Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (made with honey)

I loooove the combo of Strawberries and Rhubarb. Especially in a pie. Or a crisp...YUM!

But I'll be honest here...I'm slacking in the pie-making department lately. I'm no supermom, you know! When I graciously received some stalks of rhubarb from a family friend (unfortunately I don't have it growing in my yard), I wanted to make sure I used it up though...even if I didn't want to "go all out" and make a pie.

Hey, cut me some slack here... 5 goats, 4 chickens, 2 bunnies, 2 cats, 2 dogs, and most of all, 3 kids, make me very exhausted at times. I'll take my shortcuts, thank you!

When I saw THIS recipe for rhubarb refrigerator jam, made with honey (instead of the usual 500 cups of sugar), I thought, "this is perfect!"

I LOVE homemade jellies and jams. Especially refrigerator jam, because we all know I'm going to eat it all up within a week or two anyway, right? And this recipe uses Pomona's Pectin, which doesn't require any specific amount of sugar to make it set, so you can use less sugar, or natural sweeteners such as honey!

This was my first time using it- all you have to do to make it work is make calcium water, which is easy, because the package comes with a little packet of powdered calcium, and the handy instructions on how to make it (just mix with water and then store in your fridge).

But Wait-

I didn't have that much gifted rhubarb, so how could I make rhubarb jam? Said recipe called for 3 cups, and I only had about 1.5 cups. The answer was really quite obvious, being that I had a bag of frozen strawberries calling to me from my freezer.

It was fate, really. The strawberries that were in my freezer happened to measure out to 1.5 cups, as well. And this is how my new Strawberry Rhubarb jam (made with honey) was born!

Of course I can't take much credit for this recipe... I followed the GNOWFGLINS recipe to a tee, but subbed in 1.5 cups of strawberries, and it came out delicious. Enjoy!

Strawberry Rhubarb Refrigerator Jam (sweetened with honey)

  • 1.5 cups peeled, diced rhubarb
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1.5 cups strawberries (I used frozen)
  • 2tsp Pomona's Pectin calcium water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2tsp Pomona's Pectin

Put water, strawberries and rhubarb into a saucepan, covered. Bring to a boil, and let steam at least 5 minutes, or until fruit is soft and falling apart. If you use frozen strawberries, it will take longer. I chose to mash my fruit up, but it's up to you how "chunky" you want it.

Turn off the heat, and add calcium water. In a separate bowl, mix pectin and honey together. Turn on heat again, mix in honey/pectin mixture and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and put in a jar. Can be stored in the freezer,  or refrigerator.

Easy. Simple. Sweet-but-not-too-sweet. If you eat it with a spoon, I won't tell!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Backyard Foraging: Japanese Knotweed Jelly, and Dandelion Jelly

Some backyard foraging has been happening here...

I know you recognize this one... the ubiquitous weed that is loved by some, despised by many... the Dandelion of course!

You probably know that the leaves are edible, and the roots are used medicinally...but did you know that the flower petals can be used to make delicious tasting jelly? The flavor is reminiscent of honey- it's so good!

Basically, what you do, is collect the dandelion heads (this is the easy part, and a good time to enlist the help of your mini-laborers AKA kids), then you remove the petals (this is the extremely tedious part- but well worth it), then you boil said petals to make an infusion that, after being strained, will be the liquid for your jelly.

I won't post the recipe here, but I'll let you in on the recipe that I use, from Linn Acres Farm- you can find it HERE

I told you about the Dandelion jelly already...I'm also harvesting some freshly emerged Japanese Knotweed shoots for making jelly (unfortunately I didn't get enough this time, but not to worry- the stuff is highly invasive and i can get more in about a minute lol).

Also known as False Bamboo, Japanese Knotweed has been the bane of our backyard's existence since we moved to this house (remember how I mentioned it was invasive). There used to be a HUGE patch of it. It grows up to be about 6-7 feet tall, dies back annually, and grows back in the spring without fail (at the expense of all other vegetation).

We've hacked it down, moved it, and planted grass over it for years. Now it's at a manageable level to where I can just...make jelly out of it!

To get the liquid for the Jelly, you remove all leaves, wash, and chop up the shoots. You then cover with water, bring to a boil and let simmer for awhile...

After straining, you'll get a shockingly pink "juice" to work with!

HERE is the recipe I used last year, and am planning on using again this year after I collect some more shoots as they inevitably spring up in my backyard.

I love much...*sign* I've waited all Winter for this, and I'm going to try to take full advantage of these early spring gifts.

Well... as much as my toddler will allow. My foraging efforts are often thwarted by a certain two year old who will remain nameless *cough cough* Gavin *cough*.

Happy foraging, my peeps! Feel free to comment on what's growing in your backyard! I'm off to make myself a peanut butter and Dandelion jelly sandwich...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Story of Lonely Goldie

This Spring, I bought a few new pullets to replenish my flock...

The three baby chicks are growing fast... I think they're a couple months now...I lost track....

Goldie continues to keep watch over the chick run, and can usually be seen lingering right outside of it (enjoying their company, yet ready to peck them at a moment's notice lol).

A little back info. on "Goldie": She didn't start out as my chicken; she actually belonged to my neighbor, across the road, and free-ranged on many acres of land with a flock of hens just like her. Eventually Goldie and her flock began migrating to our humble speck of property, spending more and more time here, until they had completely adopted us. For awhile, the hens were only returning home to lay their eggs. Then they started laying their eggs here... it was awkward...

Why did they cross the road? I think they chose our tiny flake of earth over the hundred acres they had access to because of all the exciting biodiversity here lol... i.e., goats, chickens (who are sadly no longer with us due to crossing the road themselves), bunnies, etc. Anyway, they chose to sleep here and spend most of their time, whilst still crossing the road whenever they pleased, which is why only Lonely Goldie remains.

She's always been a free ranger, and she's likely at least a few years old... I'm not sure I'll be able to confine her to the bigger run we're setting up for the chicks and have her still be happy. I'll just have to wait and see I suppose.

There you have it. The story of Lonely Goldie wink emoticon

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How I'm Controlling Goat Lice Naturally (with essential oils)

You all know by now, that I'm a crazy goat lady. Well, you're about to discover that I'm also a crazy oil lady.

I like to do things as naturally and synthetic chemical-free as possible. That's just a part of who I am. If there's a natural cure, I will seek it out. Herbs, essential oils, nutrition... they're all a part of how I choose to raise my farm animals, as well as my own children.

I'm not implying that I'm an extremist, by any means. If one feels they have to use synthetic chemicals in order to look out for the best interest of their farm animals, I'm not one to judge.

I do feel like natural prevention and cures are an integral part of my own animal husbandry philosophy, and I'm always learning more, and looking to the animals for cues on what they need, and how they feel.

I feel like goats are receptive to essential oils... *ahem*... some more than others.

Yes, they definitely have their scent preferences! They seem to like me better when I wear "Stress Away" essential oil blend (Is it the Lime? The Vanilla? The Ocotea or the Copaiba? The Lavender? I may never know). Cedarwood is another approved scent.

They do have good taste! "Purification," a blend that includes some naturally insect repellent oils like citronella, lemongrass, rosemary, lavandin, tea tree, and myrtle, is a different story. I admit, it's a strong smell... and the goats don't think it's strong in a good way. See the reaction? It's a bit different than the other two.

What Do Essential Oils Have to Do With Goats?

Okay, so you're probably wondering why this crazy oil/goat lady is bringing bottles of oil outside for her goats to sniff. Is it for her own entertainment? Aromatherapy for goats? Is she just easily amused?

Yes, yes, and yes. Oh, and I'm also interested in using essential oils for external parasite control.

By external parasites, I specifically mean LICE. I know... sounds gross... makes you itch just thinking about it. But don't worry- goat lice are species specific, meaning they don't transfer to humans. They don't want to infest you, they only want to infest the goats.

How Do Goats Get Lice, and How Can I Tell if They Have Them?

How/why do goats get these creepy critters? What I've learned since having goats, and the pattern of lice problems I've noticed seems to agree with this, is that goats tend to get lice in the winter. A reason why goats are more succeptable in winter, is that the conditions are just more favorable for the lice. The goats have nice thick coats for them to hide in, the goats are more cooped up together, and less likely to be standing out in the sunlight- which kills the lice.

Now, if it was summer and I noticed lice, I could simply shave the goat to help get rid of them naturally, but since I live in Maine, and it's March (still freezing), I can't just take off their warm winter coats!

Last winter, when I noticed that my goats seemed itchy, and upon closer observation had rough coats and dry flaky skin (along with tiny creepy crawly bugs that I could barely see close to their skin), I used diatomateous Earth, which sort of worked, but dried out their skin even more. I then opted to use Neem oil, which worked quite well.

This year, I started to notice similar symptoms, although not as severe. I wasn't surprised, as we've had SO much snow this winter that the goats have been even more cooped up than usual. Where did the lice come from? I don't know for sure, but I've heard that they can come from the bedding that is put down for them. Anyway, I noticed scratching and rougher coats, and lice upon closer observation.

At least Snowdrop has useful horns for back scratching!

Onto the Treatment...

After a moment of panic, I came to my senses and realized that I had been through this before, and although I did not have Neem oil, I did have some other oils that could help. My first instinct was to use "Purification." It's potent stuff! If I were a louse, I would certainly run away from it!

I wanted to start with a diluted application first, to make sure they weren't too sensitive to it, although I wanted it to be strong enough to actually work.  I started with about 10 drops in 1/2 cup of olive oil.

I'm not gonna lie... the goats ran from the smell... except Snowdrop. Snowdrop is down for a massage anytime, any oil. But the other two? They ran and hid, but I slathered them anyway. Tough love.

I reapplied a few times after that first day, until the pre-mixed oil was all gone. Since then, I've hit 'em with some straight Purification (neat) as well as some Cedarwood oil, every few days. I do think that mixing in a carrier oil is possibly more effective, because with their thick winter coats, the carrier oil will help with penetration, and less quick evaporation. It's so darn cold out, though!

The goats have had some nice sunny days lately, which will help kill any living lice that remain. When I inspect them now, I only see lice that are not moving. Dead lice. Still gross, but less gross. They could use a good brush and a haircut... but that will come with the warmer weather.

I'm sharing this information with you, not to give you my expert advice, because I am not an expert. I am a learner. I've had my goats for a year and 3 months, and I've learned so much in that time both from interacting with them, and learning from people who have more experience with raising goats naturally. I'm confident that these essential oils are safe and effective for goats, and I will hopefully post an update soon that my goats are itch free, with shiny coats and healthy skin!

If you'd like to know how to get some essential oils that are high quality, potent, and pure, click HERE

Monday, September 22, 2014

First experience with a First Freshener

Meet Sky, everyone. The newest addition to the herd of, now three, Nigerian dwarf dairy goats.

 She's cute, right? Yeah. It's a good thing she is. I'll tell you why... she's a first freshener. You probably know what that means, but I'll tell you anyway. It means that she just had her first babies, and is "in milk" for the first time.

But WAIT- there's more to it than that, and this slightly naive and hopelessly hopeful farmer just experienced what I've only heard about (and was somewhat in denial about). That is, the experience that first fresheners are a pain to milk.

Let me give you a little backstory...

I was so giddy to find an add on craigslist for does in milk.  You see, I've been milking Violet, my herd queen, for  a couple of months now, since finding a good home for her baby, Bolt. He was here for almost 5 months. I waited that long to milk my dairy goat, because I didn't want the separation to be sad for them... or me... and remember, this is my first experience with goats, and kids. I'm still a newbie. My first priority is always to keep the animal husbandry as humane, and respectful as possible- for me, that means respecting the relationship between a mother goat, and her kid(s). I'm happy to report that they both did extremely well with the separation!

I'm getting a bit off track here... anyway, I've been milking Violet. And it's delicious. Best milk I've ever drank. But she only had one kid... as a breastfeeding mom myself, I know allll about supply and demand... what I'm getting at, is there's not much milk. She's proven to be a willing and wonderful milker, looking forward to her twice a day treats, and all I could ask for is...

More milk!

So, to get back to my point, I jumped on the opportunity to get a reasonably priced doe, in milk.

These people were selling their entire herd, along with the 2 month old kids, due to health problems ( theirs, not the goats'). Someone was going to get these goats, and I wanted one for myself. Another milker. Another adorable goatie presence in the goat yard. One that was earning her keep. I imagined myself downing two full glasses of milk a day, instead of one. Pretty ambitious, right?

I asked about history. I asked for udder photos. I settled on learning that there was a friendly blue eyed doe available, who's mother had been a good milker. They didn't have udder pics, and health problems made it hard to get out there and take them, so I was told. I took their word for it, slightly hypnotized by the words, "blue- eyed."

I rushed to drive the hour there and back, to pick her up, because, as I was told, the does wouldn't be in milk much longer because all the babies were going to new homes. Well, I wouldn't want her to start drying up!

She was everything I hoped for. Colorful, blue eyes, good conformation from what I could tell... her udder looked a little small...

Was she a first freshener? Why hadn't I asked if she was a first freshener?

Okay, I wasn't going to hold that against her. I was sure she had potential.

She integrated well into the herd, that afternoon that I brought her home. Even my bossy top goat, Violet, seemed happy for the new friend. Snowdrop seemed adamant that she would no longer be last in the goat hierarchy, and was pleased with that. Yes, I think I can tell by now, when a goat is pleased. Sky, obviously named for her baby blues, seemed a little shy, but went with the flow.

I was eager to try to milk her, just hours after her arrival. I let Violet go first, of course, because she wouldn't have it any other way. Goats do like their routines! I Anticipated that Sky would give me some trouble on the milking stand, but her desire for grain and alfalfa pellets would quickly overcome any obstacles. I was optimistic.

Okay, first of all, what was I thinking, trying to milk a brand new to me, first freshener on the first day? Although I felt I knew what I was doing, she had no freaking clue what the Hell I was doing!  I'm quite sure, that her goat vocalizations could actually be interpreted as,

"What the hell are you doing, lady? We just met, and you're trying to fondle my teats? Back off!"

I mean, really. She was just getting acquainted with her new goat environment, and there I was, trying to yank her out of it, lifting her up onto this foreign milking stand, and expecting her to stand there and eat while I squeezed milk out of her udder.

 Of course she wasn't having it.

As far as she was concerned, I was not to be trusted, and no babies around meant weaning. Which meant stomping and kicking when I touched her udder. Dancing, really. Tap Dancing. Irish Folk Dancing. OFF the home-made milking stand that doesn't actually hold her head in properly.

The amazing, Irish folk dancing goat. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

I could understand that I had been overly ambitious, and needed to give this new herd member some time. Time to adjust to her new life. Time to trust me. I wasn't about to give up on the milking, but I needed to dramatically lessen my expectations.

As the days passed, I kept trying. Progress was made. She learned to jump onto the milking stand herself to get the treats that she wanted. I learned that there was a certain, rather complexly positioned way to milk her that would keep the tap dancing to a minimum. I was able to milk out almost a full ounce! If you detect a hint of sarcasm in my excitement, you are correct.

She just wasn't meant to be a milker. Yet. I still encourage the milking stand for treats, much- needed hoof trimming, and a few squirts. The good news is that she has stopped dancing and hopping around. The bad news, is that she is so clever now, that she has figured out that I can not milk her when she lies down.

I have to hand it to her. She knows what she wants. She wants to lie down on the milking stand and stretch her neck as far as possible so that she can still eat.

I thought about selling her. She's not earning her keep, and I'm paying to feed an extra goat. After about a milli second, those thoughts were replaced with fantasies of little mini blue-eyed Sky kids romping around, and a future Sky, who has learned to trust me.

Maybe enough to let me try milking her as a second freshener.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Romantically Farm Fresh Breakfast

There are certain times, when I think it's okay to romanticize the farming/gardening lifestyle. 

For instance, on a summer morning, when you realize that you can walk right outside your door, and gather enough food for breakfast, and that it couldn't possibly be any fresher. I don't think it will ever get old. I'll always feel like a garden-harvesting-virgin this time of year...*sigh*... what was I talking about?

Oh yes, it's the stuff fantasies are made of.

 The snap of the crisp scarlet red stem as you harvest some swiss chard... with it's red veins artfully contrasting against the shiny, dew-covered, dark green leaves, it's almost too beautiful to pick.

Snipping off a generous bunch of chives, which you know will taste amazing with those fresh eggs that you just collected, still warm in your hand...

Casually pulling up a recently flowered potato plant to collect those tender new potatoes as your stomach growls for a carb fix...

And tossing into your bowl or basket some nasturtiums, because they're really starting to bloom prolifically now. And who doesn't like flowers with their breakfast?

And then, you just go inside and throw it all into a pan together... with a little cutting and planning first, but not much.

And you know that you have created a meal that could not possibly be any fresher. No nutrients had time to deteriorate. No flavors had a chance to fade. You probably even consumed some dirt. From farm, to table.

What really gets me, and what I wish I had realized about 10 years ago, is that everyone can do this, at least to some degree. All it takes, is a small yard, to grow a garden and raise a few chickens for fresh eggs, vegetables, berries (maybe next year?), etc. Even apartment dwellers can garden in containers. It's not the cultural norm, to garden so intensively... but I think it should be.

Now, lets see how I feel this coming Winter, as I attempt to grow some cool-season crops, and I'm gardening in snow boots and gloves... still romantic? It doesn't hurt to fantasize...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Simply Roasted Radishes

My life has been forever changed.

Since I learned that radishes can be cooked, that is. Really... I only thought people ate them raw until recently. Didn't you? 

I believe it was Megan at Linn Acres Farm who first let me in on this little secret. She's a smart one. I vowed that I would try it this growing season, as in the past, I have quickly grown tired of those prolific, crisp, delicious, yet sometimes overly spicy root vegetables. I even contemplated not growing them this year! I'm so glad that I opened my mind to eating them another way.

It's July in Maine, and the harvest is only just beginning for us, yet those ruby red roots have been making an appearance on my plate for weeks now- and now that I've discovered how good they taste when roasted in the oven, none of them have gone to waste.

When cooked, they magically mellow and lose most of their spiciness. Where I can usually only tolerate a few of them raw, I can eat a whole plate full of them cooked. Their insides take on a melt-in-your-mouth quality, and the flavor resembles that of a turnip, or rutabaga. I first tried them sauteed, which was delicious. But I love to roast vegetables due to the fact that it's as easy as tossing them in some butter or oil, and throwing them in a pan. You don't even have to cut them up, if they're small, as radishes often are. I'm always looking for healthy fast-food, and this fits the description. 

If you're anything like I was, you're slightly perplexed, and wondering how to cook something that you've always enjoyed raw. Well, I'll tell you. My favorite way, is as easy as it gets!

Simply Roasted Radishes

  • Prepare Radishes by washing. If they're large, cut them in halves, or quarters to reduce roasting time.

  • Toss them in a pan, with some butter or oil, and salt and pepper if you want to get fancy.

  • Roast at 425 degrees, turning them a couple of times, so they don't stick, and get a nice, even roast. 

  • Take them out when they're fork-tender, and sizzling beautifully! I always forget to time them... maybe around 30 minutes? There's a reason why this isn't a cooking blog. I have an aversion to timing or measuring anything... sorry... but I swear, you can't mess this up!

Go ahead. Try cooking your radishes. It might just change your life, too!