It’s been too long

So, two seasons later…

Looks like I’ve been neglecting this blog for a little bit too long. Yes, winter’s actually been pretty busy for all of us here, but that alone probably isn’t a great excuse for me not to post. I could have taken a couple hours one day. So my apologies. Here’s a summary of what’s been happening lately, and upcoming projects here at Snow Lake Keep.

Houses going up, waaaay up

An and Rodney are each building their own houses this summer, and that is very exciting. They will both have concrete foundations, with built-in rainwater-fed cisterns, and employ timber-frame construction (same as the barn and the other houses here). The timber logs have already been felled and are awaiting milling in the mill-yard, which begins next week.

An, who just became a full member of Snow Lake Keep this past equinox (woo-hoo!), picked a house site on the right side of the lane after you pass the mill-yard and workshop:

An's house lot cleared of saplings and brush

Excavator preparing An's home site

An's freshly dug home site

To clear their site and acquire their building materials (and winter’s fuelwood), An’s sure been getting some practice with the ol’ chainsaw:

Lumberjack An on their timber log

An's firewood is really piling up

Wesley hauls timber logs out of the forest

The spot that Rodney picked out for his house is perched up on the bank, on your left as you approach the mill-yard, directly above what’s currently one of our goat pastures. You can’t tell from these pictures, but he scored one of the best ocean views on the property.

The road to Rodney's house site

Rodney's house site getting excavated

While we had the excavator here, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to dig another pond, below the current one. We’ll show you pictures of the end result once it’s all filled up and looking fine.

Back-hoe digging a hole for our second pond

An makes a friend and gets busy with fur and potatoes

In January we welcomed An’s new partner, Jeremy, to Snow Lake Keep. Jeremy’s helping out on the farm in all kinds of ways, and has been a big help to An, too. Together they’ve been coming up with house designs, tanning hides, and now, selling latkes (potato pancakes) at the Saturday market in Annapolis. Expect to see them at our booth at the summer market, too!

An and their new partner in crime, Jeremy

An and Jeremy keeping busy with hides

An's beard seamlessly blends into ginger cowhide

Chef An set up with latkes at the winter market

Rodney spends time with draft horses

Over the winter Rodney has been spending a lot of time with draft horses owned by our neighbours, Sally and Howard. Rodney, with our friend Rick’s help, has been getting to know the horses and getting some practice training them to wear harnesses and pull small loads. Eventually, Rodney would like to see us start using draft horses to haul logs out of the forest so that we don’t need to rely solely on a tractor to do that work. Horses do much less damage to the land, are not directly dependent on polluting fossil fuels to operate, and have much more interesting personalities.

Rick leading Captain in harness

Rodney convincing Captain to pull him in the dark

Deryk’s keeping busy

Deryk has a lot on the go this year, from planting his new blueberry field to helping build the two houses on the farm as well as construction and carpentry projects off-farm. For the blueberries, he cleared a spot in the forest just down from the chicken run, where he’s already begun to lay down brush to start his hugelkultur beds:

Hugel-beds started in Deryk's new blueberry field

Upholstery, coding, and cabin building

Laire got a part-time job doing upholstery with our neighbour, L.G., at her shop down the road, Cottage Upholstery. I’ve gotten pretty busy doing website development for various clients over the winter. At home, Laire and I finally finished building our bathroom and have managed to tackle a few other interior carpentry projects as well. We’ve got plans to build a little A-frame bunky in our backyard this spring, called Triangulaire. Our good friend Adam is supposed to come back to the farm in May, and will hopefully spend the summer here. We’re hoping he’ll help us build Triangulaire, as it’ll give us another spot to accommodate guests, like Adam!

Maple syrup, baby goats, and cheese!

We tapped all our trees for sap some time ago, and have gotten some good sap days, but the yield hasn’t been anywhere near as good as last year’s. It’s just been too cold, for the most part. Still, we’re doing our best.

Maple syrup getting bottled

Probably the most exciting development, recently, is the addition of four new baby goats – Prue, True, Lunch, and Rug. I think they’re best described through pictures and a video.

Cocoa's baby Prue

True, Prue's brother

Prue up close

Cocoa's babies True and Prue

Lunch looks like a puppy

Sissiboo's baby boy, Rug

Mocha with her boy, Lunch

Rug up close

Now, kidding season isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, sadly. The birthing process alone can be stressful, especially for those of us with little to no experience. Baby goats sometimes don’t figure out how to latch onto their mother’s teat soon enough on their own, and that was the case with Delia’s kid, Latchie. A few of us took on the task to help her learn how to drink her mother’s milk. After a couple days, we felt that she’d finally figured it out, and Latchie was doing it on her own.

But then one day, when nobody was around the barn for a few hours, Latchie managed to squeeze through a surprisingly tiny opening in the gate of Delia’s pen. She couldn’t figure out how to get back in. Cam, who was visiting, and I found her huddled up in the corner trying to stay warm. We did whatever we thought we could to try and save her. Cam spent a while feeding her Delia’s milk with a syringe, first in the barn then up at the house. But, she was probably too far gone already, and she didn’t make it.

Tragedies like this one can happen on the farm. But, move on we must.

With four of our does now lactating like crazy, we’ve suddenly got lots of milk to deal with. So we’re getting busy again making cheese, yogurt, and soon, butter. Here’s a new cheese I’ve been experimenting with, called Valançay. It’s a soft chèvre curd, normally formed into pyramid shapes (except I don’t have cheese forms of that shape, so these will have to do), then coated in ash and aged in a cheese cave (root cellar, in our case) for a few weeks. It starts off looking like this:

Valençay from above

Valençay, in progress

Over time, it starts to look like this (at least on our farm it does, where the common blue-cheese mold, penicillium roqueforti, must be particularly abundant):

It got pretty good reviews by those who ate it, even though it doesn’t have that nice pure white rind that it’s “supposed” to.

See you at market!

As usual, we’ll be at the Annapolis Royal Farmers’ Market when it opens on Saturday, May 20th. Until then, catch An and Jeremy at the Winter Farmers’ Market and savour some of their hot, delicious, locally sourced potato latkes!

A grazing goat is a glad goat

One of the projects at the farm this spring was to rebuild the fence around the goat’s spring pasture. This pasture is basically a chunk of the forest, just a short walk past the hayfield. The goats seem to love clambering around the rocky terrain, and eating as much wild food as their many stomachs can hold!

The herd spent many days out there last year, but one of the big problems was that they’d get scared, bored, or just homesick, and manage to find their way out before the end of the day. You could be working in the garden and suddenly you’d hear the jingle of their bells in the hayfield next to the vegetable gardens. (Luckily, they never quite made it to the gardens before being caught!)

Good fences are hard to build on this rocky, mountainous terrain. In most places, you hit ledge no more than a few inches below the soil’s surface, so it’s often next to impossible to get a fencepost sturdy. Added to that, the lay of the land is so rough in spots that it’s often surprisingly easy to nudge the page-wire fence enough for an entire goat to fit through. Goats sure like to play find-the-hole-in-the-fence, especially if they’re determined.

So this year, Rodney decided to do it right and add an extra level of protection: electric fence! This one is powered by a little solar panel. It’s a kit that has the charger, panel, and battery all included:

Solar electric fence charger

We still have our regular page wire fence, which Laire and Rodney rebuilt and made as sturdy as possible, but inside of that are two strands of electrified wire as well.

Before letting the goats loose on the pasture, we waited until a substantial amount of foliage had budded out. Bring them here too early, and they might have stripped the vegetation beyond its capacity to regenerate.

So far, the fence seems to be working! It’s not fun seeing the goats discover the electric wire for the first time. But now having gotten used to it over the last couple weeks, they’ve learned to avoid it.

Notch and Mocha enjoying mouthfuls of fresh forageLeading the goats home from pasture

Now there’s plenty of space for the herd to run around and explore, and forage to fill their bellies, just the way goats ought to live. It’s wonderful to see. By the end of the day, they’re pretty exhausted, and Mocha and Notch look forward to coming back to the barn for milking. The two eagerly lead the farmers and the rest of the herd back home. And there’s more milk at the end of the day than ever.