The price of the beach

img_3170We spent yesterday at the beach–sun, sand, and surf!

It was glorious.

Today I paid for it.

Not in sunburn or sand in my shorts, but in work. It was time to make our annual vat of summer soup, I was milking for the neighbour this weekend, and I had a weekend of cleaning and animal care to do–all in one day.

While I milked the neighbour’s goats, the rest of the family started picking and chopping vegetables. When I got home with a pot of milk, I made cheese around the vegetable prepping, then I joined in.

As the pot of soup came together, we started calculating how many jars we needed to hold it all. It was several more than we had empty.

So I made apple crisp, freeing up two jars (which still held last year’s apples). I baked that while the first load of jars was in the canner.

I had also planned on baking lunchbox desserts this weekend, so after putting the second load of jars in the canner, I made cookies.

I also took down and folded the laundry (and patched a hole in my daughter’s shirt), and washed a ton of dishes.

While the third load of jars was in the canner, I cleaned the house (mostly), and milked my own goat. Before that batch of jars was finished, it was dinnertime. I sat down for the first time since breakfast.

Whew!

The final tally for the day was 23 quarts of soup, 6 quarts of vegetable stock, 6 dozen cookies, one beautiful apple crisp, and a batch of chevre (and a clean house and laundry).

Unfortunately, the chicken house hasn’t gotten cleaned yet, nor has the bathroom. I could probably manage them yet today.

Or I could pour myself a glass of wine and worry about them tomorrow…

Ecological Weeding

A parasitised aphid (the bloated brown one), and an unparasitised one (the green)
A parasitised aphid (the bloated brown one), and an unparasitised one (the green)

As much as I enjoy weeding, I can’t possibly keep up with them all. There are always weeds on the property.

In truth, I don’t try to eliminate all the weeds. I take a ‘live and let live’ approach with many of them. I also recognise the utility of many of the weeds on the property–or at least their utility to other organisms.

Except in the vegetable garden where they are, literally, a pain, I allow nettles to reside in the yard. They provide food for our native yellow admiral butterflies and, in a pinch, can be used to make rennet for cheese making. Even in the vegetable garden, I don’t mind seeing them–they hate dry soil, so they’re a good indicator that I’m watering the garden enough for the vegetables.

Weeds like yarrow, clover, and dandelions are good food sources for beneficial insects, so they, too, are allowed to grow wherever they’re not in direct competition with crops.

Weeds are also sometimes good ‘trap crops’, attracting pests to plants (themselves) I don’t mind pulling out and destroying to get rid of the pest.

Sometimes, though, the ‘trap crop’ idea backfires on me. Today I noticed that a sow thistle I’d allowed to grow was covered in aphids–it was a great opportunity to destroy thousands of pests. Except that as I bent to pull the weed, I noticed that a large number of the aphids were parasitised by wasps. I depend upon these wasps to deal with my springtime aphid problems. Short of painstakingly picking off every parasitised aphid and caring for them until the wasps hatch, killing the aphids on the weed is going to kill the wasps, too. What to do?

So the weed has gotten a temporary stay of execution. I’ll keep an eye on it. When the wasps have emerged from the parasitised aphids, I’ll pull it and kill the remaining aphids.

Losing Soil, Making Soil

img_3148This time of year is always dusty. The soil is dry. The air is dry. Farmers harvest the summer crops and turn the soil to plant the winter’s grass. It’s not unusual for a wind to kick up, sending newly-turned soil into the air.

I don’t know how much soil farmers in Canterbury lose this way (they’re also getting soil from the farms upwind and loess blown off the mountains), but I do know that where my back yard meets the neighbour’s field, my property is significantly higher. At least some of that soil is being lost.

Interestingly, there seems to be a place on the neighbours’ farms where soil is being made.

A hundred and fifty years ago, farmers in Canterbury were planting gorse hedges for shelter and fencing. Many of those gorse hedges remain (indeed, they’re hard to get rid of). The original plants are almost certainly long gone, as gorse is a short-lived shrub, but new plants are continuously growing from seeds cast by the mature plants.

It’s quite possible that my neighbour’s gorse hedges have been here since Joseph Price took up the original 5000-acre run number 79 in 1853.

Gorse is dense when pruned into a hedge. New outer growth shades out growth in the middle of the hedge. Thorns and branches fall and form a dense, prickly mass at the base of the plant. Over time, this detritus breaks down and forms soil.

Quite a lot of soil, by the looks of it.

Some gorse hedges were planted on ridges–ditch and dyke, it was called–the farmer dug a ditch to help drain the land, and planted a hedge on the resulting pile of soil scooped out of the ditch. Some hedges were just planted on the level ground. This is how the hedges along my lunchtime walk were planted, but today it looks like they were sown on a tall, narrow wall of soil.

The build-up of soil under the gorse hedges is impressive. In some places, it is as high as my waist. It is most visible where the gorse has been herbicided off to make way for native hedging plants. There you can see how the twisted trunks and branches have caught the detritus and held it in place, even after it has rotted.

How important are these ridges of new soil in a landscape that is losing soil? Probably not terribly important–they cover just a tiny fraction of the landscape–but I find them intriguing, nonetheless. Our agricultural landscapes–as modified, controlled and cultivated as they are–still hold interesting stories.

Lovely Leftovers

2017-02-20-20-05-18-smMost days I eat dinner leftovers for lunch. Sometimes they’re okay, sometimes they’re lame, occasionally they’re quite good.

But some leftovers are always nice.

During crazy cake season, I make a lot of icing, marzipan, and other special items for decorating cakes. Invariably I make too much–after all, I don’t want to run out in the middle of decorating a cake.

Some leftovers are eaten as-is–meringue mushrooms were a huge hit one year, as I recall, as were chocolate leaves.

Other leftovers need to be incorporated into something else to be enjoyable. This week I had a lot of marzipan leftover. Marzipan is okay on its own, but it’s much better with chocolate.

I rolled the leftover marzipan into 24 little balls, and placed each ball into the middle of a chocolate cupcake. The presence of the marzipan flattened the cupcakes (and made little belly buttons in some), but the chocolate-almond combination is excellent.

Best leftovers I’ve eaten in a long time. Now, if only I could justify eating them for lunch…

She Just Wants To Be Useful

Artemis in her younger years.
Artemis in her younger years.

Seven months ago, I blogged about my¬†12-year-old dairy goat who had been diagnosed with heart trouble. The vet clearly was trying to tell me she ought to be put down at the time. I heard the message, but couldn’t bear the thought, provided she wasn’t uncomfortable.

I got a prescription of diuretics for her to try to clear the fluid from her lungs. It seemed to help a little…until she got wise to the medicine and began to refuse it. By then it was springtime, and I thought she might just be okay without the medicine. I stopped giving it to her, and she was fine. With the spring grass growth, she put on condition, and toward the beginning of summer, her udder started to fill out.

Artemis has always been a strong milk producer. In years when she’s kidded, her udder gets so full, it drags in the grass, and her kids have trouble finding the teats. I haven’t actually gotten her in kid for two years, and she still gives milk every year.

This year, she was supposed to be officially ‘retired’. I replaced all my other dairy goats with fibre goats so I wouldn’t have to be tied to daily milking.

Artemis had other ideas. In spite of her dicky heart, in spite of her age, her body decided to produce milk.

At first, I ignored it. If there was no demand for the milk, she’d stop producing. At least, that’s what the textbooks say. It’s never worked for Artemis in the past (drying her off in winter has always been challenging)–I don’t know why I expected it to work this time.

Eventually, I had to milk her. And once it milked her one time, her body responded by producing more milk. It was a vicious cycle–the more I milked, the more she made.

I’m now milking her twice a week. Not much, really, compared to the usual daily milking. I have to say I appreciate the milk, but more importantly, Artemis appreciates the milking.

She knows the signs I’m coming to milk her. When she realises that’s what’s happening, she saunters over to the gate, full of self-importance, nipping haughtily at the fibre goats. She slips out the gate when I open it and trots to the milking stand. She talks to me a little bit as I milk her, as if to bring to my attention what lovely milk she’s made for me.

When I release her from the stand, she leaps off and scampers like a kid back to the paddock, kicking her heels in the air. When I let her back into the paddock, she skips around the other goats, as if to say, “See, I’m useful, unlike some around here.”

It clearly gives her so much pleasure, I feel bad that I hesitated to start milking her.

Maybe producing milk will be the last straw for her heart–just too much to ask of her body–but I believe it makes her happy.

And so, I will milk her. For as long as she wants. After all, isn’t that what we all want? To be useful? To be needed?

Ginger Slice

img_3132I asked my daughter if she had any requests for today’s baking, and she asked for ‘those ginger slices’. I have no idea what she was talking about, because I’ve never made ginger slice. Sounded like a good excuse to try something new. Besides, making a slice let me use the slice pans Santa brought me for Christmas this past year.

A quick on-line search took me to this recipe, posted by Chelsea Winter. The recipe was quick and easy, if rather high in butter and sugar.

The result was greeted with praise by my ginger-loving family. Even I (not really a fan of ginger) thought they were pretty good, especially with a cup of tea.

Throwback Thursday: Carnival

carnivalatjulianshouseCarnival starts in just a few days in Panama. It’s true, the actual date of Carnival isn’t until Saturday the 25th but, at least in our village in the mid-1990s, Carnival lasted the better part of a week. We learned to never plan to get anything done in the days before or after Carnival. After all, people had to spend the days before Carnival practicing getting drunk. The day of Carnival was spent being drunk, and the days after were spent recovering from having been drunk.

In the lead-up to Carnival, the women would make vast quantities of tamales (polenta-like corn mash filled with meat and vegetables, wrapped in leaves and boiled) to sell to all the young people who would come home from their jobs in the city for the celebration. The making of tamales was a group activity done only by the women, and the rules of behaviour were…relaxed. It was Carnival, after all! I seldom saw the women of our village drink, but the lemonade we drank while making tamales was spiked with seco.

But Carnival was about more than drinking. It also included dancing, and getting wet. In Penonome, the Carnival parade was made of elaborate rafts that floated down the river. The local fire tanker crawled through the crowded streets, turning the fire hose on the crowd as it chanted “Water! Water!”. The unspoken rule was that men could splash water on women, and vice versa–you’d walk down the street and have cups of water thrown at your face by laughing men.

In our village, there was always a parade. Not on water, but up to the community building–a large open-air pavilion–where a band would play until late into the night. Our neighbours also usually had a dance, just for a few local families. No one in our village had money for a proper traditional pollera, but a long full skirt and a t-shirt was good enough for the local party. Kids and adult alike danced through the night, and the next morning was very quiet…