Saturday, May 31, 2008

Holy Mother of Crap

Ok-- for the last few days I have been lamenting my cucumber plants' failure to yield cucumbers. The plants are growing well, I've had tons of flowers, but no veggies yet. Just little bumpy nubs behind the flowers.

Today I was telling the farmer next to me at the market about it. He said that they grow really fast once they got started and that one day I would just walk out and there would be cucumbers. Yeah right.

Today I walked out and took my daily look at the plants.

I lifted up a few low vines and saw little bumpy nubs as usual. Then, suddenly, a little higher, I spotted a pickle sized cucumber. He was right! I was NOT there the day before.

I looked around and found another, bigger, cucumber. Sweet mother of crap! I have cucumbers!! I plucked it immediately, ran inside, shot a quick pic (Max was very interested) and promptly cut a chunk off to try. Fabulous! I grow fabulous cucmbers! OMG!

Buoyed by my spectacular find, I went out and looked again. I found another nice sized one growing half way through the fence. I snapped off the bottom half from my side of the fence and stowed it in the fridge. Then this happened.

Maybe you can't tell how big this thing is. So here it is in perspective. I made Christian model it. The sucker must weigh six pounds.

I am sure it is well past its prime, judging by the yellowing, but I will cut it up and taste it anyway. If it's not good, the chickens can have it. Every day for a month.

I can has cucumbers.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Looking for Pigs on a Lime Green Bicycle

The new pigs are total escape artists.

For a while we had them in an electrified poultry netting enclosure. That kept them in fine, but as they are growing, we are wanting to get them into a bigger space. We moved them to the old happy pig land, which is now overgrown with delicious weeds and grass. We started with a single hot wire. Then it was two. Now, as I type this, Christian is adding a third. These two dorks are masters of the breakout.

Last night I knew they were out, but I decided to let them run around for a little bit while I got ready for chores. Bad idea. Two minutes later, C and I were scouring every inch of the front acreage with no sign of the little hams. For the second time in my life, I swung a leg over my lime green bicycle, rang the bell and pedaled off looking for runaway pigs.

The last time I did this, it was the first two pigs - and they were big. They also never left the barn yard - they were hiding under the trailer.

This time I didn't go as far up and down the road looking, but again -- I looked pretty silly. And found nothing. A magenta haired woman, pedaling what looks to be PeeWee Herman's bike, yelling "Heeeeere pig pig piggies" can appear, to the uninformed, bat-sh*t insane.

I came back, we looked all over again and then Christian took a tour on the bike. A man on that bike looks every bit as weird as I do. The bike is just too rad for a farm. ;)

Anyway, we finally decided they would have to come home on their own, as we had chores to do. Two seconds later we saw them in the neighbor's pasture. They had gone 100 yards down the street, crawled under his gate and were just cruising his fields.

After unsuccessfully trying to get them under the fence in the one spot where there is a small gap, C had to hop the fence with a bucket and lead them home with the promise of whey. Luckily they will do almost anything for food. (This photo is from an earlier bucket-leading. They are about twice as big now.)

He got them out of Tom's field, through his front gate, down the street and back all the way to our driveway when girl pig really started to wilt. Its hot out - and pigs don't do heat well. She looked pathetic. I urged her to come a few hundred feet more and she was rewarded for her efforts by the duck pool, just inside the barn yard. Both pigs collapsed into the little plastic baby pool and just tried not to die of heat stroke. We laughed so hard we almost cried. Stupid cute. Then we took them back to their pasture.

We hoped the near death experience would make them think twice about trying to escape again. It didn't. Now we hope a third strand of hot wire will do the job.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't tell Trudy...

Goatrude developed a real fondness for our first pair of pigs.

When they were really small, she wasn't sure about them, but as they grew a little we'd let them out and she would happily dig wallows with them and take naps beside them in the cool dirt. Big pig would sometimes wrestle with her and let Trudy chew on her ears and lick her belly. They were pals.

Those pigs just came back as pork yesterday. We threw a few bones to the 'trude and silently hoped she wouldn't put two and two together. Which of course she didn't. She's a dog.

Here is a brief synopsis of their relationship in photos.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yes, we have no mozzarella

It is with equal parts of sadness and relief that we have come to the decision to stop producing mozzarella cheese.

Those of you who have been lucky enough to get your hands on some know that when we have it, it is exceptionally yummy. The problem for us is that we can't really make it in way that fits into our business model, and at the end of the day - while farming is rewarding to the soul - it must also be at least mildly rewarding to the bank balance.

The recipe I have been using does not adapt well to the larger batches I need to make. At it's best, mozzarella is a lower-yield cheese, meaning a gallon of milk doesn't go as far. At it's worst, mozzarella is temperamental, and there are times when the cheese does not come out right. Using the current mo-jam, it just does not make sense for us to keep trying to make it twice a week.

Perhaps one day I will find a recipe and a method that make it do-able again, though even then, we may have to charge more to make it worth it in terms of time and yield. But for now, we must bid a fond arrivederci to our friend mozzarella. ...sorry, cheese fans. ...but try our feta. Now that's a good cheese.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Go, turkeys, go!

The turkey twins are officially free-ranging and boy do they love it. They really get around and are finding fun things to eat and walk on. They also do a fair amount of flying, so we may have to consider clipping some wing feathers soon.

I still think we may have a male and a female. Here, at least, are a couple photos of the one I am sure is a dude. The dude (A.K.A. Thanksgiving) is pretty cute. He's starting to get his "turkey neck." Hee hee. And he still loves to strut when I squat down to visit with him. Go, turkey, go! You da' man!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Look what I grew!

I am still a novice at the gardening. I pretty much just put things in the ground and hope they don't die. When I think of it, I water them. And on days when it's not too hot, I go out and pull out a few handfuls of weeds. I am great at growing weeds.

Last year I got some tomatoes -- many half eaten and split skinned, some cayenne peppers and an insane amount of basil.

This year I planted those things again (but a better variety of tomato), plus some bell peppers, jalapeƱos, cucumbers, onions and very recently some zucchini. I am pleased to share my first harvest. If it's not too bitter (I am not sure if it was ready to be picked or not...though it sure looks like it) it will go on a pizza tonight.

One thing about living in the country in the summer - if you can't garden, chances are your neighbors can. We have been the exceptionally lucky recipients of some beautiful crookneck, patty pan and zucchini squashes, plus some gorgeous beans, from some new friends we made at the farmer's market in Brenham. We also got a few crooknecks yesterday at the goat show from some other friends. We ate them with a little butter and parmesan cheese broiled on the top. OMG. So good.

...I hope our neighbor Larry planted potatoes again this year. We'll never have to shop again. ;)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grammy's First Goat Show

Today our goat Club (The South Central Texas Goat Club) had its annual dairy goat show in Hempstead.

We donated Grammy as a raffle prize in an effort to help the club raise some money. She found a VERY good new home with one of the club members, Madeleine McQuilling. (I might have spelled that wrong...sorry, if so.)

Madeleine actually put little Grammy (whose name we told her could be changed) into the ring in the Junior Showmanship category.

In the photo above, she is getting put into the right position. Um...Look at the ringer next to her ...hello! Talk about stiff competition!

And the next one is sweet Grammy in the lineup.

We could not be more pleased about her new owners, though we will miss her more than most. Grammy had been a bit of a house goat. Sweet thing.

We look forward to seeing her in the ring in the coming years.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dawn of the Undead

I had a Dawn sighting tonight! She is alive and I am sure now that she has a nest somewhere.

She came to the poultry feeder at about 5 pm and was gobbling down chicken scratch in a big hurry. By the time we finished evening milk chores she was gone again.

I'll see if I can follow her back to the nest sometime if I get a chance - we still have no idea where it is, but I have a few thoughts. We have some areas with tall grass and weeds that I bet would be a nice spot to hide eggs.

Guineas are, reportedly, not the best moms -- we'll see how this all goes. I am really hoping we get at least a couple live keets. Yay, Dawn!

Tie a Yellow Ribbon

Dawn is missing. I haven't seen her in a couple days. :(

For those of you newer to the farm, Dawn is our female guinea hen. The white one in this photo. The males, who are lavenders, are Tony and Orlando. ...I probably never should have named them that. Now -- with the song - well, it's like some kind of prophesy.

...or maybe just dumb luck.

Recently all three guineas have been VERY adventurous. They can often be seen out in the street or even in the cow field across the street. And, well -- guineas are not very bright. Tony sometimes forgets he can fly over the fence when he gets stuck outside the farm. Though Dawn has never exhibited that particular degree of "duh".

About a month ago, Dawn started laying eggs. Her first nest was discovered by Trudy (our LGD) who thought guinea eggs made a fine snack. After that, I don't know where she went to lay them, though we found one in the pasture once.

My secret hope is that Dawn has made a fabulous nest somewhere and has finally gone broody and has set to hatch the eggs. It is certainly possible, though probably a long shot. I keep hope though, since we haven't seen a pile of feathers or a group of vultures hanging about.

Anyway, if she never comes back, we'll chalk one up to the circle of life. Maybe we can get a new hen. ...and name her Nutrisystem. Yow.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fishing Season

Last spring we started an evening tradition of going out to fish at our pond. It started as a lark to just see if we even had any fish in there at all and turned into a fairly regular ritual. That year we caught a lot of little sun fish and our niece managed to bag a teeny tiny catfish when she was here, though we never saw another one after that.

Usually I don't actually fish. I drink a glass of wine and relax and watch Christian fish. I'll also go take the net and catch our bait minnows.

Well, this year has been a bit different. I still bring my net and some wine, but this year we haven't had the plentiful supply of fat minnows. This year my net is snagging lots of....shrimp? Weird. But here is one. We can't figure out where the heck little fresh water shrimp would have come from, but we have a ton of them. (If you click the photos, they get bigger - then you can see the little guy better)

The fish absolutely LOVE the shrimp. Here are a few shots I took last night.

The first night we resumed fishing, C caught one of those mini catfish and threw it back. The next cast he got another. Then another. I accused him of catching the same dumb fish over and over, but he assures me there are tons of these guys in there. We have started feeding them...hopefully they'll be big enough for friends to fish out and take home to eat one day. :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Carrie Underwood's Grammy

Tonight while I was at the Farmers' Market, our sweet bed-goat, Carrie Underwood, had a single doe kid. I am going to call her Grammy. She is just delectable and a very good little eater...see?

I have to go now. I am going to go get that goat, put her in my lap and watch a little boob tube.

I love goat farming.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Two Tiny Turkeys

A few weeks ago we bought some turkey poults. They are living in a cage inside our coop right now, but are just about big enough to be let out of the cage. (We wanted to be sure they could not escape the coop before we let them out - they are still an attractive meal to many animals on the farm.)

For the past couple days we have let them out for a couple hours at a time. Here is their latest foray...they really seem to like getting out and pecking at things.
I had just started wondering how one determines the sex of a turkey when the larger one started to do this...
...I think it's a boy.

It looks like we may have one of each. It would be the coolest thing ever if they would breed before becoming holiday meals. Since he is bigger, we will be calling the boy Thanksgiving. The girl will be called Christmas. ...get it? Oh, it's hard work being so clever. ;)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Dinner at Catalan

So...for three weeks in a row now we have sold cheese to Chris Shepherd -- the Executive Chef at Catalan. The first time, he bought three containers of feta. I guess I am a little slow, being new to all of this, but I thought he was doing a little personal shopping. I mean...chefs eat at home, too. And it wasn't like it was a ton of cheese.

After that, he went over to the Dairymaids booth and tasted our mozzarella (We didn't have any in our booth that week - just didn't have time to get it made.) He came back to our booth and asked if he could get ten of them the following week. I said sure, but must have had the panic look in my eyes, because he said he could take the feta if not. I assured him we could hook him up, but took his number just in case we had some kind of farmageddon. Whoa. We got an order from a chef. For his restaurant. (I was pretty sure he wasn't going to need 5 lbs at home!)

Cheesemaking went well, he picked it up the next Tuesday and we sold out again. Yay, Houston Farmer's Market.

So this past Tuesday, we saw him again. Christian decided to ask him if it worked out OK and he said yes. Excellent news. I don't know if you clicked the link, but Catalan is a really, really nice place. That he liked our cheese enough to try it made us incredibly proud. That he had good feedback for us, well... we were ready to burst. It felt amazing.

Later he came back again and bought the rest of our feta - only 2 lbs. (We sold out again...surprise!) Anyhooo....he mentioned that he was going to make a salad with greens and nectarines from the market - plus our cheese. I told him I might come after the market to try it and he said I should if I could.

Christian leaves the market at 5:00 to go milk goats, but two of my friends came to help me shut down and to go get a drink and a bite. I asked them if they would mind going to Catalan and they were game.

Catalan is in our old Houston neighborhood and when we still lived there, I got REALLY excited when I saw it going up. I am a huge foodie, I lived in seemed like it was fate. Unfortunately, we moved out to the farm right about the time it opened and I had never had the chance to try it.

Oh, man...I missed out. The food is SO incredible. Fresh, innovative and local. What more could you ask for?

Our waiter told us the specials and I literally squealed, "That's my cheese!" when he got to the salad. We ordered (Yes, I got the salad) and enjoyed the lovely wine selections and the amazing food we had selected.

...and then the chef came to say hi (I swear...I felt like a rock star!) and then he sent out a few extra dishes. Everything we ate was better than the last thing and the absolute show stopper was a caprese salad that used a buffalo mozzarella ice cream, instead of cheese. Yes. You read that right. Mozzarella ice cream. It was, we all agreed, the best, most surprising thing we had ever had. I know it sounds strange..all I can say is go try it if you ever get the chance.

The restaurant operates on a fresh, seasonal backbone, so it is not always available. All I can say is keep going until you can get it. You won't be sorry.

I am still bursting at the seams with excitement over our being included on the menu at Catalan. It is beyond what I could have dreamed for us in our first year. I hope we can continue to make him happy and I hope the other diners loved my cheese as much as I love making it. And I hope you all get the chance to check out the restaurant. Local food is a good thing. This is an excellent way to sample it at its best.