Hello dear readers- I’ve been gone over a month from this project- we had to get our CSA gardens all put in and deal with the other springtime mayhem on the farm. Isn’t spring such a crazy time of year in a short season climate! Here I go again, thanks for reading!
We asked our dear friend Heidi to be the maid of honor for our wedding, and she accepted. The 3 of us had been friends since we met, being co-op co-workers years ago. We had much to be grateful to Heidi for, as it was she who had kept Andrew and I connected as friends, which ultimately had led to us connecting as partners in life, and farming. Heidi came up for our wedding for a few days from her homestead in Decorah, and we declared our first official “vacation,” planning to relax and enjoy the farm with her. For her arrival dinner, we slow-roasted the last shoulder roast from our pig Roxy. It was decadent, luscious, melt in your mouth tender. The 3 of us had beers around a bonfire after gorging on pork. The second day we lounged around, literally hanging out in a hammock, reflecting on our pasts and futures.
The day of our wedding was near the 1 year anniversary of when we first came to see the place. That fateful and amazing day, we had absolutely fallen head over heels in love with the land as we wandered it with the owners. Now it was ours to steward and love and guide into the farm of our dreams. We both felt amazed at how much we had accomplished in less than a year. We had 10 pigs, 60 turkeys, 80 chickens, 10 goats and 200 ducks; all living the good life on pasture, while fertilizing the soil. There were various gardens all over the place, shiitake and oyster mushroom logs innoculated and set up in the pine forest, perennial fruit and nut trees and vegetables planted. We had mapped out 27 apple trees of a mostly wild variety which were loaded with fruit. We were in love, and in love with our land.
On the morning of the wedding, all 3 of us were a bit jittery and nervous. It had rained pre-dawn, and Heidi was in a tent, so she was up and at-em at 5am. Luckily though, the morning broke clear and lovely, and our special day was not to be thwarted by bad weather. Heidi and I had Roxy bacon and duck eggs for breakfast, on toast. Andrew couldn’t eat anything. Heidi thought I’d burnt the bacon, it was so dark, but she was pleasantly surprised by my skills, and our own home cured and applewood smoked bacon. She told me later she’d thought “shit, she just burned that crap out of that bacon” as I plated her breakfast up, but they were strips of smokey, perfectly crisp bacon clouds.
After milking the goats, I wandered down to visit with our pig pair, Rosie and Lance. Rosie was hopefully bred by Lance 21 days ago, and we’d been watching to see if she went into heat again, which could indicate whether she was knocked up or not. I saw Lance courting her, in pig fashion, excitedly nudging her belly, hams and butt and bellowing love songs all the while. She was holding still as he attempted to mount her, but he was about 1/2 her size. As before, poor Lance had a difficult time staying up on Mt. Rosie. Poor guy. Apparently though, she could appear to be in heat after already being pregnant. We were learning as we went along on our pig journey. Books sure do not cover all the fine points and variations of pig breeding.
After all the chores were done, Andrew and I both scrambled off to separate hiding spots to finish and rewrite our vows. Heidi went off on a walk around the farm to make me a flower bouquet for the ceremony. We nervously hoped our Municipal Judge would show up as promised, and that Johnna, our sweetheart friend Johnna, who was taking our wedding pictures, could find her way to the farm. Andrew’s folks showed up a bit early, which made us even more jittery. Here it was, show time!
Our plan was to be married out by the two huge oak trees that overlooked the gorgeousness of the back hollow on our land. Andrew had taken his tractor back there a few weeks before when we harvested some popple trees for mushroom logs, so we had a nice tractor-tire path to follow through the tall grasses.
Everyone arrived, Heidi came back with a giant bucket of sumac flowers, day lillies, milkweed blossoms, poplar branches, daisies and other beautious flora from our land, which she tied into a bouquet with baling twine. We got down to business after a few pictures. Andrew and I walked hand in hand down our chore path, past the cooing turkeys who jogged along the fence, following us. We walked by the curious piglets, wondering what this entourage of people parading past their paddock was all about. The ducks were to our left side, and they minded their own business hanging out in the shade. After we reached the spot, which was perfectly located in the shade of one of the oaks, our ceremony began.
Our wedding ceremony was smooshey lovely. Having such an intimate group of close people there to witness it was just right. All of us cried a bit, and as we exchanged vows I kept thinking in my head, this is it! This is what I really, truly have been waiting for. A man who shares my dream, who supports me, loves my eccentricities, and works as hard (or even harder) as me to get things done, and embraces each day as if it may be our last. This last thing really was what cemented our relationship. So many people do not want to think about death, but Andrew and I embraced it for ourselves, for our farm, for life in general. If the thought of death and dying doesn’t give you a kick in the ole’ pants, what will it take!? We both felt that we MUST do all the things we want to do and accomplish them while we can. I felt how much I just loved this man with all my heart, and was so proud of us for all we had gotten done and how good we were to each other all the while.
After a custom walleye fish fry at a local restaurant, we headed back to the farm for our wedding cake and some chatting. Andrew’s mom made this incredible cake, surrounded by cut-out silhouette shapes of all types of animals we have here on the farm, and she added a little flag streamer spelling out our names on the top. It was the most adorable cake ever. As we ate and chatted in the kitchen, the whole experience was feeling rather surreal. Andrew and I kept looking at each other. Just crazy, what a simple ceremony can do. We were now husband & wife, and it really felt immediately different.
Heidi headed back home to Iowa that evening, and we took a wedding day stroll out to the hay field as dusk approached. Immense and so changed from the wild meadow it had been before haymaking. This farm mirrored us; all we were striving for and all we hoped to accomplish. We could do nothing with it, and the land would be absolutely fine on it’s own. But when you farm and add to the diversity & fertility of the land, it responds in a joyous way. Life wants to live, plants want to grow vivaciously, animals want to thrive.
The first day after our wedding we were back to business- a farm meeting in the morning over coffee was in order. Finish stacking the hay from the 2nd trailer load before it gets too hot out. Go to get a pallet of duck feed. Move pigs? Not yet, they needed to turn the soil more before they were moved to the new section. The turkey babies had to be moved, they’d out-grown the brooder in the sunporch, and with the super summer hotness we had moved from heat lamps to a fan to keep them cool. We were thinking of using the horsetrailer as a big safe enclosure for them before they grew large enough to be outdoors. The 43 of them were growing by leaps and bounds and would be huge by Thanksgiving. Insane to realize they will grow 15 lbs in 2 months.
I had to castrate the little boy goat, Latte, with my elastrator. It would only cause mild annoyance for him for a few days, as the balls would atrophy and then fall off. This is way better than the razor blade and iodine method my Mom had told me they used for their boy goatlings. He was nearly old enough to accidentally impregnate any of the young girl goats he hangs out with, which could be a potentially fatal disaster for a young female goat.
What else: Collect all the remaining Nanking cherries and make jelly and start some cherry vinegar with left over pulp. The Nanking bushes were making some serious quantities of beautiful little cherries and they wouldn’t last long. I wanted to make jelly without any added ingredients off-farm except sugar. Pectin comes from unripe apples, or so I read, so I wanted to try it. As I wandered down the path to where some apple trees were, I admired the milkweed coming along. This is where the Monarch butterflies come to fulfill their life cycle. On several milkweed plants I saw masses of aphids being tended to by giant black ants. The ants “farm” the aphids for a secretion the aphids give off. I spotted some larger clusters of unripe apples hanging low. I reached up to thin those bunches and collect the little green apples for my pectin experiment, and then the tree would also focus it’s energy on a smaller number of ripening orbs. As I reached, there was this stinging on my legs. I swear I didn’t see any stinging nettles there, or I would have been harvesting them to eat! No, it was the ants. The ones I had brushed past on my way down. These ants were defending their territory, their aphid colony. They climbed on my legs and bit me to tell me to get out of there, it was their turf.
Sadly, the cherry jelly didn’t set. From what I read, this green apple pectin could take 2-3 weeks to set a jelly though, so I had hope. It tasted and smelled divine, similar to that cherry popsicle flavor. Real cherry like. If nothing else it would be an amazing cherry syrup for whatever our CSA customers wanted to use it for.
I wanted to make another batch of cheddar. The process called Cheddaring was turning out to be a laborious but delicious all-day process. First I warmed the pot of 4 gallons of goat milk just slightly, then I added the culture and incubated it for an hour to acidify the milk. I added rennet to the milk, stirring thoroughly to distribute, then let the pot sit as the milk coagulated. Then I cut the curd and let it rest for 15 minutes. Next, I stirred the curd as the temperature was slowly brought up to 90 degrees over a 30 minute time period. After it reached that temperature, I had to “hold” the curd at 98 degrees for 40 more minutes. During this time, the curds were doing the cheddaring thing- slowly releasing the whey trapped inside. As I drained them after that process, adding salt before pressing, I popped a few into my mouth- squeaky and delicious! After all this coddling of my curds, now I had hours of pressing and turning them in the cheese press at increasingly heavy weights. What came out at the end of the day was quite incredible. It still had to go though an aging period to allow the flavors to sharpen and mature.
I was hosting a pretty ambitious Cheesemaker’s Course on our farm in about a week. I had to get going on planning this out thoroughly. For some reason I said we’d make 7 kinds of cheese in 4 hours, AND serve a lunch! What madness, but I’m was going to do it. Once the agenda was set up, this would be an awesome workshop we can offer a couple times a year. At $80 per person, very worth it for my time. Our time is a value added product, sharing our skills in what we’ve learned.