Sunday, July 31, 2011

Where did the recipes go?

In case you're wondering when I'll post more recipes, I am now posting all of them on the Homegrown & Handmade blog. I just posted a recipe for bread pudding, and last month I posted a recipe for strawberry jam. In May I shared my recipes for chocolate truffles and multigrain bread that's light and fluffy. If you don't want to miss any of the upcoming recipes, be sure to "follow" the Homegrown & Handmade blog or subscribe by email. In the next few months, I'll be posting recipes for cucumber goat cheese spread, spiced pear butter, and pumpkin spice cookies, just to name a few!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Piglet prognostication (give-away time!)

As I was agonizing today over when Julia Child was going to finally have her piglets, I realized that there was no need for me to suffer alone when I have all of you! We saw her get bred in the middle of March, so we've been thinking "any day now" ever since the first week of July. Obviously, she did not get pregnant when we saw her get bred. But since James has been with her the whole time, he must have done the deed again when we did not see it. So, it is a bit of a guess now. Due dates are never engraved in stone, but I do like to have it narrowed down to something a little better than a whole month. Anyway, enough of my complaining! To get my mind off of this, I've decided to give away three bars of my goat milk soap, so all of you can be in on the fun of waiting for Julia's piglets. If you want to try your hand at piglet prognostication, just answer the following questions:

  1. What date will Julia have her piglets?
  2. How many piglets will she have?
  3. What will be the male-female breakdown?

The first question is the most important, so everyone who gets that one right will move on to the semi-finals. If you get the number of piglets correct, then we'll have to use the male-female numbers to determine the winner. Basically, the best prognosticator wins! Put your answers in the comment section HERE on the blog (not on Facebook), and only one guess per person, please. You can post your guesses up until she actually farrows, whenever that may be! And I will be sure to put up a post on the blog with pictures as soon as the blessed event occurs.

To help you figure out when she will farrow (that's birthing in pig lingo), I've included a few photos of the expectant mother. She's a little muddy because she had just crawled out of the pond to have a snack when I decided to take these photos. Yes, she has a mouthful of weeds in two pictures. She loves weeds!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heat wave

It seems that our temperatures and humidity are finally coming down from record-breaking highs for the past week -- and when I say coming down, I mean into the mid 90s. A temperature of 90-anything seemed hot before living through this past week, but we actually appreciate 90s after going above 100 degrees with a dewpoint in the 80s, which basically makes it dangerously hot because your sweat can't evaporate, so it doesn't do much to cool your body.

We've been getting up at 6 a.m. to do as many chores as possible while the temperature is in the 80s. Contrary to popular belief, living on a farm does not automatically make you a morning person, and we don't normally head out to do chores before eight. I am not good about getting to bed before 11, and the lack of sleep is starting to make me drag. I need my eight hours!

The animals have been drinking far more than normal, so we have to keep refilling water buckets and troughs almost twice as often as normal. We have seen a drop in milk and egg production. I can just hear the hens saying, "You think I want to sit in one of those hot nest boxes? No way!"

Every morning when I get out of bed, I expect to see piglets, but Julia just keeps getting bigger and bigger. If she had gotten pregnant when we saw her get bred, she would have had the piglets by now, so she must have gotten pregnant at a later breeding that we did not see. Still, considering how huge she is, I can't imagine she will go much longer. She spends almost all of her time laying in the pond. I hope she has some instinct that tells her she needs to be on dry land to give birth. Although piglets can walk as soon as they're born, I can't imagine they're very good swimmers.

For the past week, when I look at the ten-day forecast, it shows temperatures in the 90s for the next five days. Now it shows temperatures in the 90s for the next week, with one day in the 80s. Maybe the weather forecasters are feeling sorry for us and throwing that 85 in there to give us some hope, even though it is not going to happen. At this point, I don't trust anything they say beyond tomorrow.

We finally broke down on the second 100+ day and put an air conditioner in the living room window. We did a good job of keeping the house in the 80s by closing all the windows and blinds, but mold started growing in the oddest places because of the humidity -- bags of flour, my oatmeal soap, an upholstered dining room chair, the leather part of my spinning wheel, the bamboo knitting needles that hold an afghan I'm making, and more. If the heat, humidity, and mold continue, we may need to put in an air conditioner in the basement and upstairs. We have a dehumidifier for the basement, but we don't use it in the summer because it exhausts heat, which is the last thing we want right now!

I'll remember 2011 weather for many years to come. We had our coldest goat kidding ever when Jo gave birth at -8 F. We had a blizzard in early February with drifts six feet deep, and then it all melted two weeks later as we went into a four-week maple syrup season, which requires warm days with freezing nights. And now, we're having a record-breaking heat wave. I wonder which way the weather will swing in fall. Personally, I think we've broken enough weather records for one year, and I'd like to request a textbook "average" fall.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sheep shearing

No, we don't have any particular reason for shearing in July. This is another one of those things that slipped through the cracks when I was writing my book. It was getting hot in May when I realized that I had not scheduled an appointment with the sheep shearer, so I called and scheduled, and this was the earliest he could shear our sheep. Thankfully no one melted in the nearly 100-degree heat we've had sporadically over the past two months.

As it turned out, I was not home for the shearing, which was tough for me. I was attending a meeting at the Illinois Farm Bureau, and everyone who was anyone in local foods was in attendance, from the lieutenant governor to local farmers' market managers. I reconsidered attending the meeting over and over in my head, but finally I convinced myself that everyone could handle shearing without me. I was right.

Last year, I suggested that we use Electronet to create lanes and simply "push" the sheep from their pasture to the barn. Basically, a couple of humans get behind them, and they do what comes naturally -- they run away from the humans. It was a brilliant idea. I wish I'd come up with it sooner. There were some years when it took us several hours to get the sheep into the barn. Getting a herding dog shortened the time quite a bit, but without formal training, his assistance has been limited. It only took 12 minutes this year to move the sheep from pasture to barn, which is a record. And they were just as easily moved back to the pasture again.


Now it's time to skirt and wash the fleeces and get them ready for taking to the mill where they'll be carded into roving for hand spinners or spun into yarn for knitters and crocheters.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blooms on the homestead

In spite of the terrible heat and humidity, flowers are one reason I love summer. When I downloaded pictures of sheep shearing and city chicken condo construction, I realized that Katherine took a few flower photos with my camera earlier this week, so here you go! I blogged about the chicken coop construction on the Homegrown and Handmade blog, so you can also check that out, if you're interested, and I'll get the sheep shearing post up in the next day or two.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Return of the bull

Lesson # 953: NEVER assume that a bull will stay in a trailer simply because you are standing in the open doorway.

Lesson # 954: Always wear blue jeans around cattle.

Because a bull really needs more than two girlfriends to stay happy, we share a bull with another person who also owns two cows. Jaxon spends three months here, then three months there, and so on. It works well because he gets our girls pregnant, then goes to get their girls pregnant, then stays here for another three months until our girls calve, then he goes back over to his other home to stay there until those girls calve. By then our girls are three months postpartum and ready to breed again. And so the cycle goes on.

Jaxon is the big guy in the middle, reunited with two of his girlfriends.
Bridget (left) is horned, and Molly (right) is polled like Jaxon.
Thursday I picked up Jaxon to bring him home so he could get our cows pregnant again. Jaxon is almost two years old, and he really is a good bull. (You have to know that before you read the rest of the story.) I decided to open the trailer door and snap the lead rope onto his collar. Simple enough, right? Never! As soon as I started to crack open the door, he calmly pushed his way out of trailer. I tried to block him with my body, and he lifted one leg and began to step out. My leg was in the way. Wow, those hooves are sharp! As the pain registered in my brain, I started to feel panicked and was expecting him to barrel out of the trailer and start running. But he didn't. He was as calm as could be, while I stumbled backwards and screamed, expecting to see a bone sticking out of my leg. But it quickly became apparent that my leg wasn't broken -- just a little bruised and bloody. Although I had not succeeded in getting the lead rope attached to Jaxon's collar, he just stood there right outside the trailer as Jonathan attached the rope and began leading him through the barn to the pasture. It was weird to feel so panicked while everyone around me seemed so calm, including the bull.

I used to think that I needed a friendly bull. Now I realize I need a well-trained bull -- as in a bull who understands "stay!" like my dog. Considering the odds of that happening, maybe I should give up on cattle and just be happy with my little goats.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Another book contract!

I admit I'm not very good at building suspense, which explains why I'm not a fiction writer. Yes, the title pretty much spills the beans. I signed another book contract. The Ecofrugal Handbook will be published in the fall of 2012. It takes the core beliefs behind Homegrown and Handmade and brings the concepts to an even larger audience. Even if you don't want to grow your own food, you can make inexpensive, ecofriendly decisions daily.

Being a stay-at-home mom when my children were young, I was always looking for ways to save money and was a big fan of the Cheapskate Gazette books back in the early 1990s. Even though I've only been making soap for eight years, I was using baking soda as a facial exfoliant shortly after reading Don't Go To the Cosmetic Counter Without Me when it was only in its fourth edition. (It's now in its eight edition.) I also have all sorts of books on making your own cleaning products. In fact, one of the things that sold this idea to my publisher is that a lot of authors have made this way too complicated! You don't need 300 pages to give someone a couple hundred recipes for cleaning their house! Between baking soda and vinegar, you've pretty much got the bases covered when it comes to cleaning. Throw in a little hydrogen peroxide for blood stains, and you're good to go. And even though I loved Don't Go To the Cosmetic Counter Without Me, you really don't need 1,000 pages of advice on skin and hair care. The whole point of The Ecofrugal Handbook is that it does not have to be time-consuming or complicated or expensive to do things that are healthy, inexpensive, and ecofriendly.

I'm really looking forward to writing this book because it's always been a passion of mine to help people save money while making healthier choices. The book will cover ecofrugal choices for all sorts of things from educating yourself to planning your child's birthday party. And I'll definitely be asking all of you for ideas along the way.

One of the things I learned in writing my last book is that although I could write a book in three months, it's not something I really want to do again. So, the deadline for The Ecofrugal Handbook is January 15, which gives me time to do some gardening and cheesemaking this summer, as well as book signings and speaking engagements in the fall when Homegrown and Handmade comes out.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Daylilies in bloom!

This is normally my crazy busy time of year, and this year is even crazier and busier than normal. I hope to have time to tell you more about that in the next day or two. In the meantime, I thought some of you might enjoy a few photos of the daylilies blooming around here. In the midst of all my hurrying from barn to garden to house, I do take time to stop and admire the flowers.


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