It Was a Very Good Day

I guess I could say our day started at 2:00am when I went to the barn to check on Lady Bug to see if she was in labor. She wasn’t. It always takes a little while to get back to sleep after a nighttime trek to the barn. I intended to get up at 6:00am to check on her again, but I just couldn’t talk myself into it. We’ve been at this middle of the night routine for three nights now with no end in sight. It does wear me down. Anyway, I rolled out at 7:00am, got the milk buckets ready, enjoyed a swift cup of coffee and headed out to the barn and the morning.

One Stripe and Copper enjoyed their typical morning routine. Penny now likes to stand around and talk very loudly to anyone that will listen. I hope she becomes more content soon because she has an irritating voice, and she needs to turn the volume down. Especially in the morning. But this morning was especially noisy because once I finished milking One Stripe and Copper, I did not let their babies out of the baby pen. They remained there awaiting their move to the weaning pen.

Penny was next up on the milk stand and so far has been very cooperative. She was followed by Cricket who is doing well at day two post delivery. I have some concerns about her boy I will share in a few days after I see how things work out. Lady Bug got to eat in her birthing pen, the lone pregnant doe now. She is pretty interested in the other babies. 

After the milk was strained and breakfast was cooked I debated about starting a batch of bread and a batch of cheese. I’ve been waiting for Lady Bug to deliver so I won’t have to worry about cheese sitting in the pot too long, or not being able to work or bake the bread when needed. Today we decided we had been waiting long enough. The sourdough starter has been out on the cabinet being fed for at least a week in preparation to make bread, and the frig was overflowing with over five gallons of milk.

So I ground some wheat and stirred up the sourdough bread and set it to proof on top of the frig where it’s warm. Then we started a double batch of cheddar cheese using up four gallons of milk. One thing about cheddar, is it needs attention in frequent intervals all day long. It’s now set to press for 24 hours and will be ready to remove from the presses tomorrow evening to dry for a few days before it is waxed. This is our first cheddar of the season. It won’t be ready to eat until about the middle of July at the earliest, for a very mild cheddar flavor. 

Making cheese means washing all of those jars the milk was in.

And washing up the cheese press that hasn’t been used in a while.

After the cheese reached the point that we had about a 30 minute window, we went up to the barn and moved the babies into the weaning pen. There was still some commotion, but not a whole lot. We have weaned babies before that screamed and hollered for their mommas until they were so hoarse they didn’t hardly have a voice left. These guys were running around playing some of the time and didn’t seem to be very stressed, which is great.

Frank drilled a couple of holes in each of these so the rain would drain out.

Frank had a great epiphany recently about the garden. We have kept enough room between the garden and the house to drive around the house if we needed or wanted to. He was standing outside looking at something the other day and thought, why don’t we forget about driving around the house and expand the garden into that area? It will make the garden a third again as big and allow us to grow a whole lot more food for us and the animals. Great idea! We have been thinking about how to incorporate an ‘animal garden’ into one of the pastures, but we use them pretty regularly. We have four pastures that connect to the corral at the barn and right now there are goats in three of them. When we add pigs to the mix, that will use them even more. Frank’s idea of increasing the garden size where it is will give us another way of increasing food production now.

This green grassy area is now becoming part of the garden. 2014 picture

So with that in mind, as we were leaving the barn, Frank brought the tractor down to start tilling up the ‘new’ garden spot. Right off the bat the shear pin broke on the tiller. So we replaced it. He went back around to start tilling one end of the garden which is very, very rocky, and immediately broke the shear pin. So we replaced it. This time he started at the other end of the garden down by the herb bed. He made it the whole length of the garden back into the rocky area just fine. Then he turned around to come back down the other way and immediately broke the shear pin. That’s when he announced that he was finished with the tiller for the day. We still have at least one, but now we need to get some more shear pins.

While Frank was busy breaking shear pins instead of the soil, I was trying to get some manure tea started. There is a new piece of garden we have already tilled up in front of the herb bed where I planted turnips, spinach, lettuce and swiss chard. This area has not had all of the great barnyard, ashes and such added to it, so it is not very rich in nutrients compared to the garden. Some of the spinach leaves are turning yellow. I wanted to give this bed a boost, so I took a couple of five gallon buckets to the chicken house, collected a deposit of manure and hay, filled the buckets with water, put on the lids and set them out in the herb bed where I will be using them. I’ll let them steep for a number of days before I begin side dressing the plants with tea. I won’t water them directly with this tea because I don’t want to burn the plants. I will also give them some wood ashes we have saved in the ash can from the woodstove, and some whey. 

After about 35 years of mowing our lawn with a push mower, we finally broke down and got a riding mower, which is a pretty green color and runs like a deere. It arrived yesterday but we were too busy to do anything with it then, and it was trying to rain. Today after Frank returned the tractor to the barn, he brought the mower down to try it out. In the meantime, I’m in the house working the cheese again. When I got to the point that I had a few minutes to go outside, I tried out the mower as well. It’s interesting, and since we have never had one before, it’s different. I do like it though. It will make it easier to keep some areas from becoming a jungle and needing to be brush hogged with the tractor in the summer. So I played on the mower for a while. Then I went back in and worked the cheese. Then I mowed a little more, returned it to the barn, checked on Lady Bug who refuses to have babies, and went back to the house to work the cheese.

Now one of my goals today was to get some more things planted. I didn’t. It’s all still sitting there waiting on me with rain coming tonight and tomorrow, and a chance of more every day this week until Friday. But maybe I can still get a few things planted over the next few days if it doesn’t get too wet.

Since we are weaning the older babies that means I will now be milking One Stripe and Copper twice a day and getting two gallons of milk a day instead of one. That means every two days I will have enough milk to make a double batch of cheese. But I still need to get things planted…… And then when Penny, Cricket and Lady Bug’s kids, if she ever has them, are two weeks old and I start penning them up at night, we will get more like three gallons of milk a day. Am I sure I need or want to milk five goats every day? Hmm……something to think about. But before long we hope to get those pigs and they will be happy to drink milk or whey everyday.

The old way to store whey.

And speaking of whey. Frank had a great idea. In the past when we made cheese, we put the whey in old peanut butter jars and sat them on the floor in the kitchen. There is way too much to fit in the frig with all the milk coming in. We feed one jar to the dog and cats each day, and two jars to the chickens morning and evening. Frank recommended we get out the water bath canner and just put all of the whey in it and dip it out into a jar as we need it. Great idea. Simplifies things. If we get overrun with whey, I will use it to water some of the garden plants. They love it, too.

So, now the animals are fed and tucked into bed, the cheese is doing it’s thing in the press, the bread is baked and sampled, and this blog post is now written. It has been a very good day. We enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine, each other’s company, the quiet peace of a country life and the blessings that work brings. Peace, joy and contentment. We pray that the season of Easter, with the renewal of life, brings much joy and happiness to you and yours.

Until next time – Fern

Firing Up the Wood Stove

It’s that time of year, when the temperature occasionally drops down far enough for us to run the wood stove to heat the house. There are many winter days here that are in the 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s when it is just too warm for the stove. But this week we have had some cold, wet, icy weather with high’s in the low 30’s. So it was time to check everything out before we lit that first fire. Our stove is a DutchWest Federal with a catalyst. When we bought it, it was made my Vermont Castings. Times change.

To check out the bottom of the stove pipe and the catalytic converter we have to take off the top of the stove. To take off the top of the stove we

have to take off the warming shelves. This is a real pain, very awkward and difficult to see. It’s nice to have a small battery powered vacuum with a hose that can pick up all of the loose soot down around the damper. We didn’t get a lot of pictures of this process because it took four hands to get it done. You know when you are all contorted in a knot trying to manage an open end wrench in a space that is too small, and you can’t hold
the flash light or get your bifocals in the right place to see? It’s not the time to

say, “Hold it right there, we need a picture for the blog!” So you will just have to use your imagination here. This is a great cast iron stove. We chose to not get an enameled version because, one, we like the looks of the cast iron and two, we are just too hard on things. I figured I would have a chip out of the enamel before long and it would be one of many. 

After Frank finished contorting and putting everything back together we both agreed that it was just too much trouble, so next year we plan to leave the warming shelves off when we inspect the stove again. They are pretty and make for nice aesthetics, but we don’t trust them to sit anything very heavy on, so off they go.

We keep a bus tub (a plastic tub used in restaurants to clean tables) nearby to keep our equipment in when it’s not in use. For now we used it to hold the ash and soot we were cleaning up.

Our equipment consists of: this excellent fire poker (this is one of the best we’ve ever used – plain and very effective), metal dust pan, brush, the handle used to open the doors and damper,

a small flashlight to see the thermometer, a bag to carry wood and a pair of welder’s gloves that work great.

Now that we have everything cleaned up, it’s time to light a fire. We have a number of battery operated lanterns that we use on a regular basis. If the grid goes down we will be able to recharge them with solar panels. We feel this type of lighting will last us longer than others that require fuel storage. It came in real handy on those dark spots where it was hard to see. Just for information purposes, this is a Coleman LED, variable rheostat, with eight rechargeable D cell batteries. The only negative is the batteries will not charge in the lantern. They have to be removed and charged separately. But eight D cells on low power lasts a long time.

This is a small stove, but it can quickly heat up our small home to the point that we open several windows a bit. We always keep a window close to the stove cracked open for ventilation and oxygen renewal. There are several settings on the stove to review and familiarize ourselves with again: the damper, air intake and catalytic converter. We always review the manual each year to make sure our memories are correct. Fire is not something to take lightly. It can be the end of all you have including your life, in very short order. So even though it is a pain to take the stove apart and inspect it each year, we always do so before we use it. It is well worth our time and effort to insure our safety and the safety of our home.

After the first fire or two, we had everything up and running right. Our stove has an ash pan that needs to be emptied once or twice a day depending on how much wood we burn. This is one chore that requires much care. Frank uses the poker to stir the coals and cause the ash to fall down into the ash pan below the firebox. We keep a heavy cast iron pot of water on top of the stove for moisture.

 We empty the ash pan out on the back porch. There is a small galvanized can there just for that purpose. Frank carefully carries the ash pan out the door. I get the door and the lid to the ash can. We feel this chore is much safer when performed by two people, but it can be completed by one person.

As the ash can fills up over the winter, we empty it into the garden for the calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum and sodium it contains. As a side note, you can also use hardwood ashes to make lye for soap. I have also used it around the base of 
new squash plants to deter squash vine borers and other insects. One time when we emptied the ash can in the garden the coals weren’t quite out and when we looked out the window there was a nice line of fire going across the garden. It didn’t take long to put it out, but it is something to learn and remember.

Now that we have a good fire going, I think it is time for some soup. I tried something like this a couple of times last year, but I don’t remember how it went. There is a small flat surface on top of the stove that will hold a small pot. I am careful not to cover up the thermometer that goes with the catalytic converter. I think this was the reason I got the smaller cast iron dutch oven. My other one is just too big to fit on this small surface.

It is great fun to go into the store room and pick out things we have grown and preserved to put into a meal. This time was no different. Yesterday I baked a goat loin and had some meat leftover that would go great in a soup along with some green beans, squash and carrots. I used corn, onion and tomatoes from the store. The potatoes we grew in the spring are starting to sprout quite well, so I used some of them and a jar of the dried pinto beans we canned. Add some salt, pepper, dried minced garlic, barley and parsley and we’re in business.

Now to let it simmer on the stove for the afternoon and dinner will be ready. 

The blessings of a simple life never cease to amaze me. It’s not that this life is not a lot of work. And it’s not that this life is not way outside the norm and looked upon with some derision. After all, it’s so much easier to go and buy it at the store. It’s just that this quiet, simple life is what feeds our souls with a deep and abiding satisfaction. It gives us confidence and knowledge that we can provide for ourselves given the time and opportunity. I pray that the privilege of living our lives the way we see fit will always be an opportunity before us and not a memory behind us.

Until next time – Fern