Friday, April 25, 2008

A bull in the hand....

Looks like Ramblin Bob is booked right about the time we want Stella to be bred. Instead of having to deal with a calf that is too early or too late for our needs, we decided to see how

RdoubleD Nash Rambler will do. We pondered buying him last year, but didn't, and we're talking with his owner now about price etc. Nash is a year younger than Stella, and has the same dad as Bob. He's a real cutie, and having our own bull will save the worry of making sure we have a guy with a good bloodline booked each year.

Speaking of guys, Doug is just old enough to notice Stella is in heat, and too small to do anything about it. Time to get the vet out here to take care of that business! Stella is still giving a good amount of milk for the short time apart from Doug. Sometimes a bit over a gallon, sometimes a bit under. Once Doug is weaned, I'll be able to get more, with lots more butterfat. She's still very motivated to hold some back for Doug right now, which is fine, since we want him to grow up big & healthy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another animal interlude...

This is our Magnus in his favorite chair, favorite position. Never had a cat that prefers sitting like a person, but this one does. All we need to do at this juncture is photo-shop in a beer, bag of chips and TV remote. If you can think of a good caption for this image, please add it to our comments. When I found him like this I was as usual, speechless... with laughter!

Looks like a lovely spring day here for the cows, but weather has been running about 10 to 20 degrees cooler than normal this spring. We've been covering the garden starts on certain nights and still need a fire both AM and PM to warm the house. Low was 29 degrees last night.

And our new laying flock is almost grown up now. That's a Barred Rock in the front with a couple Cherry Eggers and a Buff Orpington on the left. The barred rock are curious and friendliest of the bunch, and come right up close and personal as you can see here. So far they are our favorites, but lets see how they lay! Maybe a few months or less and they'll start that as well. In the meantime they are happy and healthy living in the brooding coop.

And Magnus again. We have 3 other cats, but this is the one always finding the photo op moment it seems. We'd dug out the game Risk, set it down for 5 seconds and this is what happened. Do you want to "risk" a digit moving that little gray monster? Go ahead, make his day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Who is Jimmy Nardello?

Last summer, in the midst of our tomato-blight/potato-wireworm tragedy, we had a success story - our peppers. Even though the summer never got warm & sunny enough to fully ripen them all, the anchos and pimentos we planted grew and produced like gangbusters. There were so many peppers on most plants, we had to stake up branches to prevent them breaking off. Once the nights got frosty, we picked them all and pickled a peck or two. We've been enjoying them all winter. And that inspired us to improve on our efforts by searching out another pepper variety to try this year. I kept coming across mention of this guy, Jimmy Nardello, and his amazing sweet Italian frying peppers. They even got voted onto Slow Food's Ark of Taste! Who is this guy, and what the heck is a frying pepper? Here's what I learned..."In southern Italy, at what one might call the “instep of the boot,” is a mountainous region called Basilicata. In the subregion of Potenza, with its small coastline on the Thyrrhenian Sea, sits the tiny town of Ruoti.
For several years there, Giuseppe Nardiello and his wife, Angela, nurtured a favorite variety of sweet frying pepper. When they set sail from the port of Naples in 1887 for a new life beside the Golden Door, Angela carried her one-year-old daughter Anna and a handful of the pepper seeds with them. They settled in Naugatuck, Connecticut, where they raised the peppers, and eleven children. The fourth one was a son named Jimmy.
Jimmy’s son James, who is now 81 and still residing in Naugatuck, told me that the teachers in Jimmy’s grade school dropped the “i” from Nardiello, apparently believing that theirs was the proper spelling. It stuck to Jimmy, and to all the subsequent siblings and descendents.
James also said that his father was the only one of the Nardello children to inherit Angela’s love of the garden, and that Jimmy lovingly cared for his own throughout his life. He built them the way his mother taught him, in terraces, the way all gardens were built in the mountains of southern Italy. There he grew hundreds of peppers, but the sweet frying pepper was his favorite, and he would string up his bounty and hang them to dry in the shed, so his family could enjoy them all winter long.
Jimmy passed away in 1983. But before he did, he donated some of the heirloom pepper seeds to Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in Decorah, Iowa. SSE specializes in protecting heirloom seeds, with more than 11,000 varieties protected in two separate climate-controlled vaults. They grow out roughly ten percent of the stock on a ten-year rotating basis, refreshing and expanding the supply each time. One of these seeds is the one that has become known as Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Pepper.
One hundred and twenty years after the Nardellos set sail, bringing a small piece of their homeland with them, the pepper that bears the family name is becoming a favorite among chefs and home gardeners nationwide, but it is still registered as “endangered” on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Tastes. The Ark is an effort to find, catalog, and protect the world’s endangered flavors from the onslaught of the standardization of agriculture and cuisine."
"The Nardellos are turn from their youthful kelly green to a mature fire-engine red, indicating that they are ready to be picked, sliced, fried in olive oil with garlic, and slathered over steaks alongside a generous pour of Primitivo.
They are also delicious as a sweet edge in your favorite chili or salsa recipe, and they are the best sweet pepper for drying. To dry them, string them on thread with a needle, careful to pierce them through the stem and not the fruit. Hang them near a sunny window or on the porch, and they’ll add decoration as they dry.
The best ones resemble a pig’s ear. James says that’s how his dad picked them. They grow in full sun in neutral to acidic soil, and are quite prolific as long as they are not over-watered."
(The above information comes from The Iowa Source.)

It's not too late to join us in our old-world journey of pepper-discovery by planting some of Jimmy Nardello's peppers yourselves. Or look for starts at your local (and I mean local) nursery or farmer's market. We'll let you know how ours do, oh say, around September...


On the milking front, Stella has a new stall tie set-up. It's a vertical bar mounted to a corner post, with a short length of chain attached via a ring that allows the chain to slide up & down. She's gotten into a habit of fidgeting back & forth which means I have to move the milk bucket around a lot and lose time milking. This way she can reach her hay, look around, nuzzle her baby, but can't mess around too much. She doesn't seem to mind it and is still giving 3 to 4 quarts of milk after 4 to 5 hours separation from Doug.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nettle braggot - Seven Trees style

Start with as many nettles will fit in the picking basket. We only use the top few leaves of young plants. They'll regrow soon and we can harvest more for drying.
Then bring 1.5 gallons of water to a boil. While the water is heating steep 1 pound malted oats (this should add a nice sweet-nutty flavor and a creamy mouthfeel) 15 minutes or until the water reaches 170F. Take the oats out and add 3lbs dried malt extract. Normally we use liquid malt, but we had bought dried so we could make this recipe when we felt like it, without having to run to town for malt. When the malt is dissovled completely, add the pile of nettles. Boil while stirring occasionally for 50 minutes, then add 2 to 3lbs honey. We just spooned in what looked like a quart jar's worth, since a quart of honey weighs around 2.5lbs. Boil 10 more minutes, then set the kettle in a sink of ice water to chill rapidly. Strain into the carboy and top up with cold water. Add yeast (we used Northwest Ale yeast from Northern Brewer), mix and put the airlock on.

After 24 hours or so, the nettle braggot yeasties (oh yeah! a braggot is loosely defined as a beer-type beverage made with both honey and malted grain) decided to take advantage of the extra sweetness to mount an escape attempt. Things have settled down now, and in a week or so we'll transfer the braggot to another carboy to finish fermenting. A week or so after that, and it goes into bottles. Two weeks after that, and we can drink it!
We put the new trailer to good use this weekend by picking up a load of wood. We've gone through nearly double the wood we did last winter, so we want to make sure we restock as soon as possible. Sometimes when summer heats up, the woodcutters aren't allowed into the forest due to fire risks. Then everyone is backed up and on waiting lists, sometimes until the rains come back in the fall.
No wonder Magnus doesn't want to venture outside! Toshi and one of the Red Stars were having a conference on the back porch. The flock always seems to ignore the 'no chickens on the porch' rule, until they get caught and chased off.
Last but not least, a little down time with the house critters in front of a warm fire.

We enjoyed the spring weather preview Saturday, temps in the 70's and a lovely breezy sunny day. The greenhouse sprouts are in the ground now - lettuce, chard, spinach, broccoli and onions. We'll be planting more over the next few weeks, with the warm weather plants - beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, melons - going in late May.

Stella is still going gangbusters as a milk cow. I've taken the luxury of skipping a couple days of milking here & there, so we can use up all the milk she provides. This week we made a soft cheese with chives, roasted garlic and cracked pepper mixed in. A gallon of milk netted 2lbs of it, with 2qts of whey left over for the dogs & hens. We made 4oz of butter from a pint of top cream. Over a quart of yogurt. And tonight I'll start a pint more of cream souring. Yum!!!

Time to start shopping for an ice cream maker.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stay tuned - busy season is in full swing!

We haven't forgotten about all our faithful readers. We've just been at full tilt the past few days. Check back this weekend for tales of high adventure with the bubbling cauldron of nettle beer, and our early attempts at cheesemaking, plus the ever-popular critter pics!

In the meantime, we were exploring gustatorial delights from our various ancestries, one of which is Swedish. Let us share with you the experience that is Surströmming

"The day has come. Put the can on the table. Find an opener and a cloth. Put the opener in position and cover it with the cloth. Now push the opener through the tin plate and hear and smell the pressure in the can depress. First time you do this you will probably find the smell less inviting. But remember to take a deep breath and you will almost instantly not feel any inconveniancy from the smelling can. All of the people who is going to participate in the dinner must sit close to the can when opened and they should as soon as possible inhale the smell. if you are more than 20 feet away from the can you will not be able to inhale a concentration big enough. This is the trick - you must as quick as possible see to that you strike out your smelling sence. Now you are ready to start eating!"

The hilarity comes in when people attempt to eat this stuff on camera:

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cow, cat and concrete...

Stella has a long way to go to match the size of her mom's horns, but she's getting there. She's a very protective mom, and also keeps an eye on any other critters in her territory. I have no doubts that she'd make short work of any stray dogs or coyotes or even a mountain lion that tried to make trouble.

Here's little Douglas, enjoying a pasture break. We haven't been working with him as much as we'd like with halter training, but he's pretty mellow about being moved around.

Is this really what you want in your guacamole? Magnus claimed this avocado box for his personal retreat, and later defended it from his sister, Mercia.
The cement truck was so huge and heavy, it had to be backed around the fir trees, doing quite a number on the soft ground, but what can you do?

The crew was very conscientious and took great pains to make sure the slab was finished up nicely.

Now we have to wait for the slab to cure before putting a sealant on it. Then, finally, we can drive on it and start putting up shelves.

Newt just couldn't help herself from inspecting the job site, as you can see by the tracks she left.


Today Stella gave her first gallon of milk. She was apart from Doug just over 4 hours. Not too shabby for her first lactation, and me being a newbie milkmaid. She still had a little milk held back for Doug too. I imagine if we took Doug off her and bottle fed him, we'd easily get 3 gallons a day. That would be a bit too much for us, so it's working out just right as is. The laying hens are getting some milk every morning, and they love it. We're making butter and yogurt, and tonight we started some sour cream. Tomorrow we'll try making a soft, herby cheese, and work our way up to feta and cheddar.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

It’s that time again – nettle season!

Why get so excited about an obnoxious, invasive and painful weed? Because it’s tasty, healthy and ever-so-useful. Here’s what Euell Gibbons had to say about nettles in Stalking the Healthful Herbs:
“Unlike many health foods, nettle greens are really good, as well as being good for you.In addition to their good taste, nettles are rich in vitamins A and C, amazingly high in protein, filled with chlorophyll, and probably exceedingly rich in many of the essential trace minerals.
No grazing animal will eat a live nettle, but when nettles are mowed and dried, all kinds of livestock eat them avidly and thrive on them. Horses get shinier coats and improve in health when fed dried nettles. Cows give more and richer milk when fed on nettle hay. Hens lay more eggs when powdered nettle leaves are added to their mash, and these eggs actually have a higher food value. Even the manure from nettle-fed animals is improved, and makes better fertilizer.
Nettles furnish one of the most valuable of all plant substances to use as a mulch in your garden, or to add to your compost pile. Having approximately seven percent nitrogen, figured on a dry-weight basis, this plant is richer in this essential nutrient than many commercial fertilizers.”

From the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society:
“Nettle leaf has a long history of folk use. Nettle greens are wonderfully nutritious, containing large portions of minerals, vitamins A and C, chlorophyll, and protein. Nettle leaf has the ability to increase the production of urine and to increase the efficiency of liver and kidney function. It is used for anemia, has shown antiallergenic properties in hay fever, is taken for urinary problems such as cystitis and stones, and because it increases the excretion of uric acid, it is also used for arthritis and rheumatism. In Europe, nettle rhizomes are used to reduce the inflammation and improve the painful urination that can be part of non-cancerous prostate enlargement. This plant is quite safe. No side effects or contraindications have been reported for nettle products. Nettle leaf is considered to be safe during pregnancy.
Nettle is commonly used as fresh leaf (must be cooked to deactivate the sting), dried leaf, tea, tincture, capsule, tablet and ointment. I like to use nettle leaves in a number of ways. A particular favorite is as a mixture of chopped and lightly steamed nettle leaf, ricotta cheese, tofu and/or egg, and seasonings which I use as a layer in a lasagna dish or use to fill pasta such as manicotti. Nettle leaves are a tasty addition to some soups and stews and can be added to other cooked greens such as spinach, collards, or kale. In the summer, I make sun tea using fresh nettle leaves and fresh mint leaves - adding a touch of lemon makes a refreshing tea. I also dry nettle leaves and use them for tea, in soups, or as a substitute for parsley. Freezing nettles works well for use during the winter months. I chop the fresh leaves and then lightly steam before freezing. Frozen nettle is easily added to soups and stews or cooked as a green. And then there is the tincture I make with the fresh (or dried) leaves and use as a tonic. Oh, by the way, I have read that dried nettle leaf is also useful as animal feed.”

Some harvesting tips from
"When the herb is collected for drying, it should be gathered only on a fine day, in the morning, when the sun has dried off the dew. Cut off just above the root, rejecting any stained or insect-eaten leaves, and tie in bunches, about six to ten in a bunch, spread out fanwise, so that the air can penetrate freely to all parts.
Hang the bunches over strings. If dried in the open, keep them in half-shade and bring indoors before there is any risk of damp from dew or rain. If dried indoors, hang up in a sunny room, and failing sun, in a well-ventilated room by artificial heat. Care must be taken that the window be left open by day so that there is a free current of air and the moisture-laden, warm air may escape. The bunches should be of uniform size and length, to facilitate packing when dry, and when quite dry and crisp must be packed away at once in airtight boxes or tins, otherwise moisture will be reabsorbed from the air."
At Seven Trees, we prefer nettles fresh-picked and steamed, dried for tea, and best of beer! Sometime in the next couple weeks, we’ll be starting a batch of our notorious nettle braggot, a mixture of nettles, barley malt, honey, hops, water & yeast. It tastes rather herbal, but interesting, and adds a bit of a warm flush to the beverage experience....We’ll share the recipe on brewing day.

Here is the garage, with roof on. Tomorrow the slab will be poured.


Milking log:

Stella is consistently giving 3 quarts, sometimes a bit more, after being separated from Doug 4-5 hours. She's getting better about let down, which means the cream content is getting better too. This weekend we hope to try making sour cream and maybe some kind of soft cheese.