8 Gallons of Milk Daily = Cheese!

With Buttercup having freshened ( when a cow gives birth and her milk comes in) she is now giving 8 gallons of milk per day. In addition to drinking it, making ice cream and butter, I have been making cheese daily. This is a good thing, as we had almost depleted our supply. Last year, we made several different types of cheese including mozzarella, cheddar, Monterey jack, pepper jack, Parmesan and Swiss.

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A Late Garden Works for Us!

Garden produce from a late garden suits me just fine!

Many people have been harvesting from their gardens for a while now, ours is just beginning. Yes, I have missed fresh squash, tomatoes, beans and …  But, with all the vineyard work, I am thankful to have a “late” garden!

We have harvested enough zucchini and yellow squash for vegetable enchiladas – Mmmm! The beans and peas are just about ready to pick. We have bell peppers that I used in scrambled eggs yesterday. The tomatoes, well, they are growing and in addition to a couple of tiny tomatoes, have quite a lot of blooms. We put up a trellis fence for the tomatoes and as they grow we will tape them (with the vineyard tapers) to the fence. There is just nothing like fresh garden produce!

I fertilized yesterday and thankfully we got a rain shower last night! John used seven dust on the corn which is just beginning to tassel. Have you ever shucked wormy corn? If so, you will appreciate the value of seven dust.

Since I desire every area of our lives to feel and look homey, I even decorated the garden. Look closely and you can see my pink flamingos – I think every garden should have at least two! I must confess, I had been coveting them at a local store. Since finances were tight, I did not think it prudent to spend money on them. Besides, how would I explain their appearance? I did not think anyone here would buy the lie that they flew in – they are pretty smart and everyone knows that pink flamingos don’t normally fly through the west Texas area!

Do you know where pink flamingos live? Well, I did not so I had to look them up on Wikipedia. The four American flamingo species live in the Caribbean, South America and the Galapagos islands (off the west coast of South America). Other species live in Asia, India, S. Europe. But, my pair is an American variety made of plastic. A sister-in-law saved me from my coveting- she visited and as her gift, she brought a pair. Thank you, Joan!

All Work and No Play….

You know the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack (in this case, John) a dull boy.”

Well, I can’t have that! So, below is the picture of a very happy man. Why? – you might wonder. Not only is he making his own beer, but he is making it using the rye that we grew and had a neighbor harvest! In “Harvesting Rye” I posted pictures and gave details of the planting and harvesting.

He has just made homemade beer even more economical – that is why he is so smiley! (He calculates it to cost less than $14 for the ingredients needed for a 10 gal. batch. Add < $1 for cleaning, propane and water and it is still less than 15 ¢/ 12 oz bottle – his time is free.)

Their are several ways to make your own beer. The easiest is to start by peeling the label off a bottle from the store and call it your own, and it would be, unless you stole it! Otherwise, you can get a kit online or at a local beer/wine making shop. These kits can be simply just mixing and bottling or actually cooking some of ingredients. John’s favorite way now is to start with the malt and grain. Sometimes he roasts the barley malt (to enhance the caramel flavor) and then grinds it by hand (with the help of the younger fellows). The malt is slowly cooked (mashed) to convert the insoluble starch to sugars. The liquid is filtered off and then sanitized by boiling (this also cooks off some bad flavors). The cooled liquid, now called wort, is transferred to glass carboys (on the counter with the blue funnel) where yeast is added. (Up to here usually only takes him 1/2 a day.) The yeast will ferment some of the sugar to alcohol over the next few weeks. Finally, the green beer (translate “young” – it is not literally green!) is decanted from the yeast cake and bottled with a little more corn sugar added to generate carbonation in the bottle. (The proceeding explanation was written by my ghost writer, former chemist husband.)

I did not acquire the taste for beer until we lived in Germany. “Das Schwartze” was a dark German beer that appealed to me. John was not making beer at that time and it was not until we moved back to Alabama that he began. He has made some very good ones. My personal favorite is a type of Belgian Wheat which has orange peel and coriander in it. It is always a waiting game to see how it tastes once bottled and allowed to sit for the carbonation to develop.

Tiring to Say the Least!

With Buttercup giving 8 gallons of milk per day, I am not going to the vineyard everyday right now. I am at home making cheese! I normally have the two youngest with me so, when I go, they go.

When we do go, as you can see, it is very tiring, perhaps exhausting is not even an overstatement! Please notice the grape (green) cluster in the seat beside her – she loves eating them and they do not seem to bother her. Honestly, the green grapes are so tart, they turn my mouth inside out. I do not see how everyone eats them![Continue Reading]

Work, Work and More Work!

Although we are looking excitedly toward harvest which will begin the last of August or first of  September, the work is not yet slowing! John spent several days last week plowing between the rows of vines. Rye was planted between the rows last fall to help hold the soil from blowing in the wind. This can harm the vines, as we experienced last year. It had been cut to about 4 inch stubble, but with all the rain, the weeds were growing rapidly. In my opinion (for whatever it is worth), the vineyard looks much “cleaner” with the centers plowed.

Below is the Roussanne planted in 2009.

Here is a picture of the Aglianico planted in 2008.

He was even able to plow a “road” to the garden, which is about 200 or so feet from the vineyard!

We have a beautiful display of Black-Eyed Susans on our country road and they have spilled over into the circle and around the well. John was so sweet to save these around the well, because he knows how much I like them. He even picks them and brings them home to me for our table!  Actually, he said he would have plowed them all if he could – but, I know he was just kidding!

The Fruit is Growing!

As you can see, the grapes in the vineyard are getting larger compared to the pictures taken a little over a month ago. It is exciting, to say the least, as we watch the progression.

The second wires have been raise so the vines appear very flat on the sides. They are being held up by the wires for support.

With all the rain we have had, it has been necessary to spray the vineyard with a combination of chemicals for powdery mildew, bunch rot and phomopsis. These can not only effect the health of the vines but the quality of the grapes as well.

It is difficult, as we see the vines loaded with fruit, not to “count our grapes before they are harvested’! We had a stark reminder that it is indeed, not a done deal. A neighboring farmer sprayed his crop with a herbicide which drifted and was smelled at the vineyard while it was being sprayed.  A couple of days later, we noticed black spots on the grape leaves. At the same time, his crop was wilting and turning brown. All I could think was “the Lord gives and Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” John called the farmer to find out what was sprayed – if it had been Roundup, we would need to drop all the fruit in an attempt to save the vines. As it turned out, it was not Roundup but rather was a herbicide which was suppose to be safe for his crop as well as grapes. He is aware the vineyard is there and tries to be careful with what he applies and when. Thankfully, no further damage is seen on the grapes, there are no spots on the new growth and the neighbor’s crop has also recovered.

Watch Your Step!

Leaving the vineyard yesterday for lunch, our oldest daughter almost stepped on the snake in the picture! Thankfully, he (or she – I didn’t ask which) was not poisonous. But, I must admit, in my opinion, the only good snake is a dead one! We did not kill him because as some family members pointed out, they do have a purpose – they eat rodents like mice and rats – I would rather use a mouse trap!    :)

Harvesting Rye

When we decided on a  lifestyle change in 2007 and purchased land here in west Tx for a vineyard, 65 acres of it had been farmed in cotton. This had been done by the common practice of farming in a circle with an irrigation pivot in the center to water the crops. Because the orientation of the cotton rows were the same orientation which would be best for grape vines, we used the center of the circle to begin the vineyard. This orientation allows for the most sun exposure early in the day thus drying the leaves quickly and decreasing the opportunity for disease growth.

This year we planted the remainder of the circle ( about 45 acres) in rye as a cover crop. The purpose of a cover crop is to replenish the soil but also to hold the soil in the blowing wind. Last year, we had wind damage to our young, newly planted vines and did not want this to happen again! With the wet spring, it has done exceptionally well.

Thankfully, the rye was harvested before the rains began. A neighboring farmer has a combine which was used. The harvester is huge as you can see in relation to the man at the side! We took turns riding with the driver in the enclosed cab and were all equally impressed. From the front, you see the header which consists of first the sickle bar which cuts the grain, the reel which knocks it into the auger and finally, the auger which pushes it into the threshing mechanism. After threshing, the grain goes into the cleaning unit and then into the storage bin. Doing all this, no wonder the machine is so big!

The arm that you see out the back is used for unloading the grain once the storage bin of the harvester is full.

We are saving some for seed to plant in the fall and have tried grinding some in our grain mill. After all, if we can grow our own rye to grind and use, we would not only have more diversity in our diet, but also buy less wheat and therefore save money! We have good success with using the rye flour in baking. It has made great pancakes – both substituting a portion of the wheat flour and using only rye flour. For biscuits the rye worked best when used in conjunction with wheat.

I am not a fan of commercial rye bread, but, to be honest, fresh ground rye flour does not taste like store bought rye bread. It actually gives a slight ginger taste to recipes and remind me of ginger snaps!

Only to Us!

This is a picture of the front seats in our 15 passenger van. They look harmless don’t they? Well, on Friday and Saturday they did not smell harmless!

It all started on the way to Chick-fil-A’s Cow Appreciation Day. When the van door was first opened, there was a slight smell which we thought was due to all the rain and wet weather we have been having. On the way to Lubbock, the smell worsened, but, only for those sitting in the front. Those fortunate enough to be in the rear seats did not smell anything. By the time Chick-fil-A was reached, the smell had turned into a stench! And, the van had to be used for the return trip home. By now, the smell was narrowed down to be coming from the front passengers seat and we were sure something (a mouse or a rat) had died. Examination by flashlight, under and around the seat, revealed nothing.

On Saturday morning, John had the very unpleasant job of taking the seat out of the van and removing the seat cover. Sure enough, a mouse had crawled up into the seat and died! After a thorough cleaning and a bleach job the smell was gone – almost anyway. It still took a couple of more days before the van the was completely odor free.

I wonder, do other people have things like this happen or is it only to us?

Most of My Herd!

This past Friday, July 9, was Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-A. If you went dressed in full cow attire (from head to toe) you received a free combo meal. If you wore a cow accessory such as a cow print hat, purse, vest etc. you received a free entrée. As you can see from the picture, we were dressed in full cow attire! Chick-fil-A provided ideas, as well as, costume pieces to print. The one part to our costume which is not visible in the picture are our tails. Our hooves (for those who did not have black shoes) were made from construction paper cut and taped around shoes. Although you can see a few spots on the front, there were more on the back.

At first, I thought that this was a lot of trouble to go to for a free meal. But, we had more fun doing it than I would have imagined. When we told the little ones what we planned, the were so excited they could no contain themselves. In fact, they were so excited they were mooing!