Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Black Walnut Bonanza

Black walnut trees love bottomlands growing large with a great ball shape. Those in more open areas produce crops of nuts.

Never confuse these nuts with the pale English walnuts found commonly in stores. These nuts hide inside almost impregnable shells requiring special nutcrackers or heavy hammers to break them open. The nut meats have a pungent, dusky taste perfect for pumpkin recipes.

The trees are among the last to leaf out in the spring. Their leaves begin turning yellow and falling in late August. The nuts fall in September and October.

Five black walnut trees grow around the barn and workshop. Four have the usual big nut surrounded by thick hulls. The other produces bumper crops of slightly smaller nuts with thinner hulls.

Black Walnut nuts hanging on tree
Under that green husk is a black walnut. The husk turns black and a wasp lays eggs in it so larvae fill the husk. A dark brown dye comes from the husks and soon permanently stains hands and clothes. The nut has a strong shell. The company buying the walnuts does sell the nut meats, but makes most of its money from the shells which make a sanding compound used for smoothing precision machine parts. It hurts when a nut drops on your head or back.

A Missouri company buys the walnuts every October. People used to vie with each other over the choicest trees with the largest crops. The line waiting to have the nuts hulled and sold stretched a block and more.

This year the price was the highest I’ve ever seen, $20 a hundred weight. My five trees had big crops and were paving the ground making walking dangerous.

But, between my back and my age, I had to pick up only our normal pathways leaving the others hoping enough squirrels had moved back to collect the rest.

In town I watched for trucks with bags of walnuts. I saw none. No one was picking up walnuts along our road.

collecting black walnuts
At one time I put together a serious truckload of bags of walnuts. There were about 24 bags of nuts in a load. They hulled out to between 400 and 500 pounds. I never made a thousand pounds, but did top 900.

My stash of walnuts grew one bag a day. That old drive to go for a thousand pounds began to gnaw at me. My head told me I was crazy. The temptation grew when a day of high winds brought down even more black walnuts making walking almost impossible.

A truck pulled up while I was milking. A middle aged couple asked if they could pick up my black walnuts. The temptation grabbed at me and slid away into relief.

The black walnuts around the workshop and barn are gone now. There was a big truck load. My temptation is gone with the sacks of nuts.

Find out more about black walnuts in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Country Dogs

Lots of people move to or live in the country and tend to do two things right away. One is to have their new property logged. The other is to get some dogs. But country dogs can bring problems.

I’ve been told the logging helps to pay off the debt on the property. Understandable. But the people haven’t even had a chance to assess their new place and are making a choice to make major changes on the hopes it won’t backfire on them. Then again, many people never even go anywhere on their property other than the house and yard before or after they buy the place.

Dogs are another matter.

Nubian doe High Reaches Isabelle
Nubian doe High Reaches Isabelle didn’t come in with the herd one night. I found her where two dogs had pulled her down and killed her. Searching for the dogs I heard they had pulled down deer a couple of miles away on another occasion. They lived a mile away from me. The owner couldn’t believe his dogs would do such a thing. They were always there when he came home from work and left for work in the morning. They ran loose all day and all night.

There seems to be an opinion that country dogs stay around the house. And it’s so nice to let them have room to run.

Dogs like coyotes and wolves are made to run long distances. They have an instinct to chase and grab anything running away from them.

This morning two dogs arrived on the property. They proceeded to make themselves at home. They were a mile from home as I found out after visiting the neighbors.

The dogs belong to a single man who loves his dogs, has a fenced yard, but has many problems with the dogs escaping. They visit the immediate neighbors most often. Today they decided to get some exercise and came to visit me. And my cats. And my chickens. And my goats.

chickens are tempting for country dogs
Chickens run, flap and squawk when they are chased. I’ve had cats who pounce toward them to hear this reaction. Dogs grab the chickens often with fatal results for the chicken. My flock enjoys the goat gym when the goats are out to pasture.

No one was thrilled.

In the city a phone call brings animal control out to cart the dogs away. In the country the sheriff tells you there is no animal control. If the dogs are destroying livestock or property, you can shoot them. Otherwise you are to contact the owner and hope this person will do something about the dogs.

These are nice, friendly dogs. They are well cared for. They are not welcome here. The owner isn’t very concerned.

As a livestock owner, I am responsible for my animals and what they do. I do not understand why dog owners so often take no responsibility for their dogs.

This time the dogs were scared off.

Garden Disaster

I suppose this isn’t a total garden disaster. It just feels like it.

There are several crops growing in my garden. The Jerusalem artichokes are presently a nuisance as the twelve foot plus stalks blew over even with a support around them.

The winter squash vines have run all over their allotted areas and invaded elsewhere. This year they are being stingy with the squash too.

The okra plants are now taller than I am and producing well. The long beans are the same. Even the peppers are big, bushy plants busy producing lots of peppers.

My fall crops are finally started. Rows of spinach, turnips, winter radishes, napa cabbage and bok choi look good.

Overshadowing all of this is the devastation of the tomatoes. This is a garden disaster.

garden disaster deer ate paste tomatoes
Every year I grow paste tomatoes and put whole tomatoes and sauce in the freezer to use over the winter. The deer evidently likes Speckled Roman paste tomatoes too as it ate the red ones, the pink ones and tried all the green ones. The vine tips were then nipped off.

More than any other crop, tomatoes are prized as a summer treat. I have rows of tomatoes, paste, eating, cherry. My kitchen has tomatoes piled on the counters. Frozen tomatoes will be winter eating. My chickens are eating those we can’t seem to get to fast enough.

Yet, the devastation of the tomato vines is a garden disaster.

Usually the day before killing frost I go through the tomato vines and collect all the tomatoes. This includes those getting ripe and those still green. They ripen in the pantry giving us garden tomatoes sometimes up until December.

Not this year. This year the tomatoes are lying on the ground with bite marks in them. The vines are eaten off in many places.

garden disaster deer found these tomatoes tempting too
I’ve been growing Abe Lincoln tomatoes for a couple of years. They are a nice medium size usually. Three are left on the vines only because the deer hasn’t found a way to reach them yet. The large pineapple tomatoes were hard to reach too, but it managed.

Big hoof prints revealed the culprit. A deer has been visiting. It ate the hollyhock leaves, the chicory leaves, the Jerusalem artichoke leaves.

The deer likes tomatoes, ripe tomatoes, but can’t seem to tell the difference between a green tomato and a ripe tomato without taking a bite. So it grabs any large tomato eating the ripe ones and dropping the green ones onto the ground.

The only comfort in this garden disaster is that the deer seems to ignore the cherry tomatoes for some reason. Perhaps we will have those to nibble on this fall. Or the deer may discover them.

Woodchucks aka Groundhogs or Whistle Pigs

Woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs are big rodents. They are vegetarians spending their days devouring plants.

When these eating machines live out in the pastures, this is not a problem. They do dig extensive burrows, but usually up against a hill or big rock.

Woodchucks aka Groundhogs or Whistle Pigs are wary creatures
Why these creatures are called woodchucks, I don’t know. They earn the groundhog name as they root along and burrow their way under fences somewhat like hogs do. When alarmed woodchucks emit a piercing whistle that will stop you in your tracks giving them the name whistle pig.

Armadillos dig their burrows anywhere, even out in the middle of the pastures. That is dangerous for any animal or person walking along without looking at the ground.

Problems arise when woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs get into a garden. A family moved next to mine and started devouring the tomatoes and had to be eliminated. Their idea or sharing is: them all, you none.

I hate to shoot a so-called varmint animal as it doesn’t know it’s being a problem. It’s hungry and you are providing food, so it eats. It’s that dislike of sharing on their part.

Woodchucks aka Groundhogs or Whistle Pigs are vegetarians
Woodchucks are diurnal, coming out during the day, to eat plants. Grass, preferably clover which is common in our yard, is fine. The problems begin when a woodchuck starts eating fruit and other plants. They hibernate in their extensive burrows all winter so they are voracious eaters in late summer.

The populations of raccoons, opossums and woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs are going up in my area. Even in town these animals seem to occupy places near homes and businesses. Relocating these animals is not an option.

So I wasn’t particularly surprised to see a woodchuck out grazing in the back yard. It is a big woodchuck. It was mowing the grass.

The grass does need mowing. We do get the mower out when it gets about six inches long and a nuisance to walk through early in the morning when it’s wet with dew.

Sunny Cat notices groundhog
My Sunny cat spends much of the day sleeping outside. This day he sits up for petting then notices the woodchuck out on the grass. He checks this out as the woodchuck is bigger than he is.

As long as this woodchuck only mows the grass, we will live in peace. We are a bit uneasy about it though. Something has been sampling the figs on trees we grow in large tubs.

The woodchuck may be innocent. Raccoons, opossums and foxes like figs too. The culprit is an expert at getting marshmallows out of the livetrap, triggering it, but not getting trapped.

Woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs remain the main suspects.

Homestead Repairs

Goats love to climb up on things. We built them the goat gym many years ago. It was totally rebuilt once with improvements. Now it’s back on the list for homestead repairs.

Oak is a tough, durable wood, but all wood eventually rots. When the gym was rebuilt, the posts were placed in concrete footers so they wouldn’t rot as quickly.

Nubian buck and kids playing on the goat gym
When the herd comes up to the pasture gate in the afternoon, the goat kids are small enough to crawl under. They race onto the gym to play. Nubian buck Augustus enjoys having company. This is the gym shortly after the first time it was rebuilt.

This worked. Instead the step planks have fallen apart.

I am not a carpenter. My attempts to do carpentry make those who know how cringe. I kept putting off this item on the homestead repairs list.

Nubian goat kid basking in the sun on the goat gym
All summer the sun hits the steps on the goat gym shortly after dawn. The Nubian goat kids demand milk from the does, then come out to lie around on the goat gym steps soaking up sun. Later in the day the top and other side are the favored places for basking. The kids curl up and sleep on the gym all night in warm weather often joined by their mothers.

My goats are older too. They don’t use the gym as much. Augustus is the exception. He stands on the top looking out and calling to the herd especially during breeding season.

At 200 pounds Augustus is a big goat. The thought of him crashing through a rotten step board was enough to make me move the gym to the top of the homestead repairs list.

Most of the damage was on one side and the top. I tackled the two rotten steps first to bolster my confidence.

homestead repairs to the ramp are needed next so goats can play on it again
At 200 pounds Nubian buck Augustus could easily toss this upstart off the ramp or hurt him. Instead the two have a friendly shoving match. The ramp alternates thick inch oak boards with oak two by fours to give the goats traction.

Ten years ago this would be an easy hour’s job. It took me an hour to pull the nails to take what was left of the boards off. They will make good kindling this winter.

We cut our own oak boards for years using a band saw mill. Age made it impossible to use the mill so it was sold. The piles of lumber are still waiting to be used. I sorted through the boards and replaced the steps.

The top was next. I don’t do well with heights. I really don’t do well with loose boards and open spaces six to seven feet up.

Nubian buck approves homestead repairs of goat gym
Nubian buck High Reaches Silk’s Augustus loves standing up on top of the goat gym to watch for the herd out in the pastures. He stopped using the gym while I was working on it. He is back on top now.

After a long afternoon, the gym top was again complete and solid enough to support Augustus. He was having none of it. Several lamb’s quarters plants lured him up on top.

The ramp needs replacing. It is on the homestead repairs list.

Young goats love to play which was important for Harriet in “Capri Capers“.

Put Up Summer Vegetables

August is a time of plenty in the garden. Tomatoes, peppers and okra fill the refrigerator. But I want to savor summer in December so I put up summer vegetables now.

This is not my favorite task when the weather is beautiful outside. Already cooler days and nights signal fall is here with winter close behind. I want outside to enjoy the last of the warm times.

That is part of homesteading. You can’t always do what you want to do. Usually you can’t. You do what needs to be done so I take a few days to put up summer vegetables.

My canning days are over. Now I freeze the vegetables. How much I put by changes from year to year because we eat less and I cook less. Recipes matter too.

put up summer vegetables like okra
Okra likes hot temperatures as long as the plants are watered regularly. Regular watering keeps the pods soft even when they get bigger. This year the plants started bearing at about three feet tall and are now about five feet tall, branched, with okra on every branch. I use pruners to cut the pods off.

Okra tastes great, at least the varieties I grow do. The first year I put some up, I washed, cut, bagged and tossed in the freezer. It was awful.

My mother gave me a “Joy of Cooking” cookbook when I moved into my first apartment. The recipes are largely ignored. The About sections are well used. Okra needs to be blanched before being frozen.

My okra prep now includes a stock pot of boiling water, okra in a wire basket, immersion for about two minutes, cold water rinse, bag and freeze. The okra tastes okay, not like fresh, but makes good chicken gumbo.

put up summer vegetables like peppers
Recipes call for green peppers which are bitter. I much prefer colored bell peppers without the bitterness. Every color (I’ve grown eight.) has a slightly different taste. They can be frozen stuffed. I prefer chopping them and freezing them as that suits my cooking better. The plants like it on the hot side of warm and regular watering.

Cooking for two means much smaller amounts are needed. I put one meal’s worth in a fold lock top sandwich bag, stack several in a quart freezer bag and freeze. The same method works for chopped peppers.

Tomatoes are different. I hate skinning tomatoes. I’m clumsy. The skin shreds. Tomato juice drips all over.

Preferably paste tomato types are checked for flaws and ripeness. They are spread out in the freezer to freeze then piled into a gallon freezer bag. When these thaw, the skins slide off.

paste tomatoes for sauce and soup broth
Indeterminate tomato vines get big and overrun the neighboring plants. They bear continuously once they get started. Regular tomatoes have a higher water content than watermelon! Paste varieties have less water and make good sauce, salsa, broth and more. My usual variety is Speckled Roman. This is a gift plant to try. It has worked out well. The label said Hungarian Italian.

Other tomatoes are diced, boiled, cooled and bagged in two cup amounts in quart freezer bags. I can add onions, peppers, garlic etc. later. Adding it before freezing blends the flavors better and I’ve done it that way many times. Getting older has made me a little lazy.

Much as I hate doing these tasks now, I know, if I put up summer vegetables now, I will enjoy summer until the garden again overflows the kitchen next year.

Summer produce competes in county fairs as in “Mistaken Promises“.

Garlic Chives Hum

People wonder why I have such a large patch of garlic chives. It’s about six by ten feet. The answer comes when the garlic chives hum.

Unlike regular chives with found leaves and oniony taste, garlic chives have flat leaves and a peppery taste. They are great in scrambled eggs, stir fries, cheese sauce, salads and more.

wasps make garlic chives hum
Several kinds of wasps visit the garlic chives. These have two white bands. Another has a red abdomen. Another has a red band. They climb over one umbel and move to the next one.

Still, I do have a much larger patch than I really need. Even with the goats helping, I have more than I can use.

So why not shrink the patch?

In mid August my garlic chives hum. I can hear them as soon as I enter the garden.

moths on garlic chives
Moths usually come out at night. These thought the garlic chives too good to miss. The usual butterfly crowd includes buckeyes, 8 spot grape, dusky skipper, skippers, occasional monarchs, fritillaries and swallowtails.

All right, plants can’t really hum. The patch can.

The patch is a field of white flowers. Bees, wasps, beetles, bumblebees, butterflies, moths add the hum. The flowers seem to shimmer with movement as the insects move from umbel to umbel.

The types of insects stays much the same from year to year. The numbers of each type changes. Their single minded activity remains the same as I can walk beside the patch touching flowers and not disturb them at all.

honeybees make the garlic chives hum
Almost 30 years ago a beekeeper abandoned two hives. The bees moved out into the wild. They still live somewhere in the area. The garlic chives were a magnet for them this year.

Although the garlic chive flowers are the focus of the activity, the insects do spread out across the garden. The tomatoes, okra, peppers and squash appreciate being pollinated too.

My garlic chives hum with frantic activity for about two weeks. Then the flowers are slowly replaced with seed heads.

My patch is large enough. These plants spread aggressively both by seeds and by shoots.

bumblebees make garlic chives hum
At least three different kinds of bumblebees live in the area. All come to gather nectar at the garlic chives.

When the seed heads make up most of the umbels, it is time to slow down the inexorable spread. The pruners cut down the seed heads as far into the patch as I can reach. These are tossed into the middle where new plants can muscle in.

New leaves grow up for use in the kitchen until killing frost puts the plants to bed for the winter. But next year I will hear my garlic chives hum once again.

Trapping Raccoons

When I was young, I thought raccoons were so cute. They still are on cards. In real life trapping raccoons happens every year.

Raccoons are vandals. They get into a stand of corn tearing open every ear, taking a few bites and moving on ruining the entire patch. They rip open feed sacks even if they don’t want the feed.

trapping raccoons by accident
There was no escape once the doors were closed and locked. The young raccoon spent the night trying to leave. Morning came and it hid behind the feed containers. Then a monster opened the doors. The raccoon sat in the corner hoping not to be noticed, convinced it would never see another night.

These masked bandits spent last spring digging up my potatoes. This year it was the tomato seedlings. They don’t want the plants, only any possible worm or grub under the plants.

Populations have soared. Every place has raccoon surpluses. All are hungry and putting on fat for the winter. Newly on their own young want to survive.

I set live traps. At various times I’ve caught skunks (difficult to remove), opossums, cats, chickens, woodchucks and raccoons. Some I release. Some I don’t.

trapping raccoons and letting one go
Any self respecting raccoon is sleeping in some safe place at noon. Except this one didn’t get home. It crept to the door and stood looking for the monsters coming to get it.

Someone other than me is eating my tomatoes. I’m not greedy. The garden resident chipmunk (evidently not a ground squirrel as previously thought) is welcome to a few. Any stray turtle is welcome to a few. I even don’t grudge raccoons taking a few.

However, raccoons are vandals. They go through every vine taking a bite out of a tomato here, a tomato there eventually ruining the entire crop. Trapping raccoons becomes necessity.

However, setting the live trap won’t work well now. The culprits are young raccoons. One will not trigger the trap. Two arguing over the bait might.

I did manage to trap a young raccoon last night. By accident.

I moved my pullets into the hen house. There is still feed scattered on the floor of the chick house so I open it during the day.

raccoon making a great escape
Sink down to weed level and scurry off. Climbing the fence which is the way it got to the chick house is too exposed. Race for the corner of the workshop and up the black walnut tree. Maybe the squirrel isn’t home and a young, frightened raccoon can hide for the day.

Last night I closed the doors up late, after dark, without a flashlight. Around noon today I wandered over to open the doors. Everything was knocked over. A young raccoon was backed up into a far corner.

It will be back tonight to dig up the bricks in front of the chick house for the umpteenth time.

Another garden pest is the hornworm. Fortunately chickens like them. Unfortunately raccoons like chicken dinner.

Chickens Love Tomato Hornworms

When chickens are mentioned, people think about eggs. There’s much more to chickens. Chickens love tomato hornworms and other delicacies people would rather weren’t around.

Tomato hornworms are the caterpillars of a large sphinx moth. These show up around dark to visit night blooming flowers like Datura and mullein. They lay their eggs on tomato leaves.

tomato hornworm
This is actually a tobacco hornworm as it has that little red tail. They avidly consume tomato and pepper plants. They work quietly under cover of foliage until the foliage is gone and they have no place to hide. That doesn’t matter much at the end of September with killing frost a week away. It does in August when big crops of tomatoes are beginning to ripen. The hornworms eat tomatoes too.

By the time I usually notice tomato hornworms, they are four to six inch monsters. Only experienced chickens love tomato hornworms this large.

Younger chickens need tempting with the two inch and under worms. Once they get a taste for these treats, they will tackle bigger ones.

Size does matter to chickens. Mine love mice. Any mouse that dares to appear in the hen house or yard becomes dinner.

Speckled Sussex chickens love tomato hornworms
Speckled Sussex hens are a bit small and lay a medium tan egg, but there is nothing small about their hustle. Tomato hornworms are grabbed and beaten on the ground until tenderized before being consumed. Another favorite is large horseflies.

The other day one of my standard cochins caught a mole. The flock knew it was good to eat. It was too big for them to tear apart.

Another delicacy for chickens is a Japanese beetle. They will leap up to snag the beetles off leaves of the wild grape vine on their fence. Wild grapes are a catch crop for the beetles. The chickens are the disposal end.

At times it’s tempting to let the chickens find the hornworms themselves. That notion stops as soon as a spoiled tomato is dropped into the chicken yard.

Chickens love tomato hornworms, true. They love tomatoes even more.

These birds also love earthworms, grubs and other soil denizens. In the garden mulch and dirt fly as they scratch their way along looking for edibles.

My garden fence doesn’t deter woodchucks, raccoons or opossums. It does keep the chickens out. That leaves me searching for the tomato hornworms.

Since I am the one who delivers hornworms, grubs and spoiled tomatoes, the chickens keep an eye on me. Yes, chickens love tomato hornworms, but they love food offerings of many kinds. They cluster in my vicinity waiting.

Chickens are great first homesteading livestock as Hazel finds out in “Mistaken Promises“.

Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are for sale in grocery stores and at farmer’s markets. Yet growing tomatoes is very popular. It is with me.

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. They range from white to green to pink to yellow to orange to striped to red. They come in small, medium, large and extra large sizes.

I allocate a large area of my garden to growing tomatoes every year, far more than I need or use. The space is never big enough.

Getting Tomatoes Off the Ground

Tomato plants are somewhere between a vine and a bush. Left to their own devices the vines sprawl across the ground. The tomatoes on the ground rot. They are hard to reach without stepping on the plants.

There are lots of ways to get the plants off the ground. I use two.

growing tomatoes on cattle panels
Tomato plants sprawl for several feet. They do not twine or have tendrils. Baling twine works to keep the vines in place. I start at one end and go around one plant, hook on the cattle panel, go over the next plant and so on to the end. The lines need to be eighteen inches apart and are placed as the vines get long enough.

One end of my garden is too hot for most plants during a hot Ozark summer. I bent two cattle panels over it to form what I call a shade house. I plant tomatoes along the cattle panels and encourage the vines to sprawl up and over the shade house.

This has three advantages. First, it gets the vines off the ground. Second, the tomatoes are easy to spot and pick from both sides of the panels. Third, the shade allows me to grow greens that otherwise would bolt.

My other method is a kind of cage. My tomato beds have a piece of cattle panel down the center and posts on both sides. I use baling twine to build cages. The spaces are about eighteen inches square and five feet tall.

When my number of tomato plants exceeds my planned capacity, which it does every year, I use wire circles. These were originally used around fruit trees and are out of cement support wire. Field fence does not work. Welded wire works, but harvesting through the small holes is frustrating.

growing tomatoes using twine cages
Anyone feeding hay to livestock ends up with baling twine. It is very useful stuff. It makes good tomato cages as it is slightly flexible and tough enough to keep tomato vines in place. I use six inch spacing, but this is variable. The twine lasts the season and is easy to remove.

Preventing Sunscald

Healthy leafy tomato plants tuck most of their tomatoes under leaves. This protects them from the sun and sunscald.

Since I raise dairy goats, good manure is not a problem. The beds have compost added every year. Compost is much better than commercial fertilizer pellets at producing big, leafy tomato plants.

The downside of growing tomatoes this way is how big the vines get. Some of mine are pushing eight feet this year and still growing.

growing tomatoes in wire circles
Cement reinforcing wire has large holes and lasts for years. It makes great emergency tomato cages. The one problem is when the vines grow over the top and threaten to topple the wire. A metal post usually stops that.

Preventing Cracking

Regular watering is the way to prevent cracking. I am lucky as I have a live creek to pump water from every other day. Otherwise I have to carry water in a watering can or pray for rain.

There are some varieties very prone to cracking. After one try, these are not on my list any more.

Speckled Roman tomatoes
These Speckled Roman paste tomatoes hang through the cattle panel of my shade house which will make picking them easy once they are ripe.

The Biggest Problem

Growing tomatoes is challenging work and very satisfying. Picking those first ripe tomatoes is special. The flavor puts purchased tomatoes to shame.

Then the crop pours in. My biggest problem is what to do with the boxes of tomatoes. There are only two old people here and we can’t eat them all.

My chickens are glad to dine on any damaged or spoiled tomatoes.

Growing tomatoes is competitive in the Ozarks with the results shown at the county fairs as in “Mistaken Promises” in the Hazel Whitmore series.

Making Goat Milk Cuajada Cheese

Quick, simple, fresh cheeses are often easy to make and flavorful. They don’t require the special starters or conditions the aged cheese do. Along with fresh milk ricotta, feta and mozzarella, goat milk Cuajada cheese is an easy cheese.

Cuajada uses fresh milk and rennet. It is not real fussy about setting temperature.

The standard equipment of stainless steel pot, whisk, colander, spatula and thermometer is needed. The cheese is lightly pressed which can be done by hand in the colander or by using a small cheese press. My press was a PVC tube, wood follower and metal weights, five pounds worth.

goat milk cuajada cheese
Cuajada cheese is crumbly. It does not melt well as the curds were not reheated. It crumbles into Greek salad giving a less salty cheese addition. It also works in scrambled eggs.

Goat milk Cuajada cheese is very bland. It is perfect for adding flavoring to. I use a little canning salt along with minced onions and garlic chives. When I planned to make spaghetti, I used an herb mix of tarragon, basil, oregano and parsley with the salt. A couple of people I knew added jalapeno peppers.

I experimented with raisins and cinnamon. This had to be eaten immediately or it would spoil.

Making Cuajada

I bring in fresh goat milk and strain it directly into the pot. If this isn’t enough, I add some from the previous milking out of the refrigerator. My preferred amount was one and a half to two gallons of milk.

Check the temperature. It needs to me somewhere from eighty-four to eighty-eight degrees. Ninety is pushing it. Under these lets it set up too slowly.

When the milk is within the temperature range, either by heating or cooling, stir in the rennet to set it up in half an hour. Put the lid on and spend some time getting your preferred flavorings together.

Once the curd is set, cut the curd and let it rest five minutes. Set the colander up in the sink or on a bowl to catch the whey.

goat milk cuajada cheese curds
After rolling the goat milk cuajada cheese curds around in the colander, the free whey disappears. The curd block will break open to release more. I usually stop at this point and press the curd to get out a little more before dumping the curds into a bowl to add the flavorings.

Gently stir the curds for five to ten minutes. Pour the curds and whey into the colander. You may have to stir the curds to make room for all of them.

Drain the whey out of the curds. I do this by rolling the colander in my hands so the curds move releasing the whey. You can set the colander on the bowl and let it drain, although this takes some time and contamination can occur. You cannot refrigerate the curds at this point.

Turn the curds into a bowl. Add salt to taste. This is tricky as a little salt goes a long way. I use about half a teaspoon.

garlic chives and onions to add to goat milk cuajada cheese
Although cuajada cheese can be salted and eaten that way, it is a bland cheese begging for things to be added. Minced garlic chives and onions are my favorite. Add plenty.

Add your flavorings and mix them into the cheese curds. You can use a spoon. I generally use my hands.

Dump the mixture into the press or back into the colander and press out all the whey possible. The goat milk Cuajada cheese should now be a solid chunk.

Put it in a container and refrigerate.

Using Cuajada

Use this cheese in any recipe calling for goat cheese.

The cheese can be sliced. It’s great on a sandwich with fresh garden tomato.

Crumbling the cheese into tomato salad is delicious. Or crumble the herbal mix into spaghetti.

Goat milk Cuajada cheese makes a good snacking cheese too.

Making Goat Milk Feta Cheese

There are lots of cheeses made from goat milk. Yet a recipe calling for goat cheese almost always means goat milk feta cheese.

This is not a difficult cheese to make. It does take time, most of it waiting time.

Begin with milk either fresh or cold. I prefer to use at least a gallon and a half to two gallons of milk straight from the milk room.

My version of goat milk feta cheese uses two extra ingredients: buttermilk and brine. The brine can be made up days in advance in a gallon jar using up to 2 cups salt and filling it with water, stirring to dissolve the salt.

goat milk feta cheese curds
Some recipes call for hanging the cheese curds in a cheesecloth bag for the whey to drain. First, netting works better and is easier to clean than cheesecloth. Second, hanging the curd out exposes it to contamination from the air. Third, hanging the curd is slow. Pressing the whey out either by hand in the colander or using a cheese press is much better. I prefer pressing by hand. More whey is released when I cut the curd into cubes.

Cheese companies have special feta starters. I’ve never made much of this cheese as I find it too salty for my taste. When I came across a recipe using buttermilk as the starter, I tried it. It makes an excellent cheese.

Warm the milk to 88 degrees and stir in a quarter cup of buttermilk. Put the lid on and do something else for an hour.

When the hour is up, stir in rennet to set the curd in half an hour. Go do something else.

Once the curd is set, you will be working with the cheese for a time. Cut the curd and let it set for five minutes. Then gently stir the curd for fifteen minutes.

goat milk feta cheese in brine
I kept a gallon plastic jug to make the brine in. I put a cup of canning salt in, added water and stirred. The brine can be made stronger or weaker. I poured out however much I needed into an enameled bowl. It works out best to have brine in the bowl and adding the curd. Pouring the brine onto the curd breaks the curd up. Soaking the curd in the brine makes it salty and adds to the shelf life of the cheese.

While you stir the curd, the whey begins to separate out. At the end of the time, let the curd settle for five minutes while you set up the colander.

Pour the whey and curds into the colander until it is full. Shift the curds to drain more whey out and add more curds until all the curds are in the colander.

Use a spoon to move the curds around to drain as much whey out as you can. Then press the curd to get more whey out.

Turn the pressed curd out onto a plate. Take out a bowl and half fill it with brine.

The bowl can be glass, stainless steel, enamel, just not aluminum. I prefer not to use plastic.

When I do goat milk feta cheese, I cut the lump of curd into roughly half inch cubes and slip them into the brine. Be sure all the curd is covered with brine. Put a cover on the bowl and set it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

goat milk feta cheese
The feta cheese curd is much firmer after soaking in the brine for a few hours. Still, as I rinse the curd off under the cold water faucet, I use my hand to soften the flow. It takes several turns around and rinsing to get the brine off. Leaving the curd in the colander and letting it drain overnight keeps moisture out of the cheese container and slows spoiling. The feta can be frozen for use in a couple of months.

When you wander back into the kitchen, take the cheese out of the refrigerator. Drain the cheese in the colander. Rinse the cheese with cold water.

Set the colander onto the bowl, cover it and put it back in the refrigerator for several hours, even overnight. The brine, whey and water will drain off.

The cheese cubes tend to stick together in the colander. I break them up as I put the cheese into containers. Your goat milk feta cheese is now ready to use. It keeps nearly two weeks due to the salt. It mixes into scrambled eggs, on salads, melts onto tomato halves and crumbles into a delicious Greek salad.

You can find how to make fresh milk ricotta or mozzarella in previous posts and find out more about using goat meat and milk in “Goat Games“.

Making Goat Milk Mozzarella Cheese

Don’t think my goat milk mozzarella cheese tastes like it came from a store. It doesn’t. Nor does every batch come out exactly the same. But I like it and I’m told it’s delicious.

Like all cheese, my goat milk mozzarella cheese begins with milk. I put up a gallon a day for two days before my normal cheese making day as this cheese begins with cold, older milk.

chilling goat milk
Glass jars are best for chilling goat milk in the refrigerator. Plastic absorbs bacteria and leaches chemicals. Glass is easy to clean.

Making mozzarella requires a few new pieces of equipment and ingredients. In addition to the stainless steel pot, whisk, thermometer and colander, I add a spatula, large slotted spoon, large glass loaf pan and bowl to set the colander in. Citric acid and canning salt from the canning section at the market and rennet ordered by mail are the ingredients.

goat milk mozzarella cheese equipment set up
These are set up when I start heating the curd. The colander is slid over as close to the pot as possible. It can be set over the loaf pan so the whey can be poured out of the bowl. It is put back to continue working with the curd.

A gallon of cold milk is poured into the pot. I add three quarters of a teaspoon citric acid, then pour in the other gallon. A few quick rounds with the whisk mixes the citric acid in. Extra milk from the morning’s milking adds a half gallon.

cheese making utensils
The spatula is for cutting the curd. It is long enough for two gallongs of milk. Four gallons require a long knife. The slotted spoon is from canning supplies, I think. I’ve had it a long time. It is stainless steel and works well for stirring the curd. It does take clumps of mozzarella curds out, but a strainer is needed to get the last curds out. The one I use has a long wood handle. I stir the whey then catch the curd in the strainer.

The stove is set on low to warm the milk to eighty-six degrees. This can take up to half an hour, but keep checking as cooling the milk down is hard. I whisk in the rennet mixed into a quarter cup water), turn off the heat, put on the lid and do other things for half an hour while the curd sets up.

Using the spatula, I cut the curd. The process is to slice the curd every quarter to half inch one way, repeat across to make columns. Holding the spatula at an angle I slice the columns into pieces both ways. Give it five minutes rest.

goat milk mozzarella cheese cut curd
As soon as the curd is cut, whey starts coming out of the curd. When first cut, the cheese curd has a soft, white look. A piece smashes easily in the fingers.

Goat milk mozzarella cheese is not really salted. Instead a tablespoon per half gallon of milk is sprinkled on top of the curds. Turn the heat on low. Use the big spoon to stir the curd and mix the salt into the whey.

The curds will need stirring every five minutes or so as the mixture heats to around one hundred twenty degrees to set the curd. I sit and read a magazine or book. The curd will change from soft lumps into firm, rubbery smaller lumps.

goat milk mozzarella cheese cooked curds
As the cheese curd is heated in the salted whey, it shrinks. Once the temperature is over a hundred degrees, the curd starts looking rubbery, a little melted. It will cling together. Most of it sinks.

Goat milk mozzarella cheese is stretched. That means the hot curds when lifted up, will droop down like those pictures of people eating pizza. The curds must be hot enough so the whey is left in the pan in case the curds need more heating.

I ladle out the curds into the colander with first the slotted spoon and then a strainer. The curds are turned and pushed into one large lump. Be sure to dump the whey out of the bowl a few times. I lift the lump up and let it stretch down toward the colander, fold it over and repeat. The stretching gets slower as the curds cool. (If the lump does not stretch, slide it back into the hot whey and heat it on one side, then the other for a few minutes before trying again.)

goat milk mozzarella cheese
I’ve found Pyrex loaf pans make great forms for my goat milk mozzarella cheese. I press the cheese into the pan, pour off any whey, put in a plastic bag and chill. It’s easy to take the whole thing out or cut it into pieces first.

I shape the lump into a cylinder and press it into the loaf pan pouring off extra whey. The goat milk mozzarella cheese is ready to chill in the refrigerator. It’s great on pizza, but hard to grate. This cheese melts in cooking as the curds were heated.

Find this recipe and others in “Goat Games“.

Vinegar Set Fresh Milk Ricotta Cheese

A very easy cheese to begin with is vinegar set fresh milk ricotta. It takes no rennet or starters or press, but does take some care and practice.

Equipment is essential in making good cheese. First is a stainless steel pot with lid. As with choosing a milk pail and tote, quality is worth the price as it can last for years. one of mine is thirty years old. As to size, one holding two gallons is a good place to start.

set fresh milk ricotta cheese
When the vinegar is whisked in, the curd is scattered in the whey. Once the pan is set aside to cool, the curd settles down to the bottom leaving a layer of whey on top. This whey can be used in cooking, if it is fresh. One cheese maker I met poured the whey out in a trough for her goats. They loved it.

Other equipment for vinegar set fresh milk ricotta includes a dairy thermometer, stainless steel colander, cloth (Most recipes call for cheesecloth. I prefer bridal veil netting as the weave is set and it is easy to wash.) and whisk. The other ingredients are fresh milk and white vinegar.

Although this cheese is called vinegar set, it is actually acid set. Instead of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar will work, but can color the cheese slightly. Lemon juice works, but gives a lower yield. It’s great for lemon cheesecake.

After milking, bring in the milk and strain it directly into the pot. I like using a wire strainer lined with a paper towel for this. Milk from the refrigerator can be used as long as it isn’t more than a day old.

fresh milk ricotta cheese
Once the layer of whey is poured off, the layer of fresh milk ricotta cheese is left. Pouring off the whey must be down carefully or the cheese will break and pour out too. Usually I pour the whey out through the colander so it catches the cheese. There is additional whey in the cheese. It will drain out on its own. I put the colander back on the pan, put a plate over it and set it in the refrigerator for a few hours. The whey can be pressed or squeezed out also.

Slowly heat the milk. This cheese has a wide temperature tolerance. Most cheeses need a precise temperature. The final temperature can be 175 degrees to 185 degrees. Do not allow the milk to boil. Occasional stirring with the whisk helps heat the milk evenly.

I prefer the lower temperature as the milk sets slightly slower allowing stirring with the whisk to keep the curd smaller.

The amount of vinegar used is not precise either. I generally use 1/2 cup per gallon. This sets the milk quickly and gives a minimal vinegar taste.

When the milk reaches the desired temperature, whisk in the vinegar. You will see the curd form. Turn off the heat or move the pot off the heat. Cover it and leave it until the cheese cools down.

Line the colander with the cloth. Pour the curds and whey into the colander. Work the cheese to remove the whey.

draining fresh milk ricotta cheese
This was a small batch of fresh milk ricotta cheese from a half gallon of milk. It was set at around 170 degrees with the vinegar whisked in briskly and gave a fine curd. Larger curd is easier to drain. This is a good cheese to use instead of tomato sauce on pizza with vegetable slices, meat etc. spread on top along with mozzarella cheese.

Since my colander has small holes, I don’t bother with a cloth unless the curd is very fine. I pour the liquid in, let it drain, pick up the colander and roll it so the curds begin to coalesce removing more of the whey. Press out more whey with a spoon or your hands.

Put the curds into a storage container and refrigerate. Your vinegar set fresh milk ricotta is ready to use.

There are some milk, cheese and meat recipes in “Goat Games“.

Cheese Begins As Milk

When I started raising goats, it was for the milk. I liked drinking milk and had problems drinking cow’s milk, but not goat milk. Except the amount of milk in the refrigerator kept mounting. Well, cheese begins as milk.

The simplest cheese is set with vinegar. The milk is heated enough to kill off most bacteria in the milk.

cheese begins as milk safely produced
Goat milk absorbs odors and can get dirty left open in the milk room making a stainless steel tote a must. Warm milk breeds bacteria. A simple ice bottle can cool milk in the tote during hot weather.

For most cheeses the milk is not heated to those temperatures. The milk can be pasteurized before making the cheese, but then various starters must be added or the cheese doesn’t make well.

I prefer to use unpasteurized milk to make cheese. That makes the remark cheese begins as milk take on great significance. Bacteria laden milk will spoil the cheese.

Clean milk begins with good milking equipment. I started with a quality stainless steel milk bucket and tote. These are expensive, but good care keeps them in good shape for decades.

Nubian doe on milk stand
Dairy goats do have long legs, but they are still close to the ground. The solution is a milk stand. This is a simple, sturdy one used now for over thirty years. The legs are braced. The front has two 2 x 4’s, one rigged with a bolt to act as a stanchion. The latch is a long nail on a chain pushed through a hole. The metal mesh on the stand does collect dirt, but provides good footing for the goat. The stand restrains the goat for giving shots and trimming hooves as well as for milking. the Nubian doe is High Reaches Pamela.

Warm milk is a great place to live in the opinion of bacteria. Winter cold takes care of this problem for months. As soon as temperatures stay above sixty other measures are needed. My solution is a pint plastic juice bottle of ice placed in the tote to cool the milk as soon as it is added. If you do this, remember water expands ten percent when it freezes (Investigation found in “The City Water Project”) so leave head space.

Both the milking equipment and the ice bottle are cleaned as soon as the milk is poured out. Scratching stainless steel ruins it. A soft scouring pad cleans without scratching.

cheese begins as milk from an udder
Some books say to wash the goat’s udder. Others say not to. For me, I wash a muddy udder. Otherwise I brush it off. A circular, hard rubber horse curry comb works really well even for dirt. A stainless steel bucket is best and I had one for years. At a time I thought I was quitting milking, I sold my bucket. The Tupperware pitcher works well, but must be thoroughly cleaned. If my milk stays fresh in the refrigerator for over seven days, my procedure is working. Otherwise I check for sloppiness.

Goat milk needs to be strained into clean glass jars and refrigerated as soon as possible. Some cheeses use milk fresh from the barn. The vinegar cheese does. Feta and Cuata can be fresh or cold. Mozzarella milk must be cold.

Don’t fall into this trap: ‘the milk looks clean, why bother to strain it?’ It’s amazing what you don’t see. Taking a sip of milk and getting a mouthful of hair is really icky. You can use special filters. I’ve used Viva paper towels for years with good results.

Cheese begins as milk. Now that good, clean milk is waiting in the kitchen, it’s time to make some cheese. I make  few simple cheeses and will go through them one a week for a few weeks.

Harriet buys her dream Nubian dairy goats and must learn to milk in “Capri Capers“.

Cowbird Entrepreneurs

Brown headed cowbirds are not a favorite of birders. I see their points. However, the cowbird entrepreneurs living here have my thanks.

Unlike most birds, cow birds do not build nests. They sneak into other birds’ nests and lay their eggs leaving those birds to raise baby cowbirds that often get rid of the competition.

At the bird feeder cowbirds move in as a flock running out most other birds. They inhale the sunflower seeds and leave the other more desirable birds to go hungry.

The first objection to cowbirds has become a big problem due to people. We cut down and split up forests so susceptible birds are left within reach for the grassland loving cowbirds.

cowbird entrepreneurs gather in trees
The brown headed cowbirds gather in the trees as the herd of goats approaches. Goats tend to race out to an area jostling each other. The birds are waiting for the herd to settle down and graze.

The second hasn’t proved out on our feeder. Our first feeder mob is morning doves. They literally cover the entire feeder floor leaving no room for other birds. Even cowbirds and blue jays give way. The cowbirds move in next, eat their fill and leave. There is still plenty of sunflower seeds, scratch feed and suet for the other birds.

All day I see cowbirds around the barn lot. They clean up dropped feed, ticks and other unwanted insects. I wish they ate flies.

Over spring lone star ticks are a big problem on the goats. By early summer the biggest nuisances, according to the goats, are the horseflies and deerflies.

This brings in the cowbird entrepreneurs.

In Africa rhinos, antelopes and elephants have tick birds sitting on them eating ticks and other bothersome insects. There are no tick birds in the Ozarks.

cowbird entrepreneurs sit on the goats
The brown headed cowbirds fly down from the trees and land on the goats. The goats ignore their passengers. The birds hop up and down the backbone checking for insects and ticks on the goat or flying up out of the grass.

This year especially I have noticed the cowbirds sitting on the goats. Mostly they seem to dive off after insects the goats scare up in the grass.

However, the cowbirds also hop up and down on the backs of the goats. A big, juicy horsefly must be a tasty cowbird treat.

The goats don’t seem to mind their riders. Any help eliminating horseflies is welcome.

Thanks, cowbird entrepreneurs.

Find more about our bird feeding experiences in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Poison Hemlock Eradication

Several articles have shown up recently about poison hemlock. It does grow here in the Ozarks and this is my poison hemlock eradication method.

There was a stretch of this plant along the road by the barn. It was a hundred feet long and several feet wide when I began getting rid of it.

look for plant for poison hemlock eradication
Early in the spring the distinctive leaves appear in rosettes. These can be dug out by the roots. Once the flower stalk shoots upward, its size and shape make it easy to spot. It is normally a single stalk an inch or more in diameter growing up to seven feet tall. Queen Anne’s Lace has slender stalks and is rarely over three feet tall.

I don’t use herbicides normally and didn’t want to for this. A row of asparagus was behind part of this stretch. Elderberry and day lily were growing there too.

Poison hemlock is considered the second most toxic plant in Missouri (Number one is the invasive water hemlock.). It can grow as an annual to a short lived perennial, but is mostly a biennial. That means it has a rosette of leaves one year and blooms, then dies the next year.

flowers key to poison hemlock eradication
Once poison hemlock flowers open, they are quickly pollinated. They will form seeds, even if the plant is cut down. The flowers are in groups forming a loose umbel. The flower stalks come from any leaf node on the flowering stalk.

My poison hemlock eradication method made use of this life cycle. When the plants put up their flower stalk, I cut them down. The plant died.

There is a drawback to this. Once the flowers open and are pollinated, they will set seed. Any surviving seed means more plants.

poison hemlock leaf
Although other plants have lacy leaves, the poison hemlock leaves are easily identified. They are large with a long center stem. The leaflets are in pairs, large near the base and small near the tip, making the leaf strongly triangular. Wild carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace does have lacy leaves, but they are much smaller without the strong triangular shape.

I stuffed the flower stalks in empty feed sacks and let them dry. Where I live I can burn my trash in a burning barrel and, once the plants were thoroughly dry, I burned them.

The first year was the worst in terms of the number of plants to cut down. The second year was not much better. By the third year there was a definite drop in the number of plants.

My poison hemlock eradication method does take dedication. Gloves are a good idea, although I rarely use them. Keep the sap off your hands, etc. and wash up right afterwards. The poison danger is from ingesting (eating) the plant or its sap.

poison hemlock stem
The poison hemlock stalk is smooth. The background color is light green. Purple splotches and streaks color most of the stem. It is hollow. To eradicate poison hemlock, cut the stalk at the base. Try to get all the leaves leaving no nodes to put up a second smaller stalk. It is not necessary to treat the root as it will die on its own. Cut the stem into smaller lengths to make bagging and disposal easier. Try to keep the sap off the skin.

This year I found a few plants trying to grow near the asparagus row. They were easily dug up and disposed of. Three bloomed and were similarly dealt with.

It was a lot of work, but I consider my poison hemlock eradication method a success.

I have plant pages posted several years ago on water hemlock. It has a general plant description with pictures.

Garden Resident Northern Fence Lizard

My garden is an insect magnet. Last year a resident Northern Fence Lizard moved in to help reduce these insect populations.

This lizard hung out around the raised bed often basking on the rock walls in the late afternoon. She got used to me going back and forth and found me interesting to watch.

I do know my resident Northern Fence Lizard is a female as she was visited by a male wearing his bright blue sides and bobbing his head toward her. She grew fat with eggs after that.

resident northern fence lizard
My garden resident Northern Fence Lizard is sitting on a corner stone of the raised bed watching me carry water buckets from the rain barrels to thirsty plants. Her new tail is short with small, packed brown scales. A male must have visited as her belly is starting to swell with eggs.

As the weather warmed up this year, my resident Northern Fence Lizard appeared on the raised bed walls. She still remembers me and watches me as I go back and forth.

Last year something happened to this lizard’s tail. One day she had a tail. The next day she didn’t. Luckily for us both, she was fine and continued to consume both good and bad insects.

This is one way to recognize this particular lizard. The missing tail has regrown, sort of. The replacement is short and curved.

I don’t know if she eats my number one enemy: squash bugs. She does visit the summer squash bed nearby. I seems doubtful as bugs wiped out three of four plants in two nights.

Northern Fence Lizard head
There are plenty of lizard sized gaps between the stones of the raised bed. When the sun gets too hot for basking on top, my resident lizard slips between the stones. She keeps a head out to check on passing meals or threats.

Other undesired insects are the cucumber beetles and biting flies, deer, horse and stable. These may be more likely. The frogs work on the mosquitoes.

According to “The Amphibians and Toads of Missouri” by Tom R. Johnson of the Missouri Department of Missouri this may be the last year I see my resident Northern Fence Lizard. These lizards only live about three years. She is growing fat with eggs again and could lay two clutches this year.

Perhaps next year I will have one of her baby lizards as my new resident Northern fence Lizard.

Grow some pumpkins in your garden. Check out “The Pumpkin Project“.

Eating Meat

When I was growing up, meals were planned around meat, potatoes and a vegetable. Eating meat was the norm and almost everyone did.

I still tend to plan meals in the way my mother did with a protein, a starch and a vegetable. However my definitions of these three have expanded.

There are more vegetables to choose from. My garden is transitioning from spring choices like beets, bok choi, spinach and peas to summer choices of mostly tomatoes, squash and okra. A few greens such as mizuna and lambs quarters do grow in warmer weather.

eating meat Not this goat kid
Nubian doe High Reaches Rose has a friendly buck kid. He comes into the milk room and learned in a time or two to get up on a stand to eat.

Starches now include rice, pasta and the occasional Jerusalem artichoke. These last taste and cook fine. Cleaning the dirt off of them is time consuming.

As years go by, meat has become more of a side dish than the main one. Eggs, beans and cheese replace eating meat some days.

Becoming a vegetarian has been considered, but rejected. This is not because killing animals for food is so terrible. After all, nature works that way.

The big sticking point is becoming a hypocrite. I raise livestock. When my goats have kids, many of them are bucks. This year all five were bucks.

In the goat world as in the cow world, one or two males are kept for herd sires. The others must be sold, usually as meat animals.

young goat used for eating meat maybe
Young goat kids love to run and play. This youngest twin buck of High Reaches Valerie live life to the full for now.

One of my five buck kids has been sold as a herd sire. That leaves four now up for sale. I can not keep them.

These four are friendly. I work with them daily. One is spotted. Another has striking markings. One wants to be a pet and is cute. One is much like Augustus without the spots.

baby Nubian buck goat kids
Goat kids play hard for a time. Then they lie down and rest. The top one is High Reaches Rose’s boy. The other is High Reaches Valerie’s boy.

Not many people in my area keep dairy goats. There are quite a few people who want goat milk to drink, but they don’t want to do the milking and goat care.

With hopes someone does want American Nubian herd sires, I am advertising these four buck kids. But I realize they may end up on someone’s dinner plate. Eating meat is still a fact of life for most people.

Hazel discovers chickens are used for meat as well as eggs in “Mistaken Promises“.

Annual Invasions

My garden was looking so good. Then the annual invasions began.

One is mostly welcome. Gray tree frogs call from the rain barrels every warm evening.

Most sit hidden above the barrels. A few brave ones sit on the edges of the barrels. Now and then one is brave enough to continue calling when I come near enough to see its throat turned into a grape sized balloon.

annual invasions of gray tree frogs
Every warm evening calls of gray tree frogs resound through my garden. Judging by the numbers of egg masses in the rain barrels in the morning, they are very busy. The frequent rains wash many of the eggs and newly hatched tadpoles out of the barrels.

In the morning great masses of eggs float in the rain barrels. In a day or two the masses sink until the eggs hatch. Then tadpoles line the barrels.

I value the tree frogs. They catch lots of flying insects, especially mosquitoes zeroing in on the rain barrels. Even during dry spells one barrel is not used to water the garden so some tadpoles can grow up.

Another of the annual invasions is never ending. Weeds love wet weather. They can grow with abandon and the gardener can do little but wait for dryer times to tackle them.

Hen with chick in my garden
Chickens are not allowed in my garden. This hen and chick needed someplace reasonably safe so I bent the rules. She shreds the mulch digging for earthworms and other delicacies for her chick. She also digs up lots of weeds.

This year I do have help of sorts. One cochin hen managed to hatch a single chick.

Since the chick is too small to run loose with the chickens, the pair have occupied the garden during the day. I set up a temporary chicken wire fence, add food and water and hen with chick. She is rototilling the garden section by section.

At least I can try to control where the hen and chick are. They stay safely away from where I’ve planted. My third of the annual invasions, a most unwelcome one, is the raccoons.

These creatures climb over the fence and dig up the garden looking for worms and grubs. Any plant in the way is tossed aside. A third of my tomato plants are destroyed. Three raccoons are history. Electric fence is the next project.

annual invasions of woodchucks
Woodchucks or groundhogs or whistling pigs, these vegetarians do well out in the pastures. In the garden or orchard they are disasters. Since they climb as well as dig, fences don’t slow them down much.

The fence will hopefully prevent another of the annual invasions: woodchucks. These vegetarians can eat a garden to the ground in a single morning. They have been seen next to the garden.

And the garden wars continue. The snow peas, Chinese cabbage, spinach and other greens are worth the fight.

Read more about raising baby chicks here.

Never Big Enough Garden

My garden is actually as big as I can try to take care of. Yet at planting time it is the never big enough garden.

Every year I carefully plan out what I will plant. The potatoes will be in this bed. The tomatoes will be in these beds. The trellis for the peas and beans move to a new bed.

Even though I’ve covered much of the garden with cardboard and mulch, weeds appear. The beds and pathways seem endless as I pull up these stubborn garden invaders.

Now the garden seems to have plenty of room.

Burgundy okra dwarfs my never big enough garden
Lots of people seem to dislike okra because it is slimy. Burgundy okra is much less slimy and has a good flavor. The plants can get big. I had one top 13 feet. These tall plants need protection from strong winds. They like it on the hot side of warm with plenty of water, but no soggy roots.

Then the seeds and transplants start arriving. At first everything fits well. It fits until I run out of places to put plants that always seem to grow bigger than planned for. The never big enough garden strikes again.

One of the big offenders is the winter squash. Butternut isn’t so bad. I can turn the vines to fill the allotted space. Tahitian melon and Yuxa squash definitely don’t cooperate.

Perhaps I should stop growing them. Except these two are goat favorites. They are prolific and good keepers so the goats have treats all winter providing needed vitamins.

Another offender is the okra. I grow three kinds: burgundy, jing and burmese. If the plants stayed four to five feet tall, there would be plenty of room. The last few years the plants have topped out nine to ten feet tall. Harvesting is interesting as I am five feet tall.

Lots of Speckled Roman tomatoes fill my never big enough garden
Paste tomatoes are great for winter storage. Speckled Roman tomatoes are big and meaty with a great taste. Those with no blemishes are frozen whole. The skin slides off when they thaw. Others make good juice and sauce. They are good for fresh eating too.

The biggest offender is me. I keep cutting back on how many tomato and pepper seeds I start. I start them late due to temperature and light considerations so those my garden will not accommodate don’t sell as other gardeners have filled their gardens all ready.

Those seedlings are trying so hard to grow into productive plants. I hate to toss them out to die. My never big enough garden surely has a corner somewhere for these little plants. Except they soon become big plants.

And my garden is well on its way to becoming the usual summer jungle.

Hazel Whitmore’s mother and grandfather compete with their tomatoes in “Mistaken Promises“.

Choosing Lawn Mowers

There was a time when we didn’t worship lawns. Long before I remember. Now choosing lawn mowers is an important part of keeping a lawn.

Lawns are fields of grass like pastures. Many grasses are the same in both places. In spring those grasses do their best to grow tall, lush and seed.

This may make great hay. It makes a lousy lawn. Pushing through or searching for a crochet ball in thigh high grass is no fun.

common milkweed sprout
Among the hazards in the yard are the common milkweed sprouts (Asclepias syriaca) coming up. Usually the grass gets mowed before they come up making them easier to spot. This year they are buried in the grass and marked with rods. The lawn mower must go around the patch, but not too far as the remaining grass is cut by hand.

The solution is to mow the lawn grasses down to a manageable height. This brings us back to choosing lawn mowers.

My grandparents had a sickle mower. It had a series of blades arranged in a cylinder mounted between the wheels. The operator pushed a long wooden handle pushing the mower over the lawn to turn the blades cutting the grass.

This was hard work. If the grass was more than two inches too long, it was nearly impossible. These belong in a museum perhaps, definitely not in use anymore.

Then came the push mower. An engine turned the blade cylinder. Forward movement was still provided by the operator. Long grass was still a great problem. They were a way to develop leg and shoulder muscles.

The cylinder of blades is long gone now. Blades whirl under a platform slicing off the grass and throwing it out the opening on one side along with rocks and other debris.

The forward motion of the mower has changed too. There are some a person must push, I suppose. Most have engines pulling the blades along now.

There are the self propelled ones the operator walks behind. The person can turn, pull back, move in close, avoid wanted plants and get lots of exercise.

We have used a self propelled mower for years. Parts of the yard cam only be cut with one. The mower requires a strong back and legs.

choosing lawn mowers to fit the job and age
This mower is old, but it runs. With care it should last as long as I need it. Age catches up with a person and many of the tasks that were once easy to do become difficult. that includes lawn mowing. So the riding mower is now a needed machine.

Many people now have riding mowers. They sit up in the seat with a steering mechanism to turn the mower running along at some speed. These come in a variety of sizes.

We’ve gotten older. Mowing is harder and takes longer. We finally made the decision to get a riding mower to cut much of the lawn. Age made choosing lawn mowers different than before.

Pastures can be beautiful swaths of green as seen in “My Ozark Home“.

Foxes And Chickens Deadly Game

Two hens disappeared to give me warning. Then I saw I was in the middle of a deadly game of foxes and chickens.

Several years ago I played another game of foxes and chickens when a pair of gray foxes and their kits took up residence under the house. The first reaction of most chicken farmers is to get out a gun and shoot the foxes. End of game.

foxes and chickens deadly game
Gray foxes are lovely animals. The pair make loving parents and are devoted to each other. Their diet consists of squirrels, ground squirrels, deer mice, voles and chickens.

We try to live here in harmony – as much as possible – with the wildlife we are displacing with our buildings and gardens and such. How does a chicken farmer cope with gray foxes?

The house and foxes were on one side of the road. The barn, chicken house and chickens were on the other side of the road. The road had to become a boundary.

The first defensive move was to keep the chickens locked up in their yard unless I was there to watch them. The fox countered by trying to sneak up on the hens when I looked the other way.

The second defensive move was to yell, scream and chase the fox. The fox persisted. So did I.

The third defensive move was to go over the fence along the road. It now has chicken wire over the field fence. The chickens stay inside the fenced in area. The foxes know it is a boundary.

baby gray foxes
These two gray fox kits found a hole in the barn floor. I thought they were kittens at first fleeting glimpse and brought over some canned cat food. The two foxes thought cat food was good.

The fourth defensive move was to counter the reason the fox wanted to get to the chickens. A growing family is hungry. Store chicken is quite acceptable to a fox.

I lost half my flock the first year. The second year I lost a few hens as the defensive moves took effect.

The foxes are back. The chicken wire is still there. I am restricting when the chickens can be outside. Chicken is on the grocery list.

The deadly foxes and chickens game has resumed with a new wrinkle. The foxes are now living under the barn. At least their entrance is outside the chicken fence.

Raising chickens takes responsibility and a good chicken house. Hazel Whitmore learns some of this in “Mistaken Promises“.

Spring Grass Enticing Goats

Spring is arriving here in the Ozarks. The result is spring grass enticing goats away from their hay trough and hay.

I will admit the new grass is juicy (for grass) and lush, much tastier (to them) than hay. Those creatures who eat grass are glad to see it. I don’t eat grass and I’m glad to see it.

spring grass enticing goats to race across the pastures
Often time out with my goats is relaxing. They scatter around grazing. I find a good place to sit. Not now. Now my Nubians make sure I get lots of walking in trying to keep up with the herd.

The goats and I have been at odds over their hay all winter. For many years I bought nice alfalfa/grass mix hay and the goats loved it.

My hay supplier retired. I now feed grass hay. Not just any grass hay. This is hay baled from the fields the goats graze all spring, summer and fall.

Still, it is just grass hay with a liberal mix of various other plants commonly referred to as weeds. Goats prefer these so-called weeds to grass.

That is the problem.

grass getting goat kid tall
Many kinds of pasture grasses bloom and seed in the spring. With abundant rain, my pastures are lush with grass growing tall. The goat kids will soon have grass seed stalks towering over them. Hopefully there is warm dry weather then to put up a spring cutting of hay.

The goats busily nose through the hay in their feeder picking out the weeds and rejecting the grass. I look out to see their feeder appears full of hay.

No goat is eating it. They are standing there waiting.

I bring in the tractor to haul out the bedding. I toss the hay from the feeder onto the floor as the new bedding. I refill the hay trough. The goats begin nosing through it.

With spring grass enticing goats out into the pastures they are even more picky. The hay sits there waiting. A few mouthfuls disappear.

spring grass enticing goats
I walked out to take pictures of my Nubian goats to update the My Goats gallery. The whole herd was busy snatching grass as they walked along trying to sample grass from the entire pasture. Most of the pictures are of goats with their heads down in the grass.

Rainy days make the hay disappear. Half of it does end up as bedding as goats are notoriously sloppy eaters.

There won’t be enough rainy days to make all of the hay left in the barn disappear. However, with spring grass enticing goats and other livestock and wild creatures, those bales are left sitting there. They will not be more palatable next fall than they were last fall.

Maybe I will put up a sign at the feed store and find out if anyone else wants this left over hay. Then the goats can complain about the new hay in the fall.

Read more about goats in the novel “Dora’s Story”, a biography of a goat and her owners.