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.
The friend who traded us for Summer, our first milking goat, patiently tried to coach me, not nearly as concerned as I was.
“Are you massaging her udder with a warm wash cloth before you milk her?”
Yes I am!
“Are you feeding her her favorite treat before and after milking?”
Though I did try on the first day to transition her from her animal cracker addiction to fresh cucumbers straight from the garden, thinking of her long term health.
Summer would have none of it.
After 3 days of barely being able to coax a cup from her I thought for sure I’d created some awful affliction, maybe worse than mastitis, yet to be listed in any book, from my sheer incompetence, or maybe that she just didn’t like me, at all.
Her udder was full to the point of bursting, but I was failing miserably at filling my pail. At that point if my friend had advised me to bring scented candles, perhaps some champagne too, to our milking sessions I’d have asked, “Which scent does she prefer?”
But as chance would have it, on the 4th day we had visitors. Friends of this friend wanted one of our young boars for future breeding. These were true farm folk, born and raised. I wasted no time whining about my failure as a blossoming milkmaid.
I played coy for the necessary split second before taking them up on their offer to take a peak at her.
When they saw her udder they had concerns. The dreaded ‘mastitis’ term crossed their lips and I felt even more deflated.
“Oh, no, how do I fix that?” I lamented.
Summer hopped right up on the milk stand for her animal crackers. At least we got that part down. They both examined her udder more closely and concurred it wasn’t particularly hot, so probably not mastitis, followed by my great sigh of relief.
The large man, with a deep country drawl, stepped behind her then and proceeded to pound at her swollen bag with an upward motion and milk burst out both her teets.
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with this goat!” he confirmed. Then he gave a couple of tugs and strong, steady milk streams came pouring forth.
“How did you do that?” Was my relieved exclamation.
He proceeded to show me how it was all my bad, I was not being nearly rough enough.
“You gotta get way up in there hard and pull that milk down. Give her some good shots with your fist, like this. As long as your not bruising her or using a 2 x 4, she’s fine.”
Summer was completely calm and unfazed by this approach. Apparently I was tickling her more than milking her. We’re already up to a quart with my refined method.
I envy the rednecks and all their learnin’. So little seems to phase them, whereas I still get squeamish around blood and death and dis-ease after a decade of the most typical farm foibles.
Perhaps reading my mind and wishing to make me feel better, the large man shared a story as we stood at the gate before their departure.
“Now, I apologize in advance,” he began, “we just met, but let me tell you . . .”
And he proceeded to tell the story, flush with explicatives, about his recent long haul (he’s a truck driver in addition to a farmer, few make it these days as ‘just’ farmers) when his Bigrig broke down.
“Well I had to get one of them Ubers to take me into town and I ain’t ever been so scared in my life!” He’s a veteran, served overseas in the Middle East, grew up on a farm, been a truck driver for decades, but that Uber driver had him clinging with both hands for dear life, begging to Jesus and swearing to never get in a car with one of them crazy drivers for anything money can buy.
I inquired if he’d gone online to give the driver a poor rating.
“A poor rating?” he questioned. “They don’t go that low!”
He’s probably too nice of a guy to give that driver an ear-full while he had the chance. But I bet I would’ve!
I tried to find an appropriate fun song about goats to finish this post, but the best one was about a Billy.
It’s time again for some fun snaps. Apparently my ‘extremist’ opinions are not nearly as popular as far as posts go. What a mystery! 🙂
As usual, not suitable viewing for vegetarians.
But, our veggie of the year has definitely been the turnip. Not too sexy, I know. Personally I think the turnip is way under-rated. Lucky for us, they were so prolific this year we’ve been giving them away, feeding them to the pigs and eating them ourselves pretty much daily. Raw, baked, stewed, roasted, fermented—don’t knock ‘em ‘til you try ‘em! (And if you have any yummy suggestions for preparation, please do share.).
Our small asparagus bed was so over-packed we created 2 huge beds for them, had to go outside the garden fence and cut down a few trees to do it, and still had enough to give a big box away to a sister homesteader.
I also dug up the ‘naked lady’ lilies, day lilies and iris, replanted a bunch of them and still had loads to give away. I love to spread the wealth! It was A LOT of work, but hopefully worth it. Time will tell.
(Note to new gardeners: DO NOT crowd your asparagus, those crowns are a nightmare to separate once they get over-clumped. Lesson learned the hard way.)
Fava beans and lovely greens and my favorite herb, chervil.
Mama Chop, ready to pop! Papa Chop must be very proud, he got Virginia preggers too, her first time. Loads of piglets coming any day now.
We had to borrow another ram, apparently the last one was sleeping on the job. He’s been keeping very busy.
Handy Hubby’s Grand TajMa-Coop post coming up soon, it’s a beauty, so stay tuned!