

Well kiddos, it seems that it is perfectly fine to eat a bird with Marek's. In fact, you probably already have at some point as almost all birds have been exposed to it. An infected bird most often develops lesions or tumors on the nervous system in the legs and neck. Like cancer in animals, the disease doesn't transfer to humans.

I culled Ruby within a few hours of determining that she was ill. The poor thing had become very thin, her skin so loose that only the sharpest of knives would do the deed. There was barely any food in her crop, save for a few greens, and almost nothing in her intestines. I cradled her in my arms before I sent her to the big sleep. She was a good, sweet bird who laid a few giant eggs in her short strut upon this stage. I was sad to have her go.

I know a lot of you out there are thinking "Gross!". Yeah, that's what I thought last year. This time around I'm thinking stew pot and tamales. Waste not, want not.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, December 5, 2011

How Embarrassing!

Awhile back, I was interviewed by *fair companies, a website with a ton of awesome videos and resources on sustainable culture. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten all about it until I received an email from the videographer, Kirsten Dirkson. I think we spent less than an hour shooting, which amazes me that they could turn out such a lengthy video with so little footage. What I love most about it is that it has a much more natural feel to it, in contrast to our more highly produced video for the Whole Food's Grow program. But OMG, I am so embarrassed by the state of my disheveled backyard and messy, cluttered refrigerator. And check out those "There's Something about Mary" bangs! I thought I was being so clever with that kerchief, hiding away the bad hair day. Total fail.

I read through some of the comments on YouTube and a common perception amongst viewers is that we keep our goats in a little prison like cell, which makes me so sad. *sigh* I swear to you, our goats have a good life. Yes, sometimes they get cooped up in the pen for too long, but they get access to the rest of the yard and the neighbor's. I have seen pens in the country with just as small of a space as we use for our girls. Don't forget, aside from terrorizing the backyard weeds and rose bushes, they also go for strolls around the neighborhood and canters through beautiful McLaren park.