Pink Alpacas

Felted soaps are gaining popularity, a washcloth and loofah all in one, they are a time saver and efficient way to help keep your soap fresh and last longer. The wool has natural anti-fungal properties and provides mild exfoliation.

At Rain Barrel Acres we felt our soaps with our Alpaca fleece and merino wool. The alpaca fleece is super soft and the merino is just enough to hold all the felting together. Each felting is unique and makes a beautiful pattern.

I had a fabulous weekend selling soap at an artisan show.  A lady asked me about my felted soaps. I explained that I used my alpaca’s fleece to felt the soap. She then asked me if my alpaca was pink. I explained that we DYED the alpaca fleece pink.  She nodded in an understanding fashion and then asked if the alpacas mind being dyed. I explained that we dyed the fleece AFTER we sheared it off the alpaca. She told me she thought that was probably a better route and bought several soaps. She said they would make great gifts for her friends that didn’t know about pink alpacas. I agreed whole heartedly, a pink alpaca is a rare thing.

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Cider Day

In a good year a small orchard can produce fourteen million apples. We have about 25 fruit trees (I say about because a couple are questionable after being mutilated by deer) and this year was a good year for fruit.

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One of the greatest things about an orchard is making fresh cider. We make cider in the fall with a cider press. The cider press is one of the greatest inventions of all time. My handy engineer husband built the press several years ago after spending some quality time researching designs. For many weeks we received strange packages in the mail. I called my husband at work to ask him if he ordered a drive belt for a volvo. He assured me he had and that he needed it for the cider press. Eventually after much banging and welding he wheeled a cider press out of the garage.

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We pick the apples, smash the apples and press the apples to make a beautiful nectar called fresh cider. The best cider (IMHO) is made from a blend of apples and pears. We have several old pear trees (not sure of the variety) and four different types of asian pears that we mix with the apples. Some of our apples are ‘variety unknown’ but we do have gala, fuji, red and golden delicious. They all blend to make fabulous cider. This year we pressed all fourteen million apples.

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Aaaaaannnndddddd…More Stumps

Stump day. That’s what we call it when we work on stumps. Today was a big day because we got rid of 3 stumps.

My burning stump method worked great on my rotten stump. I started a fire inside of it with match light briquettes and general twigs and branches that I scavenged. This stump was pretty rotten down the middle and it was very dry because I covered it to keep the rain out.

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My fire got going pretty quickly and I got lucky when a hole burned through near the bottom of the stump (from the inside to the outside) providing good air flow to my fire. If I had been thinking I would have brought my leaf blower which would provide A LOT of oxygen. Next time.  While this sucker burned, the husband got to work on a really, really big stump.

We have a professional arborist chainsaw. It is an Echo and it works great. The only issue is that it has a 16 inch bar. This means that it is not going to cut a 3 ft diameter stump all at once. Luckily the husband likes to tackle the big jobs.

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Making a series of what seemed like a million cuts, the stump was chunked up a little at a time. Tedious? Yes.

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Eventually the stump was taken down pretty much flush to the ground. I will put a really big scoop of soil on top and feather it out. Probably in the spring I will forget it is there and break my leg trying to plant a tree.

We got rid of another smaller stump and I was able to clear around several more.

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Stump town is looking good, even with my finger in the way!

 

Stump Town part 3

We are still clearing stumps from the future orchard. I will be really glad when I can plant the first fruit tree so I can stop calling it the future orchard. I will also be glad when we don’t have any more stumps.

The hard part about dealing with these stumps is that they need to be cleared of all the debris that is clinging to them and have all the soil pulled away from the base. Some of the stumps were really quite covered with dirt, blackberries and scotch broom so this became extra difficult. I decided to try to compost a stump cluster which contained quite a bit of dirt. The stumps were close together and I figured I could try to compost the whole mess in place.

I love to compost things. I consider myself an advanced composter. Since I don’t pay for trash pick up on the farm and farms often have lots of trash I have to be very creative in my waste disposal. I compost all organic materials, every thing from the kitchen, garden, farm manure, shredded paper. I have a husband that loves to duck hunt. I compost a LOT of carcasses, I once even composted a horse placenta. You name it, I compost it.

The trick to good compost is to get the pile REALLY hot. Once the pile is hot things really get cooking. You can break down an entire compost pile in just a few weeks if it is super hot. Layering green waste with manure is one way to get things hot fast. I am fortunate to have a large garden and I always have trimmings to add to the compost, I bed my rabbit with hay and that is a great source of green waste as well.

My stump cluster had compost written all over it. I could envision tilling it in the spring, a dark crumbly thing of beauty spread in my future orchard.

The first thing I did was pile up some green material, branches, leaves, clumps of grass, followed by a few scoops of dirt and wood chips. In order to get things hot I obtained a couple of carcasses. I scored a nutria on my way to the farm one morning, he didn’t fare so well crossing the road (nutria get hit by cars frequently). He was a good source of organic material and quite heavy. I tossed him on the compost pile. He was joined by a raccoon. I buried them with a good scoop of soil and made sure the stumps were covered with several inches of organic material. I covered the entire mess with a tarp and weighted it down with rocks and large pieces of wood. Keeping it covered is important to keep the rain from washing everything away and also helps keep in the heat.

 

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These guys got nicely buried. Don’t worry I said a few kind words and hey…I am recycling!

I suspect that I will need to add some manure to this pile to get it really cooking if I want to have compost by the spring. I’m not sure how long it will take to break down a stump, so some of this is still an experiment.

One of the stumps that I uncovered while clearing had been partially buried in a slash pile. When I cleared all of the slash and dirt away the stump looked like this:

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You can see that it has really rotted down, the center hole reaches to the level of the surrounding dirt. I cleared out as much of the center as I could and cleared around the stump. This stump seems like a great candidate for starting a fire inside, the outer walls of the stump will probably burn easily once the inside heats up. I covered this stump with a large plastic bin to keep it dry (we are having torrential rain) and will try the fire method this week.

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You can see the outside of the stump is not quite as rotten. Being buried really helped the break down process but it still has a ways to go. Hopefully a little ‘fire in the hole’ will do the trick and we will be rid of it. Only 20 or so more stumps to go!

The Plague Doctor Will See You Now…

Thieves Oil. It’s been around for centuries.  Purportedly it wards off the plague. Grave robbers in 15th century France are rumored to have escaped contracting the disease by using a blend of essential oils that contained healing properties. Plague doctors wore masks with a pointed “beak” which they filled with herbs and straw. I am deathly afraid of plague masks. I think they are just about the scariest thing I have ever seen. My son was playing a video game and his character was wearing a plague mask. When I looked at his computer screen I actually screamed.

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I recently blended Thieves Oil for soap making. It has a clean smell and the use of five essential oils creates a blend where no one particular oil stands out.  Lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon bark, rosemary and clove essential oils all reputedly have antiseptic qualities.  The addition of goat milk in the soap really helps to keep the bar mild and balanced.

Warding off the plague has never been so easy! Just don’t scream if you see a mask.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/254121468/5-bars-of-thieves-oil-goat-milk-soap?ref=shop_home_active_1

 

Stump Town part 2

We are still clearing the future orchard. Even though we had significant help from the bull dozer there is still a field of stumps. Stumps are expensive to have removed with heavy equipment because each stump needs to be dug out of the ground with a backhoe. Since we already paid for the bull dozing we decided it was in our best financial interest to remove the stumps ourselves.

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Stump town is beautiful but stumps don’t really lend themselves to a lawn mower. There are about 20 or so old growth stumps in this approximately 2 acre field. We would like to plant fruit trees in this field and underplant them with grass. I have already seeded this field with grass seed and some of it is sprouting. In order to mow the grass the stumps have to go.

Since the stumps are old growth many of them are 3 feet in diameter! Obviously we can not dig them up due to their size, so our best bet is to get them cut off at ground level and dump a scoop of dirt on top, plant grass and call it good. Cutting them at ground level would require a really big chainsaw, bigger than our current chainsaw. So we got creative.

My first thought was to burn the stumps to ground level. This is much more difficult than it sounds. My first attempts were met with mixed results. I tried the teepee method where I piled up branches around the stump and lit the whole mess on fire. This basically just produced a charred stump. Not a particularly effective method.

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Here is the husband pouring water on the stump. The fire actually caught a root on fire that was under the ground.

The next sump I tried to burn I decided to drill holes in first and fill them with used motor oil as a fire accelerant.

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I used a drill and a wood boring bit to create the holes. BTW this stump is HUGE! I piled on some match light charcoal briquettes that were on sale to really get things going. My goal for this stump is to burn a hole down the center of it and use my tractor to bash in the sides so it kind of collapses in on itself. If I was able to keep the fire hot enough for long enough I believe this would be a good method. Unfortunately, a steady rain popped up and eventually put the fire out.

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More stump removal to come in Stump Town part 3

Stump Town

This year we decided there were not enough projects going on so we purchased an additional 20 acre farm. We are project oriented people. 20 acres allows for lots of farm fun and follies. Plus more goats. You can never have enough goats.

One of our many farm projects involves planting a new orchard. We currently only have about 25 fruit trees and everyone knows that 100 fruit trees is better than 25 fruit trees. So 100 fruit trees it is!

After careful consideration we found an awesome site for a new orchard. It will be close to our house so we can keep an eye on it, in full sun, on a gentle slope and is covered in scrub, brush and trees that are not fruit bearing. Other than that last detail it was practically perfect!

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Pre clearing, the future orchard looked something like this.

This is an area of our land that was previously logged. Lots of scrub trees pop up after logging. They are generally alder and large leaf maple, both trees that tend to grow fast and blow over in a storm. There were plenty of blackberries, scotch broom, blackberries and…blackberries. We set off to clear this area using a chainsaw, chainsaw on a pole, tractor and big boots. IMG_0508

After 8 tractor hours, many days of waving our hands and chainsaws around we managed to make it look like this:

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Don’t ask what that crazy thing is on the right. All farms cough up weird stuff when you start clearing. There were also a fair amount of rocks. We kept at it, hard work and mind numbing but the weather held so we just kept clearing. Eventually it looked like this:

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As we kept clearing we started to run into stumps. Stumps, Stumps and more Stumps. We also hit old slash piles that had never been burned or removed. These proved too much for our tractor, Big Orange. While waving my arms around in defeat when I found my umpteenth slash pile, my driveway contractor (who had been working close by with a large piece of heavy equipment) was roped into the project.

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What took days and days and more days of tedious work took just a couple of hours with a bull dozer.

Stay tuned for part 2

Let’s Make Soap!

I love making soap. I often get asked about the process, which seems mysterious. Here I will give a break down of the process, complete with photos and everything.

The basic process of making soap combines fats and oils with lye. In general fats and oils do not want to combine with lye because they are not friends. We need to convince them this is a good idea, so we heat them up and stir them vigorously. This is a lot like a cocktail party. Give everyone a few drinks, stir them up and all of the sudden…everyone is mixing.

Lye starts off as a solid and must be combined with water. This creates a LOT of heat (exothermic reaction!) and a good deal of bad smell. It is important to do this in a well ventilated area. *Use extreme caution as lye is very caustic and can burn skin, eyes, and the smell can take out nose hairs*. Measure out your lye and water by weight. Get a kitchen scale! When the lye and water are mixed they must be cooled down to approximately 90 degrees or so to encourage it to combine with the oils. If you are using goat milk in place of your water, you will want the milk to be very cold, even with partially frozen bits in it. You will want to add your goat milk slowly, in stages, or the milk will caramelize and turn an undesirable brownish color.

Once your lye is safely cooling (safely- meaning in a ventilated place where dogs and children are not going to knock it over) you can get to work on preparing your oils. Everything must be measured by weight for accuracy. Get a kitchen scale! Did I already say that??? Measure out your oils, some are solid at room temperature and some, like olive oil, remain a liquid. Gently heat the oils in a large pot until they are all in a liquid state. The oils will also need to cool to around 90 degrees. Soap recipes have suggested temperatures that you “soap” at. Most of these recipes will suggest that you soap around 90-100 degrees. Check your recipe for suggested soaping temperatures.

A thermometer is essential for determining the temperature of your lye and your oils. I use a temperature gun which is a fun little gismo that you point at anything (not living) and a red laser comes out of the end and settles on the object you are pointing at (not living) and tells you the temperature. Don’t point it at anything living. If you don’t have a handy temperature gun you can easily use a stainless steel kitchen thermometer. A glass candy thermometer would technically work, but as they are prone to breaking in my house, I have banished them from my property. It is important to wipe off your thermometer after measuring the lye solution and oils, since you will be going back and forth to measure between the two. Napkins or paper towels work great for this.

After your temperatures have settled you are ready to begin soaping! I pour my oils into a large plastic bucket. Since I buy my soaping supplies in bulk I always have plenty of 5 gallon buckets. Before I had such a collection of buckets, I just purchased a bucket from Home Depot. After the oils are poured in the bucket you will need to carefully add the cooled lye mixture to the oils. Remember the above mention of how caustic the lye solution is. Take safety precautions! You should look like Walter White in Breaking Bad!

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(Safety glasses on!)

It is now time to stir your two components together to begin saponifying. I use a drill for this with a plastic paint stirring attachment. Many people use a stick blender. If you want a rotator cuff injury you can stir by hand. It is critical that what ever you use to stir, you dedicate to soap making. No cross contamination! Every recipe takes a different amount of stirring. It is hard to say how long it will take. Many factors come into play: recipe, temperature, amount of soap being made, types of oils being used, speed of stirring, I could go on and on…

How do I know when to stop stirring? You will stop stirring your soap when it reaches “trace” how will you know when trace is achieved? Your soap batter will get very thick, like pudding. There are many youtube videos available that show trace. Soaping 101 is a good youtube channel to see videos of the process. At trace you can add in your additives such as essential oils, fragrance, oatmeal, honey, I could go on and on… After your additives give it a final stir and you are ready to pour your soap into your mold.

I have several types of soap molds. All of them were made by my industrious husband who loves to make things to “improve and streamline” my hobbies. What ever your mold, unless it is silicone, you will need to line it with parchment paper. After you pour your soap in the mold you will need to spend 1 minute admiring your creation and then you must ‘put it to bed’. Putting your soap to bed involves covering it (I use a piece of wood cut to cover the mold) and wrapping it with a blanket. This process allows your soap to heat up and go through the ‘gel phase’ to further saponification. After 24 hours your soap will be ready to cut into bars. You will need to let it dry and ‘cure’ for about 4-6 weeks before you can use it, making soap is a long process!

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Bar soap and round soap made in a PVC pipe

Making soap takes practice. If you are up for the challenge, watch lots of youtube videos and read some books, study different recipes. Start with a simple, basic recipe and when you get the hang of it, branch out and create something uniquely your own.

Want to skip the making part and just buy some soap? Check out the link to my online shop at Etsy.com:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/248497271/5-bars-of-lavender-vanilla-goat-milk?ref=shop_home_active_1

You Got Duck You Call

By Kim Johnson

Somebody dumped some geese and a duck at the intersection of Highway 30 and Logie Trail.  It happens.  Someone was obviously overcome by the cuteness of small, fuzzy fowl and made an impulse buy.  Been there myself.  That same someone probably couldn’t imagine the amount of poop ducks and geese make. Thinking that Rainbow Lake would make a wonderful bucolic homestead for the birds they simply dropped them off, probably under the cover of night.

While a lake may seem a perfectly lovely environment for abandoned farm fowl, these particular birds didn’t seem to grasp that concept, preferring instead to stand in oncoming traffic.  The morning I discovered them, two weird looking geese with red heads and an Aflac commercial type duck, I immediately took their picture and posted it to Facebook.  Next, I honked my horn several times to indicate, in the international language of car horns, that they should move aside as they were blocking traffic. The fowl ignored me and I was forced to drive around them.

Throughout the day, several Facebook posts mentioned the homeless birds and suggested ways to help them.  It was also pointed out that the red headed geese were actually ducks, a large meat and egg breed called Muscovey.  Several friends posted that they too had to drive around the birds. Driving home in the afternoon I was surprised to find the ducks still in the road. Clearly something had to be done.

I took action, mostly in the form of chasing the ducks around until such time as I could pounce on them and shove them in the back of my Subaru Outback.  This worked out surprisingly well until I tried to shove the second duck into the car.  Clearly a hatch back was not designed with this activity in mind.  I drove home with only one duck. A week went by before concerned neighbors we able to net the second duck and bring it to my house.  Sadly, the Aflac duck had pressed his luck with the traffic and I ended up with the two red headed Muscoveys.

A week of duck ownership was all I needed to remind me why I don’t own ducks.  They took to sleeping in the barn.  Fastidious about this arrangement, my repeated attempts to encourage them to sleep elsewhere were met with a certain stubbornness that I suspected was inherent to the breed.

I decided to post the ducks on Craig’s List.  To my surprise I received an immediate response.  The email went like this: “You got duck you call.  You no got duck you no call.” It was signed, Love Michael followed by a phone number.  I called.  After a confusing conversation where the word duck was repeated several times Michael and I agreed that I had ducks and he wanted ducks.  I suggested that we meet in a public place such as the Fred Meyer parking lot.  Michael smartly suggested if I were to call him after I got the ducks in my car we might avoid a situation whereby we were at Fred Meyer with no ducks.

We arrived at Fred Meyer at roughly the same time, always the trickiest part about Craig’s List exchanges.  Michael turned out to be a very enthusiastic lover of ducks.  He had several Peking ducks that he was enamored with, his neighbors, not so much.  It appeared he was looking for a quieter breed.

I assured him that the Moscovys were quite and docile but warned him that they could fly and he might consider clipping their wings.  Our language barrier was quickly bridged by the use of some very creative hand gestures.  He made a hacking motion with his hand indicating a cleaver.  I used my fingers in such a fashion as to indicate scissors would be a better tool for the clipping of the wings. He nodded several times with enthusiasm.

I asked him what he planned to do with the ducks, concerned that the previous hacking motion suggested he was familiar with ducks in a culinary context.  “Yes, yes!” he replied becoming very animated.  “Eggs!” Eggs.  He proceeded to give me several recipes for the use of duck eggs.  The last recipe was a great delicacy in his homeland, a special occasion recipe if you will.  The recipe was lost on me, as I couldn’t get past the first ingredient, a partially fertilized duck egg.  He nodded enthusiastically, indicating perhaps that I shouldn’t nock it till I tried it.  I assured him that under very special circumstances I would consider his recipe. Were I ever in a post apocalyptic situation or under the constraints of communist rationing I would not rule out such a food.

I could have talked to Michael for hours.  I suspected that he probably had a fascinating life history and with the right combination of hand gestures and an interrupter I might have learned it.  As it was, we were both busy people and he was anxious to settle his new egg layers.  He pulled a small cat carrier from the trunk of his car and indicated that we should transfer the ducks.  I asked him if he planned to put both ducks in the carrier and he replied, “Yes, yes! Both fit!”  He used his hands to make a folding motion. He indicated that the second duck would perhaps be required to temporarily adopt some position of unnatural geometry for the ride home.  We both nodded with the understanding that sometimes, when you want duck and you got duck, you do what you gotta do. 

As the day light hours get longer, I suspect that Michael’s ducks will begin laying.  The Mucsovey is a prolific layer and I have no doubt that Michael will find a use for the eggs.  Having given him a male and a female he would even have all the makings for a special occasion recipe.  Don’t knock it till you tried it.

As the day light hours get longer, I suspect that Michael’s ducks will begin laying.  The Mucsovey is a prolific layer and I have no doubt that Michael will find a use for the eggs.  Having given him a male and a female he would even have all the makings for a special occasion recipe.  Don’t knock it till you tried it.

© Rain Barrel Acres LLC

Daisy the Goat

This is Daisy.

Daisy

Daisy

Daisy is a Saanen goat. Saanen’s only come in white, all white, and the ears go sideways. Daisy has big, beautiful sideways ears of the extra large variety.

There are three basic types of ears on goats: sideways ears, hang down ears and some have little tiny ears that look like they have no ears.

Saanen goats are known for their friendly easy going nature and high milk production. Although their milk doesn’t have as much butterfat as some of the dwarf varieties the milk is sweet and clean tasting and did I mention the HIGH PRODUCTION???

I bought Daisy from a dairy just south of Salem. She was not super excited to get in the car. In fact, after several attempts to try to coax her in it was clear we needed some muscle. Goats are heavy. They are also not super fond of being manhandled.  Daisy got in the car eventually and we were all sweating by the time we drove away.