Monday, October 8, 2007

bears can be jerks

A lot has been going on with the farm. First and to my dismay, a bear has toppled over the hive of honeybees I’ve been watching over. Or I can only assume it’s a bear because a deer or coyotes seems highly unlikely and the hand chewed combs littered around weren’t exactly “the wind”. There wasn’t a bee corpse in site. I can only assume that they swarmed off to another hive or nearby tree. I’m not sure when it happened, I only know it happened while I was away in Tennessee. Not that having witnessed a bear at my hive would’ve helped any. I certainly wasn’t going to outside with a shovel and pick a fight. So what to do? I can’t do anything but haul it in the garage for the winter and hope new bees will take to it in the spring. I’ll have my order in by January, which is when everyone orders his or her spring hives.

It’s been cold, wet, cloudy and foggy since I returned. I finally turned on the heat in the farmhouse, which I had been holding off on but nights are down in the 30’s and while I don’t mind the cold so much at night under blankets and on the couch, I can’t take it early in the morning when I need to shower and hop to work. No coffee is that strong. Since I’m off the gird and have to order heating oil in bulk, it takes a little planning to know how much to buy and when. If all goes as planned I won’t need another delivery till near the holidays. I am a very exciting young person.

Besides hive and heat, I’ve been working on the book with the fervor of a drugged up petstore puppy. I have so much ahead of me on it. Truth is I love this weather, I love writing the book, and weekends spent inside with hot chocolate and vegetable stew have been exactly what I love about October. Things aren’t perfect and Idaho isn’t always puppies and jelloshots but it’s always interesting. I’m glad I am here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

the elusive banjitar

So you play the guitar (or at least know a few chords) and always loved the sound of the banjo, but just didn’t want to learn that crazy thing? Well I found this; it’s called a banjitar and is the hybrid of the two. Basically it’s a banjo with six strings tuned like a guitar. You can pick or strum, play familiar chords and have a whole new sound. I don’t think it’s my kind of thing but I wouldn’t turn one away if someone gave it to me. Regardless it sure looks pretty and probably sounds wonderful.

you can buy one here at banjohut

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

they look good together

Idaho winters are long. A lot of nights you aren't driving anywhere. Last winter I took on the fiddle. It was the pefect snowday activity in a farmhouse without television or the internet. This winter, I'll wrangle a banjo and do the same. Right now I've just started the planning phase, which is listening to clawhammer (old time style I want to learn) recordings and reading intro books. When the snow starts falling I'll order a mountain banjo, and it'll be a grand time.

shady grove

I’m back from a weekend in Tennessee. I was down there to meet up with old friends and play some mountain music at the Old Timer’s Festival in Townsend. During the festival I wore my fiddle on my back in a scrappy backpack I made from some old hiking straps and an old canvas messenger bag. I mention this because when people see you have a fiddle on hand, they request you play for them, even at meals. I was sitting down at a picnic table (Arkansas!) with Taylor and Heather - and a couple of older folks asked if I’d play for them. The lady next to me said “I know you know, shady grove...” (which I do, but hadn’t memorized and messed up) But I was able to play some other fine tunes and then settle back down to eat. We all talked about Tennessee and music for a bit and then the three of us packed up to head over to the cemetery jam. As we walked away Heather heard the older man say “mountain women…” under their breath. I suppose that was our explanation.

What I love about Old Time music is there are only about fifty songs of the Southern Mountains, and those fifty songs have been passed down for generations and can be played a million different ways (and have been). But no matter who you are you can sing along, or improvise something ancient as those songs and make new friends. I was playing in the visitor’s center (upon request of a worker there) and an old lady on a cane walked up to me and whispered “Cluck old Hen” which was the random song I was playing. She knew it and wanted me to know she did. That single little exchange made my weekend.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

the big one

I just want to be a shepherd on a hill. That's my life's goal.
A flock of sheep.
A hill.

Monday, September 24, 2007

which is which?

I snapped this photo of two bees on a bush. One is a honeybee and one is a bumble. Can you tell them apart?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

coming soon...taxidermy soap

Taxidermy soap! That's right, bear and deer heads to wash your bits with. What could be more badass than facing a grizzly in a shower huh? Nothing. Nothing at all. These will be pretty big and the molds won't be ordered for a while, but when they do they'll make a pretty rad gift with some homemade cowboy and indian grown-up pj pants for the tough guys. I bet Stephen Colbert would like some angry bear soap, I'll send him some to the show (I'm serious).

p.s. handmade clothes coming soon in cool patterns and fabrics. I've got the sewing bug and following patterns takes no time at all. Urban outfitter style ponchos being first in line. They'll have a warm wooly fleecy outside and a cool pattern inside. I'll see what i can dig up thats vintage and report back.

i saw a flurry!

This morning was one of those mornings where the temperature under the covers, next to Jazz was about 62 degrees warmer and fluffier than the world outside. I laid awake in bed scratching jazz’s ears and leaning on Annie till the moans from the silkie roosters got me up. I looked outside and thought it had snowed. The hay fields were white and frost capped, the grass was also glassy and white. No snow to speak of but it was well into the low thirties in the shade of the barn when I read the thermostat on the wall. I put on a pair of rag wool gloves without fingertips, a heavy sweater, a wool hat and a scarf and walked outside with a bag of scratch for the birds. All of which were up and trotting around mindless to the cold. I need to buy some insulation and an outdoor lightbulb and run it from the house to their coop. they need a light with a timer in there to keep them laying and to warm up the joint. It already has a thick layer of hay and a wool blanket keeping the wind out, but more mornings like this and they may start complaining.

I then checked the weather in Knoxville right now, 74 degrees, Geesh.

Don't worry mom, I ordered oil and I'll be all set before the trip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

intense updating here

Last night, after work, I was outside reinforcing the chicken pen with tighter woven wire and fly-top netting. It is now nearly inescapable with a little door for me to get in when I want to collect eggs or give William a high five. I think that project is officially done. I also moved the Silkies back into their own mini coop/pen set up which has been super reinforced with the help of my trusty staple gun which I’ve known since I bought it to staple canvases together my junior year of college. So, let’s hear it for posterity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Yesterday morning I got a call, the last call, from my neighbors. Who told me they were done with my chickens getting into their yard. Something that used to never happen and now happens all the time. As the girls got more and more brave and used to their yard, they started wandering off into the barn area, then naturally ended up walking into the green lush grass of my neighbor's place. They're nice enough people, but if you're not into poultry you don't exactly want to wake up to Kevin the silkie rooster screaming in your yard. And it's not just the black kids; William is relentlessly brave and has taken them everywhere he can see, So the birds are getting a little to far into the fields, woods, and neighbor's very pretty lawns. All of these places dangerous and thriving with coyotes, eagles, replublicans and dogs.

So, it was time. I had to build a fence.

Last night Diana came to the rescue. I drove home with her and Bruce to Floating leaf and helped with their nightly chores. Their calf Kingsford is adorable, a month old and solid milk chocolate. I try not to get to attached to them because in a year hell be a side on their china (thus the food-related names this years slaughter calf is called Mac), but damn they are cute when their babes. I collected eggs and we moved a giant hamster wheel shaped hay feeder closer to the red barn. By the time we were done the timed lights were coming on in her three chicken houses. It was getting dark and we were just starting to load up the truck with fenc building gear (Post holers look kinda dirty). We drove across the lake back to my farm and by the glow of the truck’s headlights we used a post holer to nail down five t-posts. Last we hooked up livestock fencing and then moved in the coops. It felt good to work with my hands and make something that produced an actual result after a long day of staring at computer screens. The night was followed by wine and pizza, which was well deserved.

Now the birds are kind of contained. This morning when I went outside Emily was already out and looking for her two male escorts that were too scared to come out and face William. Mary Todd Lincoln went AWOL and flew out over the bars (but everyone knows she’s crazy) So there are “adjustments” to be made to this whole fence thing, but it’s up and the neighbors can handle a few days of ironing out the kinks and escape routes. Or if anyone out there wants to buy me one of these, that would be great too.

Monday, September 17, 2007

pumpkin loaf

This recipe is easy to make and I suggest keeping it around for pumpkin carving time when you have no idea what to do with your jack-o-lantern guts. But that's no excuse to wait because it tastes great with canned pumpkin. The recipe can be whipped together from scratch in about ten minutes, and it has received rave reviews in the office here. You can make it into cupcakes, cake, loafs and anything else your heart desires but keep an eye on it if you're baking something less dense then a standard loaf. It's done when you stick a scour in and it comes out clean (which for a cupcake might be 45 minutes, not 75). Also, the smell of baking pumpkin bread might be one of the best fall smells you can start bringing into the house. Taylor, you'll be eating this and drinking cider in a few weeks.

Homemade pumpkin loaf

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 table spoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup canned or fresh pumpkin
2 big eggs
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup veggie oil

Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl, and all wet in another. Mix wet into dry and whip with a wooden spoon into a wet batter. Bake in a greased bread loaf for 75 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top after it cools, or if you want to make it amazing, spread a hearty layer of creamchesse flavored icing on top. Which I recomend.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Raven Soap

Now in the Etsy shop and just in time for Fall. The same mint, beeswax and goatsmilk blend from before but in a snazzy and seasonal creepy shape. A raven hunched over pumpkins, now whats more classic then that? It's a third larger than the other bars which are roundish. Looks nice in the hay or in your bathroom. And all proceeds go to chicken feed and dogfood, so shop darling, shop.

Get your soap here.

Friday, September 14, 2007

my empire of dirt

The following article and video are from the most recent issue of New York Magazine. A Brooklyn family man takes his 800-square foot backyard and makes it his soul source of food for one month. He spends his whole summer (march-August) making his home and yard into the smallest farm in New York City. It is fabulous, frustrating and inspiring. He’s doing exactly what the book I’m currently writing is trying to help persuade people to do (only, more fun and less crazy… he’s trying to accomplish in one summer what I want to accomplish in ten years) The entire several-page article talks about his experiences with planting, rabbits, chickens and other things I myself have grown pretty familiar with. With the “localvore” movement building, it’s a really fascinating read. You can read a blurb below and follow the rest via the link at the end.

"A farm essentially is... Dirt. Death. Sex."
-Manny Howard, The Farm Project


At 6:40 a.m. on August 8, the tornado hit my house in Brooklyn. Most people viewed it as a snow day in summer, a meteorological oddity. Not me. After a sleepless night listening to the wind and the rain intensify, I watched the sky turn green, then heard the hemlock tree in the yard next door split in two, clip the gutter on the third floor of my house, and bounce off the roof of what used to be our garage and had come to be known as “the barn.” As the wind torqued up even further, the limb of an oak torpedoed the most productive quarter of my vegetable garden, smothering a thicket of tomatoes, snapping the fig tree, pulverizing the collard greens, burying the callaloo, and splintering the roof of my main chicken coop.

That’s right, my chicken coop, which happens to be in my tiny backyard farm—800 square feet of arable land.

A tornado hadn’t struck Brooklyn since 1889, when Flatbush was farmland; this one laid waste to the lonely little farm that I had planted in my backyard and that, within days, I planned to rely on as my sole source of food for an entire month.

I started my farm, hereafter referred to as The Farm, in March, with my eye on August as the month I’d eat what I had grown. It was, in original conception, equal parts naïve stunt and extreme test of the idea that drives the burgeoning “locavore” movement. According to this ethos, we should all eat food produced locally, within 100 miles—some say 30—of where we live, so as to save our planet and redeem our Twinkie-gorged souls. Now that the “organic” label has rapidly become as ubiquitous and essentially meaningless as the old “all-natural,” the locavores have established a more sacred code, one meant to soothe our anxieties about what goes into the food we eat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


When you bake your own bread, churn your own butter and get eggs fresh from your own chickens you will discover that French toast has hit a new plateau you had never dreamed of. Surely if you visit you will try this. Unless you’re one of those people who prefers pancakes or omelets or some other lesser breakfast eatable. Which I will also make for you- but will do so silently judging.

Monday, September 10, 2007

farm update

People ask me if I have any pets and I answer something like “Oh yeah, I have chickens and a hive of bees and some rabbits” and I completely brush over the dogs. Not because they’re forgettable but because Jazz and Annie aren’t pets. They are Roommates. They aren’t some creepy stand-ins for children, sub human buddies, or something I dress up for kicks, they’re just “Jazz and Annie”. I come home from work, dump my bag by the coat rack and start telling them about how crappy or dreamy things are at the moment. So I feel weird calling anyone I talk to regulary a "pet" This morning before work and after our walk Annie and I sat on the couch and watched an episode of Gilmore Girls with really really strong coffee; jadeite in my right hand and scratching her head with the other. Warm under a wool blanket. It was nice.

Okay. If reincarnation exists I want to come back as a rural vegetarian’s chicken. They live in such ways you and I could never dream. They spend their days laying in the sunshine or chasing grasshoppers around the lawn. They have a nonstop buffet provided for them. They are on no particular schedule, and have no real threats. And if the ladies want to sleep in while William patrols, they do. I’ve gone outside and met William in the driveway, said morning, and walked around to the coop only to find all the other girls still nestled together on the roost asleep. Probably dreaming about what all women dream about (Oprah and unicorn rides). Yes, these are happy birds.

The bees are in push time. Thanks to my shoddy landscaping there is a wild array of non-mowed wildflowers and weeds producing pollen and nectar. I'm really hoping they keep up the good work, because they are the underdogs of the farm. They practically were goners when they lost their queen, then they were nearly overtaken by yellow jackets, and after that the drought made water supply at the creek almost non-existent. But they are still keeping on, and they might just make it through the winter yet. We’ll keep rooting for the home team, and this winter I’ll keep shoveling them out. I am a very exciting young person.

I’ve learned that rabbits are a love/hate relationship. Generally, I like them. They are quiet, pretty and eat very little. Like everything else that lives here they require minimal attention. But they stink. I clean out their cages every three days and they stink. I come back from the rabbit hutches and the dogs go retarded convinced somewhere on my person is a delicious meal. Anyway, the Angoras and the Lop (named Fumiko after a friends’ grandmother) are hearty guys. I’ve now sheered the angoras three times and sold most of it online at Etsy. There’s a big market for pure angora (Angora goats don’t offer angora, they offer mohair) I’m a very very very small part of that market but it’s still nice to know that they pay for their own food and supplies and I get to hang out with a rabbit in my lap on occasion. Which at campfires is nice.

So we’ve got a coyote named August, which you know about if you’ve been reading dogcoffin. He's doing well and patrolling daily in the back fields. But there’s also a Doe and her fawn that have taken up residence near the house. I named them Gwen and Oscar. Sometimes I’ll be doing dishes and catch a glance of Oscar running by the kitchen window and then Gwen will step over the chickens slowly and saunter by behind him. I like those two, they liven up the place. No moose have moved in from the bogs yet but I hope to see some cow/calf pairs by October. There’s a big coven of ravens that live in the aspens and a mated set of bald eagles too. And then there was this weird Saturday morning when I looked outside the front window and saw a turkey hen and her chicks (turks?) waddling along the driveway.

I have to go out and cover everything now because night temps drop into the 30s. So last night I was outside coving the gardens with 4mil plastic in an attempt to keep my lettuce and broccoli kicking into November if I can. So far, so good. Eggplants are coming in late, so are the peppers but I have high hopes. Tomatoes, they will slaughter the kitchen soon.

That's pretty much it. This is the home stretch till the first snow. Then everything shuts down and all i do is cook, bake, bitch about fall being over and play music. Which I enjoy doing, every one.