Monthly Archives: December 2011

Solstice eggs

Recently at the WAYFC meeting, while touring Becky‘s backyard farm and meeting her bunnies and chickens, she mentioned that they weren’t laying much because of the short days, and I commented that I am always surprised at how quickly their laying picks up after the Solstice. There were many murmurs of assent, including someone’s comment that sometimes it’s even the day of Solstice.

Solstice was two days ago. That day we got one chicken egg. Yesterday two.

Today five.

Solstice eggs

(The blue one and the white one are duck eggs.)

On learning to cheese

(Yeah, “cheese” is a verb now; why do you ask?)

In late November, I made my first goat cheddar.

Pressing my cheddar cheese

It looked awesome, but it had several mishaps. First, the dog got into it while it was sitting curing on the counter (in a place where I didn’t think he could reach it, obviously). I washed and trimmed it and then left it so the bits I had trimmed could continue to cure and get the crust called for in the recipe. Then it got a moldy bit, and so I trimmed that, and waited; then there was another moldy bit — repeat, etc. Eventually it had been over two weeks, and I took it down in preparation for waxing it, and faintly saw a vein of mold running just under the skin. Trying to trim it away would have meant losing most of the cheese. That, plus the prevalence of the mold in general, and the fact that by now it had been air-drying for too long, probably, and had lost too much internal moisture, meant that the whole cheese was pretty much not in great shape.

So we hucked that one, and started a new one!

I started this cheddar on Dec. 4. It also had some mold issues, so I ended up trimming it completely just before waxing. This may have been a huge mistake; we’ll find out in two months.

Second cheddar, waxed 12/17

Beehive updates

A while (a long while) back I was asked how the bees are doing — I’ve been pretty silent about them since I got them in April. This was largely motivated by despair. It turned out that the startup costs of keeping hives were too much for me this year, and I didn’t get everything in place in time — they need to have new boxes (honey supers) and new frames added at a certain point, but at that point I was super broke and busy with too much other stuff. Also it was so discouragingly rainy this year; it was hard to find a day that it was warm and dry enough to open up the hives.

So anyway, I didn’t get them any honey supers, and then one day I noticed that one of the hives was totally covered in dead bees, and I don’t know why. The other one was humming along, then suddenly wasn’t: there were basically no bees around it. I figure they swarmed because I didn’t get them enough space. It’s super common for them to swarm. I observed a swarm at someone else’s hive this summer. It was really cool. She was able to get them down from the tree and use it to start a new hive.

So then I had two dead hives, and I felt sad and guilty.

Then either the bees that were left after the swarm rebuilt, or a new colony moved in to the empty house, because there were bees on that one again! Very exciting. But I still didn’t get them a honey super, because I just didn’t have time. So I was left with an already-dead hive, and one that I was figuring wouldn’t last the winter.

Today I went out to the greenhouse to see if my pepper plants were still kicking (they were, and there is tons of fruit still ripening, which is pretty exciting), and as I was examining them I heard the unmistakable buzzing of a whole lot of pissed-off honeybees. I went to see, and found the hive knocked over and frames all over the ground, but quite a lot of bees still living. I have no idea how long they had been there; it can’t have been long, because we’ve had several days in a row where the daytime high temp didn’t get above 40, and I think that would kill them if they were that exposed. Fortunately today is significantly milder, and not raining. I should’ve taken a picture, but I was too busy frantically trying to get the smoker going, find some gloves, and try to get them put back together before dark.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much honey there was. No idea if it’s enough to get them through the winter, though. But given this latest drama, I don’t know if they’ll survive, anyway. There are a lot of ways for a beehive to die! The exposure might’ve killed all the larvae and eggs, even though it didn’t kill the adults. The queen might’ve been crushed or otherwise killed. I don’t know if they’ll be able to get the hive up to temp for tonight. Probably 1/3 of the still-living bees were all over the ground when I left them; I don’t know if they’ll get back home even though they’re very close to it. (They don’t move much when it’s below 55°.) When I put it back together I didn’t get the frames in the right order, which is important because they cluster together at the center of the box and eat what’s there. (In bee class they told me that if there are frames with honey just one frame over, they’ll still starve to death rather than go get it. I suppose it is related to temperature.) I tried to keep the honey ones in the center, but who knows if I did it right?

I’m simultaneously thrilled that they have survived this long, and totally discouraged by all the ways that they still might die because of this latest mishap. I am interested to notice, however, that I am gaining confidence in handling them, and also that I am still totally fascinated by them and a little bit in love with them. Go, little bees, go!

9:30 AM, every day

This is what the morning looks like chez nous.

On weekends, Wednesdays, and every other Friday — that is, the days that i don’t have to commute — I milk my goat, whose name is Mama Goat (I’m not very creative). Garth milks on Mondays, and farm/foodie friend Laurie does Tues/Thurs/Fri-when-Garth-is-at-school.

Today my friend Seung in New York asked for some pictures. So this is what my morning (when I’m at home) looks like:


I wasn’t aiming to catch her with her tongue out, but it turns out to be totally representative of life with Mama Goat.

Also note, if you can see her, a little red hen underneath M.G.’s feed bucket, opportunistically waiting for M.G. to spill some feed, which she always does, shoving it aside in search of the Good Stuff.

Catch-up time

Catching up — or trying to — on so many things these days. Hundreds of backlogged farm-related blog posts piled up in my RSS reader. Quilt fabric I bought about this time last year, washed, and stuck in the cupboard. (The other day I ironed it. It’s a step!) The Washington Young Farmers Coalition is regrouping for the winter and planning next year, and we had an all-day meeting in Seattle yesterday. And Dropstone is regrouping too, as I mentioned — when we started farming, we said we’ve give it a fair shot for three years and then discuss, and it’s been three years, so we’re starting to discuss. Garth and I had a meeting last night to set the agenda for a “retreat” we’re going to try to take — even if it means “go to the pub for the afternoon” — and here are some of the questions we’re asking ourselves.

  • Where do we want to be this time next year?
  • In 3 years? In 5 years?
  • What do we need to do to get there?
  • What can we do in the meantime if we can’t make steps towards that right now?
  • What do we each individually want out of the farm?
  • What do we each individually want out of our local community?
  • If health insurance were not an issue, what would Lauren’s work situation look like?
  • If health insurance were not an issue, what would Garth want Lauren’s work situation to look like?
  • If Garth could have any job he wanted, what would that look like? (Given that the space shuttle program has been discontinued, “astronaut” is ruled out. Poor Garth.)
  • If Lauren could make any employment situation for Garth, what would it be? (For example, “Garth spends two out of every four weeks of the summer mining for gold in the Northwest Territories” is a plan I nixed.)
  • What are your favorite things about farming?
  • What are your least favorite things?
  • What are some things we currently aren’t doing that you would like to do?
  • What are some things we are currently doing that you would like to stop doing?
  • What are the things that you absolutely do not want to give up?
  • What are things we haven’t tried yet that you would like to try?
  • What lessons have we learned? How have we improved?
  • How do we still need to improve/change?
  • What do we still need to learn? Topics/subjects, specific skills, …
  • What are your fears?
  • What are our assets?
  • What are our key relationships?
  • Are there any relationships or niches we need to develop? If so, how can we do that?
  • Is there anything we can ask for from our current relationships? Anything we need that they can help us with?
  • What would be different if we are farming for selling vs homesteading (growing for ourselves)?

Anything else you can think of that we should be asking ourselves? Anything YOU want to know about us or want us to consider?