Friday, November 29, 2013

An Epic Duel

An epic duel has ensued at our normally peaceful farm and I'm not sure what to do about it.  I'm hoping our readers and followers can help us out.

You see, the favorite nursery rhyme is playing itself out right before my eyes.  Yesterday the barn dog discovered a cat.  Black and shivering, overtly skinny the black little bundle decided that our barn was the place to spend Thanksgiving.

Now first, let me say that I am NOT a cat person.  Definitely NOT a cat person.  Their lack of obedience, loyalty and self centered nature is not for me.  Don't get me wrong, I love other people's cats and a soft kitten purring in your palm is a hear melter no matter who you are.  But as for keeping a cat, I don't know how and don't know that I want to know.  But lately, with the field mice finding homes in our out buildings, I have to say I have considered getting a farm cat, for the mousing factor alone.

Here's why I have not yet gotten a farm cat.  I believe in spaying/neutering and vaccinating our pets.  This is a vow I take seriously, the vow to properly care for the animals under our care.  If I were to spend the money to vaccinate and spay a cat and then, as cats do, it decided that the pastures - or mice - were greener on the other side of the pasture and thus wandered off to another farm or to live in the wild, I would be angry.  I have never had a cat.  I don't know how to make a cat stick around if it lives outdoors or prevent it from leaving - even if it did like its home here, at some point, wouldn't it want to hunt elsewhere?

So when Millie the Barn Dog in doing her job decided that the black intruder in the barn had to go, I was really unsure of how to deal with it.  This little black cat looking so weak and emaciated but yet with clear yellow eyes and even in her sad state a shiny black coat tugged at my heart strings.

The duel started in the barn where Millie fretted out the cat and grabbing it by the tail pulled it into the yard.  The little black bugger growled and hissed, Millie barked and the duel was on.  The En Guard was first followed by the Attack by the gingham dog and a Parry by the calico cats razor sharp claws.  On and on until it caught the attention of Tall, Dark, and Handsome who quickly pulled me from the house to decide how to end the battle.  With no other decision except total annihilation of one participant or the other on the horizon, separation seemed the only answer.  The gingham dog was thus pulled kicking and screaming to the shop and the calico cat was left to wander off into the woods.

(I would have included photos in this blog post but all you would have seen was a blur of black and white and tan.)

It was Thanksgiving after all so my heart got the best of me and once inside the house, looking at the poor shivering creature still sitting in the snow, I decided it wouldn't hurt to feed it just a little.  I quickly warmed some sausage we had in the fridge and put it into a bowl but by the time I got it to the woods the little black cat was gone.  Later, when Millie was released from her prison in the shop she used what the Lord gave her to sniff out where it had gone but found the sausage instead.

This might have been the end of the story.  Except...
You see Millie the barn dog has an outside kennel with a doggie door that allows her free access to her inside kennel where her heated dog house and heated water bowl and food bowl reside inside an enclosure in the barn.  Every morning Millie appears in the outside kennel around 7:15 or so, just before I go to work.  This morning, no Millie at 7:30.  No Millie at 8:00.  No Millie at 8:30.  That's when I got worried and went to check on things and you guessed it.  The little black furball had taken up residence in the barn again.  I'm hoping the cat found it warmer than the outdoors and with the abundance of mice I'm hoping it found a meal or two overnight.

Here's where you come in.  I removed Millie from the barn - she's pacing outside the barn door as I write.  What's your opinion?  What should I do?  Let the Duel ensue or try to keep the cat around to act as mouser for those little varmints that Millie just can't reach?  Millie does mouse - some - but as a larger dog there are places she just can't get to.  If your suggestion is to let the cat stay - do I need to feed it or just ensure that Millie doesn't kill it?  How do I end this duel so it doesn't end like the nursery rhyme?  Please chime in.  Or the Dutch Clock will be retelling his tale.

The Duel

  by Eugene Field
The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t' other had slept a wink!
      The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
      Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
I was n't there; I simply state
            What was told to me by the Chinese plate!
The gingham dog went "Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
      While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
      Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
Now mind: I'm only telling you
            What the old Dutch clock declares is true!
The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! what shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
      Employing every tooth and claw
      In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
Don't fancy I exaggerate—
            I got my news from the Chinese plate!
Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
      But the truth about the cat and pup
      Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
The old Dutch clock it told me so,
            And that is how I came to know.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Hitting Oil at gardendwellers FARM

It's time for another installment of "what do gardendwellers do?"!

So, what DO gardendwellers do when its the first snow that stays for the season?

The first thing I do is look at what's left and says "Man!  I hate to see this stuff just go to waste."  And then I set about putting Tall, Dark, and Handsome to work getting the still together to take the rosemary from the high tunnel and turn it into essential oil and hydrosol.

This is the rosemary right AFTER I picked - so you can see we still have a bumper crop left - but not for long with the cold weather.

Yes, we have a still.  If you're a fan of the show Moonshiners then you're familiar with the concept.  Except we're after what others in North Dakota are after right now, oil - not moonshine.  AND, our oil is not black - but it is worth a lot and if you try to buy a barrel of it you'll be paying way more than you would for a barrel of crude.

We got our still as a part of an APUC grant back in 2007.  We were trying to determine if essential oils from herbs grown in ND would yield more than other herbs and if there was a market for them.  In the end, we learned a few things:

One - getting oil from herbs is a difficult and time taking task.
Two - separating the oil from the hydrosol (the water containing the oil) is a difficult art to learn.
Three - finding a market for it once you have oil or hydrosol is just about as difficult as the first two.

If we could find a market for it - this would be an excellent way to utilize the herbs we have at the end of the season or even during the season - the ones that are not quite high enough quality to go to the grocery store shelves.  Instead, many times these herbs just feed the compost pile. 

So, I got a wild hair and decided it was time to try the still again.

First, you pick the rosemary and wash it.  Then you set up the still.  Then, once you remember how it all goes together like a puzzle and figure out all the steps so you have the gauges and outlets all facing the right way - you pack it full of herbs.

You have to pack it as full as you can.  Really stuff it in there.

Then, we use distilled water in the tank.  Using distilled water ensures there are no impurities in our hydrosol or oil.

Then you put the 'beak' on it and connect it to the condenser.

The condenser has coils inside that the product steam flows through.  It's purpose is to cool the steam back into the distillate which is separated hydrosol and oil.

After these two are connected you add the final piece of the puzzle - the essencier.  This is a special piece of equipment that helps to separate the precious oil.  Learning to use this piece of equipment is the key to the whole process.

You can see that one tube goes into a clean gallon jug, we use the ones from the distilled water.  This tube will collect the hydrosol.  The other little tube going into the small jar is for the oil.

Then you just plug the thing in and wait, and wait, and wait.  The whole process takes about 6 hours and needs to be tended the whole time.  There is a spout coming off of the condenser, if that begins to spout steam, you need to draw water from the condenser and replace it with cold water.  If you are losing steam, you are losing oil.

Eventually, little drops of water begin to fill the essencier.  It takes a lot of time to get to this point and even more to fill that essencier.  Some times we will pre-fill the essencier with warm water to speed up the process but that's not really recommended if you want really good hydrosol or oil.

The esssencier has a little tiny hole in the top where the oil collects.  There are set screws that you need to monitor and raise and lower according to the level of hydrosol and oil.  We're not very good at using these screws and usually end up with a high quality oil and then a lesser quality oil in the end.  In this photo you can see the really rich rosemary oil on the top of the jar and the lighter oil on the bottom.

Oh how I wish this blog had smell-o-vision!  At this point in the process it really is beginning to smell great!  Holy Rosemary its strong this year!

In the end, after hours of tending and adding water and removing oil we have over a gallon of hydrosol and over a pint of oil.  It's great stuff because the herbs have been cold, making them keep all of their oils in the plant instead of transpiring it out like they do in the heat of summer. 
After a few tests, I have decided that the hydrosol still has an amazing amount of oil in it and the essential oil is awfully pure too.  Very pleased with this batch!  Now if we could just find a market for it.

Right now, online, you can find other herb growers that sell rosemary hydrosol for $7.00 for 3 ounces.  That makes our product worth about $500.  The oil sells for $7 to $8 and ounce.  That makes what we have in oil worth about $150.  All totaled $650 worth of product - but its not worth anything if you can't find anyone to buy it.

Hydrosols and essential oils are used in bath and body products, in candles, in homeopathic remedies and in many other ways.  They smell great.  Heck, you could even dump a bunch in the bathwater if you just want to treat yourself some time.

So here's the thing- if you  know of anyone who uses hydrosols or essential oils - send them our way.  We've got some GREAT rosemary product that we'd love to get rid of - I'd even make them a good deal!