Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saponification Sunday...It's About Time!


It's not that I don't make soap anymore, I do.
It's not that I don't want to continue Saponification Sunday, I do.
It's not that I don't want to share all the excitement that revolves around mystical magical lye, I do.

Was I yelling? I didn't mean to yell.
It's late, I'm tired, but don't you worry. I have soap pictures, yes I do.

Charcoal was the drug of choice this week. Nice black, finely powdered, charcoal. I love coloring my soap with this stuff even though it can be messy. I feel it is worth the black lung you'll invariably concoct at the end of your saponification session.

I used to keep mine in a little baggy but I always felt guilty when I store anything powdered in a baggy and spent too much time looking out the window for Big Brother so instead I store my charcoal in a glass spice bottle with a shaker top which works much better anyway.  I generally add my charcoal to some of the olive oil from my soap recipe and then add it back to the traced soap I want to color.

For this bar I used just about  a 1/4 tsp to my main two pound soap batch to get that blue-grey color and then about 1 tsp to the smaller amount of soap I used to make the darker swirls. These swirls were a combination of in the pot as well as in the mold. I believe I even added and swirled some of the black soap into the pot WHILE I was pouring it into the mold.

Which is why when folks ask me to recreate a soap they liked I generally just look at them in a dull-witted way. I'm not one for repeating soap recipes 'cause I'm not one for remembering soap recipes.

Yes, I am aware there is such a thing as a pen and paper. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

This particular soap looks great wet. All sleek and shiny like a seal in Galway Bay I might say. It is scented with pure Eucalyptus Essential Oil.

I think it also looks nice on our bathroom sink just in front of the crazy faucets from IKEA no one wanted me to buy cause they had never seen such an odd design and besides everyone knows IKEA makes cheap crud and the stuff never lasts but I ignored them and I bought the faucets and they are still working five years later, so there.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Farm Sale Update...To Jinx or Not to Jinx

South Pork Ranch Banner
Inventory item #45
Well of this am, we have an offer.
It's a nice offer, not too low, not too high (is there such a thing?)

But of course attorneys must be involved, contingencies must be written, inventory must be finalized ,yes they would like the calf hutches, but no they do not need the livestock trailer, that kind of stuff.

Details, details and more details.

So we must wait for financing to be approved and attorneys to return from vacations (the nerve!) We must put serious thought into the possibility that if all goes through we may be moving in a short amount of time. Do you all have the slightest inkling of what this all means?

It means we may be getting what we asked for, a very simple life, on a very simple piece of land to be run by (wait for it) a couple of simpletons. Good thing we actually planted a garden this year and even better that I got over my inane fear of pressure canners and started putting up the food we'll need to survive.

Including 7 pounds of cabbage soaking in brine as I write, since I decided no decent homestead should be without homemade sauerkraut. If it fails I plan to consume it as cabbage wine, I'm not about to throw out several hours of work you know. Who else wants a glass?

So we wait and watch the wheels of Real Estate Purchase Contracts turn at a slower rate than we would like while feeling it's all spinning faster than we'll be able to keep up. We'll need to seriously downsize our belongings due to the tiny detail we have no new house to move into. Will we buy a trailer? Move a barn onto the property and build a small apartment in between the cow and pig stalls? Or will we try to build a tire house in the few short months we'll have before winter?

I am not kidding about the tire house.

Will we have a big garage sale or just donate all the extra stuff?
Will we buy a yurt to live in just for this fall and winter?
Will we get tired of going in circles if we live in a yurt?
Will there be enough $ left over to homestead full time?
Will we get tired of eating all that sauerkraut?
Will I remember to go to school?

SCHOOL?!? Whose bleepin' idea was it to return to college anyway?

We are excited and scared witless. What if the offer is withdrawn? But more importantly,what if it isn't and this really is the beginning of that last great chapter of our lives?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prince Farming Finds his Hidden Treasure




We've been married 21 years and I'll admit I have not always been supportive of Keith's need to hang on to junk, I mean inventory.

And over the years we've had a few discussions about inventory control. like the need (I believed) to keep a dumpster on the farm being as reliable daily garbage pickup in our area is non-existent. It took almost 15 years to win that battle. In Keiths defense he did do a great job of collecting cans and steel, as well as burning 99% of all our trash.

But still it was difficult for me to see items of non-use piled up around the farm. We found more compromises though, like the one where I said I'd be in charge of the yard around the farmhouse and he could be in charge of the land around the barns.

Then I came home full time and crossed the boundary, literally. Oppps. Fortunately I am married to a man who forgives easily and even more fortunately as I work at the farm fulltime now instead of just visiting on my days off from RN duty, I have come to see the reason for keeping so much inventory.

Sometimes you just might need it.

This week, Keith outdid himself in the recycling/inventory reinvention department, and if awards were given for this skill he would deserve it most.

When we bought The Poor Farm last August, there was a decades old, totally collapsed barn on the property. Many of us, myself included thought we should torch the building's remains and put it out of our misery. But Keith and son Jason thought it best to go through all that rotting wood piece by piece. Why? Because who knew what treasure they might find underneath?

This spring and summer they did just that and sure enough at the bottom of that collapsed barn under tons of wood beams and walls they found this:

A hay conveyer. Circa 1970?

For you city folk, this is a device that will move bales of hay and straw from point A (usually the hay rack) to point B (usually the hay loft in the barn.)

Of course it was rusty and slightly bent at the top, probably from when the barn crashed down on it but Keith saw a real diamond in this hunk of flaking metal and he rescued her from her oppressive grave.

Loading her onto the back of our livestock trailer he covered her with grease to get her worn parts moving again. He added a motor, (from an old goat milker he'd been holding onto for over a decade) a new chain and in just a couple hours...

She was back doing what she was born to do.

Making the farmer and his helper's job, (Thanks so much Aaron Stoll) a little easier.

So even though I am not always pleased about our collection of inventory, it is reassuring to know that when my parts get rusty, my original paint job goes flakey, and my top gets bent out of alignment, my husband will do all he can to save me from the rubble pile and keep me in good working order.

That's a good thing, right?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Money Laundering Day

After deep cleaning several rooms in this 120 year old farmhouse (the mold in my shower had evolved into a lovely hunk of Brie), feeding the pigs, mowing for two hours, riding my new bike in 90 degree heat (cause I'm a  bafoon that's why) and weeding the garden I am too tired to give you anything more than cheap humor.

Tomorrow, should be better.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Secret Garden 2014

I started it three years ago.


I always wanted a small spot on our farm where I could be alone to read, to write, to read about writing, to write about reading, to plant, to weed, to count our wads of chicken egg money.  A place full of color and the perfect amount of shade vs. sun. And thus The Secret Garden was born, or at least carved out of a small patch of weeds.

We enclosed the long rectangle with old hog panels and leftover gates covered in chicken wire (I swear when I get Alzheimers Keith will control me with the same technique) Friend Jay laid a brick path, all recycled from a chimney we tore out of our farm house, seeds were sown, chairs were placed.



In the spring of this year, the weeds were massive back there and I debated..."WHY?!" Speaking in regards to, why did I want to put any effort into this space if indeed we are selling the farm? The answer was clear.


So then, with that clarification made, I figured I might as well make my future burial spot attractive. It took several sessions to clear the weeds but slowly the joy of working in that area resumed and I was back in love with this narrowly minded zone.

Dingy chair cushions will go this year and the wood fence
behind them will be painted. Blue? Purple? An ombre mix of this two?

Of course the brick path has weed issues but as of today, I have many blooms shining through. Also a few rugs placed on the bricks to help kill the buggery creeping Charlie. Flowers that are blooming today are daisies, peteunias, hollyhocks, morning glories, dahlias, coreopsis, dianthus, hosta's, lavender and vincas. Soon to bloom are tall zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers and a butterfly bush.

I hate plastic chairs. This one will be replaced soon.

For years I tried to grow Shasta Daisies on our farm. Only when planted in
The Secret Garden did they ever thrive

The wall to the right covered with morning glory vines,
 decorative gourd vines
and sunflowers.

The Entrance.
The mailbox holds gardening tools , books, magazines and maybe
 a bag of nuts. I'm not sure.

Definitely not a formal garden. The patch of grass in front of the daisies
holds one pillow and one supine gardener.

Black hollyhocks which are more blood red.

Because this is their third year many of my perennials have taken off, spreading nicely. I still have a couple small areas where I will transplant more long termers like some lilies and phlox. The wire wall between the Secret Garden and our veggie garden is now thickly covered with sunflowers as well as unruly vining gourds. This barrier does indeed make the garden impossible to see from the outside and so I can, as plan, sit back there with a good Anita Shreve novel, and not be noted.

As long as I don't slurp my beer too loudly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Raw Honey, Worth its Weight in Gold.

Even our bees got a late start after our cold winter and for a short time we feared too many had succumbed to the sub zero temps but never fear, the honey is here and is SWEET!

Last week, our farmer friend Ann, another bee owner, and Keith harvested the bees hard work. Running it through our centrifuge and draining it into a large bucket, all I had to do was strain it again (several gallons worth) and bottle it, and cap it, and label it, and put it in the store.

None of that is technically difficult but still I mange to get one sticky kitchen by the time I am done. Cleanup is easy though. I just lay on the floor and start licking.

Like our milk, we sell our honey raw, never heated or pasteurized. Raw honey is an alkaline-forming food that contains natural vitamins, enzymes, powerful antioxidants and other important natural nutrients. These are the very nutrients that are destroyed during the heating and pasteurization process. In fact, pasteurized honey is equivalent to and just as unhealthy as eating refined sugar.
Why should you care? For the following reasons:

Raw honey from bees who thrive on local flora is best for those of you with allergies to those same plants. It has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

It can be used to heal wounds, (including acne) and to moisturize skin and hair. It can relive minor burns and rashes as well.

It promotes digestive health, can stabilize blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure and heal stomach ulcers. You can cook with it, bake with it, even wash your face with it!

It can decrease coughs, colds and it effectively helps with asthma and bronchitis. Got one of those dry irritating coughs that keeps you up occasionally at night? Chuck the Nyquil and swallow a tablespoon of honey instead. You'll be amazed at how well it works to stop the cough AND soothe your irritated throat.

It has a very long shelf life, some say it is indefinite due to its high anti-bacterial qualities so you can stock up in the summer, fill your pantry and be set for a very long time. If it crystallizes just throw the bottle in a pan of hot water and it will revert back to its liquid state.

It is also a natural sleep remedy. A spoonful of honey before bed on its own or in warm tea is far better than OTC medications. My Aunt Bernie's friend Helen (who died at age 100!) would put it in her small snifter of Brandy each night but of course that makes it a little difficult to assess which liquid was really helping her sleep. But at her age...did it matter?

Be warned, unless the bottle says "Raw Honey" it most likely is not. Buy your honey in your own area. Getting honey from several states away will not help with any allergies you might have to the native plants in your area. And honey from overseas is poorly regulated and often contains additional cane sugar, water etc...

Know your farmer, know your bees.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Raw Milk Monday...Milking our Pigs

Going to take a tiny break from the IDPH raw milk issues and just tell you how we use raw milk for the non-humans on our farm.

Our pigs are very selective, they like their milk well cultured. Here's how we get that delicate balance of probiotic dairy for our fine hogs. First we take a cow.

And milk her. Then the milk is stored in a big cold stainless steel tank where customers come and fill their jars. Every other day the tank is emptied and cleaned cleaned and any leftover milk goes into one of our large white plastic barrels which Keith has fitted with handy spigots at the bottom.

While this whole, grass fed, organic milk sits in the barrels it goes through an amazing transformation becoming part cottage cheese, part butter, 100% of the good bacteria hogs guts (bacon and chops) thrive on.


Each day we drain the milk, which gets thicker and thicker as the milk sits, into buckets and carry them to our hogs. You might think that milk sitting out in the open, in the sun, in the summer might smell...horrible. But it does not. It smells rich, like good yoghurt or expensive well made cheese.
Little feeder pigs get less milk and bigger feeder hogs get more milk. It's all deeply scientific. Our breeder hogs, sows and boars do not get raw milk as being too fat can mean difficulty with breeding, conception and farrowing. Once a sow is a week or two from farrowing  we do supplement her grain with milk to help her keep up with the nursing demands of the future 10 or 12 hungry mouths.
Our pigs become real hogs when it comes to "milking time". They scream like women (some women)at an end of season 2 for 1 clearance sale.
Some in fact are so greedy they've been known to take drastic measures to ensure they get (more than) their fair share of milk.

 The end result? We get an amazing layer of very tender juicy fat on our chops, bacon, roasts. Once known as too lean, our Red Wattles have busted through that urban myth as well as a few of their hutches. They are frankly just a bunch of fat happy pigs.