Farm news & blog
I mentioned to you last December how I haven’t had much success in growing large onions. I would get a few that would be mentionable, but nothing consistent. Our neighbor down the road has her garden near the road and I could see her onions sitting there getting larger and larger. Indeed, I had large onion envy. Determined to grow big onions, we set to work making our five long beds enriched with manure from our farm. Three varieties of onion sets went in—white Granex, a red variety I forgot the name of (maybe red bermuda), and the famous Texas 1015 (sets pictured top right). We read up again on how deep to plant them, watered when we first put them in and mulched well (pictured). Then we watched and waited...and yelled at the dogs a few times to get out of the onion patch.
Numerous sunflower seeds from last year that had been in that patch of the garden began to sprout as the days became warmer. We pulled the flowers that might crowd the roots of our babied onions, but left those on the sides of the long beds after I noticed soil sections where the small sunflower stalks remained and thereby shaded, were much moister than those without any sunflowers. The onions were large enough that the sun could still get to the onions growing in the middle of the rows. Rain came at the proper intervals (thank goodness I only had to water once) and we continued to weed the flowers that emerged near the onions.
And now, five months after we put those small little sets into the ground, we are pleased with the fruit of our labor—a nice amount of big onions! This is not to say that small or medium onions are not as equally good—they are, especially since often if the onion is for fresh use as in a salad, we don’t use it all, but I feel I this was final proof to me that we could do it! At last, an onion as big as a baseball...maybe even a softball! I spent some time Saturday afternoon pulling many onions, but there are still many more in the garden waiting and not quit ready. An onion is ready when the neck becomes soft and the greenery falls over (pictured below right). In order to be able to store the onions, we’ve laid them all out on the porch table where they get lots of air, but are out of the sun. Here, the tops will gradually dry up until they start to look like the onions you can buy at the store. We’re selling the freshly pulled onions this week with the top cut off.
I’m happy our onions worked out this year, but what about the summer veggies? The cucumbers, beans and squash have limped along thanks to the cooler temperatures—they just don’t like them. But with the awesome amount of rain we just got and the warmer 80’s expected this week, we should be seeing very good growth. Now I just have to watch for those squash bugs...
Thankfully from the farm,
Johan, Joan, Hans, Sally and Ana
Johan milked out a lot of goat milk yesterday so I could make soft goat cheese also as known as chevre. After measuring off a gallon of milk into the pot I did a low pasteurization of it and then dunked it into a ice bath to lower the temperature quickly. I needed a temp of 86 degrees to add the starter. We drink the goat milk raw, but since I'm fairly new to this goat milk cheesemaking, I feel better following the recipe book for now and the recipe book says to pastueurize. After I let the contents of the chevre starter packet sit on top of the milk for two minutes, I stirred it all together for a minute to make sure it was well mixed, then put the top on and put it in the other room to sit quietly at room temp for the next few hours while the starter works it magic. Had I been thinking, I would have taken pictures of this whole process as other neat websites do. I'll be sure to do that next time. Later today I will cut the curd, mix in cheese salt and herbs if I so desire, ladle the curds into a colander lined with cheese cloth, then hang the cheese over the sink (or a pot as I do) until the desired consistancy of the cheese is achieved. Then, the cheese it packed into the container and it's ready to eat! Spread on a warm piece of french baguette---mmmmmmm...And while soft cheese making seems like a very exotic thing to do, it really is quite simple. I'll upload some pictures about this soon.
I order all my cheesemaking supplies from cheesemaking.com
Thankfully from the farm,
We loved the weekend weather and worked in the garden, mulching potatoes, planting squashes and peppers, plus weeding the corn patch. Johan cultivates with the tiller between rows and then we go back inbetween the plants with the hoe to take care of the nut grass and goat weed. It does take a long time, but the fun conversations and time spent listening to the springtime sounds make the work go by fairly quickly. We aren’t finished yet, but will tackle several rows a day this week. It won’t matter once the plants are bigger, but we like to do it at least once.
Although not as pretty as some photos, the one above with Johan really is saying a lot about how we milk the goats. The goats have walked up a ramp that is bordered on one side with the tin wall and the other with a cattle panel. This is to prevent the goat from jumping off the platform. The goats are eager to go up the ramp if they’ve done it before because there is feed located in the green square trough at the end of the platform. In order to eat, they are forced to put their head into a curved cutout in the wood. Now it is easy to take the piece of rope and run it behind their heads making it almost impossible for the goat to back out of the milking stand. But they are content as long as they have grain which Johan keeps right below the trough to add when needed.
Once on the stand, Johan cleans their teats and gets to milking. Sometimes we have to tie the goats leg so it can’t kick the container and use the bright orange strap to do so. We currently milk six to eight goats. Milk is collected for our use (drinking, cheese, soap) and the rest for the dogs and pigs. As the goat is eating, another goat is waiting right behind it and is tied with a light rope. After a goat is milked and untied, it jumps off the platform and is lead to a small door in the wall on the right. Once done, the gate opening is closed, the chair folded and stored against the wall until next time.
We wish you a peace filled week ahead and may all your veggies be fresh!
Johan, Joan, Hans, Sally and Ana
Now and then we get questions about the differences in the eggs you see at the store and those you can buy from us. And an egg from Whole Food Market might not be what you think it is. Not all eggs are created equally. The United States does not have solid requirements nor specific definitions for what is considered a free range egg. As a result, many folks might think they are getting an egg from a free roaming chicken, when in fact, they are not.
If you’ve recently been to the egg case in the grocery store then perhaps you might have been confused about the different labelling on the cartons of eggs. I wanted to elaborate a bit on what that means. I’ll start with those white eggs sold in a carton for usually less than a dollar or for a few quarters over a dollar depending on the season. These eggs come from what they call factory farms where chickens are usually enclosed in a pen or a hen house and fed the conventional layer pellet. It is referred to as high density floor confinement (hen house with lots of chickens walking around on the ground) or high density cage confinement (several chickens in a cage laying eggs). The formulated feed pellet is specifically designed to maximized egg laying ability because these chickens do not have access to the outdoors. Their life is eating and laying eggs. Brown eggs, unless specifically stated otherwise on the carton, are just like the white eggs, just produced by a different breed of chicken...same food, same setup. Brown and white eggs produced in this manner have the same nutritional makeup.
Organic eggs just mean the feed is organic. Because it’s organic however it might not have GM (genetically modified) grain in it. The chickens might have limited access to the outside. Vegetarian eggs are similar, but with the change of diet being that the protein in the layer pellet will most likely come from soy rather than soy and animal protein as in the case of organic eggs. Organic eggs might just be fed a vegetarian diet. Again, though, the animals will most likely be in a large hen house in a high density environment. Cage free just means the chickens are out of the cage, and can be in high density floor confinement.
Like I said before, “free range” is a term not regulated by the USDA so producers may use that term to mean their chickens have access to the outside, but unless they wander outside, then they’ll be inside...in high density floor confinement. And if they do go outside, then they are still fenced and fed either a conventional feed diet, layer pellet vegetarian diet, or layer pellet organic diet.
Our eggs (and some of the producers out there) label their eggs as coming from free roaming chickens or pastured chickens. This means eggs are produced by hens that have no fences what-so-ever. Their diet consists of what they find as they roam around the farm--grain dropped from other animals, grass, insects, plants, etc. They might get whole grain or a layer pellet free now and then. Like people, chickens get vitamins and nutrients from being outside in the sun eating a varied diet. People may argue otherwise, but we at Osth Family Farm believe they taste better than conventional eggs and we do believe them to be better in natural nutrition than factory produced feed eggs. They only time the hens are confined is when they are chicks and need the heat and protection of the house and at night when they return to the coop to roost. To ensure you are getting the kind of egg you want, call the farmer and ask them about how they farm!
Predators are a big problem to free roaming chickens with hawks being chicken enemy number one. We’ve already lost several from the bunch we just released a few weeks ago due to them. Raccoons are another big one if the chickens aren’t locked safe and sound into their tractor at night. And, sad to say, but dogs can also be a problem especially young ones who have yet to learn the ways of the farm! I’ve mentioned before that Webb, our year old Aussie, thinks it’s loads of fun to catch them. Every year, we try to start a new flock to replace the hens that are getting old and replace those we’ve lost to the predators.
Thanks for being part of our free-roamin' farm!
Vacations, Pullets and the Garden
What a wonderful Christmas vacation! The house and barnyard seem quiet today with everyone back at school. We enjoyed family visits, eating good food and making many happy memories with one another. While most days were cold and overcast, it certainly set the stage to enjoy the cozy warmth of our newly finished home and glowing Christmas tree. We are so thankful for everything.
The new Barred Plymouth Rock pullets are growing well and we are going to transition them to the mobile coop within the next week or two. We’ve toughened them up with this cold weather by turning off their heat lamp during the day and opening their interior door on a daily basis. They can get used to being outside but are nice and safe in their chicken wire coop. Unfortunately, Webb, the Australian Shepherd still is feeling his puppy power and thinks playing with ducks, chickens and geese is lots of fun. They don’t think it’s that fun and sadly, he’s killed a few of the roaming ones in the process. Once we have them in the mobile coop, we’ll need to surround it with the electric net fencing for a bit to deter Webb from playing with them.
We’ve got lots planned in the garden this January. With potato planting time coming up in February, Johan will get the ground ready with the horses. Even though we’ve been growing veggies for several years, I’m always surprised at how quickly the seeds need to go in the ground. Cool weather crops like lettuces, carrots and beets will be planted in the coming weeks. If we have warm days as we did before Christmas those will sprout quickly. Our onions are still alive just waiting to take off for us (we’re dreaming big), and before long we’ll need to get tomato transplants going. The kids and I tackled the asparagus patch over the break, by cutting the fronds and then laying them on top of the bed to decompose. Other weed debris was cleared away, and then dried chicken litter sprinkled on top to help fertilize. In the orchard, we are beginning to prune and maintain the trees. Working in the cold can be cumbersome with all the heavy clothes, but we love not having to worry about the insects or blazing heat.
Finally, we realize the new year brings new opportunities and the desire to clean things up. If you are still getting this newsletter and wish to be deleted from our mailing list, please let us know—we surely don’t want to be that unwanted email in your box. And no, we won’t be offended if that’s what you want to do—we surely understand the desire to simplify.
We wish you a wonderful week ahead!
Johan, Joan, Ana, Hans, and Sally
It’s that time of year to look at what’s working on the farm and what needs improvement. While the drought eased during the spring and summer months, allowing us to restock our barns with hay and have a good season for growing, the dry conditions have returned.
One of the things we’re talking about is expanding our availability of eggs. Trial and error has shown us how many chickens the barnyard can sustain. Our chickens can wander where they want, but they do have their own personal limits. Too high a concentration in one area of chickens makes it slim pickins for insects and that affects their egg quality and general health. Since we don’t supplement their feed that much, quantity of grass and insects matter. A good example of this is when the garden had grasshoppers, but nary one to be found in the barnyard. A few new chicken tractors (mobile chicken coops) placed in further pastures will help us out with this as will getting another flock of chickens going during the spring months so they are just hitting production while the fall hens are reaching their first molt and subsequent lessening of egg production. Last year we enjoyed plentiful eggs this time last year, but we didn’t get a flock going in the spring resulting in a shortage this fall.
As the nannies start to kid in a few weeks, we’ll look at the herd with an eye on reduction. Goats mulitply fast often having two kids per kidding. Before you know it, you are up to fifty goats and asking yourself how you go there!
We wish you a very merry, happy and peaceful Christmas season.
Thankful for the gift of the farm,
Johan, Joan, Sally, Ana, and Hans
Oh, the weather turned a little frightful last night, and we’ve all woken up to quite a chill in the weather. It finally feels like the Christmas season! In preparation for the cold front, we stuffed the hay racks to overflowing and made sure to turn on the heat lamps for the chicks. With the 80 degree plus weather we’ve been having, they didn’t need that artificial heat. I peeked in on them this morning and they are sticking pretty close now to the lamps. We’ll see what the cold does to all the outdoor pipes tonight...
Onions were planted last weekend. This year I’d like to see those produce well...I’ve had marginal success in previous years and I’m really wanting to get those famous 1015’s to actually get big...in my garden! We’ve read up on what we need to do to be successful, executed our plan, and now it’s a matter of waiting and cultivating till spring.
We’re continuing to plant a cover crop to serve as green manure for different areas of the growing patch. Johan sowed rye grass and oat seeds last week and this rain we got last night will be helpful in getting them started. Sadly, we’ve entered another severe drought status again and we’re thankful for every bit of rain we get.
Thankful for the gift of the farm,
Johan, Joan, Sally, Ana, and Hans
We've filled up our farm tour spaces for Friday and Saturday and are really looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend!
If you’ve been waiting to reserve your spot for our farm tour, then better hurry—our Friday tour is just about filled up! The tour will be lots of fun and informative for all ages young and...wise. After the tour, our farm store will be open with fresh baked goods, goat milk soap, handcrafted wooden toys and other goodies. Plus complimentary cocoa to warm you up inside!
Allow about two hours to enjoy the country and farm fresh fun. A great chance to show the kids where food actually comes from...and it’s not the grocery store, plus activities for them to enjoy the farm! Due to space concerns, we’d love to have your RSVP. Folks are signing up so Email or call 936-399-3187 for more information to reserve your spot in the group. Tours are $5 for adults and $2 for kids 3-17.
Friday, Nov. 23, 2:30 or Saturday, Nov. 24, 10:00 am RSVP today!
Osth Family Farm Thanksgiving Weekend Farm Tours
Join us Friday afternoon or Saturday morning for a look into the workings of a small family farm. We’ll talk about how we started, show you the animals and their purpose, see what’s growing in the gardens in late November, and have opportunity to shop our farm store. Fresh baked goods, goat milk soap and other goodies available for purchase as well to enjoy here or bring home.
Allow about two hours to enjoy the country and farm fresh fun. A great chance to show the kids where food actually comes from...and it’s not the grocery store! Due to space concerns, we’d love to have your RSVP. Folks are signing up so Email or call 936-399-3187 for more information to reserve your spot in the group. Tours are $5 for adults and $2 for kids 3-17.
Tours are Friday, Nov. 23, 2:30 or Saturday, Nov. 24, 10:00 am RSVP today!