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The Belgian Mare Says Hello!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Aggie Gets a Workout

For myself and Aggie, my Belgian mare for whom so many things have been named, today was a good day. Roy Nilson came up to work with Aggie and me. His fiancée Lauren came along to assist and make some videos.

Many of you already know of Aggie’s panic attacks. The resulting explosions were dangerous for both her and whoever happened to be anywhere nearby. Needless to say, this greatly limited what could be done with her. In fact, I was pretty much at a standstill when it came to working with Aggie. So I was very happy that Roy agreed to come up.

From the start, Aggie was showing the nervousness that made her so hard to work with. She didn’t want to have her harness put on and spooked at the sound of a singletree being shaken. Letting down the harness chains caused a full-bore linear panic. That proved to be a good thing as it helped her realize that when she panicked, the chains rattled and hit her. When she stopped, the chains stopped. Success.

We continued on. The chains were lengthened with rope and the singletree added. Then a binder chain. Finally, the decision was made to hook her up to the chain harrow.

Hooking her to the harrow was a risk, as Aggie’s reaction proved, but ultimately it paid off. At first she panicked, but Roy was able to stand in and bring her down and get her to stop. That was amazing; no one had ever been able to stop one of her all-out panics.

Perhaps more amazing was that Roy was able to get her to settle in and start pulling. She was still a bit jumpy, but she was walking with the harrow. That was when the most fascinating and heartening event of the afternoon took place. After Roy had made a few laps with Aggie pulling the harrow, I saw a change come over Aggie. It happened very quickly, in the space of a few strides. Aggie went from being on the edge of panic with a scary thing behind her to just working. Something clicked in her mind and she realized that nothing was trying to kill her, she was just working. For her good efforts, she earned an apple.

About this time Roy handed her off to me. I was a bit nervous since I had never driven from the side before. I think Aggie was a bit nervous about the change of driver, but things went well. In fact, Aggie was so over being scared that she became bored and it was a bit of an effort to keep her moving. She was also clearly a bit tired so we decided to doff the harness and cool her down.

Then we went down to the lower pasture and Roy had me practice shortening and lengthening the lines on the fly and switching which side I was driving from. This gave me some practice time and gave Aggie a walking cool down.

So all things considered, this was a very successful day. Sure Aggie panicked a few times, but Roy was able to stand in and bring her down. In the end, Aggie went from being scared of the rattle of a singletree to being bored with pulling a chain harrow. All in the span of two hours!

Our work with Aggie is far from over, but I now have ideas on how to help her get over her fear, which helps me get over my anxiety toward working with her. Roy’s work with Aggie today was nothing short of amazing. He clearly cares deeply about the horses he works with and his fees are more than reasonable. I will definitely be having him back for a follow-up session.

Roy can be reached at:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hops & The Short Boil

As regular readers know, we are very excited about the hop yard this year. This is our third year and, if conventional wisdom holds, it is the third year in which the plants begin to realize their full potential. So we have gone into this year with great expectations.

To date, the plants seem determined not to disappoint us. The rate at which they are growing is almost frightening. The first shoots emerged on April 24. As of today, May 24, the tallest plant is only about six inches from the top of the trellis. That is 13 feet of growth in four weeks! Last year that took nine weeks!

What will this mean in terms of harvest? I can only wait and hope.

Short Boil

Coming up through the ranks of homebrewing, I was lead to believe that the boiling of the wort could be no less than 90 minutes. The reason being that this amount of time was needed to get the protein to coagulate and precipitate. Longer boils were used to achieve a desired initial specific gravity.

I had always wondered if this was really necessary. When brewing with malt extract, I had occassionally used a rather short boil time. This seemed to work quite well. Would it work with all-grain brewing?

The reason for using a short (30 minute) boil time are compelling. First, the brewing process is shortened by an hour or more. More importantly, by boiling for only 30 minutes, a huge energy savings is realized. Given that we hope to have our brewery wood-fired, this is something that we needed to look into.

To that end , we brewed an experimental beer today. We did everything as we usually would, with the exception of the length of time we boiled the wort. Normally we boil the wort for 90 minutes. This time we boiled it for only 30 minutes. During the process it seemed a ridiculously short span of time. We had barely started boiling when it was over.

What will this new process yield: A more cost effective and energy saving way to brew? Garden fertilizer? Stay tuned Dear Reader, I shall keep you informed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thames Valley Yeast (Again)

On January 31, 2009, a beer was brewed that was intended as a dark variant of a Welsh bitter. The yeast used was Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley. On May 17, 2009, that beer was finally bottled.

Three and a half months in the fermenter. I do not believe that I have ever had a non-lager beer continue working in the fermenter that long and still be unspoiled. At one month, the fermentation lock was still actively turning. Even on bottling day, the beer still had a ring of foam and the lock had not backed.

I admit that I was not optimistic when I began to bottle this beer. I did not even get the bottles ready before transferring the beer to the bottling bucket, as is my normal procedure. I wanted to see if the beer was still unspoiled and I had my doubts.

I should have cast doubt from my mind and kept beer faith. As I transferred the beer to the bottling bucket, I collected a sample. The beer was crystal clear and the taste is very good: malty without excessive sweetness. I encountered none of the harsh astringency or moldy viscosity that I had expected. If anything, the taste was a bit too mild for the intended effect. Although untended, the flavor and body of this beer are that of an excellent dark mild ale.

So why did fermentation take so long? I do not know. I have not been able to find anyone else that has used this yeast so I do not know if painfully slow working is a characteristic. I know only that this yeast worked slowly, but worked well.

It is interesting to note that the final gravity was still a bit high in spite of the long fermentation. Original gravity was 40 and the final was about 16, giving an alcohol content of about three percent. That is just fine with me, I am not into high gravity, I prefer high taste. Once this beer has conditioned in the bottle, I will give a full report.

So I missed the mark a bit in trying to create a dark Welsh bitter, but did create an excellent dark mild ale. I’ll take it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Hop Season Looks Good

This year is shaping up to be a great year for hops. We decided to double the size of the hop yard and Dad and I put up some more trellis. Next year we hope to expand even more.

Our first shoots broke through on April 24. The number of shoots that the third-year plants are putting up is bordering on the absurd. It breaks my heart to have to prune such nice strong shoots, but if I left them all I would quickly be overrun by a hop jungle.

This is the first year that we trimmed rhizomes. Trimming rhizomes is recommended as plants are heading into their third summer, so for the first time we had plants that were ready to have their rhizomes trimmed. Once I had dug into the ground around my third-year plants, I was amazed by the amount of growth that had been taking place under ground. Some of the plants had sent rhizomes that went on for several feet, right out of the hop yard! Not only were the rhizomes long, but they were thick and loaded with active buds. I thought back to the scrawny, soggy, cheroot-looking rhizomes I had plunked down five bucks each for (half of which survived) and wondered where that supplier had gotten his.

When the trimming was done, I had a large pail of top quality rhizomes. Free! I had prepared more ground for planting and filled it quickly with the best of the trimmings. I then began looking for other places to plant. No sense wasting good hop rhizomes. We now have hop plants scattered about the property. Flag poles, cherry trees, garden fences: nothing was safe from being hopped. I still have a ton left over! So I am now in the hop rhizome selling business.

As I write this, May 10, my third-year plants are four feet tall with less than a month of growing. My trellis is 13 feet tall and last year the second-year plants topped out in nine weeks. It will be interesting to see how fast they will top out this year. I may need a bigger trellis.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Site Plan

A small vacation and starting a new job kept me from the blog for a bit but now I am back. At our last meeting with the Planning Board, one member took issue with the format in which we presented our application. I admit I was improvising since I had not done a site plan review before. However, I was still disappointed because I felt we had addressed all the relevant points delineated in the site plan review checklist and the town does not provide much guidance on the format they prefer.

The head of the Planning Board then took up discussion and it was agreed that we had most of what they wanted in our application. On a few points, more detail was requested. So to keep the peace and get things moving, we hired a professional to draw up a site plan.

We have the first draft of the site plan and it looks very good. A few small details need to be changed, but nothing critical. The next step is to get on at yet another Planning Board meeting. Hopefully we are close to getting this moving.