Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spring? Sure feels like it!

With forecasts showing weather in the 60's for the next ten days, I am boldly marching outside and doing springy things.  

Paisley turned 3 a few days ago and we gave her a set of garden tools for her big day.  So, she and I have been digging in a lot of dirt this week!  She was granted her very own garden bed- best decision ever!  She just LOVES it!  Digs, rakes, makes dirt 'pancakes', plants seeds, digs seeds, catches bugs, plants and replants onion plants.  The fun is endless!

I, on the other hand, am somewhat more orderly.  I have planted peas, onion plants, potatoes, lettuce, beets, and carrots.  The last three in the list will continue to be planted every two weeks in small patches, so an early failure is no real risk.  

I won't do any more planting until mid april, when I do squash, melons, beans, corn, etc and then mothers day is the day for TOMATOES!!!!!!  I'd consider getting a green house JUST for the extended growing season for the 'maters.  Thats what summer is all about.  Fresh tomatoes.  

Speaking of tomatoes, I am almost out of canned tomatoes.  I ran out of my scrumptious tomato sauce a few months ago, but have really really enjoyed the raw packed halved tomatoes.  Easy to can, and delicious to cook with!  I have enough to get us through March.  Then we will be without garden ripe tomato flavor for 3 months!  WAHH!!!  

Other spring preparations include fertilizing and mulching all 18 trees, 4 blueberry bushes, 7 raspberry canes, 6 blackberry brambles, and 4 grape vines.  

I am trying an interesting method that utilizes cow manure.  Which we have a little bit of laying around.  Just a little.  Maybelle plops about 12 times per day.    

First, poke holes in the ground around the plant with a manure fork, sprinkle on appropriate fertilizer, sulpher, etc.  Cover with a thin layer of manure.  Spread out a layer of cardboard for weed suppression. One more layer of manure.  Then finally, a nice thick layer of wood chip mulch.  This will feed the plants all year long, be an attractive mulch, and will also provide a nice place to plant a few annual flowers if we wanted.  

That is quite a bit of work, so I am getting a head start as much as possible.  This weekend we will head to the city's compost and mulch facility with the truck and trailer and haul a few loads of wood chips.  I expect to have all of the fertilizing and mulching done in about two weeks.  

As far as other farm production goes, The hens stopped laying for 8 weeks over the darkest days of winter but are back at full steam laying ~6 eggs a day.  For the fun of it I am trying to keep our net gain down around 4 eggs a day, so Paisley and I have been having eggs over easy on toast for lunch every day!  

We had the roosters processed back in December and we have been so pleased with the results.  The birds are juicy and tender.  Very flavorful!  About 4-4.5lbs each.  The batch we processed ourselves were tough and stringy.  We think it is because our water for scalding was too hot and partly cooked them while we were picking/processing.  I don't mind paying someone else $3/bird to do a MUCH better job than we could do ourselves.  We still have about 2/3 of them left.  I think we will be ready by the end of summer for another batch.  In the future we will use a cornish cross meat bird as opposed to the heritage breeds.  They achieve the same weight in half of the time with half of the feed.  No brainer.  

Maybelle is giving about 4 gallons of milk a day.  I had no idea her production would increase on her second lactation.  So, we give about 1-2 quarts a day to the hens, take about a gallon per day for the house, and give the rest to Spicy Hunan Beef.  Slider is about 7 months away from his expiration date.  I can not wait to have home grown beef in the freezer!  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Happy almost spring!

We are three days away from our one year anniversary of living in the farm house!!!  

This winter has been very cold.  Too many days in the negatives to even count.  Weeks on end below freezing.  There were times where having temps in the teens was a 'warm' spell.  We didn't get as much snow as usual, which is worrisome for spring.  I really hope we have a rainy spring to get caught up on the old precip.  

Things have been uneventful around here.  Maybelle had her calf a few days before xmas.  She was a cute little thing!  Luckily, she was a heifer (girl) and after drinking 2-4 gallons of milk a day for two months, she was worth a bit of cash.  So, we sold her and bought a day old Holstein/Jersey bull for next years freezer beef.  I am considering trying this second calf as a grass fed beefer.  He will have 20 months to mature, and will be able to have 2-3 gallons of milk per day for about 10 months.  He should be delicious!  

Slider only got 1 gallon of milk per day for 3 months and he currently gets 3lbs of high protein pellets per day.  As he gets closer to finishing, we will feed him corn for his last few months.  The advantage of corn feeding is adding a nice layer of fat.  The more fat, the longer the carcass can hang in the locker.  The longer the carcass hangs, the more outer layer you lose to drying.  If that outer layer is fat, it will be trimmed off anyway, so there is less meat lost from a longer aging.  And we all know what a nice long age can do for fine foods!  

It will be fun to compare flavor of grain fed vs grass fed beef.  I think when people hear 'grain fed' they assume that cattle are living their lives in a barn with grain in front of them 24/7.  Bovines are ruminants and MUST have forage.  If your beef is grain fed, it has likely spent the first portion of its life on pasture, with its mama.  The last few months were in a stinking, nasty feedlot where it was fed a TMR (total mixed ration) that includes forage as well as grain and probably antibiotics.  So, yes, grassfed beef has a better quality of life and better feed at the end.  However, home raised, grain fed beef is not the same beast as commercial grain fed beef.  So, there are really three things to compare- commercial beef, home raised grainfed beef, and grassfed beef.  I think that the the latter two categories will outperform commercial beef in taste, but I have doubts that they will be very different from one another.  

A grassfed beefer raised by us will be significantly less expensive than a grain fed.  Because slider got so little milk for such a short time, I felt he needed the high protein feed through winter.  This is about $14/mo.  A spring calf, that has had tons of milk for many months will go into his first winter in very good condition and will be fine on hay alone.  

In other news, I have had my first cheese success!  After about 12 failures, I got a new cheese press and have a cautious optimism about my future cheeses.  The first one we tried was pretty good!  Very nice, dry, firm texture.  I think my main problem was in not pressing at the right weights, thus not getting the cheese dry enough.  Plus, I was using more rennet than I needed which can cause a bitter flavor.  I cut the rennet in half from the recipe and things are still coagulating just fine!  

I am anxiously awaiting spring.  I have a garden to look forward to and I am going to fertilize and mulch all 17 trees and 4 blueberries.  I will  be transplanting 7 raspberries, and planting 6 blackberries and 4 grapes.  

I hope I update again before another 5 months goes by.  :)