Counting Blessings, Cutting Loses, Culling Critters

A respite from the heat, but still no rain. We surveyed our fenced land for grazing and have come to the sad conclusion that our intention last year to grow the herd will not be achieved in the near future.

Seemed like the right thing to do, growing the herd, considering food inflation and especially high meat prices, and the fact that Hubby is here full-time now, and that more bartering/trading could be in the foreseeable future. But, the parched land screams otherwise.

Between the steeply rising cost of feed and the meager forage available, and no guarantees the stranglehold of the weather terrorists will let up any time soon, we come to some difficult decisions.

We will wait another year to freshen the goats, drastically reduce the number of sheep, and breed back only one sow. We will maintain the poultry flock as-is for the most part, but had hoped to add ducks once again to the mix. No rain means fewer bugs means more supplemental feed. So that plan is not looking too good now either.

Planned building projects are also getting postponed. A ‘milking parlor’ was on the list, some much-needed repairs to the deck, rebuilding the greenhouse, a field shelter for the herd, and on and on, plans are easy, implementation, not so much!

We are blessed with an already achieved minimalism: Living seasonally, frugally, well-acquainted with the boom-bust cycles of our overlords and still small enough to be flexible, and with enough local support to know we’ve got each other.

Our most crucial long-term goal remains: Growing our own feed—perennials as well as annuals.

We hear the word ‘sustainable’ repeated multiple times a day these days, but there’s rarely anything truly sustainable being suggested.

It’s 99% hype and green washing. But actual sustainability does exist, and the more self-reliant we can be, the closer we are to achieving it.

How do we measure up?

And it’s not like there’s not plenty for us still to do and learn here, even with squeezing the belt tighter.

I’m still very interested in herbalism, especially as it pertains to our local environment. The best things in life are free, or nearly so, no?!

And while I do appreciate the allure of the consumer life, I’m far more fascinated by the natural world all around me. It’s always a matter of slowing down, observing ever more closely, teasing out the potential of all that is all around me, and some of that certainly means our local community, but that doesn’t just mean the people.

I’d love to learn more wild crafts, as well as more fine art tuning; more science, and more speculation; and much, much more about where and how these endeavors mesh.

There is a different brand of “More!”, isn’t there, than the furious Billy Idol sang about?

Or, maybe it’s all the same, in the midnight hour?

Nature’s Myriad Mysteries

Every day on the wee homestead brings some new mystery, most of which go mostly unsolved. No need for UFOs, Jesus’ image on your morning toast, or Big Foot sightings around here—we’ve got baffling bees, mystical mushrooms, and unexplained murders.

I’ll start with the most dramatic. A rancher neighbor was terribly shaken up and recounted a recent disturbing event at their place, meaning to warn us. They found two calves bleeding, one dead, one still barely alive, which they had to put down, the injury was so severe.

She had been crying, as I would’ve been as well, and told me in their nearly two decades here they had never seen such a thing and had no idea what creature had done it. It wasn’t any kind of injury they recognized or have had to deal with before. Each one had a single tear right up its undercarriage, with the entrails spilling out, and nothing eaten. Coyotes being our typical predators around here, I inquired along those lines and she shook her head, clearly, not this time. We do hear stories about panther sightings on occasion, I myself thought I saw one once too. But again, the gnawing question, predators don’t just kill calves for the fun of it. Two calves killed, no markings or traces of a struggle, and nothing eaten. That is a mystery I prefer not to think too much about.

So, quickly, on to better stories!

I have an update on the bizarre ‘mushroom blob’ from a recent post. Over the last weeks it has developed into typical bracket or crust fungi. While now at least it is generally identifiable, the mystery still remains, because bracket mushrooms grow on trees, not under vines in regular garden soil. There is not even wood mulch on the top of the bed where it’s growing.

The fungi when I first found it above, and again today, below.

My only guess is that the mycelia network is coming up from below this raised bad. We threw a bunch of wood chunks down before piling on the soil. But, that might be a stretch, as I’ve never heard of these mushrooms growing on anything but living or dead bark. I just don’t know.

Mushrooms being my second favorite mystery after bees, we end with a sweeter little story.

This bitternut tree was all abuzz with activity this morning. It’s hard with photos to get a sense of how many bees were working it, so there’s a short video clip below for the sound effects.

We couldn’t help but think it was such odd bee behavior, because nothing on this tree is blooming—no pollen, no nectar. Yet the bees were clearly eating something off the leaves. So, we licked the leaves, and they taste sweet! I have no idea why this would be, but the leaves seem to be exuding some kind of sap. The bees have been all over it all day, so it wasn’t just morning dew.

This sounds like the simple sort of mystery a local arborist could solve for us. If I find out, I’ll be sure and let y’all know, so you don’t loose any sleep over it! 😆

Homestead Happy Snaps

High 90s again this week—will it ever end?!

Kinda hard to stay motivated when we’re melting!

Luckily as mood boosters we have Hubby’s homemade sparkling wine coolers. It’s his own concoction, made from our own ‘new’ wines—pear mixed with wild grape—complete with bubbles! It’s really tasty, not too sweet, and a lovely color. And bubbles!

Delicious!

The goats are still impressively darling and annoying and belligerent at once.

Beautyberries and mist flower don’t mind the late summer heat.

The garden still has many happy visitors, but I’m not one of them!

You’ll find me inside with the air conditioning, an icy wine cooler, and a pile of books and movies to attend to!

Fun With Goats

No, I don’t mean Goat Yoga, that’s just dumb.

Really, yoga’s not enough torture for you, you need hooves to the spine, too?!

We love our goats, but not inside, duh.

New screenplay idea: Goats Who Stare At Men!

Because of the heat and drought the best forage is close to the house, where we are regularly watering. It’s good for the goats, and for us it makes for better entertainment than most TV. There are drawbacks though. Like they eat pretty much all the plants, not just the ones we want them to eat.

And they tend to follow me around, waiting for the extra special treats I bring them from the garden, like their favorite, sweet potato vines and morning glory.

Feeding frenzy

And they want to climb on everything.

Going out on a limb
Just out of reach!
“I’m too sexy for this grass”

Our once somewhat peaceful morning coffee now attracts a team of show-offs. (I don’t think Bubba approves, considering what they do to his bed.) They do giant leaps off the deck, too, that look a lot like the tricks snowboarders do, but not on cue, unfortunately.

Please feel free to enjoy 2 minutes of Chez Kensho programming!

There Must Be 50 Ways

. . . To ruin ravioli.

Just choose the wrong tool, fool
Then screw up the cheese, Steve
Don’t gum up the dough, Joe
And roll it out slow . . .

Hehe, just playin’. My mom used to love that song.

Granny requested in the comments that I use yesterday’s failed ravioli as a teaching moment. As open to that excellent idea as I am, because I agree that failure is the best teacher, still, it’s hard to teach anything when you still suck at it.

We only ventured into homemade pasta last month after buying a hand-crank pasta maker. Hubby started us in the adventure, brave man that he is. He read the directions, watched some vids, and proceeded to cursing his way through a batch of fettuccini, of which a good portion went to the pigs, because the ‘noodles’ were so scrunched and mis-shaped they’d never taste right.

They always make it look so easy in the videos! Alas, manuals and videos are no substitute for hands on failures.

He tried a second time with somewhat better results, but was still discouraged. Enough so that I knew if I didn’t step up to the plate soon the new machine would end up in the back of the storage closet only to be seen again during spring cleanings.

And I know for sure ravioli is going to be my thing. Eventually. I just love to play around with fillings and shapes and assemblages and finger foods.

Ravioli is not a finger food, you might be thinking? But, toasted ravioli is! Which is why I had Mom on the mind, because it reminds me of growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, from where this popular dish originally hails. It was on the menu of every bar and pizza joint in the region. We ate it often, and it’s so delicious.

You’d think I’d try to master simple ravioli first, right? Nope. Gotta go for the gusto first time out. At least I did it with less cursing. (Hubby was in his man cave, and so can’t verify that fact.)

I learned immediately that the special ravioli attachment was a nightmare-level mistake and quickly gave it up.

When I wrote yesterday that it was all ruined, that was before tasting it. It actually wasn’t too bad. It only remotely looked or tasted like the dish I was going for, but at least it didn’t have to go to the pigs.

As for the multiple learning opportunities, where to start. The filling was very tasty, and all from the homestead (diced liver, sausage, onion and basil), but it wasn’t diced finely enough. That might have worked out ok, except that the dough was drying out too much, too fast, because it’s so hot we have the air conditioning blasting in the kitchen with extra fans blowing, too. To try to moisten the dough sheets just made them gummy, and whether too dry or too gummy, they still tore quite a bit when I tried to form the filling between the sheets.

The dough sheets were getting stuck in the machine on one side and crimping up, I’m still not sure why. So I tried using half the recommended dough amount for shorter sheets, which worked better, but they were still somewhat lopsided with very ragged edges and some small holes and tears.

I thought I might still be able get away with it, because ‘toasted’ ravioli actually means ‘deep fried’. What better way to hide broken dough than with another layer of egg, flour and breadcrumbs, right?

Except my homemade breadcrumbs weren’t fine enough and uniformly-sized like the store-bought varieties are, so while deep frying they didn’t cook evenly. Some parts were burned, some hardly browned. My ratio of edges to filling was way off on some of them, leaving large edges so crunchy they tasted more like dough chips.

The results reminded me of that McDonald’s skit by the young Eddie Murphy!

I’ll take it in stride, and give it another try, before throwing the machine in the back of the storage closet. 😒

Homestead Happy Snaps

As hot and dry as it still is, we’re still managing to get-r-done. Much has died in the garden, but the weeds and grasses still thrive with irrigation. We used to complain how well we grew grass and weeds, and little else, but we have a different attitude now. It all serves to feed the critters, who in turn feed us, which is a pretty good deal.

The honeybees love the purslane, and we love the honey.

The goats love the morning glory, and we love the goat cheese.

The bumblebees love the luffa flowers, and the pigs love the luffa fruit, and we love the bacon. How fortunate for us this cycle of life!

The volunteer cucumber has shown me we can indeed get fruit in 100 degrees, it just has to be from a fresh plant.

Fence clearing duty, thank you! And who doesn’t love pink zinnias?

Peek-a-boo!

I think we can tell who will be the next herd queen—Bluebonnet, daughter of the current herd queen—go figure.

A fantastic shot from a friend in the northeast US, so amazing, I just had to include it!

Wow! Almost makes me want the new IPhone.

And last but not least, Bubba and Buttercup in their favorite places, which is always, as close to Hubby as possible. 🙂


Thanks for stopping by!

Homestead Happenings

Just posting some happy snaps to distract our attention away from all that’s dying in the garden. And the fact that the hens have mostly stopped laying, our oldest goat is looking dangerously thin, the grass has turned crispy, and there’s no end in sight.

Bubba trying to keep cool

Still, the kids are growing like weeds.

Walnut’s nearly as big as her mama already (back left) and even little Athena (front) is catching up to the rest of the kids.
Morning glory, another goat favorite

The birds and the bees are still doing their thing while we can’t manage to stay outside past 11 am.

Unfortunately, so are the ants. The leaf-cutters are slowly destroying our young fruit trees. Only the more mature pear is escaping their attack.

Almost ready, fingers crossed!

Plants are simply amazing. The purslane and arugula are growing fine and make a great pesto. The sweet potato vines are a goat favorite, the okra’s just coming in, the peppers and watermelons are still hanging in there.

The zucchini hasn’t given up either, and somehow we still have broccoli that’s not bitter.

Just as the old cucumbers got bitter, the new volunteer is producing like crazy. Not too shabby! 😁

Homestead Happenings

Time to wine!

It’s hot. It’s dry. It’s miserable. Every day we enter the garden and the orchard knowing we’ll find something else dead.

First it was the tomatoes, then the salad cucumbers and cantaloupe, now it looks like even the tomatillos are giving up before ever producing well. The squashes are all struggling and the peppers and figs are mostly stalled.

I wish that meant it was time to rest on our laurels and have some long, slow and sweet indoor days of movie marathons and Kombucha cocktails.

But no such luck, because it’s time for making wine!

Our painstakingly cultivated Muscadine grapes are not doing well, we expect a minimal harvest, at best.

But, the native Mustang grapes are a lot tougher, apparently.

So, fortunately! We’re still able to make some wine and jam.

Did I mention it’s really F’ing HOT? And dry?

I’d whine a lot more, except I keep going back to the miracle of all the critters and plants who can take it so much better than we can. Though, I know they are struggling too, and are just less whiney than I am.

And just for those keeping track, the ‘chemtrails’ have not abated.

Homestead Happenings

Just a wee hodgepodge of happy snaps and some light commentary for today.

Our preserving efforts have been at fever pitch with bushels of cucumbers and melons coming in. The Noirs des Carmes cantaloupe that was my main prize experiment for this summer has been a success, for the most part. We’ve gotten loads of melons, way too many to count, and the majority of them have been good.

But many of them have ‘exploded’— and that’s not just split, but within a day, before even being fully ripe, they’ve blown open completely. Some are tasteless even though fully ripe. Some are softening while still small and unripe.

The pigs have been the great beneficiaries of these rejects. I do understand why this melon is not commercially available and is not a favorite at farmer’s markets either, even though when they’re good, they’re delicious. Though some of these issues could certainly be the extreme heat and drought, they do not last long once they are ripe. They must ripen on the vine, and once ripe they last only a few days before rotting.

For us they’ve been prolific and very tasty even under stressful conditions, so they will be a keeper. Needless to say, we’ve been eating A LOT of melon! Melon for breakfast, snacks, aqua fresca, desserts, juice, syrup, jam and smoothies.

A small fraction of our harvest, preparing to make preserves.

We’re trying to take advantage of the heat by trying out a recent gift, a sun oven!

Our place is so small and we love cooking, but it’s hardly economical heating up the whole house every afternoon, when it’s blazing hot outside, and while inside the air conditioning is blasting away.

The kids are growing so fast! I’m slowly, gently trying to ween them. In this heat I don’t dare take too much milk for us, just enough for our morning coffee. But the daily training is still essential, for us all.

Around 5:00 am I separate mamas and kids for about 5 hours. The kids are eating grains and forage already, but they don’t like to be long off those teets, that’s for sure! By 9:00 they are wailing and it’s hard to listen to them while we’re working away outside, but it must be tolerated.

I train them on the milk stand and bring them a wheelbarrow full of sweet potato vines, which they devour.

A few baffling successes have been carrots and broccoli that are still producing in this heat! This is a first for us. I guess I got the timing and variety just right, for once. They are both under shade cloth and not totally productive or tasty, but good enough for us and a very nice surprise.

I’ve started some seed trays of tomatoes and lettuce indoors for the fall garden. Fingers crossed, I’ve never had successful fall tomatoes so far, but you never know, considering those carrots and broccoli!

Homestead Happenings

Just trying to keep cool these days, physically and mentally. We can’t spend all day outside anymore, as we’d prefer. It’s crazy hot and dry and we’re losing the crops at a rapid clip in these unprecedented June temperatures.

Fortunately, we can spend the hot afternoons in the cool kitchen, adding to our skillsets and our supply of delicious homemade staples—such as ferments, my domain, and canning, Hubby’s expanding speciality.

It’s so hot and dry, and generally miserable day and night, that I find myself continually amazed at how resilient some species are.

Also getting supplemental water and looking great, the most cheeriest of all the flowers, no contest.

We’ve lost the tomato crop prematurely. It wasn’t a total loss though, we’ve got enough for fresh salads and salsas, but not a bumper crop for canning, unfortunately.

And the fresh ones are delicious! Literally, the variety is called ’Delicious’ and they really are not fibbing. Saving those seeds for sure.

And, we’ve got a cucumber first, a volunteer! And with that another mystery with a pleasant surprise.

I’ve planted this variety for several years now because it’s been such a great producer. But I’ve not planted it with any intention of seed-saving, so it’s gone in right next door to other cucumber varieties, and melons, and squash, without a second thought.

And yet, it’s produced a true-to-type volunteer, which I most certainly will be taking seed from! We regularly get cherry tomato volunteers that produce beautifully, and always get volunteer tomatillos, Luffa, cilantro, basil, but this is a first for cucumber.

Volunteer ‘Arkansas Little Leaf’ coming back over the fence

Other crops like the peppers are still producing fine, but the spaghetti squash is also starting to peter out already.

The birds and bees and 4-legged manage much better than we do.

Though, let’s not forget, they are watered and fed and do no real work and lay around all afternoon and evening!

The milk stand has become their playstation!

There’s not nearly enough milk for cheesemaking yet, but I’m studying up!

Thankfully for the good old-fashioned snailmail I’ve gotten a divine treasure—a guide to traditional French goat cheese-making—originally published in the 1950s, in a humble effort to save the world from industrialized cheese.

Obviously, he did not succeed, not by a long shot.

But it is still a fascinating read on a sweltering Sunday.

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