Wednesday, December 29, 2010
It's not uncommon for us to see white tailed deer up on the hill just above our field. Sometimes there are as many as a dozen or so, including a rare white deer that seems to glow in the afternoon sun. But today, they were lost. There's a small road that traces the back of our property, and the herd had decided to take that road today.
The Bad News is, Stella is a female cat. And mother nature taking its hand in things, we soon had "Little Cat", Stella's first born. We were surprised that she only had one kitten, but life went on. Keeping a vigilant watch on the potential mouse population was a big job. Then a few months flew by and Stella had another litter, this time five little carbon copies of "Little Cat". So now we've repaced the scourge of too many mice with too many cats.
The next few weeks were filled with scurrying fur balls...one, two, three, four, five, plus Stella and Little Cat. Our "Cat Explosion" although cute for a while was getting out of hand. After a few calls to other fellow Alpaca owners, we still needed to find some new homes for the kittens. The math was going to get out of hand in a hurry.
So yesterday, we put an ad on Craigs List, and before the day was over, we had emails expressing interest in nearly all the kittens. Now comes the "fun" part...catching them. The plan was simple;morning mealtime always resulted in all a veritable feline free-for-all. So we put all the catfood out in a stall where we knew only the older cats could climb out of. But only three of the kittens joined in this time. The other two were playing in the stacks of scrap lumber across the barn. We now can truly appreciate the phrase "herding cats". Every time I would move the lumber, they would run under the tractor. Then we tried shooing them from under the tractor, and they were back under the wood. Meanwhile we decided to catch the two in the stall before they hatched a plan to escape. Even with two people in a ten foot stall, we had a dickens of a time catching them and getting them into the cat carrier. While were concentrating on these, we saw one of the kittens escape into the hay bin. Now we got you! Or so we thought. Up the hay mountain it leaped, and I was hot on its heels...until it slid between the last bale of hay and the wall...again. Luckily this time it was only two layers down, but much more agile. As I uncovered the escapee, it turned tail and crawled even deeper into the pile. Well, this was going nowhere fast, so we gave up and carried on with our morning chores. Eventually this one came out of hiding and was on the floor of the hay bin. Jo quickly snatched it up barehanded...something she now regrets as she tends her cat-scratched knuckles and wrist. Finally, with the others that had wandered into the stall, we finally had captured all five.
So they've been transfered to maximum security in the kitchen. And after the trauma of their capture has subsided, they've settled down and seem to be quite happy. Of the five, two have already found new homes, and we're just waiting for the phone to ring for the rest. Meanwhile Max and Dylan both have a taken a greater interest in them, now that they're within their grasp. "We're going to miss them". Well...yes, yes we will.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
And now we prepare for the first big storm of the season. Of course it won't be anything like last winter. Two feet of snow, on top of two more left us paralyzed for weeks. The alpacas could only huddle together in the barn, with only the occasional trip outside for necessities. But now, we're prepared. A new tractor in the barn gives us the ability to move those mountains of snow that are sure to come.
Other than the inconvenience of being stranded in the barn, the alpacas don't seem to mind. They've put on their best winter coats and seem to be just fine modeling their ice crystal overcoats. Now the true meaning of farming comes back to us. We take care of them, and they take care of us. By spring, the snow will be gone, and they'll be happy to shed their coats to enjoy the sunshine of summer.
Our intrepid barn cat, Stella, has certainly done her job, ridding the barn of squeaky invaders. But she's replaced them with her own crew of fluffy barn kittens. Her first, "Little Cat" is nearly grown now. And now her second litter brought five more little gray-striped puff balls. Now we just have to watch where we walk. Since the cold weather started, I put in a water delivery system that Jo calls "Smith Family Robinson" It's just a PVC pipe that doesn't freeze and allows us to fill buckets without trudging to the well. Stella thinks the best tasting water is only found at this new aqueduct. She patiently waits for the bucket to move so she can get a fresh drink from the well.
As we finish feeding, we now have to put the feeding dishes up on the fence posts, so we can find them when we come back in the morning to do it all again.
Good night, furry friends. Stay warm. Spring will be here before you know it.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
So we started out at the grocery store, pre-planned shopping list in hand. I'm thinking...hmm, this might actually work. And Jo started the "pre-cooking" regimine on Saturday evening. We had already committed to doing "herd health" on Sunday morning, which is generally very physically demanding. And it was. BUT...damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.
We finally STARTED cooking at about 2 pm. And we cooked, and we chopped and we mixed and we put stuff in freezer bags. Somewhere along the way, the woman who wrote the book miscalculated the fresh onion requirements, and the cooked chicken too. So we finally stopped with only 9 day's meals, but enough spaghetti sauce to make another meal so we whipped that up for dinner. As evidenced by the pictures here, we filled the sink with dirty pots, pans, measuring materials ad just about every other utensil in the kitchen. Most of them, many times over. I don't think the stove top will ever be the same. Finish line...6 pm. 10 meals in 4 hours. I guess I should shelve my plans for a new career as a short-order cook. I guess we'll see, if in ten days, it was all worth it.
Friday, August 20, 2010
The apples are in. Go figure. I guess that somewhere in between the scorching heat and deer, the apples have decided to throw in the core, so to speak. With our purchase of the farm, we got an apple tree...overgrown and a total mess. Number 1 Son has nurtured the tree, carefully trimming and culling. But this morning, he announced that they had to be picked. Plagued by some kind of rust-bug-rot thing, they were dropping, causing a particularly nasty bee problem. So our lackluster harvest has produced this pot of applesauce which will fill a few bags in the freezer.
This has been a busy year in the garden, yielding frozen or canned broccoli, asparagus from the neighbor, kosher dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, dilly beans, corn, tomatoes (still coming in), zucchini, strawberry and raspberry jam, pesto, and green beans, which live either in the freezer or on the shelf. We also experimented with carrots (not as easy to grow as one might think) and edible flowers (pretty on a salad). As the Farmer sees me hanging out in the kitchen with pots of boiling water, he asks me if it's worth it. After I got last month's electric bill, I'm not sure. Of course there were many factors involved with last month's $540 bill (mainly Met Ed estimating way low the month before and 7 fans running full time to keep the alpacas cool), but still it's hard to say. We have put many meals on the table that were very "local", which is trendy and hip (never thought I'd be trendy and hip at this age). We purchased a freezer pig and a quarter of a steer from the farmer up the road, so entrees consisting of the booty from the garden and the local meat from the freezer have pretty much been the fare around here. We're learning as we go along what types of plants work well for us, which ones to ditch, and are trying to learn some way to keep the bugs/disease from ruining what we're producing.
We've been experimenting with heirloom species, but honestly, to this '60s kid brought up on boxed cereal and pre-sweetened Koolaid with cyclamates, some of these veggies are just plain weird. Not "normal" like you'd pick up at the grocery store. Odd shapes & sizes. So as a cook, you have to make do and work around them. One thing I did do though was make a batch of pickled cucumbers pictured here with the Connecticut Field Pumpkins and some Giant pumpkin variety unknown to us.
I remember my grandmother making pickled cucumbers and fortunately, my mom had the recipe. This one is a winner and I offer it to you:
from the recipe of
Edna Gertrude Heffentreyer Griffith
Cucumbers: Large ones are best, peel and slice thin
Onion: Use a sweet variety and slice thin
Mix the Cukes and Onion together in a bowl
On the stove, mix 1 cup white vinegar & 1 cup sugar. Heat until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the cukes and onion. Put a dinner plate on the bowl and place in the frig overnite.
The next day you can stick them in a jar and keep in the frig. Pickled cukes seem to have an indefinite shelf life as long as you keep them refrigerated (kind of like a Twinkie.) Enjoy!
Friday, May 21, 2010
We just came back from the PAOBA show in York, and actually did pretty well. We placed in all but two categories. Now our attention turns to shearing day, which is this next Monday.
All the "critters" are suffering in the heat, so we've put on extra fans to cool them down. Try imagining wearing your warmest winter coat in 90 degree weather. We promised them all they can play in the sprinkler right after shearing.
So for "Open Barn", we'll have some of Jo's spinning friends over, and I'll be demonstrating hand weaving. Of course the Alpacas are the stars of the show. We're hoping to have our first baby arrive about that time. We'll be open Saturday and Sunday 5/29-30 from 10-4. We hope to see you there.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The loom will be coming along with us real soon too.
Here are jars of dye concentrate. The dye is added to salted hot water on the stove. The particular yarn we are using here is 60% alpaca, 40% Blue Faced Leicester (an English long wool rare breed sheep--the fleeces came from my friend Nancy Landis from Elizabethtown, PA). It's soft and rich with a satin sheen. It was spun for us at Worthington Acres Fiber Mill in Unityville, PA, so we have a 100% PA product, as our farm is a member of PA Preferred and we hope to produce as much in our state as possible, which helps support other small farms like us.
The white skein goes into the dye bath, comes to a boil, and simmers for 15 minutes. Then the vinegar is added and it simmers for another 25 minutes. I've been experimenting with dye recipes to get a reliable palate of colors that will work well year after year.
When the dye has been taken up by the fiber, it cools for a little and then is rinsed.
After rinsing to remove any leftover dye, it goes on our hi-tech drying racks. Sure, they look like deck furniture. Too bad I gave away the treadmill, that would work just as well!
It's a little time consuming, but well worth the effort!
Sunday, March 28, 2010
The main problem has been with Chief (center above). He developed a pretty bad infection in his feet from the dampness. This required an antibiotic and keeping his feet as dry as humanly possible for the foreseeable future. Not an easy task. We tried keeping him inside with just the other babies, but they weren't having it. So then we had to keep everyone inside. When we left them out, they immediately headed for the green grass growing where the water was laying. Just an awful situation that has been going on since the big melt and subsequent rains. But hopefully this temporary rigging will keep everyone healthy till it dries up.
We took the three babies to the Virginia Classic in Lexington, VA, in the beginning of March. It was a great show with Chief taking a 4th in his class, Jewel taking a blue and Reserve Champion in her class, and Izzy taking a 4th as well.
Around the farm...well, we purchased a Kubota BX25 this week, with a front end loader, 60" mower and backhoe. It will make life easier moving stuff around, digging out some stumps, mowing the back 40...er, 4. Cleaned the barn to make room for it yesterday and we're expecting delivery sometime this week. First job for it will be moving soil to fill these...
The new raised beds for the kitchen garden. I am really looking forward to having things growing again. Last year, we did tomatoes, swiss chard, lettuce, butternut squash (which makes the most amazing soup), peppers, eight ball zuchini, sunflowers, and a very tough variety of corn. So with the new seed catalogs come fresh hope. Soil is being ordered this week and son is getting picked up from college on Friday so he can help get these boxes filled. Managed to salvage some pots from last year with some very tired soil that will benefit greatly from a boost of new dirt. The spring brings good things after such a tough winter.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Alpacas are wise animals...they step outside just for a minute and then it's right back into the barn.
After Saturday's storm, we were able to snowblow a track for the alpacas to go out and walk for a bit, but now it's back to square one.