Winter, Wheat and Wool

29th January 2016

We are already a month into the new year, though it still feels like the beginning. With the arrival of our first woofer, the cycle begins again and we find ourselves looking towards another eleven months of hard work, new people and general chaos! Already, the skies are noticably brighter, and the haystack is nearing it’s halfway point. According to old norse tradition, midwinter was on the 24th of january, on the full moon. We celebrated with homemade pinnekjøtt (salted lamb ribs) and beer!

We have finally started threshing , and it’s been really exciting to see how the wheat turned out! It seems to be quite easy to thresh, and the husk comes away easily from the grain, leaving us with grain that’s husk free and ready to use! (After we winnow it and dry it that is.) The grain has been patiently waiting in the shed since we harvested it last autumn. It is stacked in the form of sheaves, which are just small bundles of grain, tied with a handful of straw. We have a simple hand-cranked threshing machine, which is essentially a large rotating drum inside a sturdy wooden box. The drum has metal spikes which pull the grain from the straw, when you turn the handle. One person stands and holds a sheaf into the machine and moves it around, to help loosen the grain, while the other person turns the handle. The grain comes out the other end, as does the straw when its done. After a few sheaves we beat the straw a bit with an old-school flail to remove any grain still in there, then remove the empty straw. We also have a hand cranked cleaning machine which removes remaining straw and other bits and pieces. When you turn the handle, there are two mesh trays that shake, which allow grain to fall through and roll down a fine mesh into a box. The larger pieces of straw and whole ears end up on the other side, and chaff is blown away by the fan, which is also powered by the handle. Dust falls out the bottom through the fine mesh. There is also a place at the side where grain ends up that was not threshed properly, i.e still attached to the ear. This we will feed to the animals.

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a wheat sheaf

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the cleaning machine

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the finished product!

After the grain is threshed, we still have to dry it for storage. We have a dedicated drying room, where we also dry alot of fruit in the summer. We have a big rack filled with mesh trays, where we spread out the grain. When it’s full we light a fire in the stove, and keep it burning until the grain is dry enough.

We pimped our small hand mill, so now it’s bike powered! This means that we can now mill grain in larger quantities, and faster. Though it’s still one hell of a work-out! I already milled some flour from our own wheat, and baked the first 100% homegrown bread! And yes, it was extremely good. It has so much more flavour than shop bought flour, and from what I’ve read, should be alot healthier. Firstly, because it’s homegrown (needless to say organic), secondly because our wheat is an old variety (dalalandhvete) which means it’s more nutritious, and thirdly because it’s freshly milled! Apparently there are some nutrients which degrade within hours of milling, so the fresher the better! So in general the wheat was a success, though the yield was low. We are hoping that this was due to the bad weather, and that we will get a better yield in future years. We certainly haven’t grown a year’s suppy, but i think i will just mix some homegrown flour into every dough. The current estimate is that we have about 36 kilos, but i will give you the figures when we know for sure.

February 6th

I have also started spinning the wool from last spring! My first project is to spin sock yarn, and knit some extremely hard wearing socks for Dan. He certainly needs it. Working all day in the forest is not something socks stand up to for very long! To make them extra strong I’m going to knit them very large and them felt them down to the right size- the felting really strengthens it, and will make them warmer too.

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As I have hinted, Dan is working in the forest making fence posts for the new pasture. We are in the process of clearing land, so that in the future the cows can get everything they need from grazing and we don’t have to feed them hay in the summer. It’s a big project, but  progress is being made. (Thanks to one, undeniably dedicated farmer.)

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Snøen har kommet

21 November 2015

It was an unusually warm and dry autumn, fortunately for us. (And our woofers, that they did not have to endure another freezing wet muddy hell of an autumn. (Viera, Bart, Sigurd, Janek- eternally grateful.) The frost came late this year, and suddenly there was snow. So now we inhabit this winter wonderland once again. These cold, sparkling months, that carry us slowly towards spring, are comforting in their consistency.  The animals have moved to their winter quarters, the comfort of the barn, where they slowly munch their way through a mountain of hay. This is how one horse, two cows and six sheep wile away their time.

13th December

Ramson (the ram) has been reunited with his ladies, after some time in solitary confinement. When we released him he made deep belching noises and ran over to the ewes, practically tripping over his own feet. They all gathered round him- it was a beautiful reunion until he started chasing them around with his tounge hanging out- that rather spoiled the romantic atmosphere. Hornfagr is still giving us milk- around 5 liters a day which is more than enough for us, and im starting to experiment with cheese again. Now I have perfected pultost and I have the luxury of excess cream, so I’m trying out a few different cream cheeses.

Im really looking forward to when Audhumbla calves so that we will have enough milk to make hard cheese and brunost. Even with the tiny amounts of milk we are getting from Hornfagr, we manage to make far too much cheese and butter and it’s started piling up! We have even started using whole milk in the porridge. We get about 1.5 kilos of butter a week. Sometimes I also make ghee, which is excellent for cooking. But I can make enough in one week to last several months- so basically I just throw some butter in everything i cook. Hey, it’s winter.

We found out that in Iceland they used to preserve large blocks of butter in sour whey, which naturally contains lactic acid, a well known preservative. You can also preserve cooked meat and vegetables in this way, and we have already done it- we cooked the lambs heads and preserved them for the cats. They loved it! We could also preserve it in salt, as was done in Norway in the past, but I am not too keen on using masses of salt, mainly because of the question of what we do with it afterwards! (With the salted lamb for example we end up with about 30 litres of brine!)

On the egg front, the chickens have beat their previous personal best (which i believe was 18 in a day) with 24 eggs! My god thats about two eggs per hour! Yes, we have an over-abundance of eggs now. There’s only so much scrambled egg you can eat in one day.

We’ve already done a bit of threshing, but we’ve been held back by injuries. (Dont worry, we still have all our limbs. But Dan impaled himself on a branch, and I rammed a nail into my hand!) We have threshed all the trysil barley, which we will use for sowing next year. We are hoping to thresh some wheat too, so we will have some REALLY homemade bread soon!

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Hornfagr out for a morning stroll

26 December

Im afraid I have to revoke my previous comment about the winter being “comforting in it’s consistency”. So far the winter has been nothing but uncomfortably inconsistent! It’s been far too warm, melting and dripping and slushing, then cold and dangerously icy. It’s very strange to see any sign of bare ground at christmas, but this year I keep seeing weeds poking out of the snow, and across the valley, the top half of the hill is practically bare, and there are even green fields!  Normally we would be knee deep in snow by now, instead we find ourselves hoping that it will come soon. The good thing is that it will be easier to do forestry work, and we don’t have to worry about the roofs! (At least for a while.) I’ve been told that we won’t necessarily get less snow, it will probably just all come at once…

The darkest day of the year has passed, and a now new cycle begins. So we find ourselves looking to the coming year and what needs to be done. Dan will carry on with his big forestry project- clearing land and making fence posts for a new pasture,  Next year we will really be pressed for grazing with Audhumbla milking too.

I still hope to fix a few more windows before spring, help with the firewood, and hopefully do some spinning and sewing!

 

 

 

 

Autumn 2015

20th October

We had our first frost about a week ago, and suddenly everything looks very different. Leaves are dropping swiftly, and those sunflowers that were just opening now hang their heads. Autumn strikes quickly but not without mercy. We were gifted several dry, crystal clear days and sparkling nights. The warmth from the sun was just enough to lift the frosted dew from the grains, still standing in the field. With the help of our new horse Haukjon, we managed to bring in the barley, wheat and oats just before the weather turned. The peas which we grew with the oats (ringeriksert and jærert) had been hanging on racks to dry, and we got that in too.

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From the garden we have harvested all the carrots which are now tucked away in wooden boxes in the cellar, along with the other root vegetables. We have brought all the onions into the kitchen to cure, as it’s far too cold to do that outside now. I’ve put them in wire baskets with the leaves hanging out, so they have plenty of air circulation. They seem to be drying really well. I’ve dug up all the leeks and moved them to the cellar, with their roots in just enough soil to keep them alive. They were smaller than I would have liked, but definately an improvement on last year. I’ve also planted some witloof chicory in there too. I’m hoping it will produce blanched leaves to give us something fresh during the winter. I sowed the seeds in early summer, and let them grow until after the first frost. Then I just dug them up and trimmed the leaves and planted them in the cellar. The kale seed has been brought in to dry, it was a great success! I tried chard too, and it flowered and grew and flowered and grew taller than me! But not a single seed. I think there must have been a problem with pollination, though i can’t figure out what. I decided to re-plant most of the garlic I grew this year. It actually filled an entire bed. Next year we will have an absolute abundance! (Fingers crossed). I’ve also planted tree onions, just for fun really because they’re so crazy! and wild garlic (ramsløk). Not long ago we were lucky enough to get some elk bones, from Dan’s uncle to make stock with. We sawed them up into smaller pieces (some of them were huge!) and boiled it up in an enormous iron pot. We kept it cooking for a whole day, and the next day we removed the bones and boiled it down to concentrate it.  When it cools you get a layer of fat on the top, which we use for cooking, and the stock underneath is like jelly. I cut it into cubes and freeze it. I don’t think we have enough for a whole year, but at least we don’t have to buy it for a while!

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Dark Times

As the days grow dark and cold, the aspen, birch and rowan trees slowly withdraw the energy from their leaves, in an act of surrender, taking it down into the ground to await the long winter. The spruces, however, stand strong, like an army before battle. Way above, flocks of geese fly in formation, heading for the sun.

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13th October

Like the trees, we too are preparing for the winter. Everything must be gathered, everything must be stored. Like a living being, the farm draws all energy to itself, into the heart, to keep it going over the cold months ahead. Vegetables have been harvested and stashed beneath the house. Firewood is steadly arriving in the farmyard, to be stacked in the woodshed. The grain is still waiting to be tucked inside the barn. The animals reluctantly nibble the now fading grass. The sheep come and go, bells ringing, busily seeking anything green. The chickens, they cluck nervously to each other in the barn, for they have known fear. One morning, when I was making breakfast, two woofers came to me with worried faces. “There are dead chickens.” We went to take a look and walked into the chicken house to find chickens strewn about the floor. The survivors shuffled on their perches, too scared to come down. Judging by the feathers everywhere, there had obviously been a struggle. Several of the dead chickens were missing their head, and of one, only the skin remained. One was still alive, she had clearly been attacked but wasn’t in a critical state. We did a quick count- 5..6..7…more than 10 dead. We discussed the possibilities- Fox? maybe. Badger? probably. Lynx? Surely not. After breakfast we moved the survivors down into the outdoor pen with the older hens, and collected the dead. One was missing. We counted our losses, and went about our daily tasks, comforted that at least now the chickens were safe. How wrong we were. The following day three hens were found dead in the coop. The predator had come during the day. It had obviously tried to drag it’s kill away, but couldn’t get over the fence, so had made a small hole (in a metal wire fence) and tried to drag one of the chickens through. It had failed, so just ate as much as it could, leaving the maimed carcass wedged into the hole. I was baffled, as I was sure a fox could have easily jumped the fence with a chicken in it’s mouth. Confused, shocked, and worried for the safety of the rest, we herded them into the small chicken house (a different one) where we were sure they’re be safe. There was no way a fox or a badger could get in there. The following morning, we were greeted with horror once again. There were fifteen dead chickens inside the house. It was only then we began to understand what we were dealing with. It certainly wasn’t a fox, or a badger. It was something smaller, but no less of a killer. I tried to imagine a predator smaller than a fox, that could have squeezed through the small gap in the door. My mental picture slowly formed into some kind of weasel-like creature. We moved to the remaining chickens to the safety of their winter quarters, which is inside the old log-built barn. We did some research on small predators and the final suspects were stoat or pine-marten. The following morning I was up early to milk Hornfagr, and heard a strange noise outside. I rushed out and listened, and quickly realised it was a screaming chicken. The noise was coming from the stream, so I ran into the darkness, towards the sound. Getting closer, I crept through the trees looking for the source of the noise. Finally I saw it. Next to the stream, up in a tree, a savage fight was taking place. The light I had was faint, but I could see a white chicken struggling with a small, dark, almost snake-like animal. Surprisingly strong for it’s size, it was dragging the screaming chicken down the tree, with the poor bird thrashing for it’s life. Shocked, slightly scared, and not sure whether or not this was a dream, I ran back to the house to get Dan. When we returned, the beast and it’s prey were gone. Fortunately, that was the last chicken to be taken.  I’m still not completely sure what it was that I saw that morning, but we think it was a pine marten. There is still one hen that is roaming free, and we can’t catch her- she has developed impressive flying abilities, and runs away if she even sees us. The chicken that survived the first attack didn’t walk for several days but has now recovered. We will keep the chickens indoors for the rest of the year now. It’s a shame that they can’t roam free anymore but it’s just too risky. We hope that by spring the predator will have moved on…

 

End of summer 2015

22 August 2015

Finally the summer came! We’ve had amazing weather the past week or so, nothing but clear skies- perfect for haymaking. (Yes we are STILL haymaking!) It was strange replay of last year, when we ended up with only one woofer and things slowed down considerably. And of corse the mower broke down. Everyday! Without fail. It’s amazing. So we also ended up scything quite alot, which was fun but not quite as productive. But in the last week something incredible happened- the sun came out, and the mower got fixed (twice). So Dan managed to cut almost all the grass that was left, and we are drying it on the ground, something that’s only possible in VERY good weather. We turn it a few times until it is quite dry, then rake it into windrows, and turn those with a rake a couple of times a day, until it’s completely dry. Then we haul it up the the barn. Or rather, we load it onto the wagon, and Freyfaxi hauls up. In perfect weather, this takes two to three days, depending on the type of grass, thickness etc… There is rain forecast for monday, so we are working frantically to get everything into the barn.

It’s been such a busy summer, especially now we are milking. We milk twice a day and get about 3.5 liters from each milking. This is enough to meet our needs for fresh milk, by far, and I have also started making a simple white cheese, made from sour milk. Its really practical because we are getting so little milk, that I can just sour all the excess milk from each milking, and then save up for a few days until i have enough to make cheese. I sour the cream too and make butter when i have about 4 liters. We are just about meeting our butter needs, with five people here. I have also started experimenting with another kind of norwegian cheese called pultost. It’s also made from sour milk, but is fermented for a few days during which time it takes on a very particular flavour, and smell. Needless to say, you either love it or you hate it. My first attempt was a complete failure, as it didn’t even ferment, it just went mouldy. The second attempt was also a complete failure, but it did ferment, and it stank like hell, but it didn’t taste good. The chickens love it though!! Coming soon..attempt three.

27th August

We have a new horse! His name is Haukjon and he’s a fjording, just like Freyfaxi. Infact, if you didn’t know, you would probably think it was the same horse. He’s also strangely similar in character- quite indifferent to people unless they have food, and may yet rival Freyfaxi in stubbornness. He’s younger by eight years, so hes experienced but not so old that we need to replace him soon. We are both looking forward to working with him soon, getting to know him and to enjoy having some youthful energy on the farm! Freyfaxi is not only stubborn but old, and it’s really starting to show. This summer he helped us bring in all the hay, but that is light work compared to what we need to do this autmun and winter.

12th September

The last month has flown by, and suddenly it’s Autumn again. I dont even know how to begin…

We finally finished haymaking around the end of august, so better than last year. We managed to cut the whole field in the end and only a little bit got ruined due to rain. I dont think we have as much as last year, but hopefully it’s enough to see us through.

Everything is late this year, we only started picking the currants in september, and some of them still aren’t ripe! We’ve managed to collect masses of wild blueberries though which is SO good, as last year we just didn’t have time. I’ve been sending the woofers out to scour the hill, and we are drying tonnes of berries in our drying room.

We slaughtered most of our roosters recently- we had far too many, as we hatched alot of chicks in the spring, now they are pretty much fully grown so it was time for the freezer! We are going to keep the hens for eggs. Unlike last year we skinned most of them, as it’s faster and less hassle than plucking them. I’ve become quite adept at gutting chickens, i think we did about 16 in one day!

28th September

Today Hornfagr was inseminated, so if it works she should calve at the end of June. Audhumbla will have her first calf in February, then we will have enough milk to make exciting things like hard cheese and brunost, as well as by-products like ricotta!

We are about midway through the grain harvest. The barley has all been cut and put up to dry. We did about half of the wheat field today, so we should finish that tomorrow, and then start on the oats-peas combo! I can’t believe how late it is this year! last year we started cutting at the end of August, and the barley was golden. Now the barley is still quite green, but we had to cut it- we are hoping there is still enough energy in the stems to ripen the grain. We’ve had such a cold and wet summer, and it’s really delayed our crops. But it’s most critical with the grains, because they also need to dry before we can bring them in, and they shouldn’t freeze. It’s already down to around five degrees celcius at night, so we are expecting our first frost very soon.

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Our old horse Freyfaxi has gone to a new home! We gave him away. The new owner will use him for some easy riding, and take good care of him. We are so glad that he can have a retirement, after all the hard work he’s done for us. I tried to thank him before he left, but i don’t think he understood. That’s the sad thing.

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We picked apples last week at a nearby farm. The owners let us pick as much as we want every year, which is wonderful! We have dried everything so far, and are hoping to pick more when the grain harvest is finished.

On the cheese front, I’ve succeeded in making pultost! Well it wasn’t exactly pultost, but it was much more like it than anything else i’ve made, and it got eaten so that’s always a good sign! It was a little dry because i squeezed it too much, but it tasted good. When i succeed properly I will explain how to make it. It’s good because it has a similar flavour to hard cheese, but is easier to make and only takes a few days to mature. So for now it’s a really good solution to not really having enough milk to make hard cheese and the problem of maturing time- i could make hard cheese, but then we would still have to wait 3 months before we could eat it! I also made quark successfully today! All i did it hang up some sour milk in a cheesecloth in the morning and it was ready for lunch. We have a perpetual sour milk culture, so it’s always slightly different, but today the sour milk was perfect for quark- it had already decided to become cheese- there were firm curds floating in the whey, and i just tasted it and thought- this wants to be quark. So it’s wonderful when the culture is good, but sometimes it goes extremely slimy and then it doesn’t want to be cheese at all. It’s all about the balance of bacteria in the milk.

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In other news, I grew romanesco!!! There weren’t very many, but they grew well, so ill try to scale it up next year..

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A birth and a death

23rd July

This year I have really come to appreciate the norwegian method of making hay. (For a proper description see last year’s post Making hay the Norwegian way. )We’ve hardly had two days without rain since we started almost two weeks ago. If we had been drying it on the ground, it would have been ruined by now, but since we have hung it up on racks it is protected from both rain and sun, and actually manages to dry, even though it has rained quite alot. It is only really the very surface layer that gets wet, and dries up again very quickly once the weather improves. So instead of sitting around waiting for the sun, we have been making hay every day, and have cut about one third of the field already. The only problem is we haven’t been able to bring any of the hay in yet, so we are starting to run short of poles and wire. All we need is two days without rain!

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Our first calf was born on tuesday. Hornfagr gave birth in the pasture, with Audhumbla as midwife and Ramson as the doctor. It was a healthy little heiffer, the same colour as her mother. She didn’t manage to suckle, and it didn’t help that Hornfagr kept turning around! We had to tie her to a tree and help the calf to drink. She seemed very weak but perked up alot after having some milk. Unfortunately, she never managed to drink by herself, and we had to milk hornfagr and feed her with a bottle. The harsh truth is, we decided to kill her the following day. We planned on keeping her for two days, so she could drink the colostrum (the first milk which contains alot of antibodies and protein) but since she wasn’t suckling at all, we thought we should end it sooner rather than later. It’s an awful, horrific thing to have to do, and the horror hit me hard. It hit me so hard I started to question the basis of my whole existence. All I could think was – why are we doing this? What right do we have to choose who will live and who will die? What is the meaning of life if we have to kill to live? Where is the justice in killing a newborn calf? I think that was what really got to me- that it had only just been born! It’s killing a baby! And yet this is the foundation of dairy production. I have eaten dairy my whole life, and known how it is produced. But now I have come face to face with the reality. It is unbelievably sad. The thing that makes what we are doing different from conventional dairy production, is that they normally wouldn’t kill the calf straight away, but they do separate it from the mother within two days of the birth. Female calves are then usually reared to become dairy cows, and the males are reared for meat. Since this is our first cow, we couldn’t afford to keep the calf any longer, because then we wouldn’t get very much milk- and if we’re not using her milk then we are using milk from a factory farm. During my brief ethical crisis I considered going vegan. The thing is I would love to be vegan! BUT to have an interesting and varied diet you have to eat imported food- think lentils, soy, most nuts and seeds, avocadoes, rice. And don’t get me started on the environmental and social impacts of imported foods. To be a self-sufficient vegan (in Norway) is next to impossible. There might be three months of the year when I would get a load of fresh veggies, and the other nine months I would be eating root vegetables and sourkraut! I would love to be proven wrong about this, but somehow, I don’t see it happening. But back to the matter at hand- the calf is dead. I couldn’t bear to be a part of it so I hid in the house. Hornfagr was calling alot today. Poor woman. It’s sad but we have to eat something!

On the bright side…wheat is growing on this soil, for probably the first time ever; we have radishes; we are going to get our first plums this year; beautiful flowers seem to love it here; the sheep are happy.

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June 2015

01 June We have finished sowing all our grain (barley, oats and wheat) and the garden is mostly full up, theoretically that is, as it still looks very much like bare soil. I have planted out the pumpkins, courgettes and gherkins and I’m hoping for the best. Last year it was almost a total disaster, and most of the pumpkins were either severly stunted or died- it was only one plant that flourished and managed to produce a grand total of two delicious spaghetti pumpkins! It was a similar story with the gherkins but the courgettes managed to produce quite alot. Unfortunately the weather is terrible now, we’ve been having alot of rain, which I think is not so good for them. I’ve started making a kind of sauerkraut out of wild plants- I have no idea if it will work, but I’ve heard of other people doing it. I used yarrow, sorrel, nettle and caraway leaves, and just layered them in a jar with salt and pressed it down to release the juices. It is now sitting in a corner of the kitchen where it will hopefully ferment.

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fresh yarrow, sorrel, caraway, nettles and dried nettles

3rd June We had some truly horrific weather the last couple of days, went down to 1 degree celcius one night, then hovered around 3-6 degrees for a day or so, along with rain and ALOT of wind. Needless to say, the curcubits suffered. Several gherkins lost their lives, and many more are severely injured. I realised too late what was happening but I mulched them with dry straw to try and protect them. The pumpkins and courgettes are clinging on for dear life, but I must have faith in this difficult time.  The cabbages and kale just laughed of corse, both at the pathetic curcubits and my foolishness of trying to grow such a tender crop, in such a harsh place. But nobody expects near zero temperatures in June! Maybe a few more years and I’ll give up, but not yet. Oh no. The fruit trees are just coming into leaf, slowly, and the wheat and barley is starting to declare itself. Dan and the woofers have started fencing, while I play around with compost. My love for the stuff only deepens, and one of my greatest ambitions at the moment is to make really good compost. The kind of stuff that is so bursting with vitality that the plants will turn green at the thought of it. Fortunately for me, we have a huge variety of organic matter which needs attention. There’s the bedding from the animals, moss and ruined hay from preserving vegetables, manure from the winter enclosure, some 40 year old sheep manure from one of the manure cellars, and horse, cow, chicken, rabbit and human manure! (Don’t know what the cats do with theirs, but it’s rather selfish.) There’s also quite alot of rotting wood about the place, of which i have made various piles, slowly being digested by funghi and worms. I’ve been reading a very good book called “the humanure handbook” which not only has a very detailed exposition of modern sewage disposal, but also explains the inner workings of compost and how to make it right! The main reason I am reading it is to learn more about composting our humanure (our shit). It’s important that the pile becomes bacterially active so that any disease organisms are outcompeted by other bacteria, and thus die, rendering the compost safe to use on our land for food production. It’s also important that nutrients are conserved- if there is too much nitrogen for example it will just be lost as ammonia, and valuable soil nutrients are wasted. If there is too much carbon then the micro-organisms will struggle to digest it, and the compost will take a long time to fully biodegrade. So basically, I’m learning how to make our own poo into a safe and very effective fertilliser. Much better than flushing it away if you ask me! If you are interested in making humanure or are just curious as to why anyone wouldn’t use a flushing toilet- read this. It’s online or you can download it chapter by chapter for free. http://humanurehandbook.com/contents.html (It’s also just amusing if you’re bored) As i sit here I am frequently disturbed by the sound of frantic cheeping and general kurfuffle, coming from the incubator behind the stove. Four chicks have hatched so far, and many more are poking their beaks out of their shell to see what all the fuss is about. If they finish hatching tomorrow we will take them out to the barn, where they will receive the love of a heating lamp, and the sharp glares of their curious elders. 7th June On friday we released the sheep out into the wild! We spent thursday shearing them. I had never sheared a sheep before so I’m not exactly skilled to say the least. With Ramson his wool was in really good condition and had loosened, as is common for his breed, so we just pulled it from him in handfulls. He had a very short and fluffy coat underneath, and much of the long cover hairs remained too, including his impressive chest hair!  It only took about 10 minutes to remove his whole fleece, and he didn’t seem to mind. The ewes however were another story. Much of their wool was very felted, and thus impossible to pull. Often the wool around their rump came away easily, but around the shoulders and back it was stuck fast. We had some old fashioned shears (they’re just like big and very pointy scissors), which we used to cut the rest of the fleece from them. It took us the whole day to shear five sheep! We also tagged the lambs, and put bells on all the mothers. The following day we chased them out of the gate, and watched five naked ewes and five fat lambs jingle off up the hill, into the forest. Ramson had to stay behind and has gone to join the cows on the pasture. He was not so happy to be abandoned, and escaped from the enclosure several times on the first day. After the recent improvements to the fence, however, there haven’t been any breakouts. There was one break-in though: a white ewe, without lambs turned up in the pasture to join Ramson, Hornfagr, and Audhumbla. As pleased as he was to have a new girlfriend, we soon sent her on her way. 8th June Every single one of my gherkins, courgettes, and pumpkins have now perished! May they rest in peace. I have learned the hard way that it isn’t always safe to plant them out at the beginning of June, without protection. If I had paid closer attention to the temperature I might have been able to save them, but it never occurred to me that they could actually die. On the bright side, the weather has cheered up, and things are sprouting left, right and centre! The cabbages and romanesco are growing steadily, and the snow peas i sowed about a month ago have suddenly decided to show their faces! The seedsaving kale is just about to flower, while the chard still shows no sign of wanting to flower at all! We have finally planted our main crop potatoes. It’s quite late really, but we’ve had a lot of rain recently so we had to wait until the soil dried up again. We tried to use a horse drawn potato plough, but it was awkward to handle. We managed to make the furrows but didn’t risk trying  to go between the rows after we had planted the potatoes, so we just covered them by hand. We will try to ridge them when they come up, in a few weeks. Today we finished sowing the swedes, (all 5,000 of them!) which took two of us two days. Of the field crops, only the turnips are waiting to be sown, but they grow extremely fast, so it’s no rush. 26th June Everything is growing really fast now, the grain fields are green, the hayfield is bursting into bloom, and the cabbages seem to double in size every few days. We’ve planted out the onions, finally and so far they are surviving. Last year all except five were killed by wireworms, which eat their way up into the stem. This year I waited until they were a bit bigger, so hopefully they will be stronger and less tempting to the larvae. Today we thinned the turnips, which were from seed I saved last year. The germination was brilliant, so it seems my first seedsaving ventures were successful! The spinach I have sown is also from our own seed, and is also doing really well. The same i cannot say for the carrots. I did just half a row as i had my doubts that the seed was mature and it seems i was right- nothing came up. Im trying again this year, and I planted them out earlier, so I’m hoping for the best. The kale is flowering now, so im sure we will get masses of seed from that. The chard I planted out at the same time is still showing no signs of flowering whatsoever! I wonder if it just takes longer or if keeping it in the cellar meant it didnt get the right stimulation to flower. It’s looking lush and green though so if it doesn’t hurry up I’m just going to start eating it. We have started harvesting leaves for winter feed for the animals. We cut down branches and break off the leafy ends to tie up in bundles using a small birch or spruce branch. Then we either hang them up in the trees or just lean them against the trunks to dry. It sounds quite simple but the tricky part is tying the bundles- there is a special technique where you twist the branch to make it flexible enough. If you don’t do it right then it just snaps. At the moment it takes me about 15 minutes just to tie one, and thats after preparing the leaves. Apparently in the olden days one man and one women were expected to make 360 in one day. We have a long way to go! The dried leaves are a nutritious supplement for the cows and the sheep in the winter, and probably a necessary one, as part of our hayfield has now been converted to pasture.