Friday, August 28, 2015

Recipe: Jalapeno Jelly

Yesterday I talked about "making hay while the sun shines" and today was another day when I had to juggle the list. The most pressing big project right now is a fenced backyard, but the garden presented me with two colanders full of food and priorities changed. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not so good at changes in my plan or routine, but I'm getting better at handling my seemingly endless list of To Be Done.

Some days the Overwhelm settles at the base of my spine and paralyzes me when the list seems too long and the day too short. Today's list was little and frankly I'm not finished with it yet, but I don't feel the weird burden on my shoulders of an unfinished list. Many days, I piddle around rootless while produce and milk and chores pile up because I simply can't get focused because there are too many things to do.

But as the garden slows down and the days get shorter that capital O-Overwhelm has quieted. The edges are dull and it threatens less and less. There are a few things that have to be done today yet...wash the eggs for sale, grate some mozzarella for the freezer,  and of course there is still dinner and the dishes and the evening chores, but the day passed quickly, the work got done, and the Overwhelm stayed away.

This summer the garden has been abundant and to waste even the tiniest bit seems to me the worst kind of disrespect. I say this frequently about our milk, that to waste it means that I am disrespecting my girls and all the work I ask them to do. To be bred, kid, and then produce milk for a full year is the hardest kind of waste that milk that took so much to produce...well, I just can't do it.

Sometime in mid-summer when I was watering, harvesting, and canning most days...hours and hours in the occurred to me that to waste the produce was to disrespect myself, my soil, the plants themselves. I started those seeds in January, nursed them through the brutal cold of February, planted them in March and April, cheered them on when the rain tried to drown them in May, harvested in the late May mud,  harvested in June, July, waste anything meant I was wasting my time all the way back to January. 

So, what do you do with a colander each of okra and jalapeños? The okra was quickly sliced and frozen in quart bags....the tough ones split and thrown to the chickens. The jalapeños took a little more work...I chose to ferment the bulk of them using this recipe from Nourished Kitchen. Then I made jalapeño jelly. I've been making this jelly a long time. It's a favorite over cream cheese or with peanut butter (oh golly, with the peanut butter!!!). My recipe is well-worn, goopy, stained, and I don't actually follow all the directions anymore, but this is the one I use and I'm not even tempted to try another. Tried and true, this one.

Though I don't always like the share my favorite, "signature" recipes, I'm sharing today because I seek out recipes and advice and help through blogs and Facebook and various other venues on the internet and this is just a small way to pay it forward. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The "Making Hay" Equation

 No, we don’t literally make our own hay, but this lovely little cliche so accurately sums up the way that we work on the farm that I say it at least three times a week. The original proverb dates from 1546 (according to Phrase Finder and it went thusly:

When the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say. 
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.

This farming business is exhausting, but I’ve slowly come to realize that while we are forced to “make hay” when we have the time and more importantly when the weather is optimal, we are also allowed some respite when the weather just won’t allow the work. Figuring this out has somehow made it easier to tackle hard jobs, but it has taken me awhile to figure this out.

Last winter when I was clearing brush and fence lines so we could pull new wire and create rotational paddocks for the goats I hadn’t yet figured out this “make hay” equation. Clearing brush is work reserved for winter when the snakes are sleeping and the bugs and spiders are absent too. I had big plans for those woods. Those rotational paddocks were going to solve all the goat’s problems. I had a calendar and a schedule and I was getting it done. 

I set up the first paddock using the creek bed as the fence line and the girls, though skittish enjoyed several weeks of serious browsing. Then it started to rain and the plan fell apart and I couldn’t quite handle it. I had a plan and dammit, I wanted to stick to it. I’m rigid like that sometimes.

When it started raining in May, it didn’t stop until we had logged almost 20 inches. The tank overflowed, the creek flowed all summer, and the grass and weeds grew high.  We couldn’t rotate paddocks. The electric fence went under water and I had to wade the length of the creek to retrieve it. I rolled it up and stored it. I moped around because my plan was screwed up and all was lost. Every day we had to do some other weather related triage. Our barns flooded, roofs leaked, trees died from too much water. We laid out cardboard for the milkers to walk on. We threw hay three times a day. We dug drainage ditches. We squelched and slopped around in mud for more than a month and nothing else got done. The weather dictated our actions. We did what had to be done and oddly I started to relax a little, to go with the flow.

We had other plans for the summer that were left for later because of those rains in May. The creek dried up to puddles just a week ago (this is August), but this last bit of rain has it running again. We still can’t get to the mulch pile, so we can’t finish the garden. We can’t mow and we can’t clear the brush and the goats are confined to the same old pastures, but don’t mistake this for bitching about the rain. This is about me and my rigid routines. About plans foiled.

Now, instead of focusing on the tasks we can’t do, we shuffle the list. I'm getting better at this. We got an inch and a half of rain two days ago, so the surface is soft and there are fence posts to be dug. So we dig. The compost needs to be turned, but it is too wet. So we wait. The grass could be mowed, but it is wet. So we wait. The goats would love to browse the woods but the creek is running again. So they wait. 

I’ve been “making hay” all summer and I’ve been working on the “making hay” equation too. I’m learning to be more flexible, to do what I can, when I can. I’m learning to listen when the weather says, “No. Not now, just wait awhile” and I’m grateful for that respite.

The weather is teaching me to be flexible, to be industrious, to relax, to be grateful. It is funny how a little change in perspective can smooth things over. This week I’m doing the hard work of digging post holes in the heat, with fire ants biting and sweat rolling off my body, but I’m happy to do it because it feels right and true, because the ground is soft and the time is right. It is what I am supposed to be doing… "making hay while the sun shines.”  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Mail Never Stops

I swear I think about writing on this old blog almost every day. I write the posts in my head....(I have to talk to someone, even if it is just my own-self). I'd be willing to bet I've written at least 25 posts in my head...all forgotten now, but I did find myself pondering this issue of wanting to write, yet never making time for it. Thing is, I castigate others for not making time to do things that feed their soul. Writing is soul fuel for me, so I guess I should get to it, but time is always at a premium... too much to do and too little time to do it...We joke and quote Newman from Seinfeld: "The mail never stops." I generally say this when the oven timer is going off, the washer is finished, the dogs are milling around my feet because it is their dinner time, I have no idea what we are having for dinner, AND we still have night chores to do.

One of the things I find hard (besides making time for me) is balancing and prioritizing the farm chores. There are the things that have to happen every day (feeding, milking, cleaning stalls) and the things that have to happen at a certain time each month or each year (trimming hooves or planting potatoes), and then the things that pop up and must be done quickly (repairs mostly, but also things like flooded barns, stuck trucks, flat tires), and then the things you wish you could get done (more raised beds, re-painting the peeling barn doors, a new chicken tractor, etc).

I haven't written anything since January, because as I said before...."the mail never stops."

The seasons dictate the rhythms here on the farm and generally February is beginning to hint of Spring. We always plant potatoes and onions on Valentine's Day and many of our future crops had been sown in the greenhouse in January this year. The temps in February can swing wildly. Now that I farm a little more seriously I pay even more attention to the weather. This February did the wild swings and we found ourselves under sleet and snow TWICE that month. I had put my little greenhouse to work and had all kinds of things optimistically planted in little plantable cow-pots.

One wild swing took the temps in the greenhouse up close to 100 degrees and the cabbage and broccoli roasted in the seed, never to germinate. The next wild swing took the temps down and I quickly realized that even though the radiant heat of the sun could raise the day time temps to about 20 degrees over the outside temp, at night the greenhouse and outside temps matched. Predicted lows in the 20s, sent me scrambling for a space heater and I began the frantic checking and re-checking of forecasts and thermometers that would run me ragged all the way into March.

In March, we began to eagerly await the arrival of kids. We bred our favorite girl Fanny, a veteran, but the other two Nubians we bred were first timers and we had no idea how they would handle both the kidding or the mothering. Eagerly, turned to anxiously as we watched for signs of imminent kidding. After a few long nights of checking on girls and over a month of sticking very close to home, watching vulvas, udders, and general behavior we had seven kids on the ground. Everyone proved to be excellent mothers and good milkers. What a relief! At this point you always have a moment when you think, "well now, that's done and I can get some rest", but this just marks the next round of work....wethering, disbudding, vaccinations, finding homes, etc.

This year March was a time of transition for us too...we were changing our protocols for milking, breeding, and browsing. At that point I, with my girls, had been milking each morning for a full year. It was time to dry up Vaca and Gypsy and begin milking Fanny, Ms. Scarlett, and Ms. Melly. We were shifting our breeding schedule to an every other year breeding, with a full year of milking for the un-bred does. We have come to the realization that a. we don't need 4-5 goat's worth of milk and b. we think the girls work very hard and should have time off.

Only problem with this plan....I don't get a break. I milk year round...I have help a couple of days a week this year and occasionally I ask for a day off and JC does the work, but I think it is safe to say I milked about 300 days last year...the coldest milking was 19 degrees and those two mornings were the worst, but I do it whether I've gotten a good night's sleep, whether I have a backache, whether I'm sick. I do it and sometimes I grumble because I get tired, bone weary, cry-over-spilt-milk exhausted, but I still have to do it and it is relentless....remember "the mail never stops."

When there was nothing to browse on in early Spring, I hauled cedar brush from the back fence. Daily, I hauled it...not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Even though I was weary and most of those days were cold too. I hauled cedar from the very back of the property to the front and when the goats saw me coming they ran to meet me. Seriously, how could I deny them that treat? But it was just more work and I tacked it on to the morning chores, what's another half hour right? That's how it works on the farm one seasonal chores goes away and another one takes its place. I hauled that cedar because I knew it was the right thing to do for my girls...and most of my work comes from a belief that I have to do the best job I can. Farming well in my mind means I can't slack off.

So, I very rarely ever slack off and most of my plans require a lot of work. My new browsing plan calls for creating temporary paddocks using electric fencing to move the girls rotationally through the front pastures and the back woods. I spent weeks clearing the brush from the perimeter fences so we could pull goat/sheep wire and then run a single hot wire to power the electric. When I hit a spot requiring the chainsaw, I'd twist JC's arm and he'd come help awhile. Once the whole thing was cleared we pulled the goat/sheep wire and then set up the electric. We finished it up in April, just in the nick of time as I wanted to girls on to fresh pasture ASAP....and then it started to rain in May. And it rained and it rained and it rained, and the dry creek bed, you know, the one that is always dry; the one where I ran my new electric fencing....yep, it started running and my fence was under water. I turned it off and spent a few days just keeping the crap off it in hopes that the water would run off fast and we'd be back in business, but after three weeks I retrieved the whole fence, stored it in the barn...the water was not only still running, but rising. The tank was over-flowing and the run-off kept the creek moving too. 

That was two weeks ago and it is down some, but still way I can put my fence back in there yet and in the meantime the other summer chores are calling to be done. All that rain made a lot of mud which meant we couldn't mow, now we can, but it is tall and full of mosquitoes. The rain also meant lots of weeds and for the first time I've got weeds taking over the raised beds which normally require minimal weeding. We have hooves to trim and copper boluses to give, hay to haul and feed to pick up and unload. The summer cycle is a little more mellow and we goof around a bit and we always take time to enjoy what we are doing...not to worry. 

I hope no one thinks I'm complaining, because really I wouldn't have it any other way. For once I feel like I'm doing a job that makes the world a better place...a job that speaks to my soul and who I really am. I can't imagine a whole day without my goats, without a cold glass of milk the origins of which are visible out the windows...the land, the goats, the people...all connected.

It really is relentless work and it wears you down and some days I'm like Miss Belle is the sun....plumb struck down by the exhaustion, but even so I rest of bit, pick myself up, dust off, and do it all over again.

Kristin Kimball in her memoir The Dirty Life says it best: "A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can't, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die" (150). 

(Y'all need to read this book. Excellent.)

Now with all this said: dogs need walking, the chicken tractor needs a shade cloth on the top, and that mowing isn't going to do itself....

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Gardening in Texas: January

More and more people are asking me questions about gardening because I talk about it a lot and it must seem like I have some answers. Though I cannot proclaim to be an expert and have in fact failed heartily again and again, I thought a post about what you should be doing in your garden in January in Texas might be a good one because I have figured out a few things over the years.

 I keep reading blog posts about what you should be doing in your garden in January, but they are for places that have real winters....they advise you to peruse the seed catalogs, make a plan,  then order your seeds. But in Texas it is time to do some work and not only order your seeds, but start them. 

I generally do things kind of willy-nilly and since that hasn't been super successful in the past this year I decided to make a plan and "get it together" maybe you can benefit from my plan too.

The first thing I did was assess the leftover seeds from last year and remind myself to REST when the weather is cold. The thing about January in Texas is that it might be cold one day and 60 degrees the next, you have to rest when you can because winter is pretty short...or at least it occurs in short bursts. You have to pay attention and plan ahead. We "make hay while the sun shines" meaning if the day is warm we drop everything and we work outside. This coming weekend is looking like a lovely one and there is lots of work to be done.

The seed box with old seeds and my little seasonal book.
After assessing my leftovers, I ordered all my seeds January 2nd. This year I used Territorial Seed Company for two reasons: they offer organic seed (so we can avoid bee-killing neonicotinoids) and they are 100% Non-GMO. This is important to us and I'm not going to step up on my soapbox (today) about industrial food and why we should avoid GMO, but you should educate yourself. I ordered my onions and leeks from Territorial Seed Company too, but I always get my potato seed from Wood Prairie Farm.

Three bin composting.
The other big job in January is prepping the beds (esp. the potato bed), spreading the finished compost, and building new compost piles. As soon as things green up, I will put my composting in high gear, bagging green grass clippings to mix  with the "brown" parts (ie. poop and hay) to really get the pile steaming hot. For now, I just concentrate on putting leaves, dead plants, etc. in the bin. I try to tidy up during this time...For example, I still have dead okra stalks in the garden and just a week ago cut down the dead asparagus tops.The goal is to have one finished bin in the winter and have one ready to layer with greenies in the Spring. 

Finished compost will go on the asparagus bed and potato beds first and then to other beds that were less than productive last year. I never have enough for every bed, but I get pretty close!

Another January task is to nurture along the two cold frames with lettuce, radishes, beets, spinach, and cilantro. These cold frames need very little tending. In fact, I keep them closed and warm most of the time. I try to only open them for watering on sunny days. This weekend we are expecting 60 degrees, so I'll crack the windows to let some heat escape and water them thoroughly.

In January, we also build any new beds we want for Spring planting. We build beds year round, but January is a big push to get new areas prepped for sowing seed and transplanting in March. With the coming warm weekend, I'll also be cleaning out the barn of waste hay and poop. This will be used for hugelkultur beds and for sheet mulching some beds that are around the foundation of the house. Yes, I know what you are thinking, "She's going to spread the poopy barn hay around her house." Yep, poop by the house.... I'm just starting to see the benefits of this practice after a year, but sheet mulching has killed the weeds and grass and is now composting slowly to amend the terrible soil they brought in for the foundation. The best part: I have done NO WORK at all besides dumping the hay/poop mulch. I will be able to plant those spaces this year and all I had to do was dump some mulch and WAIT....seriously, why have I ever done anything else?

Once the seeds arrive I divide them into things that need to be started (in my NEW greenhouse!!!!) and things we will direct sow later. I used a Seed Starting Plan to determine when to start each plant. Here's my plan:

For Texas:
From Jan 2nd to the 16th: Cabbage, Collards, Kale, Parsley, and Peppers
From Jan. 16th to the 30th: Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Eggplant
Jan 30: Tomatoes

I'll be starting seeds in the next few days (yeah, I know I'm already going to be a little late on my schedule) and I'll post pics and progress as we go.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Working with Wool: Pincushion Class on February 12th

As promised in a previous post, I'll be teaching more and more classes this year as a way to generate income for the farm. This farming business isn't cheap and so far the girls aren't supporting themselves!

The next class I'm offering will be the cute little pincushion. It is a pre-cut kit and perfect for beginners who want to learn to work with wool felt. We will learn a few basic stitches, do a little practicing, and by the end of class you will have a finished pincushion.

This class will be offered through Patti's Last Resort in Acton TX 
on February 12th. 
11am. to 3 pm.
Call them for details and to sign up:

If this doesn't appeal to you, then stay tuned because I'm working on several more fun ideas....hint, hint: I love smock aprons ;)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Owl Tree Farm Etsy Shop

It's official; Owl Tree Farm now has an Etsy shop and I'll be filling it with handmade goodies! You can find us here:Owl Tree Farm Etsy 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Come Sew with Me: Last Saturday String Along 2015.

Introducing the Last Saturday String-Along for 2015.

One of the goals for this year is for the farm to begin generating income. I've brainstormed list after list of ways that I can do this. I'm a teacher at heart, always willing to show or explain how to do something, so at the top of the list is always: teach classes. 

I've been quilting since I was 18 (ugh, almost 30 years) and have attempted to keep the old-fashioned way of quilting alive. I am passionate about preserving the old, slow ways of doing things. I've accumulated a lot of knowledge about what I call homesteading skills.

The first thing I'm going to teach is String Piecing. String quilts were popular from the 1890s until about 1940. Using every last scrap of fabric speaks to my frugal farmer's philosophy of "using it up, wearing it out, making it do, or doing without." 

The String Quilt is also a perfect beginning quilting because using such wonky scraps is forgiving and accuracy isn't crucial. You will become more comfortable with your machine (if you aren't already), learn a few new-fangled techniques and use a few new-fangled gadgets, but generally speaking this is old-school, traditional piecing at its best!

A String quilt pieced by my Great-Grandmother, Mamaw.

Last Saturday String-Along 2015.
Date: January 31st (the last Saturday of the month)
Location: Owl Tree Farm
Time: 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Price: $40.00
BYOS: bring a snack to share...preferably organic, local, seasonal, etc.....(we are farmers after all). I will provide tea and water.

In this class you need only bring your simple sewing machine, thread, and a pair of scissors. Your class fee will cover equipment and materials and I will prep this all before hand. You will have access to my abundant and ever-growing collection of Strings for piecing your blocks like the one below and I only buy high-quality 100% cotton quilting fabric.

The January goal will be to teach you all you need know to make these wonderful blocks on your own and you will leave with at least two of them finished. 

If you decide to continue and String-Along with me, I'll help you decide how big to make your quilt, how to place your blocks and sew the rows together. Making just two blocks each month (plus one more) will give you 25 blocks and a quilt of 60" X 60"....a nice lap size.

If you decide to String-along with me, I will open my home on the last Saturday of each month and share my Strings with you for $5.00 each time. Of course, you can bring your own Strings too for sharing. (I will prep your foundation fabric for an additional $5.00 for two blocks). 

We will spend the afternoon from 1:00pm to 4:00pm sewing, chatting, and snacking. 

Don't worry about finishing the quilt....I can help you do that too! If you String-Along with me 10 out of 12 months, I'll give you the Hand-Quilting 101 Class for FREE.

If you are interested, contact me via email: OR our Owl Tree Farm Facebook page (don't forget to "like" us while you are there).