12 October, 2012

Where to even begin…

Let’s see. Since I last updated:

1) Esk had her baby, Mixed Blessings Sophia (Sophie to her friends). Unlike the previous two does, who chose to make me stay up all night with them, Esk didn’t even let me know she was in labor. We went out for evening goat check one tuesday night and bam, baby goat.

2) Josie and First didn’t work out at their new home, so they’re back at the Manor for the moment. Once I get some good pics of them, they’ll go back on the For Sale page.

3) Frankie Four Feet has a home, he’ll be going to Roanoke once he’s old enough to be weaned. So he needs to come off the for sale page.

4) I am having a horrible time keeping up with a full time class load and suspect I’m going to have to just cave and drop two classes.

5) Great things are in the works! Which is part of why I’ve been busy as hell. But look for a site redesign coming soon, along with my new project which is mysterious and fabulous and other things ending in ous!

Oh, and I got an update from Crispin and Clementine’s people, so I’m queueing up a picture of them which will brighten your entire day.

13 September, 2012

In love with dirt, or: Becoming the Fungus Fairy

One of the amazing things about my life is the amazing people in it. Today I got a package of fungus spores from Bountiful Gardens (along with some seeds I had also ordered). These two things are intimately connected.

My friend Gowan, you see, is a Horticultural Oracle, and a great gift she has given me is to share her love of dirt.

Most of us don’t think to much about the dirt, really. It’s there, the plants grow in it and we walk on it, and some things burrow through it, but mostly we fail to appreciate that dirt is not a dead and inert mass of decayed organic matter and pulverized rock and whatever minerals are leached out of the rain. It’s a ginormous organism, teeming with life. Macro organisms like earthworms are there, sure, but also micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi, that work together with plants to make plants healthier and more efficient at extracting nutrients from soil and putting nutrients into soil. Beneath our feet are entire worlds.

Conventional farming kills these tiny, complex worlds. The plowing and harrowing and tilling break up the delicate networks of micorrhizae, expose tender bacteria to ultraviolet light from the sun and the drying air above ground. We plant our crops in soil impoverished by the death and destruction of the soil organisms, and as a result end up having to drench them in chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

So here I am with a back acre that was denuded of topsoil a decade or two ago by a rapacious former owner, goats and chickens to feed, and the excellent guidance of a Horticultural Oracle to lead me on my way. In hand I have packets of seeds — legumes, vetches, grasses — and packets of soil organisms. Also, I have a steady and reliable supply of chicken and goat manure, along with their used bedding, which is working on becoming compost (with help from the chickens themselves). But it would take a lot more compost than I’ve got to get the back acre turned from a desolate wasteland of thorny brush and invasive trash pines into good forage for the critters, hence the seeds and spores.

The goats have done a magnificent job of clearing away what dead growth there was and pruning back the pine trees until the plants that are there could get some sunshine. The chickens did some loosening of the soil surface but not enough, so I cheated and got my neighbor to run over the naked bits with his tiller just this once, so that my seeds and spores wouldn’t just slide off the compacted surface of the clay at the first rain. The chickens, helpfully, have been going over the tilled areas and breaking the big clumps of soil up, and also pooping and then tilling that into the soil for me, so there’s little pockets of plant nutrition here and there.

After this Saturday, the poor chickens will lose their liberty for a while. Hopefully I will sell off all the spare bantams, and then the chickens will be confined to quarters so that I can go traipsing through the tilled bits of the back acre, scattering seeds and spores and water without being followed by mob of ravenous feathery beasts intent on snarfing down my precious seeds. After that, it’s up to the seeds, the spores, and the good Lord’s inclination to give me lots of sunshine but just enough rain to germinate the little buggers. By springtime, it is entirely possible that the blighted back acre will be well on its way to an accelerated recovery of topsoil, helped along by the application of extra compost when available and deposits of used goat bedding and fallen leaves from the oak trees. With grace, the dead areas will turn green with clover and vetch and grasses and brassicas, and once the plant life is mature enough that it’s no longer primarily water, the goats and chickens will be turned loose to devour and turn the greenery into more compost, which will decay there on the dirt and provide food for yet more plants.

Some day, I may even be able to look back at that acre and see a pasture of amazing rich forage with nearly entirely recovered soil, and I won’t need to monitor it as religiously for a need for another application of seed or spores. All because Gowan shared with me a love of dirt.

27 August, 2012

Holding Pattern

The school semester has started up, which means I have added a full-time class load to the goats and chickens and dogs and cats. This time around at least I’m not trying to also juggle working full time. My whole goal for this semester is to get through it without the kind of life-changing upheaval that had me giving up entirely on Math last time, as the news I was about to lose my job hit at the same time as math class hit statistics, a branch of math that I’ve never learned before. Didn’t learn it that time, either, I must admit.

Anyway, once this semester and a computer competency test are out of the way, I’ll have my associate’s degree and have to pick a real major and decide what I want to be when I grow up. I’m trying not to think about it as it’s kind of stressful and I’ve got enough going on.

Meanwhile, Annabelle is due to give birth any minute now. We’re just waiting on her tail ligaments to soften to declare that she’s about to have babies; as some of you may recall Josie taunted me like this for nearly a month. At least this time I know when Annabelle was bred so I have a definite date range. Esk is due right after her, so this fall will see a crop of bouncing baby goats. Tiny ones. I predict amazing amounts of cuteness.

The barn I ordered will get here sometime in the next couple weeks. I’m sincerely hoping it gets here before Annabelle gives birth, because it will make the whole labor and delivery thing way easier, but I’m not holding my breath. Knowing goats, Annabelle will have her babies some weekday morning at 0300, and at 0800 the barn place will call me and offer to deliver the barn. This is how the world works when goats are involved.

To try and keep myself sane I’ve been making sure I take time every morning to sit with the goats and enjoy their company. It’s pretty peaceful out there. You can see pics from my Morning Breakfast Meetings with Goats at my Flickr account or, if you’re on Instagram, you can find me as mixedblessings (of course).

6 August, 2012

The beat goes on

Ah, a four-day gap. That’s more like me.

Most of it, of course, is that nothing particularly exciting has happened here. I mean, I did find a saddle-blanket seat cover for the front seat of the Big Blue Beast, and get it all registered and titled and stuff so it’s street legal and now I’m having to resist the urge to drive it EVERYWHERE including to places that, let us face it, do not have parking spots designed for an F350 crew cab dually.

Also I keep trolling the free stuff section of Craigslist, looking for some enormously tacky piece of yard art. Preferably a big one. That I can put in my truck and bring home. My deep and deeply weird love of tacky items is a source of great mistification to my husband on occasion. It’s also sometimes a source of mortification for him, like when we were at Stonehenge and I bought a little plastic model of the place.

Oh and predictably, as soon as I said “dang, I’m going to have to dry May off” her abscess started shrinking. I think it was because she was horrified by the prospect of losing her snack of sweet feed twice a day when she gets milked. Goats, who can figure them.

2 August, 2012

Blogging two days in a row?!

I know, it’s like hell has frozen over or something.

Today, I get to go pick up Ambrosia! I am excited, especially since May managed to give herself an abscess biting the inside of her cheek and it didn’t respond to antibiotics, which means I am going to have to call the vet out to drain it. She’ll be under enough stress without having to produce tons of delicious milk, so I’ll be drying her off earlier than intended. Luckily Ambrosia is already in milk, so we will not be forced to go back to buying cow milk from the grocery store. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with cow milk, just that when you’re used to drinking raw milk with about twice the butterfat content of whole pasteurized/homogenized cow milk from the store, well, the store milk tastes kind of bland.

Actually it tastes like slimy water.

Ahem.

In other news, because I know I have tea drinkers out there reading and because I like to ruin your budget by presenting you with the coolest stuff I can find, let me point you to my friend Summer’s tea sale. You should probably also be reading her blog, because holy crap does that lady do some amazing things with food that is gluten-free and tailored for a range of other food allergies. I wish she lived next door, because I’d totally be providing her with milk and eggs and veggies if she would just, y’know, share her leftovers. At any rate, check out her teas!

1 August, 2012

News Round Up

I know, lazy blogger again. I blame the weather, which has been storming a lot, which always ups my pain levels.

Anyway.

Josie and First (now Fiona) have gone off to a new home! I struggled over whether to sell Josie as she is a sweetheart with people, but the fact remains that she’s aggressive with smaller goats, and with Annabelle and Esk due to give birth in September I’m about to have a large passle of small goats around. So anyway, a friend of a friend was looking for goats, and thus off Josie went with Fiona in tow.

Speaking of Annabelle, she is HUGE. Given the changes to her back end, I’m not expecting her to go far past her earliest due date of August 26th. Tiny goats ahoy! Esk may be up to a month later, she’s not showing the same signs of impending goatlings but lagging behind her sister. I’m OK with that.

I have an actual two-stall barn being delivered at some point in the next month. Yee haw! I am kind of hoping it gets here before Annabelle gives birth, because it would make life ever so much easier. At any rate, one 10′ x 10′ stall will be the Goat Ladies’ Boudoir, the other will be for milking, kidding, and feed storage. There may be a Barn Painting Party involved. Mostly because I am kind of inclined to throw a party.

Soon I’ll be bringing home a new doe from Pun Kids Farm, Love-R-Goats Ambrosia (scroll down on this page to see her). She’s a lovely La Mancha doe who will provide me with a full-size milker to back May up. I was over at Pun Kids a couple weeks ago to learn how to give a goat a show clip, and Ambrosia relentlessly sucked up to me — nibbling delicately at my fingers, asking for love, and otherwise being utterly charming. Who was I to say no when I heard she was for sale? We were already in love! Anyway, I am excited to add such a lovely doe, and looking forward to feeding her cookies for years to come.

I also managed to convince Pun Kids to take the bearded silkies, since we’re re-organizing the flock to be more self-sufficient and let us face it, while bearded silkies are totally adorable floof balls, they are not exactly what you want for a flock that free-ranges to keep the bugs down. To be honest, I seriously need to cut down the number of bantams in general, which means getting pics of the actual pairs for sale (we have several pairs of bantam Sumatras along with Old English Game Bantams!) and updating the For Sale page now that the bearded silkies and the goats are off it.

School starts in 3 weeks, my last semester at the local community college to finish up my general education requirements, and then I need to figure out what the hell I’m doing in terms of a bachelor’s degree. I have no idea. On the other hand, I came up to BrooksfieldSchool.org site the other day, and I think I figured where my kids are going to assist next year.

I have a big blue truck. I am in love with it. Daniel keeps having to stop me from finding random things to throw in the bed and haul around. Look!
An enormous dark blue pick up truck with a full-size, four-door cab and an 8 foot long bed.  IT HAS LIGHTS ON TOP YOU GUYS. Also it is approximately twice as long as either Honda CRV which was previously the biggest thing I've driven.
It has a diesel engine so it actually gets 22mpg which is not bad for a freakin ginormous truck. It can haul a LITERAL TON OF STUFF in the bed. Like, I can put 2,000 pounds of ANYTHING in there. ANYTHING I WANT.

Ahem. So there’s my life lately — how are you?

24 July, 2012

Eat Like The Nobility: Memories of J

So Miss May gives us about 3 quarts of milk a day. This maybe doesn’t sound like a lot if your house features several kids who like milk, but for two adults it’s more than plenty. This leads to me getting creative with the milk, because with such a surplus there’s no harm in experimenting, and it won’t go to waste — if nothing else, we can compost it and use it to grow nommy vegetables.

My latest Dairy Experiment had people looking at me funny when I brought it up, but when they actually tasted it they were forced to agree that it was pretty divine. It reminds me of my friend J, not only because she took me out for ice cream when I visited her, but because she has this perfect voice when she wants to: low, smooth, and soothing. I am pretty sure that J could convince me that it’s perfectly fine for rabid weasels to gnaw my leg off, because that’s what kind of voice it is. She can turn this amazing vocal apparatus on and off at the drop of a hat, going from “don’t mind those rabid weasels” to expressively joking about how the rabid weasels are coming for you. Actually generally she’s just a pretty amazing person. But her Don’t Mind The Weasels voice reminds me of chocolate. Also, she knows where to find the best ice cream ever.

You’ll need an ice cream maker and:

3c fresh experimental goat cheese, made from two gallons of fresh goat milk and 1 packet fromage blanc starter & 1 packet chevre starter. If you can’t get this, you can substitute cream cheese.
2c or so fresh goat milk. If you don’t have your own goat, you may substitute half and half from the store. Or heavy cream. Ice cream is NOT the time to worry about your cholesterol levels, ok?
3/4c white cane sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1c cocoa

Mix the 3c of cheese with milk until you get a smooth, kinda but not really liquidy texture. I tried doing this in my blender. My blender now hates me. Unless you have a heavy-duty blender, you should do this in a bowl with a spatula, instead. Once you have a nice smooth kinda but not really liquidy texture from your dairy products, go ahead and fold in the sugar, vanilla, and cocoa. Mix well. Adjust the texture one last time with any last-minute additions of liquid milk.

Then stuff as much of the mixture as will fit into your ice cream maker, and leave it there until it becomes a delicious smooth creamy chocolatey amazing frozen treat. While you’re waiting, eat the leftovers that didn’t fit in the ice cream maker with a spoon, or possibly use them to ice some cupcakes if you happen to have any naked cupcakes sitting around.

Wait for the heat index to climb into triple digits, break out your amazing treat, and enjoy. I suggest having it for dinner, because that’s the kind of carefree life I lead, what with not having children to raise.

PS — TomorrowThursday the goats will make the call on the Soap Giveaway. Did you tell me which soap of Kate’s you’d like to try, yet? You have 2036 hours to get your entry in! (Edited because I realize I’d said the goats would pick on the 26th, leaving entries open through the 25th)

20 July, 2012

In which I bleed for my goats.

A few days ago, Daniel and I moved the goat fence. This is not as weird as it sounds, with seven goats and a relatively small area for them to graze we’re more or less using a managed intensive grazing method by default. So what we use is ElectroStop netting from Premier1 Supplies, plus an energizer for it that puts out about 5,000 volts or more than enough zap to deter goaties from going through the fence. Although Siri did figure out how to get under at one point, but we’ve got that licked.

Anyway, the fence posts have spikes at the bottom to stick into the dirt, which means the timing of moving the fence is complicated by things like “has there been recent rain, so that the ground is not comparable in hardness to concrete and therefore impossible to drive a spike into?”. Which means that although the fence has needed to be moved for a while, we haven’t been able to move it as the ground hasn’t had a good soaking. Luckily we got a couple, and went merrily out to move the fence.

It all went very well until I found a tick crawling on me during a shade-and-water break, at which point I kind of a did a bizarre flailing thing that brought the side of my right arm into contact with an edge on the milk crate I was sitting on (I know, I didn’t realize plastic milk crates had sharp edges, either) at just the right (or possibly wrong) angle and suddenly I’m bleeding like a stuck pig and possibly requiring stitches.

Since we don’t have medical insurance anymore and doctors are expensive and I’m up to date on my tetanus boosters anyway, I didn’t get stitches. I did however come inside, clean the thing with multiple antiseptic agents, and then get Daniel to tape it shut with Bandaids before we wrapped it with a big gauze pad (all right, fine, it was actually an enormous “overnight” maxi pad from a pack I bought last time Tink needed bandaging) and an ace bandage for pressure to stop the bleeding.

The bleeding at least did stop once there was pressure on it, although after I showered it thought about starting up again. I’m liable to have a funky scar there, but oh well, my husband digs chicks with scars. And then my husband refused to let me go help him finish moving the goat fence on the grounds that I’d start bleeding again and possibly bleed to death right there on the back acre, and he was not going to deal with that on top of the heat and the humidity, because a dead wife is a pain in the ass. He has a point, I guess.

But let this be a lesson to you, gentle readers: ticks and milk crates do not mix. Also, stay up to date on your tetanus shots.

1 July, 2012

Eat Like The Nobility

Well, the minor nobility here at the Manor of Mixed Blessings, anyway. I made dinner the other night and I am excessively proud of it because I am one of those people who Does Not Cook. For a lot of reasons, including that sometimes cooking is scary. But here is my recipe for amazing veggie frittata! If I do it again when we’ve had more rain, I’ll rummage some wild onion tops out of the yard, because they’d give it a nice garlicky flavor. You may wish to add a small (or large) clove of garlic to the sucker.

1 zucchini
1 small buttercup squash
1 onion
1 handful of peapods
1 blorp of olive oil
8 large eggs, or their equivalent in the various sized eggs you have sitting around your refrigerator because your hens over produce for what you actually eat, and most of your hens are bantams anyway.

Cut all the veggies up into small chunks that will cook reasonably quickly while being sauteed. Break your eggs into a bowl and beat them into submission. Heat a cast-iron skillet over the high end of medium heat. When it’s hot, pour in a blorp of olive oil — this is a technical term for “the amount of olive oil you are about to need to sautee a bunch of vegetables.” Add the onions, cook until tender. Add the other vegetables. Cook them until they’re tender, too. Pour in the eggs and stir everything up until there is egg everywhere in the skillet, then stop touching it. Let cook until the sides have set, then stick the skillet under the broiler on Low for about four minutes, or until a knife stuck into the middle comes out clean.

Make your husband remove the heavy skillet from the oven. Cut into slices. Enjoy.

I am most proud because everything but the olive oil and the onion came from our own efforts, or the efforts of our hens in the case of the eggs! Om nom nom, sweet tasty victory. Next year maybe we’ll figure out how to grow onions, and any day now I’ll figure out my cream separator and make our own butter, and then the WHOLE FREAKIN MEAL can be home-grown.

13 June, 2012

Baby Animal Central

This weekend I get to pick up my final addition to the goat herd — a baby Nubian girl from Chribrydon. After that, there may be one last goat if Esk gives me a doeling, since I’d like to keep one from her.

Excitingly, my pumpkin Hulsey eggs should start hatching day after tomorrow. We’ll put the incubating on hold after that, at least for Old English Game Bantams, and let the little ones we’ve got grow up some so we can make final decisions about who will go and who will stay. We’ve also got five standard-size ginger red Old English Gamefowl coming in from Cackle Hatchery; I’m interested to see how they grow up. But clearly I need to get less lazy about taking pictures, because the Manor is overflowing with adorable baby animals right now and there’s only going to be MORE CUTE coming.

Meanwhile all the other residents are doing just fine. But we do need to build a bunch of chicken tractors so we can get the feathery residents of the Manor out on grass, and reserve the heavily weather-proofed pens for winter, which will give them a chance to get much less, well, chickeny. We’ll be using plans from Mother Earth News, but not buying the kit they endorse, which costs $250 for the PVC frame. I mean, really. You can go buy the PVC at Lowe’s for around $20 and cut it and bend it yourself. There’s only so much I’m willing to spend in the name of convenience.

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