Thursday, July 24, 2014

CC Post: What's Up With the Cornish Cross?

Check out my latest Community Chickens post for some reflection on this common meat bird breed. What's Up With the Cornish Cross?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Continues at Iron Oak Farm

Last week was a productive and exciting week. Productive, in that the barn is filling with hay. And with each bale that stacks in the Lego block mass I feel more and more at ease about the coming winter. Our count so far this season is 240. I'll feel comfortable if we can get to 400. The last two haying seasons have been dismal to say the least. First we were plagued with a hot, drought ridden summer, followed by the next summer, filled with rain. Combine that with equipment that's not in working order and it makes for a frustrating season. And to buy it? Well... everyone else was having the same frustrations with the weather which left the hay in our area scarce and expensive.

Haying, when things are going well, can be extremely satisfying and methodical. And though it's hard work, I enjoy it. It makes you feel alive. That's how I feel this year. It's a good feeling.

Last week was exciting in that we added a new member to the Iron Oak Farm family. Timber, our new buckling. I'm so excited to breed him with our girls this fall and have a fresh supply of milk flowing in for cheese, soaps and all kinds of dairy delights. We should have Nubian kids for sale in the spring too so if you're interested let me know.

Timber is settling in. I took him out of quarantine a little early because he seemed really stressed that he was alone so we have him paired with Ivan, our Alpine whether. They seem to be pals, although I think Timber thinks he's a people because he'd rather be with us than any of the goats. He went for a ride in the hay wagon yesterday out to the field with us to pick up the bales and he followed us everywhere tasting each bale as it went into the wagon. I'm glad he's snugly...I wanted a friendly buck. (For more on Timber click here, Meet Timber.)

The garden is coming in nicely. The zucchini are starting to really produce and if I'm not careful and keep them picked, they explode into giant squashes seemingly overnight. I call those zucchini bread size.

Most of the problems I was having with pests seems to be under control by spraying a mixture of Dawn and water every few days or after it rains. The Asparagus Beetle is gone, and I only lost one stem. I think the damaged plant should be fine coming back next year.

Our leghorns started laying this week as well. Beautiful white eggs. It's been so long since we've had a white layer it was almost a novelty among the blues, greens and browns.

The farms around us are growing grains this year. So Zach and I went for a drive to photograph some of the beautiful fields and crops.

  Some are a darker reddish color and others are golden.

Other farms around us are haying too. I love to watch the big equipment drive down our street in the morning. Large round balers or two story hay wagons filled to the brim. I'm getting to know the tractors just by the sound of them. There's a huge green one that takes up the whole road. I was walking Oliver the other day and we had to stand in the weeds on the side of the road to let him pass. Cars in the opposite lane would have to pull into driveways or backup to the closest cross street to let him through. I loved it!

Alfalfa field near our farm.

The pickles are just starting to come in. We picked our first one yesterday so I'm going to start the pickle jar. We make a brine with dill, vinegar, garlic and salt and store it in the refrigerator. (get the recipe here, Refrigerator Pickles.) As the pickles come in from the garden, I slice them up and add them to the jar. They don't last long around this house.

Picked all the broccoli heads before they flowered this year! Yay! I'm always too late.

Lovely smelling milkweed. Hopefully we'll draw some Monarchs!


To see more of what we're doing at Iron Oak Farm I invite you to visit and "like" our Facebook Page where I share even more photos and updates.   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meet Timber

We'd like to introduce the newest member of the Iron Oak Farm family. Meet Timber our new buckling and Nubian herd sire. After many phone calls and a 4 1/2 hour drive round trip we decided he was the goat for us. He is an ADGA registered pure bred Nubain.

His family called him Noah, which is a name we much that Zach and I have sort of put it aside as a possibility in case we have a human child. So we changed his name to Timber. 

He was born in March which means he should be old enough to impregnate the girls this fall. Which will make for an exciting spring in 2015!

He's been a little shy, and clings to us whenever we're near him. I took him for a walk today back to the property and that seemed to give him some confidence. We'll have to be gentle with him and ease him into the herd and his new surroundings.

Everyone is curious and the girls are eager to meet their new friend, but we're practicing a little quarantine before he meets the herd full on.

Welcome Timber!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mid-Summer at Iron Oak Farm

The summer weeks are flying by. Over the weekend we cleaned the barn, moved stuff around to make room for more hay, and tore down/re-built some of the goat pen fencing. We had a make-shift feed room constructed out of pallets where we store the grain cans, supplements and supplies. It's nice to have that stuff tucked away, because the goats have a way of getting into the open part of the barn, despite our best efforts. A galvanized garbage can lid is no match for a grain-crazed goat. They know just how to get their snout under that lid and bury their head in the can full of grain. So that is also in the process of being moved and re-built. It feels nice to get things organized and I feel like every year it gets a little easier.

So far (knock on wood) the hay equipment and the tractor have been running smoothly. We brought in 102 bales last Sunday and would like to triple that this season. I think we will do it so long as we can orchestrate the weather and the equipment. 

We missed a good haying window these past few days because the forecast said rain, so we held off...but looking back we would have been fine. Hoping to cut again tomorrow or Wednesday. 

The garden is doing great! Things are starting to make their way into the kitchen. I'm blanching and freezing 4 large broccoli heads today. The zucchini is picking size and we enjoy a handful of raspberries or two each evening after dinner.

Our pickles are starting to form baby pickles and I only hope that the dill will hold out.

I might have to freeze some to make sure.  

Swiss chard

Playing around with color settings and some old rakes on the garden fence.

Mamma hen and her brood of 9 chicks enjoying some crumbles.

Ichabod the escape-goat clearing some weeds for us.

  My Egyptian Walking Onions are forming their off shoot bulbets and I picked them off and planted them in the onion bed. I'm fascinated with these onions! I might never have to buy onion sets again!

This pesky, brightly colored bug is giving me asparagus nightmares! It's the Common Asparagus Beetle and it's stripping our first year asparagus of all it's green outer skin. I've been combating it with a solution of Dawn dish soap and water. It seems to be helping even after one application. It's supposed to rain today and after it stops, I'm going to go out and give the plants another coat.

Moon and Stars Watermelon: I grew this variety last year and was really happy with the watermelon flavor. I love the yellow spots that both the fruit and the foliage bear.

Oliver taking advantage of the cool tiles on the front porch.

To see more of what we're doing at Iron Oak Farm I invite you to visit and "like" our Facebook Page where I share even more photos and updates.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

CC Post: Cleaning and Storing Incubators

Have you hatched your last round of chicks for the season? Then check out my latest Community Chicken's post Cleaning and Storing Incubators.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Difficulty of Eating From the Garden

I grew up in a house where meals "looked" a certain way. Breakfast was cereal, hot in the winter, cold in the summer or eggs and toast. Lunch was a sandwich, sometimes with canned soup or a handful of chips. The dinner plate was sectioned in three vectors...meat, starch, and vegetable consisting of a rotation of canned corn, green beans or beets. Now I'm not saying that my mom never veered off of this routine, we had a fair share of taco night and spaghetti, but for the most part, this was the food of my childhood.

And there's nothing wrong with that I guess. We were an average family in the 80's and 90's. Before Food Network, Cupcake Wars and the internet provided an endless supply of recipe inspiration. It was before the term "Foodie" or "Pinterest" ever existed. My mother's system worked. We were fed, full and satisfied...until we grew a garden.

My love of gardening began less with a love of fresh veggies and more with a fascination of watching things grow. When I was a teenager and planted my first tomato plant, I could have honestly cared less as to weather this tomato would taste better than a store bought...that came later. I just wanted to see if I could make a tomato! And I did, and it was awesome!

But gardening is addicting and the fun of growing a tomato soon led to a full out garden with rows of green beans, clusters of lettuce, radishes and cucumbers. And while beautiful, I hadn't the foggiest as to what to do with all this stuff and neither did my mom. We would eat a handful of this or that, some radishes with salt, a slice of tomato in our salad, green beans as a side dish, and again as a side dish, and again and again till we were so sick of green beans that we never wanted to eat them again. And in the mean time, the carrots as a side dish were getting just as monotonous.

So we gave most of it away so that others could have green beans as a side dish too.

As I got older, I started reading about so many people eating from their gardens, saving money and loving all the fresh produce they were picking and consuming. I wanted to think that we were doing the same, but we really weren't. Our grocery bills were just as expensive, I would make my list of needed items and occasionally I wouldn't have to buy lettuce because the lettuce was in ready in the garden that grocery trip. Yippee...

In fact, we were spending more money because by the time I bought the seeds, and the potting soil or the established plants at a nursery it was another $50 to $100 on top of the every present grocery bill.

I wondered how gardeners were eating so many vegetables. Did they use a different seasoning salt each night to make the veggies taste different, were they just salad fanatics, part rabbit?   

It took a while, but eventually the light went on and I remember the day when I had the epiphany.

Zach and I were picking peas...we always grow know, as a side dish. It was dinner time and we were picking peas to go with meatloaf. The raw peas were so delicious that we were snapping and enjoying them right off the vine. I felt guilty about not filling my basket for dinner but one pod after another, the sweet burst of green popped delightfully in my mouth until a realization came over me. I was full!

I remember telling Zach, "These are so good I don't even care if we have meatloaf." And it was there! That exact moment when it clicked for me.

I realized that the problem was not in finding a magic way to prepare vegetables, as it was in re-examining what our meals should look like. What our plate should look like.

And so, over the years breakfast, lunch and dinner look different from my childhood. Breakfast might be tomato slices and leftover sweet potato. Lunch might be fried zucchini and a salad, dinner might be roasted eggplant with honey carrots and eggs. Every once in a while my mom will call me while I'm eating and exclaim "You're eating WHAT at 8:00 in the morning?!"

She's gotten away from gardening, it never really was her thing. She is a creature of habit...and so am I. We don't always eat the way I'd like to. But it's getting easier. I have my own repertoire of seasonal recipes that correlate with the garden. I've learned to can things and cook from scratch, I also start every meal with what's available in the garden, rather than trying to find a way to fit it on our already established plate.

Nowadays, I feel like we would perish in the summer without fresh herbs and there are things like tomato and squash season that have engrained so richly into Zach's and my life that I wouldn't feel whole without them. They are a tradition that I long for all year round.

I write this today because occasionally cooking from the garden still feels intimidating to me even though I've been doing it for a while now. The idea of "farm to table" isn't as nearly as easy as the actual act of "farm to table". The "simple life" is almost never simple and delicious homegrown veggies take skill, patience, work and time to make them into creative meals.

I read about urban food deserts, and how the skills of gardening are becoming a lost art with newer generations. Children raised on fast food and processed meals are at an all time high.

It's encouraging to think that there are movements to try and get veggies growing in abandoned inner city real-estate and farmers markets are blossoming up everywhere. The "Grow Food Not Lawns" meme makes it through my Facbook feed on almost a daily basis.

So to those of you who are just starting out, don't get discouraged. Magazines, websites...heck, even I'm guilty of it on our own page, want to paint an idyllic pastoral image of baskets of sun ripened tomatoes magically turning into ball jars filled with homemade marinara. Many times I don't include the details about how the wind knocked over the tomato steaks and now half the fruits are squished and rotten. Or how the goats busted through the fence and ate half the pickings, or how the canning pot boiled too rapidly and three of the jars broke, leaking tomato gunk all through the boiling water bath.

But for the most part, our lives are filled with beauty. And that beauty is something that inspires me to keep going even when it feels like every living creature on this farm is against me. And that's the part that is so fun to share. The romance. It's the romance that got me where I am today. Would I have wanted to grow a garden had someone told me all the things that can go wrong? Would I want to raise goats if I'd known how hard it is to loose one? Maybe not.

No, I fell in love with the white-picket-fence of it all. And I hope you do too. Because though the fence might be chipping paint and grey with weather beating, it's sturdy enough to keep in the dream of returning to a natural system. The system that feeds, nourishes and continues from the earth and gives life to our soul.      

So my advice? Start small, dream big and learn to eat green beans for breakfast.