drying apples

We peel by hand and slice into eighths, or twelfths if the apple is very big, and spread the slices on frames made to fit our big dehydrator.  This one is made of plywood and holds fifteen two-foot by two-foot screens, or frames, but you can only really use about half of them at a time if you want things to dry very fast.  In the bottom there are eight light  bulbs and a small fan, but we cheat and make one of the bulbs a heat lamp bulb (from the chick hover, not in use this late in the summer).  Still, the drying process wasn’t going to quickly at first, until investigation showed that whomever assembled the thing (we don’t know who, we got it in salvage) had never cut vent holes in the back panel for drawing in fresh air and releasing damp air.  A couple of minutes with a hole saw and the situation was corrected; now apples dry in a day or so.  A good thing, too; this has been an excellent year for apples.


Thank you to all the people who helped make the Mother Earth News Fair 2016 at Seven Springs the stupendous event it was.  Great talks, great demos, and lots of interesting tools and gadgets.  Especial thanks to the dragon stove people, who weren’t afraid to get wet and dirty showing us how it is done.

fallen apples

Couldn’t figure out why Baby kept coming up to the dairy with really loose stools in the evening, then fine at the morning milking, until we turned her out the other morning and saw how she went directly to the pasture apple trees to see what the wind had brought down in the night . . .

Buckeyes, or their near kin, horse chestnuts, what are they worth?  A bowl of the shiny brown kernels is pretty on a fall table; stepping on buckeye hulls in your bare feet elicits a minor expletive.  The large leaves create quite a drift for a little while in late fall.  Otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be much going on.

Or so we thought, until last night, when Lewie came up the hill from the bonfire raving about our four, or is it five?, beautiful Chinese chestnuts along the creek bank.  Where? we asked blankly.  Oh, you mean the buckeyes?  — Only it’s no good double-guessing Lewie because he’s a forester and he knows.  Chinese chestnuts — and for the past twelve years we’ve been filling bowls with the glossy mahogany-colored fruits, admiring them for a season, and then throwing them — not to the pigs, of course not, buckeyes are inedible, and not on the compost pile (who needs more buckeye trees?),  — but just away, off the hill, into the outer darkness.  Pounds and pounds of huge, protein-packed nuts wasted.

No more, though.  This fall we’ll gather them all, well, all except what the squirrels may be really dependent on.

Unless Lewie gets to them first —




rodent control

Let us talk about the ‘R’ word.  Yes, that’s the one:  Rats.

Now, don’t misunderstand!  Ours is a clean farm, if we do say it ourselves.  It has not always been so; you don’t learn to manage bushels of farm-derived nutrients all in a day, or a decade.  But we’re far enough along on that path that we’re fairly good at moving buildups from point of surplus to point of deficit.  There are not piles of things lying around that rats would want to rummage.  No spilled feed in any quantity (the poultry don’t waste much), and only so much left in the pig trough on odd days to show that we’ve fed too much that morning, or that the pigs are growing a little bored with shredded apples from the cider-making.  The compost bin contains manured bedding and coffee grounds almost to the exclusion of anything else, well, maybe the corpse of a coon or possum gone to his just reward, but only once in a while.  Nothing to make a passing platoon of rats take a second look and decide to set up housekeeping.

Nothing except beautiful gardens full of sweet baby beans, tender corn on the cob, juicy tomatoes — and a guard dog who is a little too slow to catch a rat, but keeps the foxes and coyotes at a more than respectful distance.  A surplus of delicious food, and not enough vermin control.  After twenty years of limiting ourselves to a maximum of three cats, all toms (so that after a bit there’s generally only one of them), we’re discovering why the iconic farm has multiple cats, many cats, cats on every fence post.  Cats are working members of the farm community, and we don’t have enough of them.

Time to adopt a half-dozen kittens, and make sure at least two are chickens with catfemale.

farm smells

This post might just as well be titled ‘farmers smell’ (both connotations), or even ‘farmer’s smells’.

Fermentation.  In the compost pile — mostly piggy bedding — belligerent in the beginning,  beguilingly sweet at the conclusion.  In the sauerkraut crock: increasingly assertive over the course of six weeks or so, until you’ll go to some lengths to keep visitors out of the basement.  Poultry feed, mixed whole and crimped grains, a complicated ferment, sprouting as well as acidifying, the smell of which drives our bibulous hens wild.  Windfall apples with yellow jackets mining the holes in the white flesh; moldy grapes under the leaves on the arbor, forgotten by the humans but most appreciated by the fruit flies.

Late honeysuckle blooms over the yard gate which surprise you as you come through in the dark after closing the poultry up for the night.  Chocolate mint underfoot where the old herb bed used to be, now a holding yard for spent round bales we’ll use to mulch next year’s winter squash patch.  The intoxicating smells of tomato leaf and marigold bloom; sharp smells of hot pepper and sweet pepper; carroty Queen Anne’s lace foliage crushed under the hoofs of a passing cow.  Hot machine oil under the tractor hood; parched, cracked soil beneath much-needed rain; second cutting clover hay, sweetest of sweet smells.

Dairy fermentation:  yogurt, at once both sweet and sour; buttermilk, what John Seymour called “noblest of drinks”, with two natures, first sweet and then sour; kefir, sharply alcoholic.  Warm yellow smells of cheese; sweet whey and sour; complicated smells in the cheese cave, where geotrichum candidum and pennecilium roquefortii argue with dirt mold, wood mold, and just plain ordinary mold.

Loving dog breath on your cheek as you share the porch swing for a nighttime meditation.  Ruminant urine, with its messages of health, of openness or gestation.  Musky goat smells, and the unpleasant rankness of chicken manure where there is inadequate litter to absorb it. Boots; wet socks; damp basement walls. Sweat, of horse, or cow, or human; and clothing that no hot water or detergent can ever make innocent of its hours of labor.


still wondering

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, and maybe it isn’t.

Of the ten or a dozen dairy cows we have owned, two stand out as difficult to milk, not for any deficiency in teat size or location (we’ve experienced both of those, more than once or twice) but for inadequate let-down reflex.  These two make plenty of milk, lovely, yellow high-fat content milk; but instead of pushing it out, as any good cow does, when you help her along with some scientific squeezing action, these two make you wring it out of them.  Takes twice as long as milking any other cow, or maybe longer yet.  Maybe there’s no connection, but these two also happen to be the only two in the bunch which were once-upon-a-time milked with machines.  Is there something about the compressor-produced suction of the milking machine that makes let-down reflex unnecessary, and, supposing there is, would an unnecessary reflex diminish over time?

We don’t know, but you won’t catch us buying a machine milked cow again in a hurry.