Friday, March 30, 2012

Urban Farm Handbook- March challenge

March is finally over! Whoo Hoo! That means Spring Break around these parts, when I can finally commit to doing all the things on my growing to-do list. It also means I've finished up the Dairy Challenge in the Urban Farm Handbook challenge, hosted by Sustainable Eats. You can read about it here.

To get started, Annette suggested finding a good local dairy. Apart from getting my own goat (which I am want to do), I purchased milk from a farm a mile away. Cooks Farm Dairy is the only working, licensed, dairy in my county (sad). We get ice cream there in the summer months- because you get to pet cows while you enjoy your ice cream. How great is that? I am now buying our milk there, too.

I started with ricotta cheese. So easy, I'm embarrassed I've never made it before! Seriously. I needed ricotta for lasagna, and just whipped up some. I think it's really liberating to suddenly realize that all that stuff at the grocery store, yeah, I can pretty much make it myself. For cheap. It made it taste all the better!

I had been wanting to make mozzarella for some time now. I took a cheese making class (in which I milked a goat. So amazing!) and we learned to make feta and a soft farm style cheese. I feel pretty good about those, but it's mozzarella we use a lot of. So, with the links provided at the Urban Farm Handbook, I followed the 30 minute mozzarella recipe. Sort of a cheat I suspect. But, it was so fun, really good, and made a ton of cheese. I am hooked!

This month I also made homemade nutella with my extra milk, for my daughter who is thoroughly addicted to it. I hate the palm oil and junk in the store bought version. You can find the recipe here. Again, super easy.

 In all honesty, we drink nut milks around this house, and while it's not exactly dairy, I did whip up a few pints of almond milk. Hey, it's milk. And it's a beverage! I still plan on making more yogurt, and trying a few other things, like pudding, and cajeta. I am loving these challenges, learning so much, and feeling more independent.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dye Garden

source: Atticmag
As spring draws closer, I always start to feel anxious to get the gardens started. I really do need to wait. I know. But, I can put my pent up eagerness to work in planning. This year, we're hoping to expand the garden. Lately, I keep putting in more and more perennial flowers. I've crowded out all the viable room for our veggies. So, we're going to add beds for veggies, as usual. This year however, I plan on starting a dye garden. What is that you ask? Most fibers are dyed with synthetic acid dyes. I am deeply interested in natural dyes, sourced from weeds sustainable plants. 

Source: Eden Brothers
I want to own my art- and the production of it- from start to finish. Now, I have no plans on adding sheep. Not yet anyway. But, I have started purchasing wool from neighbors who have wool breeds. I think I'll always need merino for scarves and wearables, but for other forms, rougher local wools work great- even better! All this leads me to the acid dyes I use. Not friendly. And made in a chem lab. From my understanding, some of the plants in a dye garden need several years to establish themselves. So, it's time to get this going!

Here's my running list, as it's March and I'm feeling ambitions. 
Japanese Indigo
False Indigo
Purple Basil
St. John's wort
And... I have plenty of ragweed, walnut trees, and other wild species I can cultivate. 
I'm pretty excited... and can't wait to get this going. I plan on starting most of this from seed, which means I can get going in just a matter of weeks. Wish me well!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Urban Farm Handbook- February Challenge

My creative process is closely tied up with my life here on our property. It's as if moving to the country, to this little wild space we've preserved, has freed up something in me. I don't mean to only discuss feltmaking. Nor do I mean to only discuss farming. Forgive me if I seem all over the place. Really I'm not that crazy... well, usually. Maybe I am.

I'm taking this year to really invest in my understanding of my gardens. I want to learn as much as I can, and hope that in doing so, I can increase their production. I want to produce more of what we eat here. I don't believe everything needs to come from a grocery store! And, since I have the property to grow it, and the summers off work, I need to start taking action.

So, I'm taking today to focus on the February Challenge from the Urban Farm Handbook. You can read more here. We were given the opportunity to read and view some excellent material regarding soil health. I learned a lot. Annette and Josh were very gracious. I focused on composting. We learned about active and passive composting. I admit that I already have a compost, but it's full and I haven't been using it much. It's passive. With the recent mild weather, I decided to see what going on in there, to give it a turn if I could, and get active in it's utilization. We built it out of reclaimed lumber and pallets. By "we," I mean my husband!

I was surprised that it was mostly thawed, and when I got in there, it was the richest, darkest, stuff we have around here. We've been using the outputs from the chickens (read "poop" and "shavings") and ducks, as well as kitchen scraps. It looks pretty good. But, I'm going to do as Josh suggests and turn it and water it. It's time to get this thing heated up! We also have a pile of wood ash I plan on using. So, it's compost time! I'm pretty geeked.