Monday, June 30, 2008

Sima - a tasty traditional Finnish homebrew

Here is the way our friend Saara of Endor makes sima. She says "It's fermented, but not alcoholic, at least not beyond a percent or so, if that". "First we have the ingredients: 8 liters water (not shown) 1/2 kg sugar 1/2 kg brown sugar 2 lemons (organic since rinds are used) 10 hops flowers 1 bottle pilsner 1/4 tsp yeast raisins & more sugar Boil the water, mix in the sugar, and add the lemon rind, sliced lemons (pith and pits removed) and hops. When this mixture has cooled, add in the yeast and beer. Let ferment for one day. Strain into bottles. Into each bottle add 1 tsp sugar and a few raisins. Cap bottles and store in a cool location. Sima is ready to drink in one week."
Further commentary from Saara: "Here is the mixture cooling. No beer and yeast have been added yet. I'll drop in the hops tonight and let it cool until morning. I'll have to split it into a couple of pots when I add the beer and yeast. Apparently I thought a 9 liter stock pot would be enough. Unfortunately, I don't have bottles, a capper, and all that. 2 liter pop bottles would work great..." "Here we were bottling the stuff. A couple of rinsed raisins in each bottle (I was generous since they're a favorite treat), teaspoon or so of sugar (depending on bottle size) and strained into the bottles. "
Apparently bottled sima can explode at random, so might be best to use glass coke bottles or what we're planning to try, champagne bottles with wired-down corks.

Stay tuned for a pictorial update of our "vacation" week. We've been working on Ryder's new quarters (with a spare stall for any pony we might happen to find), plus trying to fill our new garage with hay for keeping a milk cow, beef steer and bull in good shape all winter. Not to mention the usual garden frenetics. The current heat wave is good for growth, but means lots of watering. We managed a break to take the dogs swimming at Birch Bay, and to sit under the seven trees of Seven Trees with a beer and relax. The heat has been hard on all the beings here, but food comes from sunlight, one way or another, so as the saying goes - make hay while the sun shines....

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The fun is swarming at Seven Trees

A swarm of honeybees made its way through the neighborhood today. I went outside to check on the dogs and heard a loud buzzing above the garage. Hovering overhead was a huge swarm. They slowly moved south over the house, and then over the pasture and on to a tree in the neighbors' front yard. We missed seeing them form into a compact mass to rest, and they soon disappeared somewhere over the raspberry fields.
Where Newt is cute - she came to visit with us in the shade of the front yard trees this afternoon, and for once happily posed for the camera.
We replanted the cukes this evening, and Mark supervised from the greenhouse. He was a little camera-shy about waving though.

Uh oh! Vacation leaves lots of time for experiments...Bacon Salt!!

On a more laborious note, we did bring home a trailer-load of lumber to start building the new range shelter for Ryder tomorrow, our new herd sire. We'll post updates, if the current heatwave permits.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Who'll stop the rain...

Well, they may not stop the rain, but it looks like the Washington State Department of Ecology is going to seriously interfere with rainwater harvesting. Check out this press release:

Department of Ecology News Release - June 10, 2008
Ecology begins statewide rulemaking for rainwater collection
OLYMPIA – To clarify regulations governing the collection and use of rainwater, Ecology is seeking the public’s help in drafting a statewide rainwater rule.
Three open house sessions for education and public discussion about collecting rainwater for beneficial use are scheduled this month in Everett, Lacey and Wenatchee.
Ecology doesn’t require homeowners to obtain water right permits to collect and store small amounts of rainwater.
The new rule for the first time would define how much rainwater can be collected and used before a permit is required. The rule isn’t intended to regulate storage and release of rainwater when no “beneficial use” will be made of the water.
Under state law, beneficial uses include recreation, irrigation, residential water supplies and power generation.
Washington law identifies rainwater as a water resource of the state. Residential rainwater collection systems can range from a 50-gallon rain barrel to cisterns of 30,000 gallons or more. Commercial systems can be much larger.
Ecology is seeking public comment on what the threshold should be for requiring a water right permit for those systems that could affect the water supply of senior water right holders or stream flows in some river basins. Non-potable uses of rainwater typically include toilet flushing and irrigation for gardens.
In water-short areas such as the San Juan Islands, some homeowners use rainwater as the sole source of their water supply. Ecology is especially interested in encouraging rainwater collection in urban areas like Puget Sound where it can be used to reduce stormwater runoff and supplement municipal water supplies.
"A statewide rule would remove the ambiguity about rainwater collection from existing water law,” said Ken Slattery, manager of Ecology’s Water Resources Program. “We want to ensure that collection and storage of rainwater happens in a way that is consistent with the protection of stream flows and water rights."
On a more lively note, we attended a solstice party down-county at Endor. Well, it's not really Endor, but it looks pretty darn close, being in the rainforest on the banks of the Skagit river. We toasted the longest day of the year with sima and doughnuts, traditional Finnish solstice fare, thanks to one of our hosts' Finnish heritage. Here's a pic of sima in the bottle. That's raisins in the bottom of it. If anyone is interested, I can post the recipe with pictures another day. You can also read more here.

A couple days of sun makes a huge difference to the plants. This single poppy is now surrounded by many more. The garden is perking up and most of the replants are doing great. Still not sure about getting a tomato harvest in time though. And we found out that wireworms like radishes! We may have to grow them in a raised bed with hand-fluffed soil next year.
Mercia and Magnus, tandem sleeping. They've gotten good about going outside, but still come in to use the litterbox. Oh well...
This weekend, we'll start building the range shelter. It will have 2 open stalls, one for Ryder and one spare. Should be loads of fun, considering the forecast is for temps in the 80's!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Free to good home

Crichton and Newt are inspecting our new roadside score. We already had a spare plywood shelf from a shelving unit in the shed, and needed a base to make a workbench. On our way to the feed store, we saw it waiting for it's forever home.A few screws and it's now a storage space for our bigger tools boxes and a dandy work bench too. That grey metal shelving unit to the right was a freebie from a former job. As you can see, storage and work space have barely made a dent in the shop bay of our new garage.
The western-most bay has 45 bales of hay stacked in one corner, with room behind for kitties to patrol. Turns out they've been using it as a dining room too. Here's Crichton munching on a baby cottontail. Not the nicest sight, but nature sorts out checks & balances whenever possible. The mama bunny is always in our pasture or front yard or barn yard, and does her thing without being hassled. But her babies don't always learn the ropes fast enough, and the cats get them. Enough survive to carry on, and we've gotten to enjoy our rabbit inhabitants, as long as they stay out of the garden.
Stewart, making sure he really really really can't come in the shop. "Really? Are you sure? You might want a big dumb dork to help out.... "
And here's Maggie, peeking out from under the back deck. He & Mercia are learning about the big outdoors, but they hide under the deck quite a bit. And wouldn't you know it, they still come inside to use the litter box!

Monday, June 16, 2008

No worries at Seven Trees

With Magnus on the scene, we humans never have to relax for a moment. We just let him handle that thankless task, saving the frantic, incessant labor for us. What a trooper!
Look at that technique! Maggie is a true master of his art form. He really sleeps like this, among other equally boneless positions.
As for the two-leggeds, we've replanted the garden casualites, done prodigious weeding, harvested plenty of lettuce, mowed, hilled, mucked, raked (but no muck-raking!) and as always, milked. Stella is still giving a steady 3 quarts each morning, saving plenty of cream for Doug. Sooner or later, I'll wean him so we cane get enough cream to make plenty of butter. But not just yet, because with once-a-day share-milking, I can actually take a couple days off each week and sleep in.
Also in the cattle news, Nash will be going home on the 28th. He's been really easy to deal with, and it seems like he's done his job, based on the lack of "sparks" between he & Stella. We'll be building our bull pen right after that. It will be an 8 'x 16' addition to our little barn, giving us 2 stalls on the south side that open onto a small pen and the pen opens onto 2 different grazing paddocks. It will give us lots of options for cattle-wrangling, and free up a stall for milking only.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Year Without Summer?

Very very unhappy beans. The few that sprouted are bug-bit and dying. Most of them are still half-sprouted in the ground. We'll be replanting all our beans this weekend, and crossing fingers for enough sun to get a crop in before frost.
Sad little corn sprouts. They might make it if we get the forecasted sun this weekend. Hopefully the dose of nettle water they got today will give them enough boost to grab the sunlight and go for it.

With the headlines full of bad news about weather-caused crop failures in the midwest, rising food prices, and contaminated tomatoes, having a large productive garden is even more important than ever. But according to the weather wizards at the UW's Climate Impacts Group, the PNW is in the clutches of a La Nina event. Once this cycle runs its course, we'll be at the mercy of the larger effects of global climate change again.

(A side note here - It's unfortunate that media outlets are perpetrating misinformation about the nitty gritty of global warming. The current trend is to point out the colder, wetter extreme weather events as evidence that our planet's overall temperature is not rising, with the added propaganda spin that global warming warnings are part of a hype of carbon credit investing/trading programs. The fact of the matter is that the earth, on average, is getting warmer. But not in a linear, predictable, all-encompassing way. The climate has become unstable as it warms, causing extreme weather of all kinds - drought, floods, cyclones - in places and intensities we haven't experienced before.
A report titled I
mpacts of Climate Change on Washington’s Economy says: "...while the central trends of concern in global climate change (the emissions of greenhouse gases, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and rising average global temperatures) increase in a linear fashion, societies experience climate as weather, a distinctly non-linear
phenomenon...". Let's not permit the profit-seeking agendas of the corporations vested in status quo keep us from looking at the facts and planning as best we can for the climate challenges we face.)

In any case, as disheartening as this year's growing season has been, it pales in comparison to "the year without summer", also known as "Eighteen-hundred and froze to death" - 1816.
In April 1815, Mt. Tambora in Indonesia erputed, killing over 10,000 people in pyroclastic flows, blanketing land and sea for miles around with ash, lava and pumice, and it continued erupting through July of that year. As bad as that was, people didn't have an understanding about global weather patterns, so the following year when the catastrophe continued to unfold in NE America, Canada, Europe, and parts of China and Japan, no one made the connection to a volcano on the other side of the world.
"Although daytime highs remained relatively normal, extreme drops in nighttime temperatures led to frosts in April and May that killed or damaged corn and fruit crops. The surprising snowfall on June 5 and 6 that blanketed New England was an indication of what would follow that summer.
Further frosts through the usually temperate months killed corn, fruit and vegetable crops from Maine to North Carolina. Animals, particularly birds and newly shorn sheep, died of exposure in Vermont. The poor weather conditions had a notable result: food shortages drove many New England farmers westward.
Conditions in Europe were worse. The altered weather had adverse effects on French crops, greatly reduced the food supply. Wholesale failure or late harvesting of grapes due to frosts resulted in a practically nonexistent grape harvest. Food riots broke out in Britain, Switzerland and France triggering the looting of grain warehouses. Widespread famine in Switzerland caused the government to declare a national emergency and release instructions for distinguishing edible plans from poisonous ones. That year, the British government abolished income tax because of severe food shortages.
Perhaps Ireland endured the most dismal consequences of the changing climate. An exceptionally wet summer, with rain falling 142 out of 153 days, led to a wholesale destruction of wheat, oat and potato crops. An estimated 60,000 people died of famine or famine related diseases in this, Ireland's first major potato failure. A wave of emigration followed.
The lowered temperatures and particularly moist conditions also played a pivotal role in the rampant spread of disease in 1816. Scientists frequently blame Ireland's rainy summer for the typhus epidemic of 1816 to 1819. The epidemic later spread to Europe and ultimately claimed the lives of 200,000.
Tambora's sulfurous cloud also draped its destructive veil over China and India. As it did in North America, the cold weather killed trees, rice crops and water buffalo herds in Northern China. The explosion disrupted the monsoon season, causing floods to engulf the Yangtze Valley and kill any remaining crops.
The cooler climate also delayed India's monsoon season. Famine reduced immunity throughout Asia, weakening resistance to the spread of cholera, aggravated by the torrential rain when it finally fell. The cholera epidemic eventually spread to Europe.
Contemporary art and literature also reflect the dismal weather of 1816. While vacationing in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, a young author felt inspired by the unusually abysmal weather and penned a novel reflecting the morose tone that overcame most of Europe that year. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein remains a Gothic classic.
Vivid streaks of green and red filled sunsets for several years, caused by the sulfur aerosols lingering in the stratosphere following Tambora's eruption. It is believed that noted British artist J. M. W. Turner used the spectacular sunsets as inspiration for his paintings.
While researchers have documented the environmental aftermath of Tambora's eruption, the human cost that followed is difficult to assess. Historical and cultural damage amount to much more than just the number of lives lost.
The explosion obliterated one civilization in particular. The Tamboran kingdom of Sumbawa disappeared in 1815. Not much is known about the civilization, which was unknown to the Western world before the early 1800s. The first Dutch and British researchers to visit the island were surprised to find the inhabitants speaking a language unlike any other in Indonesia. Some believe the 10,000 Tamborans spoke a language in the Mon-Khmer family, resembling those spoken in Indochina. Most evidence of the civilization was lost to the ash and stone of Tambora's pyroclastic flows. "

So while I'm replanting my veggies this weekend, I'll keep in mind that things could be a whole lot worse! Reading about events like this is sure good incentive to find ways to cope with extreme weather in terms of food security. Luckily I can just go to the store or online and order more seeds and buy more plant starts. But that may not always be the case, so it's prudent to experiment with gardening under all kinds of conditions.
If you want to read more about Tambora and the non-summer of 1816, try these links:

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Coldest June in 30 years!

We've been setting records for lowest high temperature in Cascadia this month. We had a burst of freak heat a while back, and nothing but cold, wet & grey since. Most crops & gardens are way behind, and now we have to start thinking about beating the first frost date!
Seven Trees is no exception. The only happy plants are the assorted greens and the potatoes. The corn, squash, peppers & onions seem to be in suspended animation, waiting for the sun to return. The beans have somehow miraculously begun to sprout, even though it's about 15 degrees colder than it should be. The tomatoes are pouting, and I've slowly been replacing the worst-looking ones with store-bought starts. Potato bugs nipped the heads off the melon starts in the greenhouse, but the replacements are coming up fine. Our real tragedy came to light today, when I noticed the previously happy-looking cukes wilting to nothing. Upon closer inspection it seems they have given up on summer and are starting to rot in the ground. So I started new ones in the greenhouse today, in hopes the weather will turn in time to get a crop in before frost.
Here are 2 ideas we're trying to mitigate some of our challenges. The potatoes are hilled with straw instead of dirt. This should give the tubers a place to form that the wireworms can't inhabit. I'll give them another pile of straw next week, and then we wait for buried treasure. The plastic doohickeys are rain ponchos for the tomatoes. Blight tends to spread and grow when water splashes spores from the ground onto the leaves. Now that we have soaker hoses for watering, we can cover them from most of the rain. Right now I have them down really low to act as mini-greenhouses. Hopefully they will catch & hold a little heat to help the plants hang on til the sun comes back. When that happens, we'll loosen and move the rain hats as needed to keep the tomatoes from getting too hot while staying dry.
Here's a batch of nettle tea (the garden kind) almost ready to use. I'll dilute it half with water, and scoop out the nettles to put on the compost pile. The plants really seem to love it when they're in the growth stages.
Stella, Doug & Nash, scrounging around the barnyard. I just locked them out of the grazing paddock for the night, so they have to eat hay (the roughage is good for them) and clean up some of the grass they've been ignoring. Still not sure about Stella's hoped-for pregnancy. Good thing Nash is here for another couple of weeks. And latest news is that we'll have Ryder here in August, so lots to get ready before we pick him up.
And this is what happens when you leave stuffed gators unsupervised overnight....looks like the dog toy version of an upset tummy. Or maybe Stewart was trying to make an artistic statement! In any case, another expensive toy bites the dust.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

48th Annual Scottish Highland Festival doth approach!!

Here's to the heath, the hill and the heather, The bonnet, the plaid, the kilt and the feather!
But first...
Last night we went to see Sandor Katz speak at our local food coop. Sandor wrote, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, as seen above. Sandor is a food activist and a self professed "fermentation fetishist", who believes that taking responsibility for what we eat can change not just us for the better, but the very world we live in.
Sandor demonstrated an easy method to make a fermented vegetable mix, much like sauerkraut, in a simple glass gallon jar with a lid as he explained the nutritional benefits of eating live fermented foods. Live fermented food can help us digest better, replentish the flora in our gut, and helps us extract nutrients from food that otherwise might be impossible for us to digest.
You may want to check out his book, Wild Fermentation, which details making everything from fermented vegetables to vinegar, and includes a great deal of information on fermenting benefits, including inumerable recipes.
But I digress...

Alba Gu Brath!

Local folk may want to recall that this coming weekend June 7th and 8th, is the 48th annual Bellingham Scottish Highland Games at Hovander Park Homestead shown just below.

There will be many a Scottish dancer, bagpipers and Highland games to perplex and astound!

We folk of Seven Trees will be attending Saturday, likely for most of the day, so drop us a note should anyone wish to meet us in the beer garden for a pint of Boundary Bay's finest Scotch Ale!

SlĂ inte maith, h-uile latha, na chi 'snach fhaic!

(Good health, every day, whether I see you or not!)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Is she or isn't she?

They certainly look rather bored with each other, don't they? This weekend, if I got my days counted right, would be when Stella shows sign of coming into heat if she's not pregnant. She pretty much did boring cow things like eating, sleeping, grooming Doug and Nash. No sparks, no mooning about like a lovesick teenager. And her milk production has gone back up to a steady 3 quarts at morning milking, after her brief experiment with holding back milk from me. Doug still gets most of the cream, but we'll manage until weaning time.
Here's Doug, in his favorite napping spot, a bed of leftover hay, next to a stump. It's usually shady when it's hot, and dry when it rains. It's also conveniently out of the way of grown up hooves.

One of us at Seven Trees is going to have major surgery in August with about a 2 month recovery time. That means we'll be hammering on a few projects to make sure we're ready to cope with the drastic labor-force reduction. Now that the garden is mostly in (and we just laid soaker hoses in all beds to speed watering) and the perimeter fence is done, we're concentrating on running electric fencing to delineate all the grazing paddocks. We should be able to rotate them through all 5 with plenty of time to let the grass regrow and disrupt the parasite cycles. We sold our main laying flock in preparation for the younger batch to start laying anytime. They get to free range where ever the cattle go, and that helps keep the bugs down too.

The next project will be building an 8 x 16 lean-to type shelter on the south side of the barn. This will give us 2 stalls that can open into grazing paddocks, separate from each other and/or the barn & barnyard. This is where our new bull will live, and also be a holding pen for anyone who might need to be kept apart. We're designing it with our upcoming hurricane season in mind. Since it's on the side where the worst storms come from, it needs to withstand extreme wind and rain. We're also hoping to run a buried powerline along the driveway, with outlets at the chicken coop, outlet & light in the barn, and a light at the end of the drive for safety (and security).

If the stars all align properly, one last project this summer will be painting the house. It's been on the list forever, and really needs it, but painting weather and free time don't always end up in the same universe.