I can’t believe I made butter!

Ever since I started milking Daisy, a few months ago at least, my mind has beenbutter brimming over with cool ways to utilize the milk. Since I’m not much of a cereal connoisseur (Gene said women who are almost 40 are legally prohibited from buying Frosted Flakes), I’ve pretty much just been dumping the odd bit of fresh milk in my morning coffee, and stockpiling the rest. When the fridge gets overrun with glass jars, I freeze it with the intention of turning it into goat’s milk soap. But now that I’ve discovered how to make delicious creamy butter with it, I doubt it will stay on the fridge shelf long. Converting the milk into butter is surprisingly easy – you just skim the cream off the top, wait until you have about a quart of it, then throw it in the mixer for about 10 minutes. A few more easy steps, and fresh butter!

IMG_9554I also harvested my first batch of tomatoes, which I then crammed into a ten-quart stock pot. After coring them, I patiently watched the pot for hours while they cooked down into a soupy deliciousness, which I then put through a food mill to strain out the skins and seeds. After cooking it down overnight, working in shifts to stir it, we were able to can a whopping three quarts of tomato sauce. It’s amazing how much product goes into one little jar of sauce; no wonder they add all those fillers to the junk you buy in the store.

My culinary adventures haven’t been limited to buttery, tomatoey pursuits, however. We made our annual pilgrimage to Duris Farms in Puyallup and came home with 20 gallons of IMG_9580cucumbers. It took me the better part of a day to slice them all (I take a lot of union breaks in between batches), but we were able to convert them into 30 jars of pickles. We also made more jars of blackberry and raspberry jams, and I even tried a test batch of pickled Mexican Sour Gherkins. Although I didn’t know this when I purchased the seeds last year, apparently the “mouse melons” are all the rage in New York. People buy them for $100 a pound out there! Sadly, the people around here aren’t nearly that stupid, so I doubt I’ll be able to retire on my gherkin fortune.

larva cropThe best part about making so many pickles was finally harvesting some of the dill that’s been threatening to overtake the back garden. I thought about perhaps cutting some of it down, just to make a little bit of space, but when I looked at all the flowers more closely I realized it’s once again become a ladybug sanctuary. Although the plight of the ladybug isn’t as well publicized as that of the honey bee, ladybug populations are also dwindling rather alarmingly. I would never do anything to take away what they so clearly love to call home. I also love watching them develop; their larval stage looks sort of like a segmented salamander, which cavorts around the garden for a bit before curling up into a little ball and somehow transforming into the familiar beetle shape. It’s one of the coolest things ever. Watching out for the little guys also meant I made several emergency trips from the kitchen sink, where I was washing the freshly harvested dill, back out to the garden to return the future ladybugs to their own personal Eden.

I guess I didn’t really need to be eating pie, anyway

ShyI’ve long been an advocate of free ranging my farm critters, at least where it’s practical. (Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and alpacas, yes. Goats and pigs? Not so much, as I would hate to cause a swath of landscape devastation, at least to the neighbors I like). Every chicken I’ve ever seen that’s been housed in a tractor, and I’ve seen many, have a haunted, rumpled, caged look that breaks my heart. Ducks can make mud appear out of thin air, and when they’re penned in they look more like wallowing pigs than birds. They don’t even wander particularly far, they just like to spend the morning scouting out sunny places to nap, then spend the afternoon putting them to good use. I think the people who have visited us here at the farm will agree our critters are among the happiest of all the farm critters, in no small part because they spend their lives contentedly doing whatever nature intended them to do.

I’ve spent many a calm, reflective morning sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee watching herds of ducks hunting for delicious insects while a content alpaca keeps the applesgrass at a decent level. However, this morning, my coffee reverie was interrupted by the sight of that same content alpaca placidly knocking all the apples off the two potted apple trees on our deck, apparently for the express purpose of then watching the chickens roll them around. Not only did it sound like a herd of elephants was outside, but apples bits were flying everywhere. It took about two minutes before the chickens realized the source of the deliciousness, and hopped up into the pots to eat the apples straight off the tree. Although I had to smile since they were so enthusiastic about their snacks, I was a little broken hearted because I had plans for those apple trees. Pie-related plans.

cabbageI had similar dreams for handcrafted coleslaws; dreams which met much the same fate. My favorite green leafy vegetable, bok choys, had to be replanted in the front gardens, because it disappeared from the back garden. So did the swiss chards, the celery, and the kale. Apparently the hungry, hungry bunnies don’t like dill, because that’s about ten feet tall now, and reseeded itself to the extent that it appears I intentionally tried to grow it the same way other people grow a lawn. No matter how aggravated I get, though, or how annoyed I am at having to actually buy swiss chard at the grocery store like all the non-farmers, it’s impossible to stay mad when Harvey rampages up to me, puts his huge paws on my knee, and asks for a treat.

Ever since I gave up city living for the farm lifestyle, almost five years ago now, I’ve dreamed of having a garden like the ones you see in those fancy magazines. Nary a IMG_9274weed in sight, obvious pathways that you can actually walk down, and color-coordinated blooming companion flowers have been my aspiration. And every year, I fall horrendously, terribly short in the planning department. Don’t get me wrong – I love my gardens. But Sunset magazine isn’t going to be snapping pictures left and right in my back yard any time soon. Despite my best effort at organization, I have a pumpkin plant literally growing out of a tomato plant, and the only reason you can get inside at all to harvest anything is because Abigail trampled a Godzilla-like network of paths in order to chase down the errant baby bunnies. I have squashes of some sort hanging from the huckleberry bushes, and I don’t even remember planting that type. I even tried matching what’s growing out there to the pictures on the seed packets, and couldn’t come up with a winner. I have found that despite having a college degree (with minors in botany and biology, no less), I can’t correctly label a plant to save my life. I spent hours upon hours carefully making little bamboo skewer and scotch tape label flags, and as soon as I deposited a seed, I stuck an ID flag in the little pot. When I transplanted the little pots, the skewer flags came with. It’s not rocket science, right? But I still ended up with obvious squash vines tagged as peppers. Sigh. And even the correct flags faded to the point where I can’t read them anyway. Double sigh. Good thing I like culinary surprises!

My empty nest syndrome lasted less than a day

chickTwo days ago, I decided since the garage was getting so hot in the afternoons, and the brooding box chicks were fully feathered the latest batch of chicks could go outside and start enjoying the big wide world. So last night, everybody made the transition. It went really well, and the chicks started exploring the yard right away. Gene’s idea of positioning the new brooding box so that the chicks could see the sky through the open garage door worked really well. At first I was looking forward to not having to do chores in the garage every day, but as I walked past the empty, dark, forlorn brooding box this morning I must admit I felt pretty sad. As fate would have it, I timed the mass exodus perfectly – as I made my way through the backyard to let the chickens loose, I heard a sad, frantic cheeping. I looked around and found a freshly hatched chick lying out in the open. I have no idea where it came from; apparently chicks are hatching out of thin air around here. I had found another phantom chick the day before, but sadly he didn’t make it. I scooped my latest find up and quickly parked him underneath a heat lamp in the conveniently empty garage brooding box. He seemed happy enough with his food and fresh water, but he looked so tiny and alone in the vast empty space that I immediately hopped on Craigslist to find someone selling day old chicks. One quick trip to Port Orchard later, and the found chick had two new buddies. When I went to check in on them a few minutes ago, they were all cuddled up in a soft, downy ball, chirping quietly to each other.

But saving a chick and having an excuse to buy two more chicks wasn’t even the best guineaspart of today. The Port Orchard farm had tons of animals, even more than we do! There were ducks, geese, bunnies, pheasants, turkeys, goats, chukars, and guineas. Plus, they had the coolest goat jungle gym ever – it was a couple of platforms built up around giant wooden spools, and it had to be like ten feet high with tons of climbing space. Obviously, building something similar is now at the top of Gene’s post-surgery to-do list. After a quick tour of the facilities, I was ecstatic to realize I had enough cash in my pocket to come home with two guinea hens! For now they’re living in the large compartment next door to the three chicks. They’re only a few weeks old, but they have the same reptilian demeanor as Dimsworth and Hawthorne, just in a smaller package. Since I think they will make perfect minions for the turkeys, I picked out proper Italian mafia names for them: Vinnie and Luigi.

IMG_9413Believe it or not, three new chicks and two new guineas wasn’t even the best news of the day! As I was putting up the chickens for the evening, I saw Cinnabun sitting in the garden, making sure the celery was chewed all the way down to the ground. As I watched, another baby bunny hopped out from behind her! Luckily Gene’s daughter was here to help me catch it, and we didn’t even need to trample new paths. That brings the grand total of chubby baby bunnies up to eight. I sincerely hope I didn’t miss any more during the previous Great Bunny Roundup, but I’ll start keeping a better eye out.

I didn’t think that the bunnies would wander terribly far from the yard, since they have such a huge pasture space here. Apparently, though, Harvey has made himself a niceharvey little tunnel underneath the neighbors fence, and for the last year has been periodically hanging out in their yard, doing his best, “I’m such a hungry bunny, I wish someone would give me a treat” routine. His soulful big bunny eyes did the trick, and they said they’ve been presenting him with carrots whenever he shows up. Of course, he had to pick the lawn-obsessed neighbors to visit, so I’m sure they bribe him with treats to make sure he doesn’t leave hungry, thus protecting their precious landscaping. Either that, or they’re afraid to not give a 40-pound bunny whatever he wants.

Bunnies, bunnies everywhere

fat bunnyFor the last two weeks, I’ve been diligently checking Cinnabun’s nesting box several times a day, looking for tell-tale signs that baby bunnies are eminent. I found tons of chicken eggs, since the chickens apparently thought I put it in the Bunny Ranch for their benefit, but no tiny baby bunnies. Yesterday, as I lumbered out of the house at dawn to do morning chores, I was greeted with the cheerful sight of fluffy, fist-sized, chubby bunnies hopping all around the garden. Cinnabun obviously took issue with a bunch of chickens sharing her quarters, and decided to birth her brood elsewhere. I was all for letting the babies free range; given the devastation in the garden and the size of their tummies, they clearly had everything they needed. But Gene pointed out that if we didn’t contain them all, it would be impossible to sell them later, since who wants forty pounds worth of feral claws and teeth? I pondered the matter further, then decided I didn’t want to be the person who made the nightly news for being singlehandedly responsible for the Olympic Peninsula’s Giant Rabbit Infestation of 2013.

Deciding that it was in Mason County’s best interest to corral the bunnies was one thing, but actually doing it turned out to be quite another. Gene just had surgery, so he had to take on a supervisory role in the round up. Abigail came over, and we armed ourselves bunny picwith a big fishing net, chicken wire, and deer mesh. A redneck partition quickly went up across the garden, as we figured one of us could scare the bunnies against the wall, and the other could scoop them up with the net. The plan would have worked amazingly well, had I thought ahead when planting this spring and left space to actually walk. Four hours and many, many crushed plants later, we finally had all seven bunnies accounted for. Abigail proved herself to be a natural at bunny snatching – she had six successful grabs to my one. I probably could have gotten a few more, but I kept getting distracted by eating all the ripe ground cherries off the bushes. Although not terribly happy to be confined to the Bunny Ranch, the bunnies are doing great. They’ve even started to come around to where they like to be held, which I attribute to my amazing way of communicating with animals. It has nothing to do with the constant stream of fresh veggies, wheat thins, and other treats I always bring with me.

roosterIn other critter news, the trend of getting mostly male ornamental chickens has continued. Out of the four “fancy” chickens I raised from chicks, three of them turned out to be roosters. One of them, a bronze Frizzle named Urckle, is half the size of a football, but he tries to get with the ladies like he’s all that and a bag of chips. Since literally all of the ladies are three times his size, he ends up getting thrown through the air every time he tries to initiate a date. It doesn’t seem to bother him one bit, though, and pretty much every time I look out the window I see a squawking ball of crazy feathers landing in a big poof of dust.

Lucky Duck hasn’t made another journey away from the farm, although he does like to fly around the pasture. I think the other ducks are jealous, but everyone else is too fat to fly. Not because we overfeed them– they’re just flightless breeds. Lucky Duck likes to lucky flightrub it in, and goes sailing over their heads to perch on the roof of the shed. Dimsworth and Hawthorne get particularly peeved at him, because chasing the ducks is their favorite pastime, and they don’t understand why they can’t follow him up to the roof. I know turkeys aren’t renown for their mental prowess, but these two definitely aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. Thanksgiving and Christmas could at least figure out how the door to the Turkey Chalet works – I open it, and they go through. Dimsworth and Hawthorne, on the other hand, stare at the opening, then repeatedly stick their heads through the fence right next to it. I usually have to nudge them in the correct direction, then they barrel through the door straight to their feeder. At least I don’t have to show them how to eat.

Clearly I need to watch more TV


Not pictured: parsley

You know that horrible feeling you get when you realize someone you idolize has let you down? I went through that particular emotional wringer today after finding three ripe tomatillos in the garden. I was ecstatic, since I’d planted eight (8!) tomatillo plants with the express purpose of turning them into delicious, vibrant chimichurri sauce, just like Bobby Flay does on Iron Chef. Now, I log a lot of hours watching the Food Network, as I have a high level of culinary expertise I need to maintain. That, and I could happily watch Bobby Flay watching paint dry. Imagine my horror when, upon plucking the golden ripe tomatillos off of the ground, I pulled up his chimichurri recipe only to discover that he didn’t do nearly a good enough job of explaining his signature sauce doesn’t actually have tomatillo in it. Even worse, it’s parsley-based!!!! I hate parsley. I hate everything about it. Its texture. Its stench. The sheer, overwhelming parsliness of it. I have a huge garden– several huge gardens in fact. You know what you won’t find growing anywhere in them? Parsley. Thanks, Bobby. Thanks for nothing.

Despite the emotional drama, I have only to look around our house to feel buoyant again. Harvesting season has officially begun, and signs of it are everywhere inside. picklesMesh bags of shallots (spider free!) adorn the inside of pantry doors, and loads of white scallop squashes hang from the bookcases, since I ran out of pantry doors. A mysterious object sits on top of our wood stove, wrapped in our best blue beach towel – how else would anyone store a fresh batch of fermenting cucumbers? It has to sit undisturbed for a month, so perching it on top of a wood burning stove makes perfect sense. If you open the fridge, you’re greeted by a big tub of what Gene has named “peach goo”, which is the leftover pulp from juiced peaches after preparing them for jelly. I decided to use the goo in lieu of banana in banana bread, and from the smell and taste of the batter, I think peach bread is going to be amazing. Maybe I’ll write Bobby Flay and tell him about it.

In critter news, I’m happy to report that Lucky Duck came back this morning. It took him luckyless than 12 hours to realize the Big Wide World doesn’t provide fresh swimming pools and nutritious meals twice a day, nor does it offer watermelon treats at 3 pm on hot days. He probably really missed the nightly tuck-in service, and his comfortable, clean, predator-proof Duck Mansion. I’ve been watching him all day and he hasn’t flown away once. In fact, he couldn’t even wait until I took the hose out before jumping into the clear, clean water of the big pond. At least now he knows what a truly lucky duck he is.

Gene better step up his game, cuz he’s got some competition in the contractor department

46Apparently Daisy felt we were discriminating against goats of a certain height here on the farm, and she was tired of having to lay down to look out the door of her bedroom. She took it upon herself to brush up on her contracting skills, then she installed a modified door, thus enabling her to reflectively chew her cud while taking in the sights standing up. As an added bonus (no doubt part of her overall design plan), the new configuration allows for two goats at a time to enjoy the view, as long as one of the other goats is short.

In other critter news, Lucky Duck has literally flown the coop. I figured his departure was IMG_9045imminent when I saw him teaching himself to fly, then practicing loops and circles around the pasture. Watching him learn and practice was really cool, even though in the back of my mind I was a little sad because I knew it meant he wasn’t planning on staying permanently. Still, though, how many people can say they found a duckling in their driveway and raised it to independence? Lucky Duck definitely had a guardian angel that dropped him off at our farm.


I didn’t realize it was a nest until it started hissing at me.

Although I miss him, more ducklings should be hatching soon from underneath their broody mama. I finally found the duck I originally thought the fox had gotten – it’s incredible how well they can camouflage themselves. She has been brooding on a whole clutch of eggs, literally five feet away from the duck enclosure. Since I don’t know when she started brooding, I’m not exactly sure when the eggs will hatch, but it should be soon. Depending on how many ducklings come into the world, we may have to enlarge the Duck Mansion. But I’m not worried – I figure if Gene’s too busy, we can hire Daisy to do it.

Apparently it’s August, because here come the spiders

I frequently meander through the yard in the afternoons, checking in with all my critters shallotsand various planted areas. I wandered over to the wood storage area, which this summer I’ve converted into a perfect shallot drying station. Gene basically attached a transparent plastic roof to a bunch of posts, and I strung rope between the posts then tied the harvested shallots to the rope. It’s a perfect, dry-yet-windy place for them to dry before winter storage. I’d noticed a few had fallen to the ground, and I was busily picking them up and testing them for dryness when I stood up right into a spider web. Upon closer inspection, my head was surrounded by occupied webs. I started thinking “why are the spiders here so early??? It’s not August yet!” This year has gone by way too fast. After doing the most careful shallot removal of my life, I transferred them into mesh bags and hung them off the deck. That way they can finish curing, and be spider free.

IMG_9274In other harvesting news, we’ve already canned four batches of pickles using garden cucumbers, one batch of pickled carrots, and Gene’s new favorite – a summer berry jelly he has decided to call “BluRB”, for blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry. It’s actually really tasty, and a great way to use up random quantities of garden berries. We didn’t have quite enough to make the required amount of juice, so Gene put on a headlamp (it was after dark), and raided some of the blackberry bushes further up the road. We still have to can the 30 pounds of raspberries I picked a few weeks ago, but those will keep in the freezer. Much more pressing is the box of apples and box of peaches I bought over the weekend. I know what Gene’s doing on his next days off! I think we’re going to have to go make a cucumber run at Duris Farms on his days off as well, because I have a metric ton of dill that we need to use up. It’s about six feet tall now. I didn’t realize that dill could act as an invasive weed, but it seeded itself all over my garden. Hiding in the picture at left is all my chards, celery, and peppers, but you’d never know it.

This year, much like every other year, I managed to plant things with no regard for the need to walk through the garden later on. Somehow a pumpkin plant ended up in the senormiddle of the zucchini area, and it exploded all over the place. I have to tunnel through pumpkin leaves to harvest the squash. The pumpkins are even growing up the deer fencing, so it’s just a matter of time before the fence comes down. At least, in whatever places Harvey and Cinnabun haven’t ripped down. The one-ton pumpkin in the front yard is living up to my expectations – it’s huge! The vine goes most of the way down the driveway, and the pumpkin itself has to be around 100 lbs by now. Seeing as it’s got another almost three full months to keep growing, I figure it will be taking up half the driveway in no time.