20th September 2017
At the end of summer I find myself standing on the peak of this mountain we’ve been climbing these past years, only to realise I’m far too tired to enjoy the view and the air is too thin. It’s time to descend.
I think I will always remember 2017 as the summer we realised we are doing too much. Let me explain.
In July Hornfagr calved, throwing us into a whirlwind of milky madness. Audhumbla had already been lactating since April, and suddenly we had two cows to milk, and 30litres a day to process. It was the first time we had both cows milking fully at the same time, and though I knew it would be a lot of work, I never thought to do the maths. It was always our intention to milk both cows over the summer and make cheese, butter etc for the rest of the year. Well, now we did. Turns out it’s still way too much milk. I had to make cheese every other day from 40litres, and the rest went to yoghurt and general use. I enjoy cheesemaking, but every other day is extreme, and meant I had no time for anything else. The garden has been all but neglected the whole summer and I had to cancel the gardening course I was running this year. Fortunately I had help once a week from one of our new neighbours, who has also been sharing the milking with us since the beginning of the year. Without the extra help I don’t know if we would have coped with all the work. (Thankyou Tea!) Now we have Audhumbla reunited with her calf so we only milk Hornfagr, and get a reasonable amount of milk again.
And we have shelves full of cheese! We made “farmhouse cheddar” mostly and brunost, but I also tried Gouda, and experimented making skimmed and semi-skimmed milk cheeses. We have already started eating the ones I made first, after ageing them at least one month. Right now they are still very mild, and all quite unique. The first one reminded me of Jarlsberg, and the second was more like cheddar. It’s exciting to see what the next 15 taste like! All the brunost was different too, some very sweet, some more sour, some dark, some light. It’s a wonderful feeling to go to the storehouse and pick out a homemade cheese.
The other big challenge of the summer was haymaking. This year we cut the entire field (19mål) by hand, (with scythes) for the first time. I say we, but Dan cut basically everything by himself. We tried to find scythers to help us mowing, but only three came in the end, so mostly Dan was mowing alone. Of corse we are very grateful for the help we did get, we got off to a good start in July with the help of two scythers from England and one from Norway. But we have realised now that being dependant on volunteer help is not really working for us, especially when the work is as urgent as haymaking. We ended up with too few hands and didnt finish haymaking until the end of August. This year it has been much harder to find volunteers, so its been a big push to carry out even the most urgent of tasks.
The root of the problem is that we are producing too much food! The reason we need extra help is because we need alot of hay to feed two cows through the winter, and two cows produce far more milk than we need. Two cows are enough to provide at least two families with dairy all year round- if we had more people living here it would be reasonable, both with respect to the food and the work. But as it is, it’s far too much of both. I calculated we spend at least one third of all our time working on dairy/cow related tasks. And we produce about double as much milk as we need. Right now we are giving alot of skimmed milk to the chickens, in the form of sour milk, which is a good source of protein for them, but of corse in terms of efficiency its completely absurd. We should rather produce less milk. Having only one cow is not an option for us, since we think it’s too sad for her to be alone. So now we have decided to sell the cows, and are thinking about getting milking sheep instead. Goats would be great, but i have a garden to think about! Having sheep rather than cows means we would be able to control the quantity of milk easier (5 sheep is roughly equal to one cow) and try to produce only as much as we need, while still trying to make as much cheese and butter as possible over the summer. I’m thinking maybe we wont be 100% self-sufficient in dairy, or maybe we will just have to consume less cheese and butter, but thats better than working too hard and producing too much.
The other thing we have decided to cut back on is the area of soil we cultivate each year. The past few years we have ploughed and sown roughly 3.5mål (0.35 hectares) (0.86 acres) with grain (barley, wheat and oats). It’s ALOT of work to plough and prepare the fields with the horse, along with harvesting of course and threshing in the winter. So far we have generally not used all the grain we have grown for a few reasons.
Lets start with wheat: wheat is very difficult to grow here and we have had problems with the fields falling flat and weeds then growing up over the wheat, ruining the crop. Last year that happened, meaning we ended up giving at least half of the wheat straight to the chickens on the straw. (It has improved this year). Even in a good year though the yield is lower than if we grew barley on the same area, so the logical thing with respect to efficiency is to grow less wheat and try to eat more barley instead.
Then there is the oats: The first year we grew normal oats (avena sativa) and got a great yield but found we couldn’t realistically process the grain for human consumption. Oats have a thick husk that is very difficult to remove without specialised machinery, or an old-school stone mill. We only have an upright electric mill, and though we did find a method, it was far too energy- and time-consuming. Last year we grew naked oats (avena nuda) but during threshing realised they were only about 50% naked. Now we are trying to purify the seed by hand picking out naked oats for sowing, and then saving seed for the next couple of years. We intend to use the naked oats as a rice substitute, so will not need huge quantities.
Barley grows very well here and this is the grain we use the most. We make a porridge every day from barley flour and milk, which we have for breakfast with yoghurt. Even so we have generally produced more than we need. Now we have invented a way to use it also for lunch, by making a thick kind of flat bread made of barley flour and cooked potatoes.
We also tend to grow too many root vegetables, with the intention of feeding them to the animals in the winter. We give the cows turnips/swedes every day but even so we end up with alot that goes to waste. Last year we grew and stored maybe four wagon loads of root vegetables, which turned out to be far too much, so the surplus just rotted once the summer came.
So this winter we are having a serious think about the future of the farm, how much we really need to produce, how many volunteers we really need. We have both realised that having volunteers here 90% of the time is too much for us, so we want to try and produce less food, and have fewer volunteers in general. I’m very excited to see how things will change over the next couple of years, and curious if this is really going to make our lives easier, or is this just a case of “the grass is greener on the other side”!?
Only time will tell. Meanwhile I will try to keep you filled in!