Friday, 31 May 2013

Rhubarb wine

While we planted rhubarb here a couple of years ago, they are not yet mature enough to harvest anything worthwhile.

However, I have offers locally of as much as I can take ;-)
So today I started two gallons of rhubarb wine and next week I plan to make 5 gallons as I love rhubarb.

I looked up several recipes online but they all require lots of sugar which doesn't suit us here. We like something drinkable as opposed to rocket fuel!
The yeast converts the sugars to alcohol. We scaled down the sugar per gallon from 1.5 kg to 500g. We hope that this produces an alcohol content around 8% as opposed to 38% ;-0

I made two gallons using the following:

2.5kg Rhubarb
200g Grapes
1kg Sugar
Yeast nutrient
White wine yeast

Wash and cut rhubarb into a large saucepan, add sugar and grapes and a few litres of water.

Bring to boil and simmer till soft.

Put through a strainer, adding more water to the rhubarb to help extract as much yummy juice as possible.

Pour juice equally into the clean and sterile demi-johns then top up with warm water and add yeast and one teaspoon of yeast nutrient each.

Add air locks and wait...could take a few months :-(
Place in a warm room to help with fermentation.

Pigs are arriving tomorrow. Exciting!!!
Dreaming of salami...

Anyone brewing something special?

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Once a day milking

Last Saturday I started milking the cow once a day in the evening, partially because of the home brew consumed the night before ;-)

She is a year fresh and producing two gallons over the two milkings. It wouldn't be much for her to adjust to once a day milking and I am loving the extra half hour in the morning!
I skipped a morning milking and then did two milkings the next day. I repeated this a few times until she had adjusted to it and I was comfortable that she wouldn't develop mastitis.
We are getting less milk now, maybe two litres less but it's worth it. The milk is much more creamy. We are using half the amount of hard feed as she is only fed at milking times and it will give her a chance to gain more body condition while at grass.

She was bulling again on Thursday pm so the AI man came out again on Friday morning. Fingers crossed that she takes!

The veg garden is really starting to kick off now. The only problem is the slugs ...lots of them! They are eating everything! We are picking peas everyday and strawberries are maybe a week away from picking... Yum farm fresh cream and strawberries!
I have tomato plants growing everywhere in the tunnel from last year, over ripe tomatoes that rotted with seed.

I have a hard cheese maturing that I started earlier in the week.
The hens are laying well and the last bee hive seems doomed :-( due to laying workers. More on this again as I try to remedy it...

We have completed the concrete slab for the pigs, we hope to have it completely finished by next weekend ( house and concrete feeders ) and will buy in weaners very soon after.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Hive inspection

I opened up the hive today as the weather was at last dry and warm!
I am a bit puzzled as to what I found! Any bee expects out there? We need your advice...

It is a strong colony but there are 2 to 3 eggs  in many of the cells! There are no drones so it must be the queen, although I failed to find her today as I wanted to clip and mark her.
There were modest amounts of larvae and capped worker brood, mostly eggs. All laid in a good pattern on the frame.

Maybe it is down to the bad spring/summer?

I put some apiguard on and closed up the hive again.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Easy Mozzarella Cheese

I have tried a few cheeses so far but this one seems to me to be the easiest to make when you consider effort and taste.
It doesn't last long here as we use it in salads, pizza and for any cooking recipes.

Using a gallon of fresh warm milk, I add a cup of homemade yogurt and about 10 drops of rennet into the milk and stir. The yogurt changes the ph of the milk.
I need to keep  it warm ( 32C/90F ) so  usually I put it on the warm plate of the range and leave it there for about 45mins for the curd to set.

When you can press down on the curd then it is ready for the curds to be cut. Using a clean knife cut the curds into one inch cubes. It doesn't need to be perfect or exact, slicing the curds releases the whey. Let it stand for a further 10 mins.

When you come back the curds should have sank to the bottom.
Pour out half of the whey ( you can feed it to pigs and chickens or use it in cooking) and start to gently heat the curds to 150F. When it reaches this temperature maintain it for 5 mins and then strain the cheese through cheese cloth and hang it or put it into molds for a few hours depending on how hard/dry you like it.
A few hours gives a softer cheese that will only last a few days while hanging overnight results in a drier cheese that will last up to a week and be suitable for grating.

It can also be soaked in brine to expand the shelf life.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Nettle Beer

 We have done a good bit of brewing this week. We bottled the 5 gallons of stout a couple of nights ago and started a demi-john of nettle beer today. We haven't made nettle beer before so it will be trial and error. A good way to learn!

As it is spring / summer !?! the nettles are starting to grow well but are still tender enough to make beer out of them. Later in the year they may be too bitter.
The recipe that we followed was the following:

1kg of nettle tops
500g of sugar
1tsp cream of tartar
juice of 2 lemons

Using gloves of course! I went out and filled a bag with nettle tops, there was no shortage of them.
I put them into a large saucepan with water and brought it to the boil and let it simmer for a bit.

I poured the hot strained nettle juice into a clean demi-john, and then added the other ingredient except for the yeast as it would be too hot yet.

 I topped it up with cool water and then scoped out a cup of wort sediment (yeast) which was at the bottom of the stout brewed and used it to start this brew.

I will freeze the remaining wort in an ice cube tray to use again for other brews.
It is bubbling away so it must have worked ;-)

Only four chicks hatched out from 20 eggs! My experiment with low humidity didn't work! All were fertile but the humidity stayed about 35 so next I time might try to keep it to 50's and see how that works.

The bees were flying well today but the weather has been very difficult for them as all the rain is preventing them from flying most days! I have ordered more hives and brood boxes so it will be a busy weekend of beekeeping and I will give them a mite treatment while numbers are low as we don't expect to use any supers this year for honey.

The young fruit trees are coming into blossom now. Lets hope the bees get the chance to visit them.

Note: This turned out to be a great beer and we were so disappointed that we didn't make more. Next spring I will brew at least six gallons of it.
If I brew more now it will be bitter. The nettle plants turn bitter as the season progresses.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Population Ageing and Retirement Planning


 Population ageing is a shift in the distribution of a country's population towards older ages. This is usually reflected in an increase in the population's average age, a decline in the proportion of the population composed of children, and a rise in the proportion of the population that is elderly. Population ageing is widespread in developed countries.

The ratio of workers to pensioners (the "support ratio") is declining in much of the developed world. This is due to two factors: increased life expectancy coupled with a fixed retirement age, and a decrease in the fertility rate. Increased life expectancy (with fixed retirement age) increases the number of retirees at any time, since individuals are retired for a longer fraction of their lives, while decreases in the fertility rate decrease the number of workers.

These are examples of support ratio for selected countries in  1970, 2010 and projections for 2050.[1]
Country 1970 2010 2050 (projected)
United States 5.3
Japan 8.5
Britain 4.3
Germany 4.1
France 4.2
Netherlands 5.3

Last year in Japan, the sale of adult nappies out sold baby nappies.

For us when we consider our retirement and pension planning we are all but too aware that there will not be any meaningful pensions available  in 30-40 yrs for us. Health services will not be affordable and with larger numbers of older adults, there will be an increased need for geriatric care and multi-generational living.

The state funded services that are available now will cease to exist as there are less and less tax payers to support the system and the retirement age will increase and increase until it may well be abolished!

This will move the value of family and community back to where it should be; ahead of everything else!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

May Updates

 Mama Moo finally got to go out to good grass this morning thanks to our lovely neighbors. We only have a couple of small paddocks here as the farm cottage and lands were sold separately. So we have the kind use of much needed additional grazing.
 The polytunnel has recovered from the 'flood' and there is plenty of growth although slow and delayed by the poor weather!
 Everyday this week I have been making mozzarella.  We love it and are using it in pizzas,cooking and salads. I will do a post on it next week.
We are having lots of fun outside and this morning our eggs that are due tomorrow started hatching, much to the children's delight.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Flooded polytunnel in May!

After milking this morning, I went and did my usual. Feed the hens and chicks and then went to check on the polytunnel. I was shocked this morning to find I could barely get in the door without wellies as it was flooded.
My first thought; oh sh@t! I must have left the hose running. I ran to turn it off but it was already off.
I then opened the door and looked in. My heart sank. There were pots and seedlings floating/ drowning inside.
I walked inside slowly while my shoes and socks were filling with water and rescued the pots and trays of seedlings. I put them up onto shelves to let them drain.
Now before you ask, we live in a house on a hill! And it's May ! Summer!
And the forecast for the rest of the week : rain and more heavy rain.

The cow has been inside for the last few days and I reckon for another ten. It might be June before she is let out to grass altogether. She would do too much poaching if she were out now.
This is depressing!
I have a 5 gallon stout & malt brew to start today and a gallon of fresh milk to turn into mozzarella .
Oh and three very active,busy and entertaining little sweat-peas as my assistants!
Which made me reflect on this poem...

Hand Prints On The Wall
One day as I was picking
the toys up off the floor,
I noticed a small hand print
on the wall beside the door.

I knew that it was something
that I'd seen most every day,
but this time when I saw it there
I wanted it to stay.

Then tears welled up inside my eyes,
I knew it wouldn't last
for every mother knows
her children grow up way too fast.

Just then I put my chores aside
and held my children tight.
I sang to them sweet lullabies
and rocked into the night.

Sometimes we take for granted,
all those things that seem so small.
Like one of God's great treasures...
A small hand print on the wall. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Clabber & Increasing bee stocks

I had being reading up on making clabber for a few weeks so I started an experimental batch last week.
It seemed easy enough. Pour filtered fresh raw milk into a clean jar and cover with a breathable lid and leave out at room temperature for several days until it thickens into clabber.

Nothing happened for several days and then I checked it yesterday and as you can see from the photo; the curd and whey have separated with a firm cream line.

The mould when I took off the lid was disturbing!
I scoped this out and stirred. It had thickened up like yogurt. You can see the whey settled at the bottom.
It smells very sour and I'm not brave enough to taste it.

From what I have read, it is recommended as a cheese culture starter for cheese making, to be drank as it is as a lactose-fermented drink and as an animal food.  I think I need to research this one further!

We attended our local beekeeping meeting last night. There was great concern about the amount of loses. Beekeepers have lost up to 75% of their hives this winter and as a result there will be no honey available this coming season as beekeepers will be putting all their efforts into building back up strong colonies instead of honey producton.
They were urging us to rear excess queens and nuc's for the association to help the bees. It would seem that it will not be possible for beginners this year to source a hive of bees to get started as all over wintered nuc's have been wiped out. Although quiet depressing, it cheered us up as our losses of 2 out of 3 hives now seem relative. We are now very encouraged to try queen rearing. Although last year we made several splits we have never tried queen incubation and apidea boxes, rather leaving that to the pro's but it would seem that all and any efforts are necessary now.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Ciabatta Bread

Ciabatta bread is very popular in our house. It never lasts more than a few hours once out of the oven. Which for me is a delight!
It feels like a good job well done when my boys get excited for the timer on the oven to sound or for me to come in with the mornings milking so they can scope out the warm creamy foam.

I started the 'bigga' or sponge yesterday for the ciabatta. This was a wet mixture of flour, yeast and water. This was covered and left overnight.

By the morning it had doubled in size and was full of air holes.
I then added more flour,salt, honey, yeast and water and covered again and left it for a few hours when it had doubled in size again.
As I don't use scales, I have no idea of measurements. I just add till it looks right!

By now it is very stretchy and full of air holes. Empty onto floured surface and divide in two. Shape and put on the greased tray ready for the oven. Leave for another hour to rise again.

Bake on a high heat 220c for about 30 mins. Enjoy!

We have done so much weeding this weekend that the garden is taking shape and we finally managed to move the chicks out into their own coop. I am nervous of how they will do. I do hope that they are hardy enough!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Beeswax, honey & oatmeal scrub soap

I finally got around to making some soap yesterday!
I made 18 bars so it should last us a while. I used lots of lemon essential oils in it and it smells divine. I can't keep my nose out of it ;-) but I need to let it mature for another 4-6 weeks.
I found that my sensitive skin has improved enormously since moving to homemade for my face. But at €4 a bar, I prefer to make my own and use them generously for hand washing and bathing for the whole family.
I got this recipe out of a soap book I have,'the handmade soap book' by Melinda Coss.


10oz/283g veg fat
12oz/340g olive oil
10oz/283g coconut oil
2oz/57g beeswax
11oz/312g spring water
5oz/142g caustic soda/lye
2oz/57g oatmeal
2 tbsp honey
1tbsp essential oils

Grease your molds ready for use.
Put all oils into saucepan and melt.
Add lye to water and stir till dissolved. .
Let them both (oils and lye) cool down to an equal temperature between 49-60•c.
Pour lye into oils and stir occasionally until it starts to thicken.
Add honey, oatmeal and essential oils and then pour into molds.
Rest for 24hrs to harden.
Using gloves, remove from molds and let cure for 4-6 wks.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Smallholding: Milking goat or cow?

We started out with a pair of milking goats about five years ago. Our son had milk allergies and it was difficult and expensive to buy goats milk. We bought 'Mona' and 'Daisy', a saanen and a toggenburg. They were both in milk and used to being hand milked. I remember how shocked and overwhelmed I felt when we brought them home and I attempted to milk them. I felt a huge burden of responsibility for them, what if I can't milk them fully out and they get mastitis? Or worse, die! I was well prepared for them and had done a large amount of reading on the subject but nothing beats diving in! I assured myself that if things didn't work out, it was always possible to sell them.

So we had milking goats! Mona was a great goat. Easy to milk with a large blown udder, just like milking a cow. She give over a 5 litres a day and was a delight to milk. She was a large goat so was less inclined to climb and jump thankfully. Daisy was a different story! She was very excitable and would jump on you like a dog. She was restless at milking time. She would turnaround after or during milking quickly and drink all her milk in the bucket. She had been bucket reared! Her teats were tiny and it took ages to get less milk from her.
Both goats were well bred from good dairy stock and produced large amounts of milk. We later sold daisy and went through many more goats. But they were even worse and only give 2-3 litres a day. For us this doesn't make it worthwhile. We now realise that we were spoilt with mona and that her kind doesn't come by very often.
The biggest challenges with keeping goats were fencing, and keeping them out of the veg garden and away from anything you value, even your car!! They don't like grass but prefer hedges, trees, bark and flowers. They produced unwanted kids that were unsellable and had to be given away. The kids are cute at first but their climbing/ damage soon wears on you. We didn't enjoy the taste of the goats milk but the kids loved it and drunk large amounts of it and I made plenty of soft cheese from it. The milk was nice on the day of milking, but I don't enjoy warm milk. It developed a ting the next day and by day three it had a distinct goat taste.

Some time later we got a jersey cow. Again we were nervous about the responsibility and commitment involved. They are bigger and grumpier? But we were pleased to find out that a cow is sweet, calm and very generous with her milk. We first got Rosie, then Penelope and now Mama-moo. And I love cows! Sure they are a bigger investment but the calf they rear each year hold value and will fill the freezer or pay her feed bill for the year. Of course they need more acreage and there is legal requirements for testing and herd numbers... But they are great!
You will have so much milk, cream, butter, yogurt, cheese and ice-cream. Your veg garden will be so fertile with all that manure and your family will be healthy from raw, clean, whole milk. They are easier to fence and will help feed the hens, chickens, dog and cats.

People should consider what suits their personal circumstances.
Do you have much acreage?
Are you comfortable with large or smaller animals?
Will small children be involved?
Have you good fencing?
What do you intend to use the milk for?

For us Mona was a great goat and Mama-moo is a great cow. I would now never tolerate a bad, unruly or unproductive animal. Milking a bad animal makes milking a horrible chore, but milking a great animal makes it a delight. And it is the same investment in time and feed so you might as well enjoy it!

Many years from now, we might downsize to a goat but right now we love our cows milk.
I would love to hear other people's experiences.

Homemade lip balm & AI'ing the cow

MamaMoo kept us up all night bellowing last Monday, so I figured she must be in heat. Hubby rang the AI man on Tues morning and he came out to us shortly afterwards. We had the choice of a freisin or angus straw so we picked angus.
We put her up the crush and sure enough she was well 'on'. Fingers crossed that she takes! I should be on the look out for heat in 18 days.

I collected the veal yesterday evening from our butcher. We got back three boxes of meat. We were disappointed as it is very lean. We will fatten a jersey calf next time. We got back about 140lbs of meat and some yummy corn beef that we had last night. I have to be very careful with cooking it, as not to make it tough and to use lots of added fats to help.

Our chicks are getting quite big now. They are starting to get annoying in their cage now as they are so messy and scratch food/bedding into their water constantly.
It will be time for them to move out into a coop soon. They still have a heat lamp on at night. The next batch is due on the 12th.
I have been doing a lot of gardening this week. The weeds are trying hard to get ahead ! Argh ! We have being swopping/sharing a lot of plant and seeds with friends. It's a great arrangement for all.
I made cheese and yogurt last night and I plan on making more cheese today.

I made some homemade lip balm during the week. It was very easy and it will last ages and smells wonderful.
A table spoon each of the following and melt together. The add essential oils and allow to cool.
Olive oil
Bees wax
Coconut oil

Now I really need to get around to making more soap for the house !