Monday, February 25, 2013

A Chance Meeting....

Sometimes people come into your life and instantaneously change it. That's what happened when we were at the "Kiss a Llama" event that we took Blossom to. A young man named Josh approached us - he introduced himself and explained that he has been farming a long time (he's only 18...but he's lived or worked on a farm nearly all his life). He's not happy with the movement of less farms, more developments so, he's working to use his knowledge to teach others, not for profit, but to support the community he lives in. He asked if he could come to our house and look over our animals, do a pregnancy check on the goats and generally help us out, in any way. I reached out to him on Saturday and even though he had appendix surgery on Friday - he decided to come out to the farm on Sunday evening (last night). He went through each animal with us and offered suggestions on how to care for them even better than we already are. Here is how Josh is going to be helping us over the next few weeks.
  • He's going to band the testicles on our sheep - this will hopefully decrease their sexual drive and make them less likely to mount the female goats. It will also increase the quality of their fiber. (..and saving huge amounts of money for us)
  • We've been giving Sub-Q shots to our goats, but since we've never been formally trained, he's going to demonstrated both Sub-Q and intramuscular for us. 
  • He discussed the feed for the pregnant goats and that we likely need to increase the protein in their feed and discussed CDT and Vitamin B Complex with us. 
  • He has a hay provider that is significantly less expensive than the two that we've been using thus far. For us, it's always good to have a variety of hay suppliers - just because we can't purchase in large quantities, so we aren't really a priority for growers. BUT saving money on hay would be HUGE for us (I'm 1/2 price)!!
  • We have one dairy goat that seems to be having an issue with bowlegs - her hooves seem to be the issue - he's going to help us work her hooves in a better direction and hopefully correct her legs. 
  • He's making dandelion wine, as soon as the dandelions come out in early Spring. He's offered to help us with making honey mead, when we are ready.
  • We talked about how we want to tap trees this Spring, if we can find some taps for a cheap price. He knows how to make taps out of wood and is planning on showing us how to make a few tomorrow afternoon! HOMEMADE MAPLE SYRUP TAPS!?!?!?!?!?! 
  • He gave us a list of items we should have available for when our goats give birth. (Towels, towels, towels, water, coffee GOT IT!)
  • Finally (at least, for now) he gave Mabel and Flora (our two dairy goats) a good once over and gave us an idea of what he thinks we can expect with their pregnancies. 
    • Mabel - he feels that Mabel is VERY close to delivery. Her bag is filling out well and one udder is producing a beautiful gold colostrum for her babies. The other udder had some liquid water/milk combination - he drained that and wants to take a look at it again on Tuesday. He thinks that there are 2-3 babies in there (imagine 2-3 baby Mabels running around the barn yard!)
    • Flora - he feels that Flora is pregnant, with 1-2 babies. She likely has a couple weeks before delivery, but seems to be coming along fine. He'll recheck her Tuesday - just to make sure she is progressing well. 
    • Itty and Frankie - he's not sure that they are pregnant (which is fine...we know they were exposed to Chip, but whether they got pregnant or not wasn't a huge priority to us).
So it looks like we'll be having some little goat kids romping around very soon!! :-)
So imagine how excited we were after his visit! I wonder if Josh is up for adoption???

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chicks, Seed Starting and Spin Ins

Yesterday, as we walked into TSC, I could tell the air in there was different. Gone (or at least clearance priced) were the electric heaters and warm clothes (coveralls, hats and mittens) - making way for...Chick Days! Poultry feed, feeders, heat lamps, incubators etc. were being set up for the Spring chick season. See!?!?!? Spring is coming - sitting here in the teens it doesn't FEEL like Spring, although yesterday, when it was in the 50's it certainly did. Hopefully our days of buying heating oil for this season are numbered.It makes me want our chicks so bad. I know that we have a specific order to everything. Chicks come AFTER Spring Break - this will allow us the time we need to fix up the coop and save up some money to properly care for them. Still...I want them and I want them NOW! LOL
We had quite the eventful remainder of our weekend. On Sunday, I attended the "Spin In" at Tippecanoe Weavers. Essentially, anyone that wants to can bring their spinning wheel and some fiber and chat and spin and sit with like minded people. The owner invited me (after a FB post on her page) - she said that sometimes several people would attend, and others it would just be her. Fortunately/unfortunately - it was just her that day. Fortunately because I was able to get undivided guidance from an experienced spinner (10 years - you should see how tiny she can spin!)...unfortunately, because I didn't get to reach into the spinning community too much...but that's ok, it'll come. I was getting so frustrated with spinning. My wheel and I were just out of sync or something. My sitting down and spinning usually meant lots of curse words...not anymore. Kay over there is some kind of voodoo miracle worker. She sat down with my wheel - made a couple of adjustments (mainly, removing the rubber belt and replacing it with heavy weight cotton thread) and in no time at all, she had me spinning...wait for it...YARN! I actually was smiling and spinning and acting like I kinda knew what I was doing.
My supplies - carders, roving, cleaned fiber...
Seriously!? I spun THAT!?
There is my beautiful two-ply yarn. I can't believe it! No curses or anything!
I know that I have a lot of tweaking and practicing in front of me - but at least I know that I can do it....and to think that for a brief moment I was getting ready to throw in the towel. Soon, I think spinning will be the beautiful, relaxing experience that I thought it would be.
Since the Spin In - this is what I created, at home...
Love the color scheme of this roving.
I think I'm nearly done with this bobbin - I'll fill another with the same colors and then ply them back onto each other. Walaaa - YARN!
While I was at the Spin In - Mark took the kids to "Tech Fest", an event at a local community college that includes speakers from Lockheed Martin and NASA, lots of hands-on experiments based on the STEM (Science - Technology - Engineering - Math) fields. They learned a lot - pet a tarantula - got some cool posters about clouds etc.
Yesterday - after work, we set up two seeds starts. One of them was a pre-made kind that comes with the "just add water" peat tablets - it has 72 seed holes and we fill approximately 3/4 of them with asparagus seeds and the remaining 1/4 was filled with celery seeds. The other container was the one that I already posted about with the toilet paper rolls - we filled 26 rolls with the compost/rabbit poo/alpaca poo that we've been "cooking" for the past week or so - added our packet of artichoke seeds and covered them with more poo.
We cleaned off one of the 1/2 walls in our basement - it was filled with some junk and paint from the previous owners (just one thing we hadn't checked off our list yet) - lots of dust and rock pieces. So we cleaned and swept everything off, added a few lamps with daylight bulbs and are hoping that this makes a nice, comfy spot for our seedlings to grow (without feline interference...Ahem! Looking at all you cats that take the term "garden bed" literally and want to lay down ON TOP OF my seed beds). I didn't take photos - but I've created a seed diary of sorts - in there, I've added our planting calendar and will be taking notes about what we actually planted/when and if we should make changes for next season etc...
You hear that?? Spring is coming...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Settling In and Moving Dirt

Yesterday, we finished moving our daughter, Kait, and her boyfriend (...soon to be, fiance?), David, into our home, now "their" home too. They had much of their day-to-day stuff moved, but they were able to secure a truck and trailer yesterday and move the larger items in. It means that they will soon set up "the death room" (AKA ::  a room that sits off of Cora's old room, now Kait and David's room - big enough for some storage, a couch, a computer desk etc. In no time at all, they'll be able to set up their space like a little apartment with a bedroom and sitting room. It'll will be nice for them, until they are ready to venture back out on their own.

Today, we got to get dirty...really, really dirty. We readied the raised bed that is closest to our front porch. We put in a layer of alpaca poo and compost, over the existing good dirt from last year. We all took turns mixing the soil in with the compost/poo mix. After everything was fully mixed and spread out, we put garlic cloves into the mix. 53 cloves in all were planted into three rows - hoping that all of them will grow into beautiful new bulbs. This will be enough to get us through, until next planting season, and still be able to make spaghetti sauce etc. DELICIOUS!
53 garlic cloves, ready to grow into new garlic bulbs

Our overachiever, already on its way to a knew bulb!

In addition to planting all of our garlic, we took our saved toilet paper rolls to create seed start pots. Yes, we save our TP rolls - I guess we knew that we'd find some sort of amazing project for them. We were right! To make the "pots" - you make the roll flat in two directions, to square it off.

The roll will now look something like this.

In the corners, you cut slits in the roll, approx 3/4" long.

Fold in the flaps, crisscross, like you would a box.

Overlap the last flap.

We put ours into a plastic shoebox, you can see the crisscrosses in the bottom.

28 rolls ready and waiting for seeds. I really hope these will work.

If anything, they look kinda cute all squished in there.

Garlic, resting now, will hopefully grow so beautifully in this southern facing yard space.
Off to get cleaned up and head into Dayton to see Mark's side of the family, in celebration of Mark's grandmother's life. She passed a year ago, a wonderful lady, indeed. She is deeply missed in our family.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day and Alpaca Kisses

How do you get an alpaca into a mini-van, very, very, very carefully. LOL
With Blossom's help, Miami University, Hamilton Campus was able to raise enough money to donate a Llama to a community in need - through their "Kiss a Llama" campaign. She kissed, not only the winner, but anyone she could get her lips on.

Blossom got lots of great kisses today - around 50 people came and took advantage of this awesome photo-op. They pet her, loved on her, took pictures, asked questions about her, got kisses from her....such a neat experience.

Me and my girl, Blossom.
...and the winner is...Theresa was SO SO SO excited to "win" a Kiss with a "Llama"

Blossom even gave a baby belly a good luck kiss.

With some convincing, and heavy lifting, we were able to get Blossom BACK into the mini-van. Look at that cute alpaca butt.
On a completely different note, I found a great recipe for a lighter and fluffier vanilla cake (in this case, cupcakes). Check out this recipe:
Valentines Day cupcakes for my crew

Cupcakes for Cora's class

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Alpaca Walk

Wondering what we did tonight? Mark and I made a halter for our alpaca, out of rope, and took Blossom for a walk around the pasture, out of the barn, through the back yard, around to the front, down the drive, across the street to the mailbox and back. She did great and although I was nervous that she'd get out somehow...I was impressed that I kept her under control. We are all set for our "Kiss a Llama" event tomorrow. **EXCITED!!!

PTO and Go Time!

We've had a couple warmer days around warmer, I mean, slightly above freezing and no snow on the ground. These temps, after a few months of Mother Nature being so vicious, make people get the itch for Spring. Mother Nature is tempting us to dig our dirt and plant our seeds, but we all know in our hearts that she likely has that one last brutal storm waiting for us (hoping I'm wrong on that one, but she always seems to come through). So what are things we can do to prepare, to give us the feeling that we are working on our Spring, without putting our precious seeds in any risk???

We finger through Lehman's catalogs, talking about what fruit trees we want to add to our yard (cherry? meyer lemon?...), sorting through our seed packets (we received our last order of seeds, in no time at all), wondering if we should have enough, do we want to try something else, we prepare the people around us for when we will likely be unavailable for a bit.
I recently sent my employer a list of days that I will likely not be "coming in" to work (I put that in quotes because 90% of the time, I work from home)...the PTO request went a little something like this...

2/14/13 – Volunteer 1/2 day, Kiss a Llama Event for Heifer International
2/22/13 - Leaving around 3:30 or 4 PM – Having a trainer come and help train our Border Collie
3/1/13 - Leaving around 2 PM – Cora has an ENT appoint, for tonsil consult.
4/17/13 – This is a tentative date – our honeybees are schedule to arrive this day; however, it has not been confirmed. I will likely need the day in order to get them pick up and settled into their new home.
Week of April 9-11 – During this week, our baby chicks are scheduled to arrive. I need to be on standby to get the chicks from the post office and settled here
After that, my boss reached out to tell me how much he cracked up at my request and thanked me for the most unique PTO request that he'd ever received. LOL
As for new things in the garden - we are growing artichokes, birdhouse gourds and luffa gourds - it'll be neat to see if the grow and how they develop. While growing tomatoes isn't new to us, growing some 40-60 tomato plants at one time is very new and we are hoping that we'll have a nice variety of tomatoes to be able to can for use throughout the non-growing season.
Something else new...we are hoping to get some supplies for tapping our maple tree this year. I know that it won't amount to much, but it'd be fun to see what we are able to get. Not to mentioned it would be great to have multiple sources of sugars on the property (honey, maple and maybe sugar beets? eventually). A local State Park, just a few miles down the road, is hosting a Maple Syrup Festival and we are hoping to learn a few tricks of the trade. 
Over the next couple of days, we'll be putting asparagus in the seed start planters. We are putting a table in the basement with a daylight grow light, since it is still too cold to put them outside. Our set up is simple, just the way I like it. :-) We'll be breaking up garlic cloves and putting them straight into the ground - a task we should have done last October (but I didn't realize until now that I built my calendar - from the last post) - however, since we are still in the cool weather zone, I think we are OK. At least I'm willing to try it out and see what we get.
Our garlic cloves, waiting to grow.
Our neat things we are doing around here...
Growing celery, from a cut celery base. Who woulda thunk you could do that??
Exploring "Narnia" - the wooded area near our house. The kids found, what looks like remnants of an old barn? There is a rock and concrete foundation and tin roof material. We found old bottles, piece of broken pottery, an old chain etc. just neat, exploration type things.
I usually get such great inspiration from old gardening books...I think I'll take a pass on this one though that suggests I grow my seeds on top of a radiator, on top of a sheet of asbestos. Mmmm...Asbestos!
Alright team, it's almost Go Time! Are YOU ready?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Recipe :: Meatloaf

Since I had a special request, from my friend over at Living in the Land of Oz, I am sharing my meatloaf recipe with all of you. It really isn't anything too fancy..since we fix food for a bunch of people, it's about quick, easy (preferably cheap...but with the cost of beef going up and up and up...)

3 lbs. Ground Beef
2 lbs. Sage Sausage
2 Eggs
A dash a milk
Italian Style Bread Crumbs
Optional: Dice a small onion and green pepper and mix with other ingredients

Mix all ingredients together. Separate into two loaf pans. Cover with the sauce below.

Meatloaf Sauce
6 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
½ C. Ketchup
2 tsp. Dry Mustard
¼ tsp. Nutmeg

Mix all ingredients and pour over meatloaf, prior to baking

Place in the oven at 350 degrees and cook for about an hour - hour and a half...until the center of the loaf is cooked through (remember there is pork in there).

***Many times, I will double the sauce recipe...because frankly we are BIG fans of the sauce.

Serve up with either mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, a veggie (fresh green beans) and some fruit.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Seeds and Poo

Last night, we placed an order for the seeds that we need for this season. These aren't the only things we are going to plant - either because we have left over seeds from previous seeds orders, or were able to save some of our seeds from last year's harvest...and today, I received a notice that they were already on their way to us! Exciting!!! I can't wait to dig my hands in the dirt, ahem, poo and get some seeds started.

So let's talk poo - not necessarily the most fascinating subject; however, a necessary one. Yesterday, we were able to take a five gallon bucket and fill it approx 1/3 full of pure rabbit poo (uncomposted, fresh from the cage), 1/3 full of alpaca poo (partially composted, mostly fresh, from the "dung pile") and 1/3 full of toward the bottom of our compost pile. Digging into the compost pile, we weren't really sure what to expect. When we were at our apartment, we attempted composting, using an Earth Machine composter (that we earned attending a composting/vermiculture/recycling class) never seemed to really do anything. Just more of a container holding our compostable goodies and never transitioning into actual compost. Did we do something wrong? Can you compost...wrong? I mean it's just letting your compostables break down into "black gold"..right? I don't honestly know the answer to that. However, now that we live here, we've been keeping kitchen and barn waste in an area of our back yard, near where the chickens will live. Soon, (by soon, I mean that I'm hoping this year, but likely next year) we will be building compost bins - where we can separate the pile into three separate sections (new, cooking, almost ready/ready), but for now, one...fairly large..pile of cooking compost. Mark grabbed a few shovels worth of uncomposted straw and poo off the top of the pile and then...GOLD! Did we make compost??? We sure did! There's beautiful, dark black compost gold under that pile. Awesome! Today, we mixed the three components together by dumping back and forth between two larger buckets - I took a shovel and chopped up some of the "bunny berries" and "alpaca jelly beans" and it is actually beginning to look like rich potting soil. We'll give it a few more days of mixing and churning and I think we'll have some pretty nutrient rich goodness to help our seedlings get off to the right start.
Alright, enough with the poo talk, for now! Come on seeds, hurry up and get here.
Oh! Thought you might want to see the planting calendar that we are going to try to stick to this year. We went through and tried to determine the best dates to plant (either set directly in the ground, starting the seeds inside or transplanting seedlings) - these are specific to our (estimated) frost dates and I'm sure we'll find out that some will work out and others will be a bust. I'm hoping to take better garden notes/photos this year...we'll see.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Celebrating Life

This weekend we celebrate a few things, but the most important celebration is Mark's 49th Birthday. WOOT! For 49 years, my handsome hubby has made this world a better place and we celebrated him by never letting him get his own cup of coffee, extra snuggles, great presents from the kids (Gage gave him a Science Game, Cora made him an awesome frog out of her very cool and colorful duct tape, Drake hand knit a case for Mark's pocket knife, Kait/David gave him a Spider Man Comic from 1979 and a gift card to Pizza Hut - his favorite eatery :-)), and yummy food. In our house, the birthday boy/girl gets to choose if they want to go out to a favorite place or if there is a special homemade dinner that they would like. Mark chose to have meatloaf (I make a mean meatloaf), macaroni and cheese, green beans, strawberries, rolls and for dessert - homemade Carrot Cake (the recipe follows). It was a long day, but a day of comfort foods and sharing so much love for Mark. I hope he realizes how awesome we think he is.

Mark’s Carrot Cake
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.
In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
To Make Frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Stir in chopped pecans. Frost the cooled cake.
Ta Daaaaaa!
Celebrating Spring...I've definitely got a case of Spring fever - being cooped up in the house is never good for me. It's cold and snowy outside. The water is often frozen in barn and we (by "we", I typically mean Mark) need to carry out heavy pails of water when we go out. Our fingers are painfully cold, by the time we come back in. I don't get to visit with our animals as long as I would normally like...I miss them.

I miss green things too - everything is sleeping outside - although the silhouettes of the naked trees look beautiful against the sky on sunny days, it's hard for me to go several days without seeing the sun...gray skies...UGH.

I'm trying to counteract the winter blues/cabin fever with planning and dreaming about spring. We have a lot of projects planned for the spring - most I've already mentioned here (the bees, the chickens...) but I haven't talked garden planning. We went through and evaluated our gardening from last year. With all the stress that happened last Spring, we really got a late start on planting. Most of our seed starts outgrew their containers (and unfortunately died), before we could get them planted in the ground. We had our neighbor till the garden very late in the year and really didn't get a good crop of anything. Sure, we enjoying homegrown potatoes, peas, onion, cucumbers, beans and zucchini - but not nearly on the scale that I was hoping for. Also, I realized that we really left our zucchini on the plant longer than we should, making the skin tougher. We also used a green bean seed that I wasn't very happy with - very stringy. Now, we have a lot of leftover seeds - some to get into the ground for this year and others we will hopefully be able to trade for other seeds or provide to someone who needs them more than we do (maybe we will plant some of the green bean seeds for donation??).
Seed starts - soon we'll need to move from the planning what to plant to the actually seed starting. Last year, we put our seeds on a table in front of our dining room window - which unfortunately also acted as a cat bed (Grrr) - they would actually lay on the plants to look out the window (brats). So this year, we are going to set up an area in the basement with a couple of grow lamps overhead - this should hopefully keep the animals away and provide sufficient lighting. In another exciting/different move, we've always purchased potting soil in the past - but this year, we are going to be able to take advantage of our "homegrown" potting soil. This week, we'll be digging out some of the bottom of the pile compost mix that has been baking in the back yard since we moved here. There should be some pretty good compost under there - we are also adding bunny and alpaca poo (which we have PLENTY of around here) to the mix. The GREAT thing about bunny and alpaca poo is that they do not need to be composted (aged) to put on plants, as long as they haven't been mixed with too much urine. I don't know if any of you are aware of this - but bunnies and alpacas will set up a restroom area - the poo berries are typically piled up in one area, easy to find, easy to shovel off a bit and the pee is fairly separated. We also have Cora's worm garden this year and perhaps we'll be able to make some compost tea to put over our seedlings as they grow and as we transplant them outside. SO we should have FREE soil/fertilizer for our plants!! Awesome - this helps us in two ways
1) We don't need to pay for any of this awesomeness
2) We don't need to figure out how to dispose of any of our compostable waste
The perfect solution.

Things I am looking forward to this Spring/Summer:
1) Peep Peep Peeps of baby chicks
2) Shearing our animals
3) Cleaning and spinning the fiber and creating a masterpiece from them
4) Buzzy bees and warm honey
5) Eating homegrown food, right off the plant
6) Goat milk - making cheese, soap, lotion
7) Oh! Goat babies boinging around the barn and back yard area :-)
8) Our first egg (...and every other awesome egg)
9) Eating backyard raised chickens
10) Making our yard cute/pretty again - plants, gardens, chicken coop
11) Seeing which of our fruit trees produce fruit this year
12) Seeing our finished, big, red, barn
13) Sitting on the porch with a glass of sun tea.
I'm sure this list will grow, but for now, that's a pretty good start.

Celebrating Football???...Finally - today is the Super Bowl...49ers vs. the Ravens. In honor of Mark's 49th birthday, I'm rooting for the 49ers. Honestly, I do not care about football - we only watch one game a year, this one and it is more for the commercials, the snacky food, the razzing each other about who is going to win etc.
Soooo Go NINERS!!!!