I have so very much I could be reporting on from the wee homestead, but I only have the energy to share some photos, a couple short vids and a few brief comments.
We’ve got some really weird weather that has us back in long sleeves and pants after a few weeks of blistering heat. I have no time to get started down that fool’s path at the moment. Moving along.
The bees have finally graced us with their presence in the garden, I was getting a bit worried! They are all over the cucumbers, which we’ve just started harvesting.
They also found the cantaloupe at last, thank goodness, this is my primo experiment for this summer. This is a true heirloom French cantaloupe, Noir des Carmes, which you can’t buy anywhere in these parts. I learned from the seed catalogue that what we call cantaloupe in the U.S. was renamed, these ’muskmelons’ in green or orange (with the ‘netted’ skin) are not the original cantaloupe, which does not ship well, and so was never popularized here.
Hubby had some surprising success with peas in his ’gorilla garden’ — a new experiment. We were gifted a garbage bag full of seeds, some of them 8 years old, which I thought would be useless. He threw them down in a spot he’d roto-tilled for the purpose, mixed up all the cool-season seeds together and broadcast them, watered them a couple of times, and we actually got a big bowl of peas out of the effort. I so love fresh peas and they are not always a reliable crop around here. He planted them later than advised too, so I was very surprised he got anything at all. He estimates germination at about 20%.
We got a great harvest of onions and canned up a couple of batches of French Onion Soup, mmmm. I have my glove under one in the middle photo to show their nice size. It was our best onion harvest to date, and I think that is owed to all the sheep poop and the mild winter.
I was proudly exclaiming to Hubby some kudos on our team effort with pressure canning the soup when he had to burst my little bubble by explaining how that makes us one teeny-tiny fraction closer to the recommended annual Ball Blue Book chart from 1966.
We have kittens! We just happened upon them in the old tractor barn while gathering dewberries.
The kids are growing SO fast!
They are following mamas into the woods, playing and jumping around and are so fun to watch.
Once again, I did not mean to hit ’slow mo’ on this short vid, but it’s a good thing I did, because you can really see the ‘look’ of triumph in Walnut’s demeanor after she bullied tiny Athena. I guess goats are something of a belligerent species!
And to end, the best part, my new She-shed, thanks to Hubby, which will get an entire post of its own very soon!
“He is grumpy and coarse and all the things I was warned about. He takes his contest with nature very seriously and finds no comfort in its unpredictable forces. Like most gardeners, he never vacations. In winter when all is quiet and still, he would much rather spend his time fretting—about the fruit trees budding, about the relentless springs frosts that may or may not come, about the sun and the moon. Gardeners, I discovered, are tough, content to be grim”
The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings From the French Countryside by Amanda Hesser, 1999
I ran out of attention span last post before I got to talking about cheese. Now that we have three mamas in milk I’ll be having a ball experimenting with new cheeses, which along with kombucha experimenting, is my favorite homesteady sort of thing to do.
Gardening and cooking being not far behind, to be sure!
Aged chèvre (goat cheese) in the French tradition is made of the highest craft and care, even when they are whimsically-named, like Crottin (Little Turd) and Sein de NouNou (Wetnurse breast).
But here in the U.S., Land of the FreeTM, Velveeta is ‘safe’ for consumers and aged goat cheeses, ideal for homestead creation, are completely illegal.
Because they care so very much, right?
“Chèvre evolved in frugal farming households of the sort that continue to make it today. It is a cheese that’s very economical, in both time and ingredients; made on the family farm, where there are many chores to take care of and livestock to feed, a cheese that didn’t need much attention or many costly ingredients fit right in.”
That is in Central France and other locations where it’s not illegal to sell. These are cheeses that require few inputs and no regular purchases—you don’t need a cheese press, or any expensive cultures, or even rennet. Fig sap (or other coagulants like nettles) can easily be substituted for rennet as only a few drops are used to set a gallon of milk.
These are also cheeses suitable to make in warm climates, similar to the more well-known goat cheeses like Feta or a fresh goat cheese. What makes the aged chèvre so unique is that it can only be made with raw milk. You may find hard raw milk cheeses in your grocery store or farmer’s market, like Gouda or Cheddar, these are pressed cheeses aged over two months, which are legal to sell with all the proper licensing. (I have NO interest in that!)
These illegal aged goat cheeses sit at room temperature for about four days.
You most certainly can’t do that with pasteurized milk. These cheeses were invented before pasteurization and before refrigeration and aged for a month or two in caves.
Mine will be aged in Tupperware bins inside a small beverage fridge I use for aging cheeses. (I would prefer not to use plastics at all, but they work just fine and I don’t have other options at the moment.).
I use natural cultures, not store-bought or freeze-dried, developed from previous cheeses, and stored in the freezer. Once the cheeses develop their fungal coat after a couple of weeks, they will be wrapped and aged for about a month.
Traditionally wrapping for these cheeses include leaves, like grape and fig, and even hornet’s nests. A few will also be coated with ash, instead of wrapping, like the traditional Sein de NouNou.
It is positively amazing how differently the cheeses will taste based on just a few variables in the process!
“Relatively unknown in North America, this class of cheeses includes some of France’s most famous fromages: ash-coated and pyramid-shaped Valencay; Sainte Maure—pierced with a blade of straw (the industrial version of Sainte Maure features plastic straws!); and small, moldy Crottin are all aged chèvre cheeses. Perhaps the only well-known North American aged chèvre is Humboldt Fog, a creamy, ash-ripened goats’ milk cheese from Humboldt County, California.”
(I’ve not looked into why or how the Humboldt Fog is legal to mass produce and sell. I plan to dig into that, but my initial guess is they’ve been able to either find a way to use pasteurized goat milk or they have a state-of-the-art affinage ‘cave’ where they can age it over two months without losing the creamy texture.)
“Goats are a belligerent species that have rejected the rigorous production regime thrust upon their bovine cousins. Unlike cows, who contentedly chew their cud in confinement and produce enormous quantities of milk year-round, goats refuse to be cogs in the machine of industrialized dairying.”
A most excellent resource, and the source of the above quotes:
Goats, a belligerent species? HA! The perfectly adorable non-conformists more like!
What better day to ponder than Mother’s Day why kids are so darn cute?!
The newest kids, born yesterday, Phoebe’s firsts—Hercules & Zena—notice he is twice the size of her!
We’ve bartered or sold most of our piglets already. We’re not on social media where such information is exchanged, but it certainly does seem the homesteading community in our area is growing rapidly. Yippie!
One family who came by insisted we were under-profiting from our piglets. Their 11-year old daughter offered her mom to pay us $50 more than we were charging, ‘for the cuteness factor’. Aren’t kids precious!
In not-so-cute news, the swelter season has started abruptly. Bye, bye beets and broccoli, before your time, because I think not even the shade cloth can save you now. The last rain that was hyped on about for days, that flooded some areas and caused tornadoes in others, yielded us a whopping 1/4 inch, not even enough to penetrate the mulch layer.
Of course I’m happy we didn’t get hit with another tornado, but I can still be miffed I have to start watering the garden. Half my roses haven’t even bloomed yet, or the zinnias. The parsley and celery have gone to seed before I got a decent harvest from them and the lettuce will soon follow, no doubt.
The bees are feeling it, too. I checked these hives last week and they were just half-full, yet the bees are bearding. Unfortunately, the swarm we got a couple of weeks ago left after only one day, unhappy with the digs I’d offered apparently. Now it’s already too hot for me to do the splits I’d planned. Better luck next spring.
I’m so pleased to be getting any strawberry harvest at all, they’ve never done well before. Then I saw this video and quickly got a reality check.
Hubby tried to make me feel better by saying those were probably grown in California and loaded with pesticides harvested by illegal aliens. He’s mentioned before something is off about this (Fabulous!) channel. It must be CGI, or heavily staged, or something. Never has a country cottage been so clean and picturesque. Where’s the chicken poop on the table and the flower pots dug up by the puppies? Good questions!
By ‘doing well’ I see I need to learn a thing or two about growing strawberries. They are too crowded and between the humidity and the wet mulch they are mostly half-rotted by the time they get ripe. I’m really loving the strawberry kombucha though! As well as the blackberry, and mulberry. I’ve started making the kombucha tea from yaupon, which grows like a weed around here. It’s delicious and sweeter than the store-bought green tea I usually use.
And speaking of mulberries, what a great surprise, Hubby found a full grown, wild mulberry tree in a spot we walk by regularly and never noticed before. What a treasure hidden in plain site!
And this post has reached my attention span limit, so I leave the cheese to the next post. It’s gonna be a good one all on its on, really! Stay tuned!
Instead I exit abruptly, like spring has done in East Texas, with this quick lesson from Bubba in best yoga techniques.
And, it seems to me, the only way to really know that, is to have known how very low you can go, when you’re really not, hot.
Mamas and babies are all doing great and our semi-feral cat, Skittles, has just had TicTacs, though we can only hear them so far, somewhere, under the floorboards of the old tractor barn where she’s taken up semi-permanent residence .
And . … We just got our first swarm! I’m extra excited because it’s off our ‘Ninja’ hive, our strongest colony. And a bit of an odd story about that. I ‘sensed’ it, before I saw it. I know, sounds crazy! I did suspect they’d swarm this season, because they didn’t last year, as far as I know.
I call them the Ninja hive because they are right by the house, always very active, regularly fighting off robbers and just generally busy, but never aggressive toward us. We can even mow right around them with no problem.
Because I like their temperament so much I have taken splits from them in the past hoping to spread their lineage far and wide. Funny thing is, they were the brand new hive that got flipped over during the tornado several years ago and they were so weak I thought they wouldn’t even make it through the summer.
This afternoon I had a sense, all of the sudden, that they’d swarmed, and I looked out the window, and there was their swarm!
Mama Chop went for an excursion and I figured she’d go right to her daughter’s place, which she did. Virginia was nursing at that moment and one piglet had strayed through the fence into the orchard and couldn’t figure her way back in and was NOT AT ALL happy to be missing her breakfast! (Actually, it could very well be a ’he’ and probably more likely since the boys are typically first to venture off).
We traded a couple piglets once again with a farming friend for our next breeding ram. We named him ‘Terdeau’, HeHe, can you guess why?!
We have some happy snaps, one minute of piglets’ bliss and a couple garden successes to share today.
Mamas and piglets are venturing out already and enjoyed their first spa day. Unfortunately, Mama Chop did still squish two of her wee ones despite Hubby’s extra efforts, so both Mamas are now with seven. Virginia has proven to be the better mother, but we prefer Mama Chop’s personality. But, it’s not about us. Sadly this will probably be Mama Chop’s last hurrah.
Moving on to the garden I’m pleased to report good news. The alliums are looking amazing, the best ever at this time of year., I expect that is due to our very mild winter and an extra helping of sheep poop. I love this time of year when chopped green onion can top every savory dish. Also, unlimited lettuces, for a limited time only. Once the heat sets in there are only a few varieties that survive, arugula and oak leaf primarily, and even those still have a tendency to get too hot or bitter and bolt quickly.
Here we’ve got garlic, elephant and a few varieties of hard neck, plus white, red and yellow storage onions, shallots, and a pearl onion perennial that I highly recommend for hot climates (Bianca di Maggio). I’ve tried every type of popular perennial onion and this is the first time I’ve gotten them to last, relatively carefree, for two full years. Normally they do not last the summer. That could also be because these I grew from seed instead of getting sets.
Seed saving and propagation are big on my garden plans lately, not only because of the high costs we’re seeing. Some seeds naturalize very quickly to their environment and I’m regularly impressed at all the volunteers that have found their way into the garden over the years—including tomatoes, wild carrot, datura, tomatillos, jumping jacks, Malabar spinach and collards/kale. In some cases I’m planting these purchased seeds and they don’t do that great the first year, but the volunteers that come back thrive with no care and even competing with some of our very pernicious grasses. Nature is so amazing!
Tis the season for pokeweed, a new and reliable favorite—that poor maligned and misunderstood plant I wrote about last year. We ate the greens all summer, the berries all fall and winter . … and we’re still alive . … go figure! So much mis-and dis-information out there on this delicious, nutritious and versatile, once upon a time Southern staple, that ‘science’ has tried to steal from us.
Two more such successes are strawberries and chayote squash. These are definite testaments to the old adage: “If you don’t succeed, try, and try, again!”
Why, oh why do you let weeds grow in your garden!? Oh let me count the ways . … the bees, the seeds, and, seriously how much time do you think I have?! Actually though, there’s a very good short answer for that—when you allow the deeply-rooted ’weeds’ to work among your short-rooted annual crops you have a magnificent force of nature at your fingertipes—those long tap-roots bring nutrients up from the depths in order to feed your fancy annual crops their otherwise lacking essential minerals.
The chayote squash, pictured left, I’ve tried to get established a minimum of five times. Even this time, the one I expected to live has died and the one I expected to die has come back with impressive gusto. This is why the plants I really want to work I place in different spots of the garden, just to see, as extra insurance, even though this is often inconvenient and seemingly counter-intuitive.
Same thing with the strawberries. Texas gardeners don’t have an easy time with strawberries or blueberries, they both prefer cooler climates. Most gardeners here who are serious about strawberries either buy new plugs each fall for the spring crop or dig up their crop and store them in the fridge all summer until the fall planting. This is too much work and/or expense for us here, yet I’d love to have at least a small, but reliable, crop of strawberries. This time did the trick so far, but only time will tell. At least I’ve got them not only surviving the summer, but also spreading. I used a couple of folk tricks I heard over the decades. One is from Finland—put them with the asparagus, I was told. But alone that did not do the trick. So, I tried them where the asparagus had been, but also where the Indian strawberries had been growing wild. Success! So far . …
Huge days on the wee homestead! The pigs and sheep have all had successful births without a single hitch. Mama Chop did lose a couple, but she has such large litters that’s not such a bad thing. We were very concerned about her as she crushed her last two litters, literally, not in the new way of the term—She crushed it! Nope, in the old way, as in she smooshed them all.
Hubby was able to prevent that sad ending this time by clearing out her corral space of every last twig. She was in the habit of building huge nests, full of branches and twigs and so steep the piglets would roll right off it, falling between branches and getting pinned whenever she moved around. We were worried with another total loss we’d have to get rid of her because we like her so much, she’s so gentle and good-natured. She loves company and will even go on walks with us. It is truly amazing how graceful these huge creatures are around those tiny, squirmy little things!
Virginia had a similar setup to Momma Chop, but she wanted nothing of it. She went off into the woods to build her own nest, her way. Luckily she doesn’t have such a penchant for branches and twigs. She’s got more of the wild side in her attitude as well as her nesting preferences. And she certainly does not appreciate prying eyes and will come after anyone who gets too close to her brood!
Watching the little lambs play, and sleep, is so cute. But I expect when the kids come next month we’ll really be in for a comic treat! It will be our first experience with goat births and I hope it goes as smoothly as the sheep did this time.
We have a new visitor to the garden which surprised us.
It’s been there every day now for about a week and I’ve never seen one like it around here before. It flies just like a hummingbird and had us quite confused. It was darting all around so fast and so far that it took me about 10 minutes and 30 attempts to get one decent shot of it. After some searching we learned it is some kind of hawk moth. Fastest moth in the west? Sometimes I undervalue the usefulness of the Internet, I might’ve been left baffled on that simple identification for a lifetime!
Not to mention the joy of sharing these simple pleasures with y’all!
Not bound to exploit. Not obsessed with production. No concern for profit extraction. Not driven by expansion. Treatment-free. Liaisez-faire. Non-industrial, anti-commercial beekeeping practices.
Beauty. Synergy. Cooperation. Respect. Reverence.
If you guessed these unconventional methods are far from popular around here, you’d be correct.
I don’t even have a bee yard. I do have 5 strong, sustained colonies (aiming for 7) scattered around several acres, which is the best beekeeping decision I’ve made in about 5 years.
It is the intense crowding of many colonies into one space that is so unnatural that it then commands chemical treatments for bee health. Artificial solutions are never the best solutions. I rarely even feed my bees, I consider that a treatment. On those rare occasions I do, because my observations have led me to suspect they are without reserves, sometimes I’ve been wrong, and the bees aren’t remotely interested in my offerings. They prefer to forage over taking my junk food.
By observing intently over time and looking to mimic nature in every way possible, I’ve come to realize how hopeless is commercial-style beekeeping for the small holder, just like all our industrial ‘solutions’ are a never-ending Ferris wheel of problems and solutions, all the way around. Industry comes to drive the entire tradition-turned-enterprise right into the ground.
Well, no thank you! And I haven’t had to buy bees for several years now, thanks to my new-old methods, which is certainly another motivator for commercial beekeeper’s scorn, considering they often make a good chuck of their profits from returning customers—that is beekeepers who follow commercial methods even for their handful of hives—buying nucs and packages and queens from the ‘Big Guys’ who sell themselves as the experts on all things bees.
In other words, the beekeeping industry strongly resembles the pharmaceutical industry, and pretty much every other global commercial industry. One model for all endeavors. One noose for all necks.
All but one of my hives is top-bar, another source for mocking by conventional beekeepers of all ages. But it does seem like alternative types are squeezing their way in through the cracks. And plenty of cracks there are. Not just top-bar fans.
I’m not on any of the popular social media sites, but I know there are treatment-free groups, full of curious kindred spirits, some with bee-loving pseudonyms instead of their real names, like poor, paranoid anti-vaxxers. Oh, lovely lurkers, come out of the shadows to stake your claim! You dare to brave the bees’ stings, surely some stings of misplaced criticism can’t scare you away?!
The bees are just one of many bustling with spring’s promises.
In other news, happy chicks are here, with no snakes in sight. (In the new, ultra-high security coop within coop, 100% snake-proof. Right?)
We are still waiting on the piglets, the rest of the lambs, and the kids, while trying not to let our anticipation get the best of us!
I LOVE cheese day and it’s been a very long while.
It’s been several months since I’ve been milking our ‘old’ goat, Summer, and it will be a few months more before I start milking her again, along with Phoebe and Chestnut, intending that all will go well with their first kidding, and I will be able to train them on the milkstand, which will be as new to me as it is for them. Big intentions!
I’m not too worried about Phoebe, she’s much more tame and mellow and loves to be petted. Chestnut darts off as soon as you try to touch her and is even skittish when hand feeding.
The first lamb of the season has just arrived! Now that Handy Hubby is ‘retired’ he gets to handle all the stressful parts while I pop in for the awes and photo ops. Big win for me! It’s not that things are constantly going wrong, but it does take preparation and attention and concern, because sometimes things do go wrong.
But not this time! While Hubby runs around, making sure the little lamb latches on in due time, gets the feed and stalls prepped and ready for a bunch more births, I make cheese.
It’s a very slow process, traditional mozzarella, it takes all day. Yesterday I experimented with a new cheese of my own invention, which is just about my favorite thing to do in the world. I would bore you with the details, but I fear you’d be really bored.*
Another new Hubby project has been the ultra-high security broody fortress. Walls within walls. He’d finished the Tajma-coop and hoped our predator problems were solved. He’d planned for practically every type of previous invader—raccoons, hawks, possums, coyotes—with the exception of snakes. He’d hoped between one cat, 4 dogs and constant hoof traffic the reptilian raiders would retreat. No such luck. We lost lots of chicks and Bantams to snakes.
Surely this will be the ultimate solution?
Hubby sporting his wild side, which I much prefer to his straight-laced pilot persona. Though of course I have deep gratitude for his professional efforts too, not just the relieving of them, or we’d never be where we are now. (Thanks, Brandon?! And, where else shall I send the thank-you notes??)
I used to have regular cheese days. I would drive four hours round-trip for the only raw milk available in the vicinity and get up to 20 gallons and have a cheese-making marathon for four days straight. It was perhaps a bit obsessive.
That was a few years ago, now it’s a real luxury. Since then the cost per gallon of raw milk at that farm has gone from $6 to $9. Add to that the cost of gas and time (and my personal waning energy), we really can’t afford it anymore.
Instead I’ll be milking goats and making mostly small batch cheeses, including all my favorites, which is pretty much all of them, especially Camembert, Muenster, and traditional styles of aged chèvre. I do believe I’ll be very satisfied with my new arrangement!
This time I got 10 gallons and a friend did the pick up, another win for me. She, like me, started making cheese and bread mostly out of snobbery—we are ‘foodies’ (I prefer the French term ‘gourmands’) and the selection of these staples in these parts was akin to an inner-city food desert. Industrially-produced, plastic-wrapped crap only, of the lowest quality.
Like I said, it’s a luxury at that cost, but from it we will get better cheeses, yogurt and buttermilk than money can buy.** Not only do we get the cheeses, but the whey goes to great use too, for ricotta, for soaking grains, and for the critters at just the time they are in need of extra nutrition.
Incidentally, mozzarella is not a raw milk cheese. Still, the flavor of the traditional home-made style is far superior to those which are industrially-produced, including the ‘fast mozzarella’ that most home cheese-makers prefer, since it takes about an hour versus all day. That version is also delicious, and I make it sometimes too, but the flavor and texture between the two is very different.
Our semi-feral cat, Skittles, comes around regularly now that our house dogs are no longer a constant threat. She’s getting her day in the sun at last, enjoying her curds and whey.
As there is a lot of kitchen downtime with traditional cheese-making methods, I make sourdough bread and pizza dough between steps.*** Or sometimes pestos, or condiments, or Kombucha (my latest fantastic flavor is pine needle), or soups and salads. Before I know it, an entire day in the kitchen has swooped by, me barefoot and content, and still in my pajamas.
And very happily not pregnant!
*Actually, I’d be happy to bore you in the comments section if you have any cheesey comments or questions.
**Sorry to say, but the raw milk cheeses you think you are buying at the grocery store are actually semi-pasteurized, they just changed the definition. As per usual.
***While listening to podcasts, usually. Richie Allen was on the list today, a good choice as it was a call-in show on the subject of prepping. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-richie-allen-show/id1090284266?i=1000553479020 I don’t identify as a prepper myself, necessarily, even though pretty much any American who looked at our lifestyle would say we are. The third caller on the show is a self-identified ‘doomsday prepper’ in Alaska. She was great, shared lots of good info and talked about how she grew up that way, as did her parents. I don’t really consider that ‘doomsday prepping’ either. This is a lifestyle to me, one that deserves to be continued through the generations, not just during precarious times, and I’m sure she would agree. Being prepared is important and I think everyone should make a concerted effort on that front, especially in times such as these. But I see this lifestyle is a special sort of calling and it’s not going to appeal to many folks, and it doesn’t have to. It’s enough for those so inclined to preserve it and to treasure it and to keep that flame of living intimately with nature alive. It sets an example that is much needed these days as it is not in the modern Western way of a recreational relationship with nature or the profit-driven exploitive relationship with it, but a real, old-fashioned, hands-in-the-dirt sort of cooperation. You’ve gotta really love it, really want it, or it will never work for you.