How to milk a goat

Ever since we started having baby goats, we saw the need to milk our goat, either because she had too much milk, which caused her pain, or because we had to tube feed the kids

In order to milk a goat, many people use a milking stand, as we do not yet own one, we have a second person hold the goat. Before starting, you should wash the goat's teats and udder so that no dirt or hair gets in the milk. For this, we use very diluted dish washer.

To start milking, you must prevent the milk from flowing back by securing the top of the teat with your thumb and forefinger. After this, squeeze the milk out by applying pressure first with your middle finger, then with your ring finger and, finally, with your pinky finger, until the teat is empty. Then release the pressure to let the milk flow back to the teat and start over. Repeat these steps until both teats are empty.

Be careful not to pull on the teats, as this would only hurt the goat and would not make the milk flow any faster.

Here is a video of how to do it:

Francesinha - Porto's famous "sandwich"

Without a doubt one of the best sandwiches you can make if you can call it that. It's a typical pub dish in Porto, usually accompanied with some fries to dip in the sauce and a nice beer. You can get them all over town and everyone has a favorite place. For us the reference has always been "Capa Negra II". Recently we have started making our own.

The sauce takes a few hours to make (most of the time unattended) but it is well worth it. It freezes well so it is a good idea to make large quantities. You'll find it is miles away from the quick beer-based versions. The key to the best francesinha is to use only exceptional ingredients.

Ingredients for the sauce:
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 onions
- 2 garlic cloves (optional)
- 4 pounds tomato, ripe
- 300g beef (any kind as long as it has just a little fat)
- 2 carrots
- tomato concentrate
- 2 pounds of shrimp, shells only (next time time you eat shrimp remember to save them!)
- english (Worchestershire) sauce
- Dijon mustard
- chilli sauce
- 1/3 cup Brandy
- 1/3 cup Port wine
- salt

Ingredients for the sandwich
- 1 loaf of sliced white bread sliced (2 or 3 slices per sandwich); you need to find a decent brand that actually tastes like bread, don't get the preservative filled disappointment that comes with anything that advertises on TV
- sirloin steak (100g per sandwich - 1 steak)
- fresh pork sausages (1/2 per sandwich)
- black pork linguiça (1/3 per sandwich)
- turkey salami with olives (1 slice per sandwich)
- "flamengo" cheese (if you can't find it, edam cheese will do the job - 4-5 slices per sandwich)

For the sauce
In a large tall pan, gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in olive oil until the onions turn transparent. Add the beef (in small chunks) and cook until it looks evenly cooked on the outside. Add the carrots, chopped. Add the tomatoes (I usually use the processor to chop them first, but you can just chop them coarsely), 1 table spoon of tomato concentrate and 4 pounds of water. (When we run out of tomatoes, we use frozen tomato sauce which is what you see in the photos. Tomato sauce is just tomato cooked in onions and olive oil. We freeze it in plastic cups to make it easy to use.) Let it simmer for 2-3 hours. Meanwhile, prepare a shrimp stock. It's really easy, just fry the shrimp shells (heads included) in some olive oil, add 3-4 cups of water and bring to boil for 15 minutes. Use a hand blender to puree the stock and then filter. Add a cup of the shrimp stock to the sauce and boil for a few minutes. Season with the english sauce (1 table spoon), 1 table spoon Dijon mustard, the brandy and Port wine, chilli sauce, black pepper and salt to taste. Let it simmer another 15 minutes and use a hand blender to turn everything into a smooth thick sauce. Have a taste. With me it always needs more salt and chilli. Keep warm until you serve it extra hot over the sandwich.

For the sandwich
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (360F). Slightly toast the bread slices. Fry the steaks, sausages and black pork linguiça in olive oil. It is easier to fry the linguiça if it is previously sliced in half lenghtwise so it doesn't curl.

And now for the serving, from the base to the top (see animation): 1 slice of bread, 1 slice salami, half a sausage and 1/3 of a linguiça, the sirloin steak, the second slice of bread and finally the cheese covering the top and sides of the sandwich. In the animation, you'll see 3 slices of bread, but we've been trying to cut down on our carbs and I think it's better with less bread.

Put them in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese starts melting too much.

Serve in a deep plate and cover with hot sauce. Accompany with good beer. If you're in Porto that's either the dominant Super Bock or one of the new crafts beers like Sovina's wheat brew in the photo.

Reproducing camellias from cuttings

Camellias are beautiful plants that look great in most gardens. Unfortunately they can be quite expensive and since there are a lot of different species it's hard to get the exact one you want. Thankfully it's relatively easy to propagate them using cuttings, making sure you get the same exact species cheaply.

(the farm's collection includes several varieties of japonica, sasanqua, sinensis (tea plant), and reticulata, see them all on our flickr)

This weekend we went on an expedition to a nearby family garden to get cuttings of some interesting camellias. We cut some small branches and set out to create cuttings to plant. First we cut the branches at nodes since that is where it's easiest for the plant to create new roots. Then we trimmed the cuttings to a reasonable size and trimmed the leaves so the plant has less to sustain. Any small branch can produce several cuttings.

Once we had our cuttings prepared we used a rooting hormone to increase the chances that the cuttings will grow roots and turn into a viable plant. To do this first we wet the cuttings in running water and then gently tapped the nodes into the hormone powder. We then tapped the nodes against the container to remove excess power. We did this one by one while being very careful not to spill the hormone as it's supposed to be quite toxic if inhaled.

Once we had our cuttings ready with the hormone we needed to plant them in an appropriate soil. We usually use a seed starting mix to make sure we have a sterile soil that won't immediately be overrun by weeds. We also use a plant cell tray to plant each cutting individually so that once we have viable plants it's easy to split them up and plant them in their own individual pots. After filling the plant tray with pre-watered starting mix we used an old large nail to open the wholes to put the cuttings in. This avoids scraping the rooting hormone all over the dirt while pushing it in, making sure the hormone is where it should be, in the cutting's node.

With the holes all opened it was a simple matter of putting the cuttings in and then pushing the dirt down so that the cutting is held on snugly.

Once we filled the whole tray it was time to clearly label them and then figure out where to put them so that they are regularly watered.

These were actually put in our outdoor nursery. It's a shaded area to protect plants from the summer heat and it has an automatic irrigation system that sprays the whole plant area twice a day to make sure everything is well watered.

Our success rate in the past has not been particularly good but since we are planting a whole tray of at most two species we will eventually get at least a few of each to survive. Once we have gotten survivors it will be time to transplant them into a larger pot still in the nursery until they are strong enough to be planted directly in the soil. We will do another post when it's time to transplant these ones.

Building a forest garden

We've been considering the forest gardening concept for a while now. Martin Crawford's book on the subject is an amazing introduction, tutorial and reference. The idea is to run an agricultural system as close to a natural forest as possible. The suggested benefits are to be able to produce at good levels per acre with much lower inputs of energy and work. We have now picked a few spots on the farm where we are planning on building forest gardens to use the space more efficiently in producing things we value.

A lower energy way to farm

In most climates if you leave a piece of land alone for enough time it will eventually turn into a forest. An empty plowed field is as far away from a forest as you can get so a lot of energy is required to push back against nature and keep it that way. Conversely a forest garden aims to be the closest thing to a forest you can get while still remaining productive, so it should take the least amount of energy to keep it that way, without turning into a full forest.

When we got the farm there was a part of it that had been left unattended for 10+ years and had grown some pretty large oak trees. After the initial clearing of the still heavy underbrush and a few more years of letting the trees grow we now have a nice spot to take an afternoon nap that never needs any weeding.
The problem with that space is that it doesn't produce any valuable products. If instead of oak trees we had chestnut trees, we would be getting something out of it but only a single small crop a year. So the usual response to this has been to create highly intensive agricultural systems that operate on a yearly cycle. In Portugal that was usually a mix of annual crops that have a beneficial profile in terms of nutrient use/generation (pumpkin, corn and beans) and then a few fruit trees made to grow very high to leave the field beneath them alone and some vines along the borders. Here's the state of the typical field this time of year:
You'll notice the bales of hay that have just been harvested from the field leaving it barren as well as the vines on the edge of it. This particular field doesn't have any trees on it but the one just to the left of it right now is fully planted with corn around a large apple tree in its center. To keep this field in this state you need to add a lot of energy to it. If you don't plow or cut yearly oak seeds from nearby forest will take hold and after a few years the field will turn into a forest.

The vines and the trees are the only perennials in the traditional system. The main sources of food however are the annual crops that require a lot of energy input not only from the annual plowing but also from the fertilizers you must add to the field to compensate for the fact that these crops are not adding enough nutrients back to the soil. Traditionally this was done by rotating crops and adding animal manure, both things that consume resources, either because you need to forfeit production from the field or have crops to feed the animals that provide you with the manure.

Forest gardening tries to use much less energy by solving the energy input problem in two different ways. First it uses perennial instead of annual plants so the energy needs are lower as you're not having to rebuild the whole plant every year from scratch and can instead steadily accumulate "plant capital". And second, it plays with the plant mix to get a whole ecosystem going, just like in the pumpkin+corn+beans example but with a much more diverse ecosystem. This whole ecosystem is much easier to maintain since it uses plants of various sizes and types to fill every niche crowding out weeds. After you've established the system you just need to do small yearly cuttings to keep it in balance without tipping over into a dense forest. Since you're only pushing nature a little bit instead of all the way to a barren field this takes much less effort and/or energy.

Getting there in baby steps

Right now we're still in the planning stages of our own forest gardens at the farm. Our base idea for a full blown garden is simple. On the north side the farm limit is a county road. From that road to the core of the property we'll build a wedge type ecosystem where the larger species are in the back and the smallest in the front. This will improve the sun exposure as the large trees in the back won't shade the smaller trees, bushes, grasses, etc in the front. We're still in the process of picking out what all the species should be. In the meantime we've taken some of the concepts and started applying them at a lower scale.

First we've started looking into which species to add in places where we've added watering like the recent installation in the kiwis. Weeds will grow very fast when given water so the best way to not have to cut them is to just crowd them out with something you actually want. In another spot in the farm where we added irrigation to some vines this happened naturally with some wild strawberry growing strongly and taking over from the weeds.

Then we started looking into how to improve the ground coverings so that we don't have as many weeds growing. There are plenty of ground cover mixes you can try. Crawford's book lists a few and the one that caught our eye was a mix of three species:

  • Trifolium repens (white clover)
  • Lolium perenne (dwarf perennial ryegrass)
  • Festuca rubra (creeping red fescue)

Crawford suggests you mix them as seeds in a 3kg+6kg+2kg proportion for each acre and sow them anywhere from April to August. So far we've only been able to get our hands on the white clover and are still looking for bulk sources of the other two. The idea is that this kind of mix will last very long without maintenance (the book says 10+ years) and still provide beneficial value. In the case of this mix that would be fixing nutrients like nitrogen into the ground while also producing flowers that bees will use. We've also used thyme as it covers the ground reasonably well and is a great herb for seasoning.

Finally the last thing we're considering doing in the immediate future is to pick the main species of large tree to put on the north side of the property. Since those are the ones that take the longest to grow it makes sense to plant them there early enough so that we can then add the rest of the garden over the years. The Italian Alder is highly recommended in the book as a good nitrogen fixer that grows relatively quickly.


We're still very much in the beginning when it comes to shaping the garden and yet the forest gardening concept has reinforced a lot of the things we had already been doing. When we took over the farm there was not a lot of diversity and we've been slowly increasing it by bringing in a lot of exotic or even native plants that were no longer present. We also fought the local tendency to cut down everything and start from scratch. For example we've been slowly cutting down trees only as they've become a nuisance, meanwhile they grow large enough to produce firewood. We've build quite a stockpile of firewood over they years because of this.

What we haven't done enough of is building the garden with enough layers and density so as to crowd out invasive species. We still have a lot of weeds and yet are always complaining that we're running out of space to try new things. Hopefully over the next few years we will have a lot more plants, of a lot more species with a lot less work in weeding and cutting.

Further reading

Watering the kiwi plants continuously with drip irrigation

We've installed a bunch of automated plant watering systems throughout the years. We've done a lot of them based on water timers and pumped water. Lately we've been trying to water directly from the two water tanks we have as it saves on electricity and simplifies the system. This year we did a complex install on the tomato plants that I need to describe in full in another post. But to start here's a simpler install we did in the kiwi plants. Kiwis like a lot of water so they were a good candidate for just giving them drip irrigation continuously.

We used an old vineyard to install our kiwi plants. We planted 6 female plants and one male in the middle of them as kiwi plants need to have both to polinate and grow fruit.

When we overhauled the water installation to that part of the farm a few weeks ago we installed a new tap to use for this kind of purpose.

Unfortunately the tap was on the other side of the small field so the first job was to open a trench. Not an easy task with the summer heat wave we've been going through.

Into that trench we put a 3/4 inch tube to act as the conduit for the actual water tube.

The easiest way to install these tubes is to hold them down on one end while you cover them, otherwise they'll spring up quite easily as they have a natural bend from being spooled.

Once we had the tube in place and the whole trench covered we pushed the actual half inch tube into it and connected it to the tap.

We used a filter on the tap as the water coming from the water tank often has a lot of algae. To water all the kiwis we used a single drip tube which is much more convenient that installing tiny sprinklers all throughout the tube. Because the trench ended in the middle of the kiwi line we spliced the tube with a t-connector and then used simple closure fittings to close both ends.

We just leave the tap continuously open to water the kiwis. Since the tap is fed by the water tank which in turn is filled by our horizontal water well the whole system operates on gravity alone. Come late fall all we'll have to do is close the tap, to be opened again in spring.

Winter recipes: homemade tangerine liqueur

This winter, we decided it was time to start making liqueurs. We had got some grape marc spirit to use as the base alcohol, but you can use almost any kind of strong alcohol to make liqueurs. Vodka, spyritus, grappa... We got an old family recipe from a friend and decided to try it out.

It is actually easier that we had anticipated, but you need to be prepared to be patient.

You'll need:

  • 1L grape marc spirit (or any other distilled alcohol without too much flavor)
  • 600g white sugar
  • 600 mL water
  • 18 ripe tangerines, skins

If you look for other recipes online, a common advice is to remove the whitish inside of the skins to prevent bitterness. We had to test this, because it adds a lot more work to the preparation. We actually made two batches - one with inside of the skins removed and another without. We can't tell which is which now that they're done. So it really doesn't seem to make a difference and you can save yourself the trouble.


Cut the skins into tiny pieces, mix them up with the alcohol and leave to rest in a closed jar for at least 2 weeks (we actually left them 2 weeks longer).

Filter the mixture and reserve the flavoured alcohol and the skins.

It should look like this:

Put the sugar in a pan and use a strainer on top of the pan to wash the leftover skins in the cooking water that you add to the pan. You won't need to use the skins for the rest of the recipe, but we kept them (they smelled wonderful!) and used them to season other dishes. Boil the sugar and water for 5 min and leave to cool.

Add the filtered flavoured alcohol to the pan, stir, and carefully pour into some glass bottles:

And now for the real test on patience - the liqueur gets better with time, but that means refraining from drinking it in the first months. Alternatively you could fill several small bottles and taste the evolution of flavours. It is amazing!

Cutting out a swarm from the owl box

We put up the owl box much too late this year for an owl to nest in it. It seems it was perfect timing for swarm season though. Even though we had a few bait hives out and caught a few swarms in them the owl box proved too attractive for a very large swarm. Here's what we found when we opened it after noticing a bunch of bees coming and going from it.

We decided to do what is known as a cutout. It consists mostly of cutting off the individual combs and attaching them to frames to be able to house the swarm in a normal hive. We started by smoking them to make them calmer.

Then we started to cut down and put the combs on frames prepared with a string mesh on one side to hold the comb in.

After a while we had all the combs down and resting on frames.

We used some more string to make sure the combs didn't fall to the other side...

...and placed the frames on the hive.

We used a piece of cardboard to scoop some of the bees left-over in the owl box into the hive

After a while you could see the bees fanning to attract the strays into the new hive.

We finally anchored the hive next to the owl box and left it there to let any remaining bees find their way back.

Although this initial process was mostly a success there were a bunch of things that didn't go well after that. Putting the comb in the frames this way without any kind of attachment to the top bar made a bunch of the frames sag and drop into the bottom bar. For future cases we were convinced that stitching the combs into the top bar would be a better solution than the wire mesh stuff. Another flop happened when we decided to move the hive after most of the bees had moved in. Even though we took precautions to force the bees to reorient and not return to the original location a bunch of them found their way back and clustered in the owl box again. Right now the hive is not in particularly good shape which is a pitty given that this was probably the strongest of the 4 swarms we attracted this year.

Swarm moving into a bait hive

Come spring we decided to put a few bait hives around the farm to attract any passing swarms. The one hive we had last year was a swarm that moved by its own accord into an empty box we had around. A bait hive is simply a normal hive that has some form of attractor put into it and is placed in a good location from the point of view of the bees. In our case we used lemon grass oil as the attractor and used old hive boxes as they're known to prefer older wood. We scattered the hives around the farm to try and cover as much ground as possible.

Our first swarm moved into the bait box that was right next to the solar wax melter. We then moved the wax melter to the side of a second bait box. A week or two later that box started seeing a lot of bee activity. Swarms will often send scouts ahead of the swarm to look for good places to move into. We decided to setup a camera to catch the swarm moving in. We used a simple HD camera on a small tripod. These cameras are awesome value (they even record underwater) and use SD cards for storage so any cheap 32GB card will record 5 or 6 hours of video. We just set everything up around noon and left it recording. At the end of the day we went through the footage and found the key 20min where everything happened:

It was great to see the first bees land and start fanning with their butts in the air, releasing pheromones to attract the rest of the hive. This was actually a small swarm. Even today it's still a very small hive but building strongly.

Building a solar wax melter

As I was looking at a piece of leftover metal sheet from building the owl box I realized we could use it to build a solar wax melter. Bees make comb to store honey and polen and as "wombs" for new bees. Once they've reused the comb a couple of times if you take it out and extract honey from it what's left isn't just wax. It'll have left-over cocoons, polen, etc. To get clean wax you need to split those things up and the easiest way is to just heat it up making the wax fluid. You can do this on a stove but why pay for the energy to do it when the sun can provide it. A solar wax melter is a very simple device. It's just a small green-house of sorts where the comb is put on a ramp so that the wax will drip out as it's heated. 

The idea here was reuse. We started with an old wine box, the leftover sheet metal and an old plastic container to collect the wax. We're probably going to replace the plastic container with a glass one as heated plastic can give off harmful chemicals.

After a lot of measurement and back and forth we decided to set the metal flat on the box and just create the angle by putting some feet on one side of the box. So we folded the metal so as to create a funnel like exit into the box, to try and make sure only the liquid wax gets through and put it inside the box.

We used the dividers from the wine box nailed to the sides as feet, setting the box up at a fifteen degree angle. To finish it up quickly we bought an Ikea picture frame, took out the back and just set it on top, using the frame itself to keep it in place.

That proved the concept pretty well and we got good wax right away.

Eventually after being outside in the rain for a few days the Ikea frame self-destructed and so we did a simple fix. We took the glass out of the frame and glued a small block of wood to one side so that it holds the glass on top of the box without sliding. This has been working fine and the fact that the glass is much bigger than the box should help protect it from rain.

We've been putting in old wax and bits that we cull from hives and have built up a nice block of wax. It's mostly clean although a couple of bees have been able to get through the crack at the bottom and end up stuck in the wax.

The smell of melting wax seems to attract bees, especially scouts looking for a place to swarm into. This year two of our swarms moved into bait hives that we setup next to the wax melter. An unforeseen upside.

New baby goats

Back in April the goat finally went into labor and delivered three baby goats. No one was around to help and by the time we got there one of the babies was already dead. We don't know if he was born dead or died after but we were certainly not expecting three. All of them were pretty small and weak. Here's our first picture of the two that survived:

Initially we were afraid they weren't going to make it. They weren't very active and didn't seem to have much of an instinct to go feed. After trying to bottle feed them and not having much luck we went on youtube and figured out we needed to intubate. We used a kit similar to this one to do it.

After a couple of days of regular feeding with their mother's milk they started getting stronger and feeding by themselves. By the end of the weekend they were active and already showing their insticts by climbing on things. The flickr stream has a few more photos and videos.