Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Living in Oz

The meadow to the east is carpeted in red indian paintbrush flowers.  As I walk out of it onto the road, I notice that the south side, which is shaded, is bright with dandelions still blooming.  On the north side, the dandelions are finished and the bank is a sea of blue lupins.  I guess our yard, with its lush green grass, is the Emerald City.

The blue north country

The red east country

The yellow south country

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rhubarb wine

The easiest and most reliable wine we make, our everyday wine, is rhubarb.  We usually brew at least 10 gallons each spring.  The oldest bottle in our cellar right now is from 2004, but we've tasted some that was ten years old.  It doesn't change much over the years, really.  We've decided that aging it isn't very important, so we just guzz it young, giving some of the other wines a chance to age.

We've tried a few different methods and find that the simplest way of making it seems to be the best.  We use 5 lb of rhubarb per gallon.  Each stalk is roughly snapped into many pieces (after removing the poisonous leaf) and tossed into a large crock.  We pour cold water over it and let it stand at room temperature for three days, then remove the stalks and feed them to the goats.  To the pink liquid left behind, we add between 2 1/2 and 3 lb of sugar (more makes a stronger wine) and a package of yeast.  After another few days of fermenting, we siphon it into a container with an airlock and leave it till it's ready to drink a couple of months  later.
Picking the fruit
Snapping the stalks
We started the first batch of the year this week, just a little later than usual.  We wanted a sunny day to pick it but finally got tired of waiting.  Our main patch produced 50 lb of rhubarb, enough for 10 gallons.  The plants looked wonderful when we started picking and pathetic when we finished, but they'll recover soon.  I might add some frozen berries to one 5 gallon batch.  If so, I'll do it next week.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sheep in prison

I didn't mean to do it.  It was an accident, and I felt bad about it.  In the morning, after I'd fed the sheep and milked the goats, I walked back to the house. Later, I went off to work for a few hours.  When I returned home mid-afternoon, I spent some more time inside, since it was raining on and off, until time for the evening milking.  That's when I discovered that I'd left the sheep locked in their pen, without food or water, all day.

It didn't hurt them any.  It was only ten hours, and they're fat and healthy enough to fast for that long. However, it can't have been comfortable or pleasant for them.  They were uncomplaining, happy to see me, normally behaved.

Here's a difference between goats and sheep.  I could never have locked the goats up for the day without knowing about it, even if I spent most of that day away.  The goats would have screamed bloody murder out there.  They would have smashed the barn apart or leaped the partitions, or tried hard, at least.  The sheep just accepted the situation and waited for me to let them out.  Not every stereotype about goats and sheep is true, but this one seems to be.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dr. Charles' Blackfly Ointment

Charles has been making his blackfly ointment for the horses.  This is something he has used every summer for many, many years. 

The blackflies are small, biting insects that drive the horses crazy.  If we don't do something about it, the horses end up with great scabby patches on all their tender areas.  The ointment works like a charm to keep this from happening, if Charles puts a bit on them every day or two.  The horses love it and let him work it into their ears and apply it on their chests, udders, etc.

He makes it from a secret blend of herbs infused in oil.  Some of the herbs are insect repellants that work well enough to give the horses some relief.  The others are healing herbs for any bites that they already have.  The oil is soothing, too.

This year, for the first time,  we might try selling some.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


The huge plant in the center is lovage
I've been harvesting lovage lately.  It's a great vegetable, a perennial that is absolutely hardy, gives a huge harvest (more than we can use, actually), and is nice to look at in the garden.

It is sometimes called "perennial celery", but it really isn't related to celery and doesn't taste like it, either.  However, you use it in the same way.  It's tasty in salads when it's young, and very good in soups, stews, and sauces.  I like it chopped into scrambled eggs or added to potato soup. 

As well as eating it fresh, I dry a lot of it for winter use.  This is another use for our wonderful cookstove.  After making breakfast, I just open the oven door and put trays of chopped lovage inside to dry while the fire goes out and the oven cools. 

Trays ready for drying
You can grow lovage from seed (which is how I started mine) or get a piece of root from a friend.  One plant is plenty for a family.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Visiting WWOOFer's

We had a visit on Monday afternoon from a young couple from Germany.  They were WWOOFing with a friend of ours and wanted to try milking a goat before they went home.  We had a pleasant visit and a successful milking.  I showed them how to make a soft cheese and they took home a bottle of dandelion wine.

I don't know exactly what WWOOF stands for (the organization changed their name recently), but the basic system is that travellers exchange help on organic farms for room and board.  Farms register with the organization and people who are planning a trip contact the farms directly. 

We were registered as a WWOOF farm years ago for a few seasons and it was a good experience.  We met quite a few interesting people from all over the world.  Only one of the WWOOF'ers turned out to be an undesirable visitor, and a couple of them were amazingly helpful.  We decided to quit doing it, however, because it seemed so often to be more work for us than it was worth.  I think this is because we had so many short-term visitors, and our living arrangements are so unusual that the WWOOF'ers didn't have time to get used to them before it was time to leave again. 

We're thinking of registering again next year, with the condition that we will only take WWOOF'ers who are willing to stay for several weeks.

The completed soft cheese

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June Goatwalking (with mosquitoes)

The grass, dandelions, and clover at the edge of the road are knee-high now, and the mosquitoes are biting.  We are keeping to the open spaces in our goatwalking these days.  It's not as interesting as walking through the forest, but the goats get a bellyful fast and we don't get eaten alive.

June is mosquito month.  The warm weather, combined with all the flooding from rain on top of melting snow in the hills, creates perfect conditions for the bugs.  They're irritating and can be overwhelming in the deep forest, but they aren't as bad as some insects.  If we stay where a breeze can blow them away, and keep moving, the number of bites we get stays low; and  after 20 years, we've built up such an immunity that they hardly bother us as long as we don't scratch them.

The goats spend quite a bit of time lying down, especially in the dirt, to protect their undersides from the bugs.  For us, long sleeves and pants help, especially in light colours.  We don't go out much at dawn and dusk.  A mosquito net over the bed allows us a good night's sleep.  Most of all, though, attitude is important.  We keep in mind that the frogs, bats, and some birds rely on a good crop of mosquitoes.  We think about things like tapping trees for maple syrup when we see mosquitoes feeding.   We remember that this difficult season will only last a couple of weeks.  As a final bonus, we realize that these insects are responsible for our peace and serenity, by keeping hordes of urbanites from overrunning our rural retreat!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Chick Update

As we had hoped, the clutch of chicks hatched out under the house stairs is still safe and healthy.  The mother is very fierce and watchful.  She's taking the chicks out foraging around the yard (and in my garden a couple of times, unfortunately), teaching them everything they need to know.  The chicks are starting to get their true feathers in already.

Charlie follows them everywhere, and the hen seems quite comfortable with this.  It's a perfect situation.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shearing the Sheep

Olive, before shearing starts
The easiest way to shear sheep is definitely having a professional shearer do it.  With his expertise and electric shears, he does it in under five minutes, and the cost is low, somewhere around $10 per sheep.  However, we only have one shearer covering the entire vast Cariboo region.  I have only three sheep needing shearing (the fourth ewe is a hair sheep who sheds in the spring) and no-one close to me raises sheep.  The shearer won't come all the way out here during his busy season.  I either have to truck my animals to him or wait until the end of the season, watching my ewes suffer from the heat while I wait.

Therefore, the easiest thing for me to do is to shear them myself.  This year, I'm late, mostly because of the cool, rainy weather, and I've just finished.  I'd probably do a better job of it if I bought proper equipment and took lessons, but I can't be bothered.  I just head out on a nice day with my best sewing scissors, catch a sheep, tie her to a post surrounded by clean grass, and start snipping. 

At first, it's very pleasant.  My ewes love to cuddle, and they're sick of all that hot wool, so they enjoy themselves.  They stand quietly, soaking up the attention and relishing the cool air on their skin.  I'm having a good time, too, kneeling in the shade, admiring the sheen and sparkle of the clean wool, feeling my hands grow smooth and soft from all the lanolin.  I feel like a sculptor, removing superfluous material to reveal the emerging figure of the animal.

"Sculpting" Olive, halfway finished

Michaelangelo's "Captives"
About halfway through the hour-long procedure, my fingers are getting sore, even though I tape them to avoid blisters.  The ewe is becomming bored and figety, which makes it slower going if I don't want to cut her skin.  By the time I'm finished, we're both mightily relieved.

A couple of days later, I shear the next one.  After a week or so, I have three bags full, and I can send them to the mill for spinning into a winter's knitting.

Olive, after shearing (but still needing a bit of trimming on the belly)

Sunday, June 5, 2011


A vicious peck at my hand startled me when I reached out to do a routine check under the white hen one recent morning.  The drowsy, placid bird in the nest had become a fierce, protective one.  I realized that her eggs must be ready to hatch.  As I left her alone, I could hear her soft, purring reassurances to the chicks, still in their shells, but I was too far away to hear their tiny answering peeps.

The next day, I crept out with a bowl of crushed grain, a dish a water shallow enough that a chick couldn't drown in it, and a camera.  I saw five chicks of assorted colours, but the hen didn't like having me close.  She urged her babies all underneath her, and refused to let me see them again, though I stayed for quite a while, waiting.  The next morning, there were seven chicks, and she had begun to take them a few feet away from the nest, teaching them to scratch for grain.  I tossed some out for them and watched with great pleasure as the little ones carefully imitated her.

Chicks are such fun.  Charlie is enraptured; he spent all day lying close by the pen.  On schedule, I heard the raucous squawks of raven chicks somewhere nearby, and felt glad that Charlie is taking such an interest in our vulnerable little ones.

I'll get more pictures once the hen relaxes a bit and stops hiding her babies as soon as she sees me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dandelion wine tasting

There are quite a few home winemakers in this neighbourhood.  We're too far north, here in the Cariboo, to grow grapes, but we make some beautiful wines from other ingredients.  Often, half a dozen homemade wines will show up at a potluck dinner or party.  In the past year, I've been hosting some wine-tastings, for fun and also to share our knowledge and experiences with each other.

Last weekend, we gathered together to taste rhubarb and dandelion wines.  Not many of the people there had made either of these, so I hoped to inspire everyone to put a batch on to brew.  We had three samples of rhubarb and two of dandelion to try, all from last year.  (I'll discuss the rhubarb another day.)

The two dandelion wines were quite different from each other.  The first one we tried had been made using raisins, lemons, and oranges in addition to the flowers.  It was full-bodied and strong, with the citrus flavours being quite distinct.  The recipe for that one can be found at:  The second was the one I had made.  It was a little lighter, with a more floral taste, and was also lighter in colour.  Opinions varied, with some people preferring one and some the other: it's just a matter of taste.  Here is my recipe:

  • Pick dandelions.  One gallon of flowers for each gallon of wine.  Pay no attention to other recipes that tell you to separate the yellow parts from the green; it's too much work and you'll make a good wine without bothering.  Just pick the whole flower head with no stem attached.  It took me between 2 and 3 hours to pick 5 gallons.
  • Pour boiling water over the flowers in a non-metal container.  Cover and leave 3 days, stirring daily, then strain.
  • Heat liquid, if necessary, to the temperature required by the yeast.  I use champagne yeast and the packet instructions said around 35 degrees C.
  • Add about 1/2 lemon , cut into chunks. for each gallon of wine, along with 2 1/2 lb sugar.  Stir, then sprinkle the yeast over the surface.  Leave 3 days more, stirring daily, then remove the lemon.
  • When the wine stops frothing, siphon it into a carboy with an airlock.
  • Rack it off the sediment into a clean carboy a couple of times over the months.  When it has totally stopped working (no bubbles in the airlock), bottle it.  It's likely to be ready for bottling by around the end of the year.  If you bottle it too soon, it will be fizzy.