Friday, August 29, 2008

Random rambling

No major events to report as of late. No new animals, and no particularly important projects. (Once the money runs thin, those sorts of things have a way of petering out)

Rachel has been making goat cheese. Thus far she's made a couple batches of chevre and one of mozzarella. The chevre is a nice spreadable cheese, and is fairly quick to make. The mozzarella was an all-day ordeal that nearly killed Rachel, so I suspect she won't be making a whole lot of that. I noted to her afterwards that not many small cheese producers sell mozzarella, and now we know why. There are about 100 different steps (slight exaggeration), for which you have to keep the milk/cheese at a set temperature for an exact time, and there's a lot of stretching involved, as you need to stretch this kind of cheese like you would taffy. The stretching comes late in the process, starting about the time you're completely exhausted.

I've been working on a tile platform for the wood stove, which is nearly complete. The base and frame are made, the tile is on, and I just need to grout the cracks between the tiles and seal it. I'm up to about 5 cords of firewood now, although the last cord and a half are still out in the woods. At least the trees are down and the wood is starting to season a bit.

Fall is starting to show around the edges out here. The poison ivy is starting to turn red, and I've seen a couple maples start to turn. I'm also starting to turn red, as the two trees I cut down last weekend were wrapped in poison ivy. No matter how careful I am, I always seem to get just a little bit on me.

We've got our first 5 acres of alfalfa/grass hay mix planted, and this morning I noticed the first cotyledons poking up through the soil. Hopefully they're not ragweed sprouts. My earlier ideas of mowing the remaining pasture and interseeding is looking like a non-option after some experimental plots, so I think there's going to be a lot of tractor work in our future.

A couple evenings this week we were over at a friend's house (Karla), whom we met through a local foods group. She's just purchased a neat old farm, where I helped mow some of the weeds down in her fields. It was fun to drive the tractor over to her house (about 6 miles, taking 40 minutes). Like riding a bike, you notice so much more than when you're driving a car.

I don't know why, but her fields were absolutely filled with preying mantises. They were everywhere while I was mowing. They look really strange when flying -- like two dragonflies who became stuck together in a head-on collision. The old farm house is in many ways similar to the one we purchased, so we'll now have someone to co-miserate with.

Speaking of dragonflies... about a week ago Henry and I were out walking through our own fields. I noticed a lot of dragonflies buzzing around me, and stopped to look up. I've never before seen so many dragonflies in one place. It was quite literally a large "flock", of perhaps a couple hundred. Dragonflies eat lots of pesky bugs which they catch in mid-air, so I like them a lot. They're like bats in this regard, except they don't poop on everything in our barn's hayloft the way the bats do. I'm thinking the bats will at least let off in the winter; guess we'll soon find out.

Last weekend Henry and I decided that the ponds weren't just for walking around, but were for wading in. They've shrunk a little bit in the summer heat, reaching the top of my thighs now. We used Henry's butterfly net to catch a few frogs, but no turtles or monster water beetles this time. The ponds even have some small freshwater clams. Saw quite a few ducks, more than we saw earlier in the year. Teal and widgeon, I think.

We've learned how *not* to pick watermelons this year. We've picked about 4 now, waiting about a week between each one. Each of them has been just on the cusp of ripeness, but not quite there. New theory is to wait until the vines wither. We have been eating some of the little melons that our friends Dave and Terry gave us seeds for as a little going away present. They're neat little melons with a skin similar to a cantaloupe, with green insides. A great size to eat for one person without leftovers.

Out tomatoes are big this year, and have been for a few weeks now. They just don't seem to be interested in ripening. Not sure if there's some trick I haven't yet figured out, or if we just need to be more patient. The tomato worms have disappeared, having been around for about a week. Looks like the colorado potato beetle which was plaguing our garden is gone too. They seemed to only last for about 3 weeks in July. The japaneese beetles which covered Henry's "4-o-Clock" flowers, giving eachother "piggy back rides", have gone for the year as well.

The last time I checked our hive about a week ago, the bees hadn't touched the "super" frame, which is where they make the honey comb that we get to keep (the lower two frames are for the bees to live on through the winter, and the upper frames are for us to steal). So I figured this year was a write off, spent in building up the hive strength rather than in getting honey. However, I noticed today that the neighboring property to the west is filled with goldenrod that's just now coming into bloom. Checking the front of the hive, I noticed a lot of good little bees coming back with goldenrod-colored pollen. Maybe they'll fill up the super after all.

Speaking of the beehive, we have a toad who lives on top of the hive, underneath the "roof" board I set on top. I've seen him there for the last month. Last time he had a little friend with him. I always set him down when I open the hive, and last time he stuck around so that I could set him back up on top when I was done. Not sure what sort of bugs he gets up there (I don't think it's bees), but he seems awfully happy.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dog days of summer

It's hot now, every day. This last week was in the upper 80's or low 90's. Things are really starting to dry out.

Goat milking is becoming routine now. Ashley is the grey goat, and is very mellow. Mary-Kate, on the other hand, is a handful. She typically gives a kick about 1 minute into milking, at which point I put the hobbles on her and she's fine for the remainder of the milking. I'm not sure why she does that. She's also quite fond of our bag of black oilseed, which we throw in with their grain as a special treat. Any time I don't have a hold on her collar, she makes a bee line for the bag and stuffs her head in as fast as she can, in hopes that she'll get a mouthful of the stuff before I catch up with her.

In an average day we get just over 5 quarts of milk now. As good as it is, it's hard to drink that much milk, so Rachel has a bunch of cheesemaking supplies on order. This is what our fridge looks like now

Yesterday evening we went to the St. Joseph valley tractor show, which is held about a mile from our house. Loads of neat old old tractors, including steam tractors. In true midwest style, everyone was driving golf carts or riding mowers around the grounds. That's apparently how midwesterners maintain their ample figures (heaven forbid that anyone should have to walk!) There was also a swap meet, where you could buy lots of junk that people found in the back of their garage. A few of the items for sale were actually tractor related.

One thing which surprised me was the number of restored "antique" lawn tractors. To me, these riding mowers have all the aesthetic appeal of a pair of dirty socks, but then again there's a lot of things I still don't quite understand about the midwest.

After a number of weekends cutting, splitting, hauling, and stacking firewood, I'm up to a grand total of 3 cords. Only 5 more to go! Ugh. I can only imagine how much fun this would be cutting everything by hand (without a chainsaw, that is) like the people who lived in this house for the first 75 years probably did. Maybe we'll just move into our chicken coop if it ever comes to that, so we won't need so much firewood to heat it. The chickens can just move into our house then.

One thing that's pretty neat out here -- there are tons of amphibians around. One morning this week, while picking potato beetle larvae out of the garden, I noticed no less than 6 little frogs (they're the size of your thumbnail) sitting on just the potato plants. It's nice to have help in keeping the bug population down. Every time I go into our basement now, I can find toads and salamanders, who all seem to be quite happy down there. Also helpful on the mosquito front are myriads of dragon flies. Today I was looking at the barbed wire top strand on one of our fences. I noticed about a dozen dragon flies sitting on it, each spaced about 6 feet apart, waiting for a little unsuspecting bug.

Earlier this week, our neighbor Stan invited Henry and I to go fishing with him for bluegills. I seemed to catch only undersize fish (this is normal for me), but everyone caught lots of them, and we ended up with about a dozen keepers. They're quite tasty, but I know it's best not to research what's actually in them. The state of Ohio (which is next door) has come out and said that there's not a single body of water in the entire state where it's completely safe to eat the fish, primarily due to mercury pollution from coal burning power plants.