"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Merry Mabon (preserving log)

Dressed the altar for Mabon today, a day or two early. I’ll continue to add to it as the season progresses. I bought these Japanese lanterns from a nearby farm stand, but they also had the live plants, and I bought a few and planted them in my garden. Hopefully next year I can harvest some of my own. I also want to add more seasonal plants - I like the red amaranth and yellow tansy at this time of year. 

It was an “on” year for the Italian plum tree. There are still hundreds of plums on it - falling fast - but I think I am done with plums for the year. In addition to eating them fresh until I was sick them, I dehydrated a gallon sized ziploc bag full and made twelve half-pints of plum jam. 

Actually, my mom and I made the jam together and it was really nice. She’s amazing, she doesn’t use pectin and her jam always turns out perfectly. She uses her own system for eyeballing when the sugar syrup is ready - she says it will jell when it looks like “King Farouk on a barstool,” which is to say when there are two side by side drips coming off the spoon instead of only one. 

I also canned six pints of salsa ranchera and six pints of regular tomato sauce, and smoked two sockeye salmon. The main harvest left is the pears, but it wasn’t a very good year for pears and there arent a ton of them, for once. 

New Buck (Breeding Season)

We sold Jupiter, our gorgeous Nubian buck, a few months ago. We have used him for three seasons now and it’s time for some new blood. 

 (see this post for my thoughts on swapping out bucks and for some semi-historical tidbits about ritual sacrificial kingship http://newtofarmlife.blogspot.com/2011/10/king-must-die-goat-breeding-and-divine.html?m=1)

I didn’t really want to buy a new buck because 1) they’re a pain in the tuchus and 2) I’m pretty sure each year of breeding is going to be my last. Finding a suitable buck to rent is often difficult. Luckily, my husband has a client just down that road who owns this handsome specimen. I forget his name, but he’s beautiful. He’s not quite as tall as Jupiter, but he is stocky and strong, and he has the same beautiful brown and white coloring. And check out those horns! 

Best of all, he was available for the old fashioned fee of a kid back. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Change of (Beverage) Seasons

It’s been a few years since we last broke out the old cider press. This is the same machine my family used to press apples when I was a little kid growing up on a three acre hobby farm in Woodinville (years before the Microsoft campus transformed it from a sleepy, far-out Seattle suburb into software-mogul wonderland). My mom gave it to me when we first moved up here and started planting apple trees. 

Our apple trees have met various terrible fates. Some were eaten by goats, other run over with riding mowers when they were but tiny saplings. We do have one beautiful, well grown apple tree that I planted specifically for the purpose of making hard cider. It’s an antique variety called a golden russet. But it’s a late apple, best after the first frost, and also I don’t drink alcohol anymore, so it’s of minimal use on a warm September day when we feel like making cider. 

Therefore I invited my good neighbor Hilde and her family to make cider with us. They have a large old orchard with several different kinds of apples. We all traipsed out to pick apples, and her sharp-eyed daughter saved us from a fate worse than death by spotting this horrendously huge hornet’s nest hidden in one of the trees.

Carefully avoiding the tree of mayhem, we gathered several large totes full of apples. Hope kept asking “do you think we have enough apples?” and didn’t believe me when I told her we manifestly had more than enough apples. Like I said, it’s been a few years, but I can still do 5 gallon bucket-to-gallon jug conversions in my head. 

It was a lot of work, as cidering always is,,but we all had a great time. Hilde’s kids had never made cider before and they were excited to turn the crank and pass the apples hand to hand and pour the juice through sieves and funnels. 

And we made SO. MUCH. CIDER. As usual, the weak link in the cider-making chain is finding enough jars. We filled up all my half-gallon mason jars, which means it is truly the end of milk season (the goat is almost dry anyway). Luckily Homero rooted around in the recesses of his shop and came up with this 3 gallon skull-shaped beverage dispenser. It doesn’t have a lid, but we just put a plate on top of it and will dispense cider at will for the next few days. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

Operation Trampoline Rescue (From the Blackberries)

My youngest daughter is turning 18 this weekend (I am
brushing right past this fact quickly cause otherwise I’ll cry), and she asked if we could possibly get the trampoline into a usable state before her party. 

The trampoline, a very expensive and fine Rainbow brand trampoline with a 1,000 pound weight rating and zero springs, was the first recreational object we bought when we moved here. The kids have jumped on it pretty much since they were old enough to jump. 

But it hasn’t been used much in recent years, and the blackberries did what blackberries do to inert items left in one place for too long - they ate it. Not entirely, no. In fact they were mostly confined to the underneath part of the trampoline where we couldn’t mow. But over the years the vines got very tough, thick, and woody, and made it impossible to jump on the trampoline at the risk of doing your self a major injury. Actually, I guess the risk of major injury is kind of intrinsic to trampolines, but y’all know what I mean. 

The trampoline is too heavy to pick up and move. Only the occasional 80 mph wind gusts we get up here can do that. As proof against just that, several years ago we pounded some fence stakes into the ground and chained the trampoline down, so it’s EXTRA immovable. And of course it was also lassoed and tied to the earth by innumerable blackberry vines. Moving the trampoline to mow underneath it wasn’t an option. 

Papa to the rescue. I suggested using  the forklift to lift one side of it but he said the forklift needs to be on concrete or it will just tip over or sink into the ground. But he said the tow truck would work. And it did. Once he used the truck to pry the trampoline up on an angle, it was pretty easy to hold it up there. 

The Stihl has a branch-cutter attachment, so homero basically used a chainsaw on a stick to cut all the gnarly canes underneath while Paloma and her boyfriend held the trampoline up. Then Paloma went underneath with a rake and pulled out the cut vines, and I gathered them up with gloves on and put them in the wheelbarrow and hauled them over to the compost. 

It was about an hour’s work for four people. Some of the vines had grown through the net and had to be carefully cut from both sides and extricated, but we got it done. The trampoline is back in action.

Friday, April 14, 2023

King Kong Squash

This gorgeous, enormous Blue Hubbard squash was given to me by a neighbor. I don’t know for sure if she grew it herself but she’s quite a gardener so it’s entirely possible. Blue Hubbards are an heirloom variety winter squash with excellent keeping qualities, fine dry orange flesh, and which grow to impressive size. This one weighs 43 pounds. 

I’m staying home sick from work today, so I decided it was as good a day as any to deal with the giant squash. Their shells are so hard I had to have Homero cut it up with an axe. It occurs to me that this blog is full of pictures of Homero dealing with various large and unusual comestible items. Like the 25 pound Ling Cod. Cow heads. I should make a post of all those photos. 

My plan is to bake it, purée it, and make a bunch of pies, some soup, and….. I guess freeze the rest of the purée for later. It’s not recommended to home-can winter squash, even in a pressure canner. Something about the purée being too thick to heat evenly. But it freezes very well, and quart sized blocks of frozen purée can be used to make soup, pie and quick breads into the future. 

I’m also saving some seeds to plant later this spring. Blue Hubbards are an open pollinated heirloom variety, which means they will produce fruit similar to the parent plant, not like the more common hybrids that will produce fruit unlike, and usually inferior to, the parent plant. 

I love this photo of me and the squash. Look how happy I am! I can lift 43 pounds of food over my head!! 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Rosca de Reyes (King Cake)

I made this lovely Rosca de Reyes cake today, which is January 6th - also known as Epiphany and the Three Kings day. 

Mexicans celebrate three kings day with a Rosca de Reyes, or a King Cake. It’s a sweet egg-and-butter enriched bread studded with dried fruit, nuts, and sugar paste. Sometimes it’s stuffed with marzipan. And somewhere inside it, there’s a little statue of the baby Jesus. Or a baby anyway. The tradition goes that whoever gets the baby Jesus in his or her slice of King Cake has to make tamales for the next feast on the calendar, which is Candelmas - February second. 

(For a post about Candelmas/Imbolc, click here http://newtofarmlife.blogspot.com/2014/02/imbolc-repost.html?m=1

Like many other catholic feast days, Epiphany has some Pagan antecedents. The tradition of a King Cake goes way back in pre-Christian Europe. Instead of a baby Jesus, a dried broad bean would be baked into the cake and the person who found it was crowned King for a day. 

This is an example of a topsy-turvy festival, when a peasant can be a king and vice versa. The Bean King would be the focus of the celebration and the center of attention. He could behave however he wanted for the night - get super drunk, grope the girls - without repercussions. Such festivals upset the social order and let people blow off steam, flouting the norms which they have to live by the rest of the year. 

But in the REALLY way back days, in some bronze-age planting societies across Eurasia, the bean-king was no laughing matter. Instead of being king for a night, he was made the sacred king for a year, during which he was given the best of everything and revered by everyone. But when the next year’s planting time came around, he would be killed and his blood poured on the fields to ritually fertilize them. 

There is no bean in my cake, nor is there a tiny baby Jesus statue. Oddly enough, I don’t actually own such a thing. For the decorations, I used strips of my homemade fruit leather, and thin slices of dehydrated pears colored with green food coloring. Tonight we will enjoy it with hot chocolate and nobody will be King. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Rains Are Here (Hallelujah)

Third straight day of rain, hooray. 

The smoke is gone. I don’t think the forest fires are actually put out yet, but it won’t be long. The rain is supposed to continue for a week, at least. Who knows, they might continue until May of 2023. 

Alas, I think it’s too late to see any fall flush of grass. Temperatures have dropped precipitously and we won’t see much sun for a while. But without the cow (now in the freezer) we ought to have plenty of hay. 

Time to buy some propane, I guess. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Smoke and Drought

In a typical year, the fall rains begin sometime in September. School starts, and it starts to rain within a couple of weeks. We quite often get a few weeks more of sunshine after the rains make their debut. I’m fact late September and October are often gorgeous months, with crisp sunny days. 

This year, we haven’t had measurable rain since May. That’s unheard of. It’s the driest summer on record, and not by a little. There will be no fall flush of grass this year. Even if the rains arrive later today, its too late. There isn’t enough sunlight and warmth to stimulate the growth of the grass. We’ve been feeding hay for a few weeks now. There just isn’t any green anywhere in the pasture. When I have time I take the goats out to eat the blackberry leaves - the blackberries are just fine, thank you - but that can only be a supplement, not their whole diet. I worry that we will run out of hay sometime this winter and there will just be none to be had. 

Last week we started to feel the effects of wildfires burning in the cascades. This happens every year now - it never did until the last decade. I don’t remember a single “smoke season” until maybe …. 2014? 2016? Anyway, it’s bad right now. Our air quality today is rated “hazardous” and schools have cancelled all athletics. I don’t know how much it affects the goats, but it can’t be pleasant. I’ve had a  headache and a sore throat and scratchy eyes for days. 

It’s supposed to rain on Friday. Here, anyway, that will probably clear the air fairly well, hallelujah. But when will the real, drenching fall rains come and co er the entire region? When will be have the “season-ending event” that the firefighters are hoping for? Why is it so late this year? 

Friday, September 30, 2022

Everybody Gets a Share (Doggy Delight)



My husband’s insistence on keeping the gristly bits of the cow sure paid off for the dogs. They’ve been chewing on these shinbones for a full week now. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Meat Math, Bovine Edition (GRAPHIC)

Not a very good picture, but that is a 40 quart stockpot, with  substantially less than half of a freshly butchered steer’s head submerged in it. 

This is what I came home to today. I knew, of course, that today was the day appointed for Pepe Toro, our Jersey steer, to meet his end. The men from Lynden meats were scheduled to arrive in their business-like panel van loaded with motorized equipment and on-board hot water, and do what butchers do. Half of Pepe Toro is already sold, and I have been making room in the freezer for the other half. The death of the cow, per se, was not a surprise. 

I did not know - though I should have suspected - that my husband was going to ask the men from Lynden meats to give him every scrap of the cow, from the horns to the hooves, that they would normally throw away or sell to a glue factory or something, and try to turn it into food. We’ve been through this before, and he ALWAYS does the same thing. 

We are just not prepared for cooking an entire cow’s head. In the past, even pig’s heads have proved to be difficult to manage. The head of a well-grown cow is a majorly large hunk of gristle and bone, and once the tongue has been removed, in my opinion it ought to be ignored. But Homero comes from a background that despises waste and finds a way to use EVERYTHING. This is, of course, admirable, but more so in the abstract than in real life. 

After I found the cow’s head sticking three-quarters of the way out of the pot, I convinced Homero to remove it, and to cut it into pieces with his sawzall, removing the horns and the disgusting patches of hair that clung to the skull around them. He has a plan for the horns - they are a gift to his friend Clacoyo, who wants to mount them on his motorcycle helmet. 

It took two sawzall blades, a cleaver, and a mallet to split the skull I to four pieces, but we got it done. Now the head is simmering over a wood fire - after two changes of water - along with a handful of allspice, cloves, star anise, fennel, and black pepper; three heads of garlic; several onions, and a bunch of guajillo chiles. It ought to be done sometime after moonrise. 

Now for the math. 

This animal was free. Homero has several clients who work on large dairy farms, and they are constantly giving away newborn males. I don’t know why they don’t just centrifuge the sperm they use - almost all cows are bred by AI - but either they don’t, or it has a high failure rate. This was the third free calf we’ve raised. 

The feed for a cow is almost all free too. We did have to bottle feed him for a short while but that was just one bag of milk replacer: about $30. Then of course there’s his winter hay, and a cow eats a lot of hay. I didn’t keep track of how much he ate versus the goats - that would be impossible - but we bought an extra 25 bales last winter and I’ll say that was all cow food. So that’s $100. Other than that, all he’s eaten is pasture grass and free veggies and bread from gleaners. Oh - and the same friend who provided him to us also have us the occasional pickup-load of free silage. 

We did take him to the vet to be castrated because we waited too long to band him. Won’t make that mistake again. I think that was about $100 as well. No medicine or other vet visits were needed over the course of his short lifetime. 

Total cost: approximately $230

Expected revenue: 

Last week I taped Pepe Toro to get an estimated live weight. He measured 78 inches around his heart-girth, which is very well grown. According to the internet charts, that means he has a live weight of approximately 1,112 pounds. The hanging weight of a cow is usually about 60% of live weight, so in our case approximately 668 lbs. 

I sold half of him for $3/lb, which would be $1,002. If I can find a buyer for another quarter I will sell that too, so that would be an extra $501 for a total of $1,503. Plus of course our own meat. 

That sounds like a hefty profit, but it isn’t as much as it sounds because Pepe Toro was wantonly destructive. He destroyed the calf hutch, which will cost $200 to replace, and he got I got he mama barn and put his feet right through the floor in a half dozen places. That will take a sheet of three quarter in inch plywood to fix, and now I have to go look up what that costs ($75) 

Total cost $505
Total expected revenue $1503
Total expected profit $998 

Not bad 


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Farm Stand Photos

I thought it would be nice to post some photos of local farm stands and what I appreciate about each of them. They are so varied. 

Small, new farm stand on Blaine road north of Grandview (I think?). A small tow-headed boy came out to greet us, very excited to tell us about his lemon cucumbers. 

My favorite local stand. Kickerville road between Bay and Birch Bay-Lynden road. They run all season, with veggie starts and live plants in early spring, through to gourds in late fall. They sell seeds as well. There’s a small fridge where the greens stay nice and fresh. Prices are amazing - and in fact they often have free veggies as well. Also sell an assortment of books, baskets, and what-not. I’ve even bought chickens from them in the past. 

Free cucumbers in the Kickerville stand. 

The Kickerville stand from the outside. Looking fairly empty on this particular day. 

Sweet corn somewhere in the vast, confusing Bermuda Triangle between Enterprise road and the Guide, south of Birch Bay-Lynden road. Forgot to note the address. There are lots of sweet corn stands at the moment, of course, and they tend to be single-produce operations, appearing in mid-august and shuttered by early September. 

New stand (as of last year) on the Birch Bay -Lynden road just east of the freeway. This young lady grows TONS of tomatoes, many different varieties. Good prices and great tomatoes. 

This stand is a real unique one. The owner is a beekeeper and he sells his honey, plain or compounded with herbs and spices and medicines. The lavender honey is especially nice. Overall the best, thickest honey I’ve found. He also sells gorgeous beeswax candles and copies of his self-published novels. 

There are many more farm stands that are worth a mention, but which I haven’t got any pictures of. Just across Kickerville from my favorite farm stand is Tiff’s Dahlias. 
A huge garden with all varieties of dahlias, sold for either $0.50 or $1 a stem, slightly older ones for $0.25. 

Smits family farm in Northwest has a huge and beautiful farm stand worthy of its own post. Mr. Smit has ten acres and grows hundreds of varieties of vegetables, including many not so common ones around here like asparagus. In fact if you are a regular, you can tell Mr. Smit what you would like and he will grow it for you. 

There’s a large stand with two big glass front refrigerators on E. Wiser lake road that sells Guernsey Milk, yogurt, and cream as well as fresh produce. There are also often homemade chocolate chips cookies. 

I never get tired of perusing farm stands, and it always makes me happy when I discover a new one, even if all they sell is zucchini.  

Friday, August 19, 2022

Farm Stand Fun

One of the things I love about where I live is that, recent development notwithstanding, it is still rural enough that there are dozens of small, seasonal farm stands close to me. 

Many of my neighbors put out farm produce of one sort or another, or of various kinds, throughout the agricultural year.  It begins with eggs in the earliest spring (we have sold eggs ourselves) and progresses through vegetable starts, spring flower bouquets, early greens, right up to August, where we are now, with an absolute abundance of garden produce of all sorts. This particular moment is sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and of course, zucchini. Further along there will be apples and pears, pumpkins and gourds and dahlias. 

Some stands are no more than a hand lettered sign and a cooler. Most are some sort of cabinet or old wardrobe, with the goods portioned out into Tupperware or ziplocs, and a cash box of varying degrees of impregnability ranging from a child’s piggy bank to miniature bank vaults. These days, many farm stands accept Venmo or PayPal. The more professional stands will have a refrigerator and possibly an entire greenhouse. In addition to edible goods, some stands sell locally made soaps and lotions, or bric-a-brac, or second hand books. I have a bias towards the small, the ramshackle, the eccentric, and the obviously run by children. 

There’s a circuit I do when I want to see what’s up in my local farm stands. A couple of circuits, really - a small one that is a square about two miles on a side and includes five farm stands, and a longer route I do if I have more time or want to hit up some of the bigger stands. A little bit further will take me to a special stand I like that has dairy products - Jersey milk, yogurt, and cheese. It’s a really relaxing and enjoyable way to spend an hour or two - driving down my well-known country roads with the windows open and the smell of curing hay blowing in the window, discovering what my neighbors have been planting, what did well this year and what failed, maybe having a chat with a farmer if you happen to catch one replenishing the ziplocs. 

Yesterday’s haul was all from my small local circuit. Twenty dollars total got me everything you see above - new potatoes, Italian frying peppers, carrots, beets, fennel, cucumbers, plums, onions and purslane. Those three bunches of beets made six pints of pickled beets with enough left over for a beautiful roasted beet and goat cheese salad for dinner. 

There are only three of us at home these days, and it often happens that my eyes are bigger than all of our stomachs. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Balking a Buck (Apron Antics)

Breeding season is here.  It seems awfully early, being still high summer, but the days are getting shorter and that is the signal that sends the does ovaries into overdrive. It doesn’t seem to matter that they all gave birth fairly late this year and are all still nursing young kids. 

Since we have our own buck this year, I have to take precautions to prevent him from impregnating everyone right now. Not only would it be hard I the does to get pregnant again so soon, but if they get pregnant in July they’ll give birth in December or January and that is not good. 

We do have one goat named Christmas, who was obviously born Christmas Day, and she’s a fine healthy goat, but that is an anomaly. Some breeders like to have kids born in winter, presumable because they’ll be grown enough to breed come fall, but those farmers must have barns with electricity and heat. Probably heated electrified barns that are not situated a few hundred yards away from the house so they have to trudge through a howling blizzard to get to them. Or maybe they live in places that seldom experience cold weather, even i the depths of winter.  We have a primitive barn and a cold wet climate, and we like our babies born in May. 

That means we have to control the buck. Not an easy thing to do. Until today he was separated from the herd in the sacrifice area along with the cow, but they ran out of grass. So I bought the  contraption you see in the photo: a buck apron. 

A buck apron is designed to provide a barrier between the buck’s business and any does. Reports of its effectiveness vary, and I’ve never tried one before. I guess we’ll find out. 
It wasn’t a ton of fun putting it on him - he stinks to high heaven - and it was expensive, so I hope it works. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Pantry Project (Ice Cream Edition)

Ran across an ice cream maker at Goodwill the other day, and it reminded me that ice cream is a wonderful way of preserving the products of the season - goat milk, eggs, and fresh fruit. Also it’s been pretty hot lately and that’s just the excuse I needed. I bought the ice cream maker. 

This delicious pink concoction, my first foray, is not technically ice cream, because it doesn’t have any eggs in it (or cream for that matter) but rather frozen yogurt. Sorta. I’m calling it “raspberry cheesecake” and it’s based on a batch of chévre that didn’t quite firm up enough to be called cheese. I could have used it like sour cream, but I already had sour cream in the fridge. It occurred to me to sweeten it instead, mix it with a bunch of raspberries, some yogurt, and run it through the machine. It’s delicious and right now I’m enjoying it as a bedtime snack. 

From the farm: 

Goat milk

From the grocery store:


Nothing from the gleaners pantry in this batch of ice cream, but maybe next I’ll try peach - there are always peaches at gleaner’s right now. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

They’re BAAAAAAACK (Prey Animal Strategy)

Right before bed, I decided to go out and check on the goats one more time, on the off-chance that mama Clio had found her babies. I was fairly certain coyotes had dragged them off, since two hours of me and Clio both searching for them this afternoon, Clio yelling her head off the whole time,  had yielded nothing. But there they were, like nothing ever happened. Just two sassy little baby goats without a care in the world. 

Im so relieved. I had been so sad, so angry at myself for putting them back in the big pasture, and so disappointed. I scooped them both up and took a selfie to send to Paloma, who was just as sad as I was about it. Then I dragged them all back into the backyard, where they will stay with the chickens until the babies are big enough to run fast. 

Baby goats hide while their mothers go off and eat. Just like baby deer do, and probably lots of other baby prey animals. And they are really, really good at hiding. It’s their only chance at survival - they have no other defense. Of course know that baby goats are good hiders, and for two hours today I assumed that’s what they were doing. But when their own mother was running around panicked, yelling and searching, I got worried. I thought they would answer her if they were there. But I guess as long as they don’t feel safe, they will stay quiet and immobile. And in four acres of chest high grass, there was no way we were going to find them if they didn’t make a noise. 

Phew. I’m wrung out. I’m gonna take a bath.