Seeding

Now that we have a greenhouse, we can get a real head start on the garden.  Being able to do this is more important than ever, because the average temperatures in 2016 are expected to be even hotter than 2015, and that was the hottest year on record!

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Why does heat matter?  Well, plants don’t grow just through sunlight alone – differences in temperature change the speed with which plants mature.  Especially in our small gardening space, it is important to understand when a crop is done producing, so that it can be pulled out and replaced.  Being able to take advantage of ‘degree days’ means being ready with seedlings as soon as the last freeze happens, so that when the hot days come, we have plants at the right stage in development to take advantage of it.

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And what that means is:  seeding!!  Grandpa John and Archer helped mix potting soil and fill 4″ pots, and Megan has spent hours in the greenhouse setting tiny seeds in their first homes.  We’ve got cabbage, kale, chard, onions, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, leeks, and cauliflower started, with salad, arugula, carrots, snap peas and fava beans in the ground.   This summer is going to be delicious!!

Hard Numbers

Here on our little farm, we are lucky to have full time jobs to pay the bills (though on nice days we sometimes regret it) while we experiment with what makes sense for our space and our family. While we have a legal obligation to use several acres of our property for ‘farm’ use, our particular county in Oregon is relatively relaxed about what that means financially. And since it’s farming, after all, there’s no requirement that we actually make a profit.. but it would be nice to get there someday!!

In the meantime, 2015 was a year where we were very busy as a family, and our farm business suffered for it. 2015 was the second year we kept careful records of our sales and expenses.  Here on the farm we have five separate lines of production: Eggs, Veggies, Turkeys, Sheep, and Laying Hens.  In 2015, we didn’t actually make a profit selling to customers in any one of those lines!  But, our own family ate eggs, veggies, turkeys for Thanksgiving, and lamb, too.  Thanks to us, the business made a small profit in 2015.

We knew at the start of 2015 that we should probably raise our price for egg dozens, but resisted because it felt like a lot to ask.  Then feed prices went up nearly $1/bag, and the heat and age of our hens meant we actually had fewer eggs to sell during the year (we made more money selling eggs in 2014 than in 2015).  Comparative dozens in the store cost $7, and at least one well respected local farm (using the same feed that we do) is charging $9.50/dozen.

Although we charged our customers $5/dozen in 2015, after our costs, the price for the remaining dozens would have worked out to $15/dozen: obviously something needs to change with the eggs.  We’re making several changes in 2016, including thinning and updating our flock, setting aside space to plant chicken food to supplement their commercial (expensive) feed, and, raising prices for dozens to $6/dozen.

We are honored to be able to provide food to our customers, family, and friends, and we look forward to continuing to learn and grow our farm business!

Waking Up

We’ve had an incredibly busy February, lots of packed social weekends and travel and generally not a whole lot of sleep for the adults in the family.  But the winter months are fading away already, and the increased daylight is telling us it’s time to get serious about spending time on the farm, too.

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Sunrise over the garden and the new greenhouse!  Lovely to have clear mornings again.

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Our first lamb of 2016 was born this past weekend, making time spent on the farm cuter than before, too!  This is Eureka’s little boy – she always throws singles, but they’re huge!

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The new light and the warm February days are GREAT for the garden..weeds.   Our overwintered crops of brussels sprouts, collards and kale are getting ready to sprout rapini (my favorite spring dish), and the aisles have more green than the beds!

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Our first seedlings in the greenhouse!  So excited to see these babies poking up their heads. Welcome to the world, little eggplants.

Rat Hunting

Over the past year or so, we’ve noticed a significant increase in rodent issues in our barn, especially rats. We’ve increased the number of traps, both hand built and purchased, and while we had some initial success (20 rats in 2 months!), coming into the dark barn after lights out would still reveal several in the turkey coop, where the messy turkeys create many a delicious snack amid the bedding even when we raise the feeders at night. A few times a year we’ve knocked them back by trying to gas them with exhaust from the farm truck, thanks to a clever weld on the farm truck exhaust pipe that allows us to fit a garden hose on, and run into the coop floor. But because we have so many animals around, poisoning the rats was never an option.

So when we had the chance to have a crew of trained rat hunters come visit us, we were excited to give it a try!

The first thing we learned is that we made a mistake when we built our chicken coop floor. When we moved in a floor was already in place, and we enlisted family help to tear the rotting floor up and replace it. But when we built the new floor, we just put it at the same level as the old one, which is pretty much perfect for a rat castle, and not so great for ever allowing us to get in there and kick the rats out. Oops. This limited the hunting team’s ability to really go after the rats, as they were safely settled into the middle of the floor under the chicken coop, and unreachable. Glad we’ve put off building a floor for the turkey coop til now, so we’ll know to raise it up high enough to be able to get under it and make it less hospitable.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t catch a few! It was so much fun to see the dogs do what they were meant to do, and they clearly enjoyed it.

Guess we know what’s going on the task list for 2016… new coop floors!

Greenhouse!

Here in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, a garden without a greenhouse has limited function.  According to our gardening neighbor, the last frost date here on the hill is May 15th, which means there are a LOT of things we can’t start by direct-seed until mid-May (and who can forget the horrible June hail storm that demolished our garden back in 2013)

Our first spring on the farm, we attempted starting seeds in the house, but the location of the windows and the angle of the house really do not work in concert with one another (this is what comes of putting a pre-built house down at the only angle with enough flat land to support it), and the effort was a fail.  Since then we’ve been resigned to direct seeding quite late, or, just purchasing starts.

Thaddeus obtained glass windows to re-purpose several years ago, but distractions, travel, and other priorities have kept them from turning into a greenhouse long enough for us to realize that planning the greenhouse before the actual Future House really wouldn’t be a good idea anyway, since we don’t know yet exactly what Future House will look like, and whether we’ll be wanting to make significant earth modifications to that area during construction.

And then, this past fall, Megan’s stepfather Rich handed down to us his old tent structure, which he previously had used to tent a boat while working on it.  Thaddeus saw the opportunity to put up a quick temporary greenhouse using the tent frame poles and some greenhouse sheeting.  A little elbow grease with the tractor to flatten a spot, a trip to the supply store for the plastic and .. voila!  We have a greenhouse!


The greenhouse is between the road and the house, a good reason to wait to design it until we can make sure it doesn’t look horribly out of place as the first thing you see when you turn in the driveway!

The completion of the greenhouse brought home one of the truisms of farm To Do lists, which is:  for every crossed-off item there are at least two more new tasks to be done.  The greenhouse exists, but now we need (1) tables to support the seeds in order to (2) actually start some seeds, and I’d love to add (3) some new earth pots to hold peppers.. wish us luck!

Begin Again

  
Today was a busy one, and thankfully the weather was gorgeous and made everything easier.  We got deliveries of compost for the garden, and feed for the animals, within a few minutes of each other.  

  
Getting feed a pallet at a time has proven to be so much more cost-effective and convenient for us, I wish we’d gotten to it sooner!  It feels great to have 3 months of feed stocked away safely. 

  
Even the bee hives were awake and cleaning today.  Now if only the hens would start laying again… 

40 Pound Thanksgiving

Megan has a crazy idea to try breeding our Narragansett turkey tom to a Broad Breasted White hen.  In order to get a hen, for the second year in a row, we’ve raised BBW chicks.  Last year we had the extraordinary luck to raise 5 toms, but this year we got luckier and had two hens and one tom.  This year’s tom was a monster even early on in his life!

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Butchered he weighed in at just over 40lbs!! We put him in a dry-brine in the fridge for 48 hours, and then roasted him outside in an elaborate vertical roaster John basically invented by looking at old roasting methods (thank you, google!).

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It was a total of 14 hours of cooking, starting in the oven overnight at a very low 175, then transfering to the outside roaster at 6am (in the dark!) to cook until about 2pm.  But the turkey!!  This was our first dry brine attempt and we are now total converts.  We sent so much turkey home with our guests, put more in the freezer, and made soup with the bones.

Thank you, Mr. Turkey, we’re so grateful for your short stay with us.

Cheesemaking

This year, Megan decided to get serious about turning our goat milk into cheese!  We’ve been experimenting all year, and we’ve had success with 4 different types of cheese so far, which has been so much fun.

The easiest type of cheese to make is Chevre.  Start with a gallon of milk, warm it up, add culture (we get ours from New England Cheese Supply), let sit for 8 hours then strain.

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Add a teaspoon of salt and there you go!

Feta and Mozzerella are alittle more involved, although they probably take about an hour to pull together – Feta still has a lot of sitting and then curing to do, since we press ours before putting in brine to age, but they’re pretty easy to do.

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Above left – mozzerella curds resting after being cut, and on the right, the finished product

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The most exciting cheese we tried this year was cheddar.  We eat a LOT of cheddar in this house!  Unfortunately we probably won’t be able to make it all from goat’s milk, because the process to make cheddar takes about 6 focused hours, which is a lot to devote for 2lb of cheese!  But, after a few months of aging, this wheel of cheddar really tasted just like our favorite aged goats cheese from the store — pretty great to be able to make that at home!

We tried several recipies but in the end really found that we liked the guidance in Gianaclis Caldwell’s book Mastering Basic Cheesemaking.

Four Years!!!

Four years ago today, we saw the farm for the first time… so much has changed since then!2015-10-10 23.00.07

We’ve ripped out the fencing, replaced it with a garden fence, and put in raspberries.  This year we tried squash in the lawn on the hill, but failed due to slug density.  Next year!

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Oh, the garden — it’s so hard to believe it was such a dead zone when we first saw it!  We’ve worked so hard on the garden, we’ve laid cardboard over the whole space and covered it all with 5 15-cubic-yard loads of mushroom compost from the neighbors down the road.

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Had to include this shot even though i’ts hard to tell from the photo how much got done in the barn this year.  All the stall doors are different because all the former 12×12 stalls are now 12×6 stalls with a removable front and removable dividers — so much more appropriately sized to the goats and sheep.  And in the photo at right you can see the new swing-arm gate that closes off the last stall on the right, making it so the goats have limited access to the barn aisle while still having plenty of shelter in bad weather. What you can’t see in this photo is the brand new tack room John built: it’s amazing!! Safe stairs to the loft!  A work counter!  A fridge for milk and eggs!  It’s my favorite project from 2015, by a long shot.  I’m still excited every time I walk in the barn and see how much cleaner and better organized it is.

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The major change to this view this year was the cutting down of the 4 20-ish year old fir trees that were on the hill behind the house.  You can barely see the branches of one in the lower left corner of the top photo, but in the 4 years since then they’d grown quite a lot!  They made the house darker, and crowded the “lawn”… things are much better with them gone.. plus we have firewood for the next 3 years pretty much sown up at this point.

The other upgrade visible in this shot are all the fruit trees that were added to the barnyard: 9 plum, pear, and apple trees went in and almost all of them survived this brutal summer!  Really looking forward to watching them grow and provide the chickens with shade and snacks in the years to come.

We are so honored to call this place home, and pretty proud of all the hard work we’ve put into it so far.  Time to get to work on the task list for our 5th year!

Turkey Eggs Are Available Now!

It took our ladies a while to get going this year, but we’ve finally got two dozen in the incubator and are ready to start collecting the daily eggs for eating, which means, we’ve got turkey eggs for sale!

Turkey eggs to eat!? Yes! Turkey eggs are typically about 50% larger than chicken eggs, and contain twice as many calories and grams of fat, and four times the cholesterol. They are said to be better for baked goods (adjust for size in recipies, though!). We find turkey eggs to be the best for hard-boiled recipies – the yolks are much larger and creamier than chicken eggs, and they make AMAZING deviled eggs.

We will add a turkey egg to a dozen chicken eggs (so, 11 chicken eggs and one turkey egg) for free at your request, so you can try them out. For $4 we will bring you a half-dozen turkey eggs, and for $8 we’ll bring you a full dozen: bring deviled turkey eggs to a potluck this summer!