Saturday, February 20, 2016

Early spring weekend

It's sunny/cloudy/rainy here, and C. has been bopping around the garden, digging here, moving that, fussing like gardeners do. I see her out the window because I'm feeling indoorsy.

I dragged out the seed-starting gear and set it up in the dining room window. The window sill is too narrow for the pair of mid-century plant lights, so I widened it with stone tiles, packing the space underneath with rope lights, the poor woman's heat mat. The lights work beautifully – they provide a mellow, steady heat that the tiles hold and radiate, they're waterproof, and they impart an eerie red glow to the room. Very sci-fi. Proper heat mats are crazy expensive, about $20 to heat a single flat. Rope lights are pretty cheap, especially if you bum them from Emma.

It's an improvement on last year's setup – I'd hung a heavy wire shelf on chains suspended from the ceiling, and attached heavy shop lights to the bottom of the shelf and put heavy flats of older seedlings above. It came crashing down one day, dirt and plants and trays flying. Plant lives were lost. I may have cussed while cleaning up. There might have been a tantrum. I forget.

So this year's lighting is better. We haven't yet ordered seeds, waiting for the tax return. We do have a bunch left from past years, though, enough to get started. Most seeds are still viable after three or four years. I don't think we'll try the ones from 1999, though.

C. found a woman who wants to trade a nice little grey rooster for Satan's own hen, and I'll buzz to town tomorrow morning to make the deal. Dovey, the little bearded hen, is going to be thrilled to have a pleasant companion. We'll be thrilled to be rid of Henley the bully, and this nice woman is convinced her larger flock with several roosters will tame Henley.

Here's the new guy, Graham, half silkie, half serama. The silkie is the Phyllis Diller of chickens, a small, fuzzy, goofy thing with feathers on its feet, and seramas are toy chickens, hardly chickens at all, so you could call him small. But no rooster ever thinks of himself as small. He carries his fluffy tail high and puffs out his chest, and darn it, he's plenty big enough to defend his family, and his legs are long enough to reach the ground. 

Left, the fuzzy silkie; right, the tiny serama.

Here, he's making a funny little noise and pretending to find goodies in the dirt. She's interested. (She's the one with the beard.)

I'm still cleaning the rabbit room daily as well as opening jars and using scissors for C., who has bruised  her right hand in a wood-splitting mishap. She knocked the metal wedge into a log, and it bounced back up and smacked her in the back of her hand on the knuckle of her middle finger. She won't be flipping the bird anytime soon. That's my job now.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Kefir time!

Ew! Aren't they weird? Like soft cauliflower bits.

First I made my milk connection. Rose, who lives just up the hill, sells lovely cow's milk for $3 a gallon. I'm thinking pudding. I'm thinking yoghurt. And cheese. Huh. I did some research on making cheese - it's really complicated. And you need rennent, which comes from calf stomachs. Vegetarians don't have much to do with calf stomachs. Yep, you can get vegetable rennent, but most of it is GMO. And cheese is fussy about temperature. And has to age. Not a project for an impatient slob.

So now I have a fridge full of milk and I'm intimidated by cheese.

Kefir became Plan B - it's easy to make (the grains do all the work) and it's super good for you. Probiotics, you know. Like 50,000 different cultures. And it's 99-percent lactose free. I'm not a lactard, but that can change.

I bought a margarine-tub full of kefir grains from a nice woman in the valley. You have to have connections, man. Can't just order kefir makings on

OK, I just checked that, and you CAN order kefir grains from Amazon.

Well, I'm feeling a lot less special.

I'll give you the basics, anyway. You keep the grains in the fridge in a jar, in a cup or two of milk. (Raw milk is best, but most kinds will work except for ultra pasturized. It's just too dead.) So the grains can chill in there for about a week without harm. When you're ready to make kefir, rinse the grains in cold water in a plastic sieve, and plop them into a clean jar on the counter. Fill the jar with milk. I usually make a half-gallon at a time. They say it takes 12-24 hours at 70 degrees to turn into kefir. I don't have central heating, so it takes two-three days to make a batch (at least in the winter).

As it brews it thickens and develops an interesting tart flavor. I stop mine when it's pretty thick, and a little layer of yellow whey appears. You can go longer, if you like a slight fizz and increasing sourness in your kefir. If you let it go too long and it's just too tart for you, make cheese (without rennet!) or feed it to the chickens and dogs. So I sieve out the grains, rinse them and store them in a little milk in the fridge. The kefir goes in a jar or bowl in the fridge. One thing - kefir doesn't like metal, so it's best if you use plastic or glass utensils and containers.

Fear of kefir

It took a few small batches before I was brave enough to actually drink it. I liked the idea of making my own (screw The Man, yeah!), liked supporting my local farmer, liked the sweet commercial varieties, wanted the healthy effects, but when it came time to actually swill it down… I poured it into the dog bowl. "Ew," she whined, "It's been sitting out for days, is kinda sour, and looks like calf slobber." The dogs were looking fat and glossy, but I didn't feel any better. Huh.

I finally shamed myself into trying a pint or so with a banana, frozen blueberries and a scoop of frozen apple-juice concentrate, all buzzed up with a stick blender in a wide-mouth quart jar. Delicious! Now I have one every morning. And I'm planning to build a goat-proof fortress for some blueberry plants. And to freeze small batches of berries and fruits from the garden this year, until every smoothie ingredient is homegrown. Mmm.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

No snow!

Because it's spring! I know it's early, but the Canada geese are honking so, and I believe them.

Savvy says she's ready for spring and green grass and garden stuff.

Warning: Old person may discuss health problems. Deal with it.

So I've been not blogging because I was obsessing about health stuff, and who wants to read that? Not even me. (And thank you, dear reader, for not complaining.) But I like to blog, dammit, and if I start to wallow in heath worries, you can stop reading and send me a snarky comment. And I'll pull it together.

About the health stuff: one neurologist said multiple sclerosis, my naturopath says B12 deficiency. I vote with the naturopath, and am taking B12, D, and lots of other supplements. So far, any improvements have been small or subtle or nonexistent. It could be a long, slow process and I will persist. (If I give up I can always go to the MS clinic, where they admit they can't do a damn thing for primary progressive MS but probably have support groups so we can sit in a circle and talk about we used to be able to walk and hike and put our pants on...) I do get pissed when I think about all the doctors I've seen (including my GP) who rush with enthusiasm to diagnose MS, and refuse to even test for B12. Same. Exact. Symptoms. They can confirm B12 with a good blood test - not the standard inferior serum test - versus multiple MRIs and spinal taps and conjecture for MS. What's wrong with the American medical system? (maniacal laughter) And the outlook for B12 deficiency is a complete cure, if you don't wait too long. Neurological damage can become permanent if you delay B12 treatment. And who just wasted two years going to doctors and neurologists and surgeons? Hmmm? Feh. OK, I'm done with my medical kvetching. But it wouldn't hurt you to take a good B-vitamin supplement, just in case. (And take the methylcobalamin B12 sublingual from Superior Source. B12 source  The cyancobalamin kind is crap.) You can't overdose on B12, but a deficiency can cripple and even kill you. Word.

Your doctor won't take care of you (unless you have the trendy disease of the moment.) You have to do it yourself.

Back to the farm


We've got seed-starting on the agenda for the weekend – onions, I think. I've inventoried the leftover seeds and we'll need to order a few things before the end of the month. We're planning the perfect garden, of course. Plants started earlier, water systems better, paths wider! We want to grow more sunflowers (the rabbits love the dried seed heads in the winter) and green beans (the deer ate too many last year) and amaranth (chicken feed in the winter) and greens (we could use many more barrels of dried kale and such for rabbit hay), and maybe fewer cucumbers (we have many many jars of pickles still) and tomatoes (ditto).

Losses over the winter include Buzzy the black hen and two – three? – guineas. The little grey hen is named Dovey, and she is laying lovely blue eggs. We need to get a nice rooster to protect her from her evil Aunt Henley. And more hens, too.

Looking forward to a new year!