June 28, 2019

June Garden Blooms

Do you remember my showing you what I thought was a volunteer cucumber in one of my rice patches?

Volunteer in the Loto rice bed.

Well, it's bloomed and turns out it's not a cucumber!

Not a cucumber

Looks like a cushaw squash. I assumed cucumber because that's where I had them planted last year. The cushaw seed would have come from the compost pile. I should have known from the leaves!

This is a cucumber!

Also blooming:

Multiplier Onions

4 o'clocks



Rudbeckia (aka Black-eyed Susan)

Echinacea (or purple coneflower)


What's blooming in your garden?

June Garden Blooms © June 2019 by

June 25, 2019

Cardoon for Vegetable Rennet

In the comments of my last post (Chèvre) there was some discussion about vegetable rennet, so I wanted to show you my cardoon. Two years ago I planted some, because I was told they can be used to make a vegetable rennet for making cheese. They are perennials so last year they just grew and established themselves. This year they bloomed.

Cardoon is a relative of the globe artichoke.

To make rennet the purple stamens are collected and dried.

After I took this picture I learned that if the stamens are cut off the
flowers while still on the plant, they'll regrow for another cutting.

Spread out on a clean kitchen towel to dry. 

As I've been collecting and drying the stamens, I've been doing some research. Apparently, cardoon rennet is used to make specific cheeses. The ones in Portugal are called cardo cheeses: Azeitão, Nisa, and Serra da Estrela to name some of the popular ones. But I've been having trouble finding actual recipes for them. I've found a couple of videos, but they are more tourist demonstrations rather than how-to classes.

For using cardoon rennet, I'm finding varying instructions. One source says to use about 5 tablespoons of dried, powered cardoon stamens to make the tea for a gallon of milk. Another source says 1 to 2.5 grams per litre of milk, and still another says 1 gm for 2 litres milk. Quite a difference, and I suppose it has to do with the specific cheese being made. No matter, if I want to use it routinely as rennet, it's going to take way more cardoon plants than the half-dozen I've got. Hopefully, I'll have enough for an experiment. As far as growing it for a steady supply for cheesemaking, forget it. I can't see myself growing an acre of cardoon plants just for that.

All is not lost, however, because cardoon leaf stalks can be eaten as a vegetable too. Very popular in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal. They tend to be bitter in flavor, so commonly the leaves are pulled together and tied in a bundle to blanch them before harvesting. I wasn't thinking about using them that way earlier, and now the plants are probably too late in this season's maturity. So that will be for next year.

Once I harvest and dry enough stamens, I'll make a cardoon solution and give it a try. And I confess I'm curious. Has anyone traveled to Portugal and tried some of these intriguing cheeses? Or maybe a Portuguese blog visitor can give me more information?

Cardoon is from a long list of plants that will curdle milk for making cheese. I've been collecting other things to try for vegetable rennet too. More on those later.

June 21, 2019

Master Plan 2019

At long last, here's our updated master plan. The last one I shared was in 2016. After that we didn't feel the need to make new ones, because it seemed as though everything was in place. While that's somewhat true, we've learned an awful lot about building soil, rotating grazing, and better managing our homegrown resources. Now that I've started working on chapter four of 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel, I realize that I do indeed need to update our master plan. So here it is.

Master Plan 2019

Master Plan 2019 © June 2019

Cheesemaking: Chèvre

While I was working on another blog post, I wanted to link back to my recipe for chèvre. It was then that I realized I had never posted one! I was sure I had written it and finally found it in my drafts folder, where it's been sitting for almost a year. So at long last, here it is.

Chèvre is a soft, supposedly easy-to-make goat cheese that is often recommended for beginners. Yet I hadn't tried to make it until last year. Why? Well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because most recipes for it call for chèvre starter culture, whereas I lean toward sustainable cheese making, i.e. without purchased starters.

The other problem is that it requires such a teensy amount of rennet. The starter culture already contains the rennet, but without that it's another challenge. It only takes a few drops of liquid rennet, but because I now use powdered rennet (why here), the measurement is a little trickier. A regular dose of powdered rennet is only 1/32 teaspoon per gallon of milk, so a smaller dose for chèvre was near impossible. I needed to figure out another way.

A "smidgen" (2nd smallest spoon) of rennet is all I need for a gallon of milk.

I finally started making chèvre the same time I make a firm cheese. I use a scant 1/8 of the regular dissolved rennet, which is perfect for the desired consistency of chèvre. Here's the recipe.


1 gallon fresh goat milk (see recipe note)
1/4 cup fresh kefir (can use cultured buttermilk or cultured whey)
1/8 of regular rennet dose
1 tablespoon good quality salt

Pour milk into a heavy-bottom pot and stir in the kefir. Slowly warm to 90°F (32°C). Add the rennet and stir well. Cover the pot and let sit for 24 hours. The curd will sink when it's ready to ladle into a cheesecloth lined colander. Cover and drain for 6 hours. Then mix in the salt, tie up the cheesecloth like a bag, and let drain for another hour or two. After that it's ready to eat!

RECIPE NOTE: Most recipes for making cheese call for fresh milk. If you're buying your milk, then it's logical why this is important. If you have your own milk supply, however, there is another reason. As non-homogenized milk sits in the fridge the cream rises to the top. If this milk is used to make cheese, the cream doesn't recombine with the milk, it is lost in the whey. So the fresher the milk, the the higher the fat content in the cheese. Most people think it's tastier this way, but if you want to make lower fat cheeses, this is how.

Chèvre is basically good any time a softer cheese is wanted: for snacking, as a substitute for ricotta in lasagna, as a filling for stuffed pasta or enchiladas, in sandwiches. It's delicious on crackers, perhaps seasoned with herbs or salt and pepper. My favorite ways to eat it are as chèvre cheesecake and cheesecake ice cream (the links will take you to the recipes).

Chèvre and elderberry jelly sandwich.

Chèvre is an expensive cheese to buy, but inexpensive and easy to make!

If you have a favorite recipe for chèvre, I'd love for you to share it.

June 17, 2019

Upland Rice Growing Update

I gave you a little peek at my rice in my last post (Living in the Shadow of the Rain), but so many folks expressed an interest in this project that I thought I'd give you an update in pictures.

My two beds of rice: Loto in front & Cho Seun Zo Saeng behind.

This is upland rice, which doesn't require paddies to grow. You can read more about it in my "Grain Growing: Upland Rice" post.

Cho Seun Zo Saeng, a short grain brown rice.

Loto, an Italian risotto rice.

The plant in the middle of the bed is a volunteer cucumber.

With clover ground cover.

I left it because I rarely have the heart to pull volunteers. They always seem to be the hardiest of what grows in my garden.

I've been diligent to water and weed both beds. Of the two, the Cho Seun seems to be doing better.

Cho Seun Zo Saeng on the right, Loto on the left.

It is a taller growing variety, but it's greener and leafier than the Loto, which seems to be struggling more. That may be due to variety preferences, or because the soil in the Loto bed isn't as good. I'm not really sure.

I planted white Dutch clover as a ground cover in both beds, but it's been sporadic in growing. Still, it will add some nitrogen to the soil as well as shade it.

Clover ground cover.

Clover doesn't like hot dry weather, so it benefits from my frequent watering too.

The only other challenge will be keeping birds from devouring the grain before I can harvest! Some netting might be in order for that.

June 13, 2019

Living in the Shadow of the Rain

Summer in my part of the country usually includes at least one long, hot dry spell. Our recent one started mid-May, with no rain and highs in the 90s F (lower 30s C) for three weeks. None of my summer crops are mature enough yet to have good, deep root systems, so if it hadn't been for our rainwater tanks I would have lost much of my garden. I used 1650 gallons keeping things alive before it finally rained again last weekend. We were blessed with about five inches, which was enough to refill our 1500 rain tank.

To water my upland rice, I figured out that if I put the hose into
the watering can, it was more efficient than the irrigation pipe.

That dry spell was so early this summer that I can't help but wonder if we won't get another one this year. Climate change aside, part of the problem is that we live in the rain shadow of the Appalachian Mountains. Most of our summer weather systems come up off the Gulf of Mexico and travel in a northeasterly direction. Depending how far west they originate, they travel up the west side of the mountain range. As the moisture laden air rises to pass over the mountains it cools, condenses, and rains on the western side of the mountains. By the time it passes over the mountains and gets to our side, it's all rained out! This is called the orthographic or rain shadow effect, and is why there are often deserts on the inland side of mountain ranges.

Rain Shadow Effect. Graphic courtesy of Meg Stewart. 
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

It's no fun to live with! Fortunately, we get enough rain (roughly 50 inches per year) so that we aren't in a desert. But we get enough hot, dry spells that it warrants paying attention to and planning for. My preparations are three-fold: immediate intervention with collected rainwater and mulch; long-term with soil building.

Soil building because some soil holds moisture better than others. Thriving soil microbiology is key. Mycorrhizal fungi produce a sticky substance called glomalin. Glomalin glues together soil particles, minerals, organic matter, and nutrients to form soil aggregates. Aggregates reduce water and wind erosion, reduce compaction, increase nutrient cycling, and increase water filtration and moisture retention around plant roots. (A detailed PDF can be found here.) The healthier the soil, the better it can retain moisture during dry spells.

Last weekend's rain revived the garden and cooler temperatures have followed. What a relief! The first thing I did was get my sweet potato slips planted. The poor things had been sitting in jars of water and were beginning to look soil starved.

Newly planted sweet potato slip.

Transplants struggle under the best of conditions, but hot and dry is the worst. Having the ground moist and workable again was perfect, especially with cloudy, cooler weather in the forecast.

I have a lot on my to-do list now, especially more mulching to keep the moisture from evaporating out of the soil. It's also a wait-and-see time, because some of my seeds seem to have been on hold while the ground was hot and dry. Hopefully, I'll have a thriving garden to show you soon.

June 9, 2019

Checked Off the To-Do List: New Clothesline

One of the things on our summer to-do list is "new clothesline." I've had the old one since 2009.

umbrella clothesline with drying laundry
My original umbrella style clothesline when it was new.

After ten years of use it certainly looks like it's seen better days.

Sagging and broken lines

Held together with duct tape and baling twine.

I never actually intended to have the umbrella clothesline for so long. In fact, seven years ago I bought a new pulley style line from Lehman's.

Originally, I wanted to run it from the back porch to the barn. I loved the idea of simply stepping out the back door to hang laundry. But because we were planning to build a new barn the new clothesline got set on hold. With the new barn now built and the old clothesline ready to topple, it was time to finally put up the new line.

But where? The problem with running it from the back porch to the barn was that it would partially obstruct the driveway. The line is 75-feet in length, so we would need a good clear stretch for it. We finally decided to hang it behind the carport.

The chosen spot for the new clothesline.

From the pecan tree on the right to the utility pole near the corner of the barn (next to the white downspout) would work. That meant we'd have to clear out the shrubs and vines you see, plus move the garden shed.

Getting ready to move the garden shed.

The shed holds potting equipment plus all of the original windows we've replaced in the house. Eventually, we plan to use the old windows to build a greenhouse. I cleaned it out and Dan set up a new base for it. Last time, he dug out and leveled the ground. This time, he used pallets.

Empty, it wasn't difficult to move. Now we could get the new line up.

The tree is a good anchor point, but Dan didn't want to nail the pulley to the tree. So he strapped it instead.

Dan added a hook on the bottom to hang my clothespin bag.

The height of the second pulley was based on the length of the line. It's 75-feet long, so the pulley ended up pretty high on the pole.

The last two parts are the pole and the spacer.

These keep the line from sagging and separating.

On my next laundry day I was able to give it a test drive.

The bench accommodates my laundry bag.

At this point I was wondering if all the laundry would fit.

I was happy that it held an entire load of laundry. I was equally happy to retire my old clothesline! Dan was happy to clear out some of the wild growth behind the carport, and Meowy was happy to keep me company.

I found the umbrella line to be slow because it had so many short spaces that I would have to dig around in my laundry bag to find pieces to fit. So hanging laundry went more quickly, as did taking it down. I especially like that it's shaded there most of the day, because that means I don't have to work in the hot sun. It was well worth waiting for.

Another project checked off the to-do list! Any one else making progress on theirs?

June 5, 2019

Stewardship, Sustainability, and Woodchips

One of our homestead goals is stewardship. I know that word is tossed about in various ways, so to clarify, when I speak of stewardship this is what I mean.

"Stewardship evokes a sense of responsibility ... It implies the supervision or management of something entrusted to one's care. It implies not only responsibility but also accountability. We believe that one day, we will be accountable for how we lived our lives and for what we did with the things in our possession."
5 Acres & A Dream The Book, Chapter 2 "Defining Our Goals,"
pages 23 to 24

One of the things we feel responsible for is the renewable resources on our property; in this case trees. I recently blogged about how we manage our trees ("Spring Chores: Trees"). In that post I mentioned that twigs and small branches from downed trees are chipped. Thanks to having our own source of chips, we've been able to address several problems we've had with a "work smarter not harder" solution.

Initially, I used our wood chips as mulch in the garden but found that they work better as long-term mulch for perennials. For annuals, they must be raked away when it's time to plant again, because they are slow to decompose. That's not necessarily a problem, but it made me wonder if there wasn't a work-smarter way to mulch. This past year we've worked out a routine that is that and more.

That routine starts with a chipping day. I started to use fresh wood chips in the goat corral, because when it rains a lot, the corral gets very muddy. Add manure and urine and it becomes a mucky mess. The chips really help with that, plus keep the dust down during a dry spell.

The goats' hang-out area.

Eventually, the chips accumulate manure and absorb urine, so they must be removed. When that happens, it's time to make fresh wood chips. Chipping day begins with shoveling out the old urine soaked chips and manure, and then dumping them into the compost bins.

The chickens love chipping day. 

I've found that woodchips make a very nice compost. They supply carbon for the compost, and the manure and urine supply nitrogen. We regularly add kitchen, canning, and garden scraps too. What the chickens don't eat adds to the compost.

While I'm doing that, Dan fires up the chipper.

WoodMaxx WM8M PTO-powered wood chipper.

Our chipper was a good investment because we have so many trees. Definitely not cheap but indispensably worth it. Our first year here we bought one of those little YardMachine chippers-shredders off Craigslist. It proved to be worthless for our need: slow, limited to twigs and leaves, and sprayed the chips all over the place. (Dan later converted it to a wheat thresher.) So every year we would rent a large industrial chipper for several hundreds of dollars per day to deal with our numerous brush piles. Obviously, that wasn't cheap either!

The fresh chips are spread out in the cleaned-out goat corral.

New wood chips

For garden mulch, I now use composted wood chips. After the chickens have done their magic on the old chips in the compost bin, it's gorgeous.

Wood chip compost

The chips aren't completely decomposed, but I like it that way because I've observed that mycorrhizal fungi love wood chips on or in the soil.

Mycorrhizal fungi growing on wood chips.

Mycorrhizae are the subterranean nutrient delivery system of the plant world. They form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, exchanging liquid carbon from the plants for nutrients harvested from other areas. The nutrients are transported to the plant because the mycorrhizae extend the root system with filaments known as hyphae. Through the hyphae, the fungi network with one another to extend their resource harvesting to areas covering acres and miles.

Composted wood chips mulching pumpkin seedlings.

Partially composted wood chips not only work better than uncomposted wood chips, they also work better than compost made from dirty straw and wasted hay from the goat barn. That's because the old straw and hay are loaded with seeds (even though technically they shouldn't be.) Too many of those seeds survive the heat of composting and invariably start growing in my garden - as more weeds. (Ditto using old straw or hay as mulch). Counterproductive! This wood chip composting and mulching system is definitely work-smarter-not-harder gardening.

What do I do with the old straw and wasted hay I clean out of the barn? Now, I put all that directly out on the pasture where it can build pasture soil there. (Read about my modified Fukuoka method of soil building here.) Let the straw and hay seeds sprout where the goats can benefit!

Obviously, our system isn't feasible for everyone, because everyone's practical specifics aren't the same as ours. But my takeaway point isn't so much what we're doing and how, but that we've worked out a system that works for us. We analyzed our problems in the light of our goals and available resources, and then experimented until we worked out satisfactory solutions.

  • alternately muddy or dusty goat yard
  • compost loaded with weed seeds
  • poor soil needing improvement
  • never enough mulch 

  • stewardship
  • sustainability

  • tree "waste" (overabundant twigs and branches) turned into
  • wood chips
  • chickens (for composting)
  • goats (for manure)
  • humans (for the work of making and moving the woodchips)

No waste, just multiple uses of a renewable resource in a sustainable cycle. What could be better than that?

June 1, 2019

Potted Potato Harvest

The potatoes I planted in pots a couple months ago were dying because of blight. So I harvested all but the healthiest one.

The harvest from six seed potatoes.

It was a modest harvest. Even so, I figure I tripled my planting investment. For six potatoes that isn't much, but from all the teeny baby potatoes, I figure I would have gotten more if the plants had been able to mature on their own.

I'm thinking potato salad.

As an experiment, though, I was pleased. Planting in pots was very easy, as was the harvest. No digging! All I had to do was dump out the contents in the wheelbarrow. The hardest part was remembering to keep the pots watered. I will definitely plant potatoes this way again!

I know a number of you plant potatoes in containers; what kind of containers do you use? Any tips?

Potted Potato Harvest © June 2019