Finally! We found our first duck egg on the morning of the 20th. I had hoped they would start laying around the 9th, but the information you read on when ducks start laying is always given as a range. It depends on the size of the duck and the time of year. For our Ancona ducks, it turned out to be almost exactly 5 months (they were born on April 22nd or 23rd). The next day, we found two eggs. And so far, that’s it in terms of who’s laying, but we have gotten two eggs every day since then.
I estimate (based on curly tail feathers – they are hard to sex) that I have 6 or 7 females (one duck – who we call J-Lo – has no tail to speak of, so she could be male or female). The rest may not be laying due to day length. When the number of daylight hours is less than 12, laying critters tend to stop laying (this has something to do with the pineal gland, for you science nerds). Since we just passed the fall equinox (a day with an equal 12 hours of daylight and dark) its time to start putting supplemental light in the coops at night if I want eggs this winter. We don’t know which ducks are laying, as they lay at night. Need that infrared critter cam!
How do the duck eggs taste? Good! We ate our first ones fried along with bacon, homemade bread and fried ripe tomatoes (ala a British breakfast, something my husband fell in love with when we were in London a few years ago). The shells are HARD. Much harder than a chicken egg. Which is good I guess, as they seem to stomp all over them (based on the dirt) when they lay them.
Duck eggs are said to be very similar to chicken eggs in flavor, but are easier to over cook. Heat needs to be kept low, and the eggs are often taken completely off heat to finish cooking. I had some scrambled for lunch yesterday, and they were just the best fresh eggs around. Some report they taste more “eggy” which I interpret to mean more “sulphury” but I haven’t found this to be the case. They are also reported to be absolutely wonderful in baked goods. I did use one in zucchini bread the other day, and it did come out well, but then, it was zucchini bread. Pretty hard to mess it up unless you under cook it (ask me how I know).
I’ve been playing with my new (to me – I bought it on ebay) grain mill. It took me a while to get the grind just right. Too loose and the flour is course. Too tight and it takes about 5 minutes to grind a cup of flour. I bought a 25 lb bag of hard red wheat berries (has the right amount of protein to make bread) and 25 lbs of soft white wheat berries (better for pastries, muffins etc.). Honestly, I don’t notice a huge difference in taste (I was buying pretty high quality flour before), but I do love the cost savings and the freshness and the feeling of self-sufficiency it brings me.
Fall is definitely here. I was out harvesting winter squash in the garden Tuesday. I brought in a batch, cleaned out the outdoor processing sink (which is under an apple tree), and washed the dirt off the squash, setting them aside to dry. Then I went back out to the garden for about an hour, and when I returned, this was what the sink looked like.
The squash are gorgeous. Did you know that different species of squash have different curing times and keeping qualities? Cucurbita pepo, which includes acorn, delicata, sweet dumpling, carnival, spaghetti and small sugar pie pumpkins, (as well as the summer squash/zucchini), needs to sit at room temperature for 7-14 days before being cooked for best flavor (and make sure you pick those spaghetti squash when the skin is a deep yellow – not a pale yellow, if you want the best flavor). These squash will only keep for a few months. Eat them first. Note: this family also includes the gourds, so if you are thinking of saving seed, you need to take into consideration not only other C. pepo squash, but any gourds growing around you as well.
Cucurbita moschata, which includes the butternut squash, Dickson field (which is what is used in Libby’s canned pumpkin), and golden cushaw also need 7-14 days curing time, but they will store much longer, at least into late winter. This species also takes a long time to mature in the field, so is not recommended for short growing season locations. I was never able to grow butternut for squat in SW Colorado, but this year, here in zone 6, they are huge.
Curcurbita maxima needs a full month of curing before eating. This includes the buttercup, sweet meat, Hubbard, and some of the large pumpkins (which aren’t really all that tasty – they are more for looks). These squash just seem to get better the longer they are stored, and some claim they are still delectable 6 months from the time of picking.
The green-striped and white cushaw, Japanese pie, Tennessee sweet potato and mixta gold are in their own group, Cucurbita mixta. I don’t know much about the curing or storage qualities of this group, other than that they need a long growing season and tend to be upwards of 40 lbs. Way more squash than I need at any given time.
Bought or grew a wonderful squash, and want to save its seeds to plant next year? Well you can (and we often do accidentally when one comes up in our compost pile). But squash will easily cross within species group (remember all of those bees out there in those squash flowers?) And if you don’t know the origin of your squash (and which species group it is in), and how far away it was planted from any other squash in the same species group (it needs to isolated by at least 1/2 mile) you are most likely to get a cross between what you started with and some other squash. Which may not be a bad thing. As long as it wasn’t crossed with a bird-house gourd.
Most of this information comes from Carol Deppe’s wonderful book “The Resilient Gardener, Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times”. Trust me, if you read the chapter on squash, you’ll have a long list of new varieties to try, and you’ll want to try your hand at saving seed and breeding your own.
Meanwhile, we currently have plum wine, grape wine, and perry cider all brewing on the kitchen counter, and I’m finally trying my hand at fermented ginger ale, after a young college friend gave me a bottle and I fell in love. Ironically, I follow Rachel Turiel’s blog religiously, and my college friend was using Rachel’s recipe. Small world.
Oh, and we bought two tons of “feeder” hay for the sheep and goats this winter. Feeder hay is hay that isn’t suitable for horses or cows. It usually has a higher proportion of weeds in it, or has gotten a little rained on or moldy. It costs less. Goats and sheep have a much higher tolerance for this type of hay. Hopefully, it will be enough. Depends on how much snow we get. I think we could have gotten away with almost nothing last year, as we had green grass almost right through to spring. This was a nice piece on “how much hay do I need“. (It’s also a wonderful blog. You could lose several hours exploring this one). Our sheep are tiny compared to a full-sized Suffolk or Hampshire, so they will likely only need 1/2 as much hay. And we are unlikely to need feed for 100 days. Fingers crossed.
Oh, and Alice the rabbit is very likely pregnant (due to my own carelessness – I wasn’t planning on it) as she is nest building like crazy. I expect babies by the end of the weekend, or Monday at the latest. Betty’s 8 babies will be 4 weeks old on September 1st (they grow up so fast – sniff), and Mary’s 4 babies will be 12 weeks old and ready to butcher on October 14th.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re finding its not easy on us emotionally to butcher rabbits, but boy are they tasty stewed with some garden carrots and a little wine!