Sunday, January 30, 2011

Boggy Hollow Beer

I started brewing my own beer last year. When Chelle got into making wine I obsessively decided to bottle a batch of rhubarb too quickly and one of the corks shot off in our pantry because it hadn't finished fermenting. At that point she looked at me and said, "maybe wine isn't your thing, you should try beer. It doesn't take as long.".

Well, she's right. This morning I started my 10th batch. I've had wins and losses with the beer and knock on wood it's been a while since one turned out weird. Today I started an Altbier, literally "old beer" in German. It's a style popular in Duseldorf and brewed well before the lagers became popular in Germany. Here's the recipe....

7.5 lbs Amber Dry Malt Extract
.5 lbs Light Dry Malt Extract
1 lb Crystal Malt (60 lv)
.5 lbs Chocolate Malt
1 oz Galena Hops
1 oz Perle Hops
Wyeast German Ale (#1007) smack pack of yeast

My rig is pretty simple since I do extract brewing right now. Extract brewing let's you get started and make good beers pretty easily. All grain brewers need more gear and have a lot more steps to go through so this is a good way to experiment and make yummy beer at the same time. Basically, I have a pot and boiler. You can use a stovetop but the crab-cooker is really good at getting things up to temperature where you need them to be and it does it in a hurry. I had to run out and buy a new propane bottle this morning though. I had finally run through the bottle I had...

Part of this recipe involves taking some of the ground up grains of crystal and chocolate malt and steeping them for a while. This adds some flavor to the malt extract base and gives you a lot of options for flavor in the beer. I used a grain bag to steep the grains because you want to remove them after steeping them at temperature for a while and it's always a doosie to get all of the husks out.

Then we add the malt extract, galena hops and start boiling. The boil lasts an hour and I had some serious boil-over problems this morning. I think that and shorting the extract for the recipe are why the specific gravity for the beer turned out a bit low. Specific gravity is a measure of density. The denser the wort (or stuff that you boil up) the more sugars there are for the yeasties to eat and turn into alcohol and other goodies. This won't be a strong amber but it should be a goodie...

Half way through the boil I add the perle hops. Then I can turn my attention to sanitation. Sanitizing the fermentation vessel is critical. There are lots of things that would love to eat that wort before the yeast get to it and they will ruin the beer most of the time so I setup the carboy on the counter and use an iodine solution to make sure that it's nice and sanitized.....

Once that's done it's about time to cool off the wort and strain it into the carboy. Chelle got me a lovely new toy. It's called a wort chiller and what it does is run cold water through a copper coil that you place in the wort. The copper tubing allows the heat of the wort to exchange to the cold water running through the coil making an hour long wait come down to about 10 minutes. Snazzy trick. Then you pour the wort into the carboy and top off with clean cold water....

Then the whole thing goes into the basement to ferment. This style of beer will ferment quickly and then be transferred to another carboy to go into the fridge to lager for 10-14 days. The lagering is an old German trick that smooths out the taste and clears the beer an extra bit. So now the beer sits in the basement, waiting for the yeast to feast and make delicious beer.

My goal this year is to make at lest one batch a month. I nearly missed January! I'll start a batch of my imperial stout (that has met good success) next weekend and enter it into a contest for March. After that will either be a Kolsch, Belgian Wit Beer or an IP. Beer is way too much fun!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chicks in the Mail

After mooning over the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalog for months now, Livydoo and I finally sat down and made a list of our must-have chickens for this year. She made many a strong case for some very rare and fancy breeds, but alas I had to burst her bubble. We're going for more of a "meat & potatoes" approach to chicken breeds - sturdy, friendly and good growers & layers. Fancy is lovely, we don't have the luxury of raising hothouse flowers around here.

So, I ordered the egg-layers/breeding stock today, and will order the meat birds somewhere a little further down the line. Here's what we've got headed our way, come March-

10 Black Australorp Hens
2 Black Australop Roos (Two for insurance that we get a good one. We're keeping one and Craigs-listing the other.)
2 Silver Polish Hens
2 Golden Polish Roosters (RIP, Georgie!)
5 Americauna Hens
2 Americauna Straight Run (Maybe we'll get a roo, maybe we won't)
2 Turken Hens (aka "Naked Necks")
1 Turken Straight Run
1 free Rare/Exotic chick - Straight Run

Sooo... if we keep one of each variety of roo, and if by some fluke, all of the straight runs turn out to be hens, we'll be adding 25 chickens to our existing flock of 5 hens. I can't even picture 30 chickens in my yard! Imagine it though - somewhere around two dozen eggs per day. Not to mention that with our chosen breeds of hens, we will have the full spectrum of egg colors - deep brown, olive green, baby blue, pinkish brown and white. :)

Of course, all of this chicken shopping means that the new coop and brooder are next up on the non-stop chore list. Poor Bill is still recovering from building the new goat pen & shed, and now I've dropped this on his plate. If this first year of building this farm doesn't kill us (or at least Bill), then nothing will. At least he has his super helper, Farmgirl Scarlet.

My dynamic duo worked together seamlessly to finish up the new goat pen this past weekend. Scarlet & Bill like to swing the hammers, while Liv & I like to do the cerebral bit - reading, research and planning. It's a pretty nice division of labor, actually.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Woman that Swears at Goats

Yesterday was rough. In truth, the whole month of January has been a stinking hot mess, farm-wise. So yesterday I decided to mope and wallow a little. I decided to try and squeeze in a nap between the time that the bus dropped the girls off at home, and the time that I'd have to start dinner.

I'm just hitting that actually asleep/cozy good feeling when the girls burst into my room, breathless - Mama the goats are out and they're eating a TON of rabbit food! Fly out of bed, throw on the nearest sweatshirt (which I will later notice has a generous smear of chicken turd on it from a slip and fall earlier that day), run outside, pop into my boots and head toward the back of the house. It is dusk and I've charged out without a headlamp or flashlight, but still manage to find my way in the dim. Sure enough, I see three demon goats hoovering down the hens' layer pellets. The goats don't fear me at all, so my screaming and swearing go completely ignored. It isn't until I get in there and start wrangling horns and shoving butts that I finally get their attention.

At this point the goats, positively gleeful over their forbidden feast start galloping and frolicking back down the hill toward their pen. They've won and they know it and they're just revelling in the moment. I've got a bag of bakery-reject bread in my hand as bait to get them back in the pen and they've taken notice. Archie begins his playful-turned-painful jumping up and bonking at my knees in an attempt to get the bread. I'm already quite pissed at this point that these gluttonous little bastards have once again foiled a good nap, making Archie's bullying merely the tipping point for my frustration/exhaustion avalanche to commence in a volley of swear words in an assortment of languages.

I realize a short while later exactly how loud I was yelling when I hear the word Assholes! ring off of the nearby trees and shed. I feel a moment's guilt that I should be verbally assaulting my whole neighborhood until I remember that our nearest neighbor, the one most likely to heave witnessed my tirade is the guy with a possessed dachshund that likes to yip it up at 3 am. I take small comfort in assuming that this won't be the first time that he's heard someone yell asshole in his general direction.

I finally get the goats back down and into the pen with the help of the stale bread. I latch the gate behind me and start slogging back up the hill toward the house. It is full dark by now, windy and maybe 35 degrees. I am ready as hell to be back in the house, and am almost there when three white blobs go racing past, right back to the chicken & rabbit food.

My second round of curses was even louder than the first and peppered with some choice Spanish that I picked up in my days as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant. (I digress slightly here, but I really must recommend swearing in Spanish for those moments when even the mighty F-word doesn't seem to express your emotions adequately. There's something about the way that it rolls off the tongue and can completely destroy the character of one's mother in just a few quick syllables that diffuses my anger like nothing else.) Again, I was utterly disregarded by the goats as a non-threat and worse still, one without a bread bribe to motivate. Out of sheer frustration I picked up a fallen Cedar switch off of the ground and started chasing the goats back toward their pen while swinging my switch madly and shouting empty threats of physical harm.

When we got back to the pen, I discovered, by the silvery light of the moon, the thing that had been my undoing. The goats had managed to smash up the fencing to the point that there was literally a giant hole in the side. A tunnel to freedom, if you will, and one that I was helpless to do anything about in that moment.

Wrangling three wayward goats, hellbent on running wild, is a full-time job in and of itself. There was no way that I could keep the goats out of the feed and/or my azaleas and repair/plug a platter-sized hole in the fence at the same time. So I had no choice but to stand there in the cold and dark, trying to keep my hoofed devils in check until backup came.

Where were my husband and children all this time, you ask? My husband was on his way home from work. He had called me at some point mid-nap to let me know that he was on his way. Unfortunately, because the call came mid-nap I had no idea how long ago that had been. Bill's commute is 45-minutes on a perfect day. On a Friday at rush hour, it can be upwards of two hours. Since darkness had long since fell, I really had no idea how much time had passed. My heart leapt with hope at each passing vehicle, and sank as each one kept on truckin'.

My kids, meanwhile were inside watching a movie, apparently completely confident in my ability to single-handedly wrangle our critters effectively, which is sweet of them, but really, they should know better than that by now.

Some time later, I estimate about 45 minutes or so into the standoff, I hear Livy calling to me from the front porch. She's worried about me. I tell her that I'm ok, but that I need a headlamp. She brings me the headlamp and I send her back in to where it's warm with the instruction to call her Dad to see where he is in his commute. She disappears back into the house and it's back to just me and the goats. And the bats, a pair of owls hooting in the distance, and the neighbor's 70(?) foot tall maple tree creaking and cracking in the wind, just over our heads. It was cold, spooky and boring as hell.

The darkness seems to have calmed the goats dramatically, but I am determined to hold my line, lest they try for another crack at the feed bins. They're no longer concerned about me whooping their butts with the switch, if they ever were, and have since approached it cautiously, sniffed it, and as they do with everything, tried to eat it. It is, however, apparently too tough for their spoiled palates, and is subsequently used as a scratching post for that hard to reach behind-the-horn area.

Finally, finally I hear the sweet sound of Bill's truck come rumbling down the road. Hallelujah I am saved! He appears a few minutes later with his fencing tools and proceeds to help me wrangle the now-docile goats back into the pen. We shine our collective headlamp light on the ridiculously big hole that the goats have made in the fence and shake our heads in awe. There's a farm adage that says "If your fence won't hold water, it won't hold goats." That shit is true.

Bill hastily repaired the hole by adding a patch, and we bade the Houdini goats goodnight.

This latest flagrant jailbreak has pushed the new, taller (and hopefully stronger) goat pen to priority #1 on Bill's honey-do list. He and his Dad put most of it together last weekend, but in light of this latest escape, it needs to be finished this weekend. I promised Bill that if he got it all done, I'd even let him sleep! ;) Now we'll see who has the last laugh, cabras del diablo!

Who am I kidding? It'll probably still be you.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Good News from the Vet

The blood work came back clean as a whistle on all three goats. They were tested for a load of diseases- Tuberculosis, Johnes & Brucellosis, among others, and all have nothing more serious than some very persistent goat lice, which a dose of Frontline should clear up easily.

The clean bill of health is especially good news in light of Gertie's pregnancy and our subsequent plans to consumer her raw milk. Certain diseases, like tuberculosis, can be transmitted to humans through an infected animal's milk. No thank you.

And the countdown to Gert's big day is on - about 118 days to go, which feels like forever. We'll see if I'm still this excited about babies and milk when I'm bottle feeding a kid or two and milking mama twice a day, everyday.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Can't anything go our way?

This damn cold front that's come through took our poor baby bunnies in the night. And of course, poor Scarlet had to be the one to find them.

I feel responsible for not bringing them inside, but everything we read said that under no circumstances should we mess with/touch/move the babies, or Mama bunny would likely kill or abandon them. So we gave them extra bedding material and lots of extra food, and prayed that it would be enough to see them all through safely. It wasn't.

We will bury our sweet babies later today under the same tree as Eglantine, George & Charlotte.

I know that loss is an expected part of farm life, but it feels like with so many losses, that the world is just against us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Apparently, She was a He

In case you missed the big news, we have baby bunnies.

Our two "girl" bunnies turned out to be a boy and a girl, and as best as we can tell, had about 5 babies in the night 3 nights ago. There are many mysteries to be unraveled here-

*Why did it take them so long to start having babies? After co-habitating peacefully for 10 months, we felt confident that they really were loving sisters. They were loving, alright...

*If Papa bunny (now known as "Prince Charming") has been protective of and kind to both Mama and the babies, should we still take him out of the hutch?

*How soon should we get Prince Charming neutered? Would it be traumatic to take him away from his lady & babies so soon?

*Being the product of inbreeding (ew,ew,ew!), will the babies still be ok?

Alright farmer folk, let me hear it. I can't read my bunny & goat care books fast enough to keep up with all of the stealth uterine action going on over here. If you've got any tips or experience in this area, HELP!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Three Dog Night & A Three Egg Day

This past week and a half or so were bone-chilling cold here in the South Sound. Western Washington is typically overcast and drizzly, often windblown and always some form of wet throughout the Fall & Winter seasons, but it's mercifully rare that our temps dip into the teens and low twenties for extended periods of time, as they did last week.

Chipping and changing out all of the critters' water dishes every morning and night was a pain, but otherwise all critters and farmers came through this cold snap just fine, though ruffled.

So here we are, in the relative dead of Winter, and I had reluctantly resigned myself to store bought eggs and veggies for a few more months yet, when all of a sudden, my hennies start laying again. We've been getting one egg every other or day or so this week, and today for this first time this year, we had three. :)

We have just the 6 hens now, no roosters and no babies. Once all of our remaining girls are up and running, we could get as many as 3 1/2 dozen eggs per week. I'm so thrilled/relieved to have our girls laying again. Those store bought eggs don't even come close! I'd like to get our laying flock up to at least a dozen girls so that we would have plenty of eggs to share and sell, because all of our friends and family love our chickies' eggs every bit as much as we do. But, our girlies have been through alot with the move, the evil roosters, the pox scare and a really intense molt that left them all half-dressed in the freezing cold, so I'm not going to throw any new hens into the mix just now. But - Spring is coming! 'Til then, I'll just have to bide my time knitting like a maniac and helping Bill design & build the new, ultra-deluxe chicken coop for all those sweet chicky-babies that we'll be getting. Happy, happy, Joy, joy!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Farm Goals for 2011

Holy cow did we ever sign ourselves up for a headache when we decided to embark on this build-a-farm-from scratch adventure! We bought a great house in the perfect location for us, however, this place was in no way ready to roll as a working farm. There is no existing garden, nor any barn or garage for storage. There are a few fences in place, though they are old and sagging and no longer much of a deterrent to critters who wish to go out or come in. It needs work - lots of it, and urgently.

And so, our 2011 has a whole lot of projects lined up, all of them in the ASAP category, as Spring is now only 10 1/2 weeks away, Thank God!

Here's what our to-do list looks like -

*Build a new, 3-4x larger chicken coop with multiple runs.
*Turn over/establish the garden, including building some raised beds
*Deer fence around the garden
*Fix the fencing in the back pasture - this one is a DOOZY
*Build a new goat yard and an additional goat shelter for the does & kids
*Expand our laying flock and establish a meat flock. (chickens)
*Read, research and learn everything under the sun about dairy goats and the art of home cheesemaking.

In the we really need to do this, but it's not the end of the world if we don't category-

*Prune dozens of rosebushes and fruit trees which have been ignored for nearly a decade.
*Possibly buy or build a new shed/outbuilding for storing animal feed and farm equipment.
*Explore the possibility of raising turkeys.

In the probably not this year category-

*Turn the hot tub room (complete with broken hot tub!) into my (Chelle's) studio. It has great southern light and is already plumbed for a sink. We really just need to rip out the gnarly old hot tub and put flooring in it's place, and install a sink and 220v outlet for my pottery wheel & kiln. It'll be my space - MINE! :)

*Have a powder room built upstairs for the girls.

Of course in addition to all of the projecty-stuff we have the everyday stuff that we are going to try to keep up with - wine making, home brewing, knitting, writing, foraging, fishing, etc. We're going to be busy bees this coming year! I know that it is going to be exhausting, but the rewards are so great and so satisfying that we're going to give it all we've got to make this vision of our farm a reality. Here we go!