Sunday, July 27, 2014

Field Trip: Grand Rapids/Grand Haven Michigan

Zach and I had an amazing Saturday this past weekend! Monday is Zach's birthday and one of things he wanted to do was go for a day trip. Extended vacations are a thing of our past now that we have a farm full of animals that need feeding and watering day and night. So instead, we enjoy mini day trips when we can. Luckily, we live in a state where it's easy to try new things within a short distance. You can spend the day in the city enjoying art and culture, and in 30 minutes you can be at a state park in the woods, on the dunes, or on the shore of one of the Great Lakes. 

Yesterday, Zach got off work at noon and when he got home we headed out to Grand Rapids, Mi. The  first stop was the Fredrik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. This is an amazing place for a plant and art lover. The gardens span acres and acres of land holding a collection of different themed gardens including The Winter Shade Garden, The Farm Garden, The Children's Garden, a Bulb Garden and the up-and-coming Japanese Garden.

There is also a Sculpture garden which Zach took particular interest in as most of the pieces were formed from metal.

Being a blacksmith/sculpture himself, he enjoys mentally dissecting the pieces and tries to figure out how the artist constructed the final art. 

The grounds also boast a 5 story Tropical Conservatory with full size palms, tropical birds,

a waterfall and a stream with bridges.

My favorite part of the experience was the Carnivorous Plant conservatory

and the Succulent greenhouse.

There were so many varieties that I'd like to share,

I might break these two rooms into separate posts.

We also enjoyed a tour through the gallery featuring the work of David Nash. His exhibition seemed to be themed around trees, which was an appropriate study for a Garden atmosphere. 

After leaving the Gardens, we headed for downtown Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids is an eclectic town filled with a mix of inner city culture and industry which sets it apart from it's farm land outer reaches. Within the city you get a real mix of culture. There might be a soup kitchen two doors down from a 4 star restaurant. One thing is for sure, Grand Rapids is a food lover's dream! Tucked in the buildings that line the brick covered streets are gourmet bakeries, pasta shops, artisinal cheese and sausage shops and lots and lots of local breweries.

One of our favorite places was the Grand Rapids DowntownMarket. The whole place has a very epicurean feel. All of the vendors are of the highest quality and specialize in their product of choice. There was a raw juice bar, a chocolatier, artisian breads, a fish monger, butcher, fresh produce stand, spice merchant, wine cellar, imported cheeses and sausages, Gelato and many, many more.

We decided that we couldn't leave the market without bringing home some treats so we got a sampling of cookies from Sweet-licious Bakery which included Oatmeal Raisen with Butterscotch Chips and Maple Glaze, a Peanut Butter and a Chocolate Dollar which is like a gooey brownie. We also sampled the Molasses which might be the best cookie I've ever had. Molasses is my favorite I might be biased. It took all my will power not to bring home one of the berry pies. But I reminded myself that we are planning on berry picking soon, so we will have more than enough berries to make desserts at home.

My favorite part of the market was the Old World Olive Co. Talk about fun! This vendor sells infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars that are absolutely amazing! The best part is that you get to sample all their different varieties. The flavors explode in your mouth. I never realized how complex and interesting a vinegar can be. With much debating and hemming and hawing between the 18 year Balsamic, the Espresso Balsamic, and the Dark Chocolate we decided on the Dark Chocolate which I plan on pairing with some grilled steaks tonight for dinner tonight. We were also impressed with the Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive oil, which would be amazing on roasted potatoes.

After we left the market we decided we needed some dinner. Zach wanted sushi for his birthday dinner so we decided to try Rockwell Republic, a restaurant that prides itself on using local ingredients and also has an awesome sushi menu.

We started with the Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps and then shared three rolls of sushi. The first was a Wagyu Steak with Soft Shell Crab and Spicy Mayo. Second, Smoked Duck with Shitake Mushrooms and Siracha and then we tried the roll on special, a Shrimp and Asparagus Roll with a Miso, Ginger Gaze. We finished it up with a Goat Cheese, Cheese Cake with Blueberries. The dessert was delicious, it had that lovely tang from the goat cheese which we loved!

After dinner, we headed to Grand Haven to watch the sunset on Lake Michigan.

I dipped my toes in the lake and it was FREEZING! I'm glad we brought sweatshirts because the wind coming off the lake was cold as well.

We enjoyed watching a few sailboats pass by in the sunset and relaxed on the beach in the cool evening air.

Such a wonderful day!         

Thursday, July 24, 2014

CC Post: What's Up With the Cornish Cross?

Check out my latest Community Chickens post for some reflection on this common meat bird breed. What's Up With the Cornish Cross?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Continues at Iron Oak Farm

Last week was a productive and exciting week. Productive, in that the barn is filling with hay. And with each bale that stacks in the Lego block mass I feel more and more at ease about the coming winter. Our count so far this season is 240. I'll feel comfortable if we can get to 400. The last two haying seasons have been dismal to say the least. First we were plagued with a hot, drought ridden summer, followed by the next summer, filled with rain. Combine that with equipment that's not in working order and it makes for a frustrating season. And to buy it? Well... everyone else was having the same frustrations with the weather which left the hay in our area scarce and expensive.

Haying, when things are going well, can be extremely satisfying and methodical. And though it's hard work, I enjoy it. It makes you feel alive. That's how I feel this year. It's a good feeling.

Last week was exciting in that we added a new member to the Iron Oak Farm family. Timber, our new buckling. I'm so excited to breed him with our girls this fall and have a fresh supply of milk flowing in for cheese, soaps and all kinds of dairy delights. We should have Nubian kids for sale in the spring too so if you're interested let me know.

Timber is settling in. I took him out of quarantine a little early because he seemed really stressed that he was alone so we have him paired with Ivan, our Alpine whether. They seem to be pals, although I think Timber thinks he's a people because he'd rather be with us than any of the goats. He went for a ride in the hay wagon yesterday out to the field with us to pick up the bales and he followed us everywhere tasting each bale as it went into the wagon. I'm glad he's snugly...I wanted a friendly buck. (For more on Timber click here, Meet Timber.)

The garden is coming in nicely. The zucchini are starting to really produce and if I'm not careful and keep them picked, they explode into giant squashes seemingly overnight. I call those zucchini bread size.

Most of the problems I was having with pests seems to be under control by spraying a mixture of Dawn and water every few days or after it rains. The Asparagus Beetle is gone, and I only lost one stem. I think the damaged plant should be fine coming back next year.

Our leghorns started laying this week as well. Beautiful white eggs. It's been so long since we've had a white layer it was almost a novelty among the blues, greens and browns.

The farms around us are growing grains this year. So Zach and I went for a drive to photograph some of the beautiful fields and crops.

  Some are a darker reddish color and others are golden.

Other farms around us are haying too. I love to watch the big equipment drive down our street in the morning. Large round balers or two story hay wagons filled to the brim. I'm getting to know the tractors just by the sound of them. There's a huge green one that takes up the whole road. I was walking Oliver the other day and we had to stand in the weeds on the side of the road to let him pass. Cars in the opposite lane would have to pull into driveways or backup to the closest cross street to let him through. I loved it!

Alfalfa field near our farm.

The pickles are just starting to come in. We picked our first one yesterday so I'm going to start the pickle jar. We make a brine with dill, vinegar, garlic and salt and store it in the refrigerator. (get the recipe here, Refrigerator Pickles.) As the pickles come in from the garden, I slice them up and add them to the jar. They don't last long around this house.

Picked all the broccoli heads before they flowered this year! Yay! I'm always too late.

Lovely smelling milkweed. Hopefully we'll draw some Monarchs!


To see more of what we're doing at Iron Oak Farm I invite you to visit and "like" our Facebook Page where I share even more photos and updates.   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meet Timber

We'd like to introduce the newest member of the Iron Oak Farm family. Meet Timber our new buckling and Nubian herd sire. After many phone calls and a 4 1/2 hour drive round trip we decided he was the goat for us. He is an ADGA registered pure bred Nubain.

His family called him Noah, which is a name we much that Zach and I have sort of put it aside as a possibility in case we have a human child. So we changed his name to Timber. 

He was born in March which means he should be old enough to impregnate the girls this fall. Which will make for an exciting spring in 2015!

He's been a little shy, and clings to us whenever we're near him. I took him for a walk today back to the property and that seemed to give him some confidence. We'll have to be gentle with him and ease him into the herd and his new surroundings.

Everyone is curious and the girls are eager to meet their new friend, but we're practicing a little quarantine before he meets the herd full on.

Welcome Timber!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mid-Summer at Iron Oak Farm

The summer weeks are flying by. Over the weekend we cleaned the barn, moved stuff around to make room for more hay, and tore down/re-built some of the goat pen fencing. We had a make-shift feed room constructed out of pallets where we store the grain cans, supplements and supplies. It's nice to have that stuff tucked away, because the goats have a way of getting into the open part of the barn, despite our best efforts. A galvanized garbage can lid is no match for a grain-crazed goat. They know just how to get their snout under that lid and bury their head in the can full of grain. So that is also in the process of being moved and re-built. It feels nice to get things organized and I feel like every year it gets a little easier.

So far (knock on wood) the hay equipment and the tractor have been running smoothly. We brought in 102 bales last Sunday and would like to triple that this season. I think we will do it so long as we can orchestrate the weather and the equipment. 

We missed a good haying window these past few days because the forecast said rain, so we held off...but looking back we would have been fine. Hoping to cut again tomorrow or Wednesday. 

The garden is doing great! Things are starting to make their way into the kitchen. I'm blanching and freezing 4 large broccoli heads today. The zucchini is picking size and we enjoy a handful of raspberries or two each evening after dinner.

Our pickles are starting to form baby pickles and I only hope that the dill will hold out.

I might have to freeze some to make sure.  

Swiss chard

Playing around with color settings and some old rakes on the garden fence.

Mamma hen and her brood of 9 chicks enjoying some crumbles.

Ichabod the escape-goat clearing some weeds for us.

  My Egyptian Walking Onions are forming their off shoot bulbets and I picked them off and planted them in the onion bed. I'm fascinated with these onions! I might never have to buy onion sets again!

This pesky, brightly colored bug is giving me asparagus nightmares! It's the Common Asparagus Beetle and it's stripping our first year asparagus of all it's green outer skin. I've been combating it with a solution of Dawn dish soap and water. It seems to be helping even after one application. It's supposed to rain today and after it stops, I'm going to go out and give the plants another coat.

Moon and Stars Watermelon: I grew this variety last year and was really happy with the watermelon flavor. I love the yellow spots that both the fruit and the foliage bear.

Oliver taking advantage of the cool tiles on the front porch.

To see more of what we're doing at Iron Oak Farm I invite you to visit and "like" our Facebook Page where I share even more photos and updates.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

CC Post: Cleaning and Storing Incubators

Have you hatched your last round of chicks for the season? Then check out my latest Community Chicken's post Cleaning and Storing Incubators.