You can pre-order Made From Scratch now on Amazon! If you're mildly interested in mountain music, Idaho, farming, chickens, beekeeping, jerk bears, gardening addictions, baking bread, sewing, county fairs, japanese bantam chickens, dog sledding, people I meet or my blogs you'll enjoy it. It's half memoir and half instruction and I hope it gets a whole new crop of future farmers insprired to grab a chicken, bake a pie and generally get their hands dirty.
Backyard chickens is a great resource for anyone thinking about getting a few hens. It has free information, a downloadable care guide, images, a forum, questions and more. It's for new chicken people, crazy coop designs, poultry lovers and gawkers alike. If you get inspired by it, and live close to me, I'll have about 3 little hens up for adoption in a few weeks. I decided to only raise nine of the twelve since I have the four big girls coming. So I'd be more than happy to help a friend get started. Most towns and cities allow chickens long as they are female and in a confined area like a chik-n-hutch (150 bucks!) or an eglu (about 500, but damn cool). This post is pretty much jabbing Kevin, Sara, Tim and people from Palmerton who want some farm fresh eggs in town. But hey, if your local or work with me, even better.
This morning a co-worker stopped by with some of her handspun wool and we somehow got around to talking about bees. I explained to her how easy it was keeping bees, how you could get everything you need to get started for less than the cost of an ipod. Generally just how important it is that people start keeping more bees to help with the decline in their population. Did you know one hive can pollanate an area as wide as ten miles? Anyway, within the hour of our conversation she had ordered her own hive, gear and bees online! This is exciting stuff for me guys. For the first time ever I'll be helping someone else set up their own bees. The student becomes the teacher. I'm excited for her, and more pumped than I was before for my own hive.
You know what my hive is going to say across it in giant black letters??
I just reserved four red star pullets for delivery the week of May 12th from my favorite hatchery! What that means is, I just set up for the mail order delivery of 18 week old hens, all the same breed. They are called Red Stars, a high production brown-egg layer like my old Mindy and Mary Todd Lincln were. I still plan on getting my chicks but they won't be producing until October, and I am tired of buying eggs in the store.
So, these older kids start laying in about two weeks. By mid June we'll have a fully set laying hen mini-operation. Incidently, these girls come the same week my bees arrive. Which means by June everything will be back to my new normal. A garden started, hens scratching under the sugar maples, and bees buzzing round the creekbed. Not to mention the goslings honking along with the chicks, should be a fine set up. Now the excitment, research, planning and preparing of coops and hives to keep me busy in the meantime. It feels great to know the farmlife is on the way.
When someone tells you they play old time music, and you say ‘Oh I love bluegrass’ it is the equivalent of someone telling you ‘I liked the Godfather part two” and you saying “Oh I loved the third one!” (Or at least to me it is.)
I can not tell you how many times I have heard this after people find out I play the fiddle. The thing is, I don’t play anything bluegrass. I listen to it on occasion. I appreciate it for the talent and history it has in American music. I respect that lifestyle. But Bluegrass isn’t anything like Old Time music. Bluegrass was the gateway drug to the plight that is modern pop country. Which too, has some merits but has covered it’s heritage with so many suffocating layers of plastic cowboy hats it’s hard to believe there was ever time when the music wasn't accompanied by an electric guitar.
Modern Bluegrass has nothing to do with modern country music, and the two camps seem fairly arms-crossed and certain about that. But behind both of them is Old-Time. Which, whenever I say that to people who aren’t familiar with it, seem to get this glazed-over look of arthritic sarsaparilla drinking Alzheimer patients clapping their hands at a flat picked guitar.
Old Time music means exactly that. That is comes from an older time in musical history than recent acoustic mountain incarnations. Old Time is the merging of Scotch/Irish reels, jigs, hornpipes and slides and the rhythm and energy of African music. Like all great American music. Throw in some old English Ballads about murder, love and vengence and you've got it. This blending of white and African sound made mountain music what it is. Energetic and heart racing or somber and lonesome at others. It has it’s own heartbeat of deep African drums and it’s arteries and ventricles are immigrants like the Italian mandolin, the Irish fiddle, the Cuban guitar and the German dulcimer. For an “American” invention, it is completely non-native. But like most things that are great about this country, it takes the best things of so many different cultures and fuses them together to create brand new animals. Think jazz, baseball, and the south beach diet. (I kid about that last one)
So, no disrespect to Bluegrass, which I recently would happily prefer to listen too than 70% of other types of music, but it is not old-time. To us historians it’s the excessive dressing up and nickel plating of something already utilitarian in it’s perfection.
A few days ago I was paroozing the shelves of Wayside and came across a novel item – root beer home brewing extract. It was a little dusty and hidden behind more popular items but I was intrigued. Home brewing has been on the radar for a while now. I was asked by my editor if I wanted to add it to the book, but told them I had no experience. But being asked about it has sparked a hell of an interest. I now have a growling desire to learn how to make hard cider and mead (I have bees coming, you know) but it seems like a long and hard to learn process. Not that that’s deterred me before, but the horror stories of people having over yeasted bottles exploding in their kitchens or poisoning themselves seemed like good enough reasons to let this practice to the experts. But Bruce and Diana brewed their own wines all the time, racking them in their basement and serving up delicious and potent drinks whenever I visited ( I still dream of their apple Riesling). Anyway, the root beer project seemed harmless. I didn’t need any complicated vats or tubing and the whole process from stovetop to cold in your hands took only 2 weeks. I could use regular kitchen yeast and ferment it in a 2-liter soda bottle. Pretty straight forward right? Also, trying something non alcoholic first seemed like a safe start.
So last night I was in my kitchen mixing a concoction of water, sugar, root beer extract and yeast on my range with a big wooden spoon. When I felt confident I followed the directions right, I poured it into an empty 2-liter and watched the foaming yeast rise to the top, which would in theory, carbonate it. After it was ready to drink, I would pour the plastic bottle into a nicer serving jug (yet to found on ebay, but you just wait) and place it in the fridge to serve cold. Technically, I should have bottled the beer right in their own bottles and let them ferment naturally by their. lonesome. Next time.
So if all goes as planned their will be Vermont Homestead Ben and Jerry’s root beer floats here when the Macks come. Hopefully sipped with a chorus of chirping chicks.
Those little seedlings I showed you are now up to seven inches tall, and even my desk at work as a peat pot with two young snap peas making themselves at home. This weekend I'll order the chicks and goslings and get to work prepping for the bees. I need to paint and varnish their hive body (I think teal) and find a place suitable for the hive. I think I’ll put them right in the garden actually. It’s protected by a fence, and large enough that the bees on one end wouldn’t bother someone harvesting pumpkins on the other.
Sara and Tim, good friends from outside Philadelphia are coming up to Vermont to visit in a few weeks. I’m hoping by the time they are here there’s some headway in the garden (hmmm, maybe I can put them to work helping me hoe? I’m 80% kidding) and I also hope the chicks will be settled in as well. Sara has this thing where she has to pick up a chicken when she comes to visit, (I think a chick is a good stepping stone.) Regardless of how much physical labor I squeeze out of them, it should be a nice weekend with plenty of good food, fiddling (Sara plays too), the grand outdoors and a fancy meal maybe in Manchester.
My editor tipped me off to this story, and I thought it was wonderful. Meet Kaycee and Benjamin, two Williamsburg kids turned shepherds. The New York Times covered their story about leaving NYC to move upstate and raise sheep. The story reads:
Their Carhartts are no longer ironic. Now they have real dirt on them.
Until three years ago, Benjamin Shute was living in Williamsburg, where he kept Brooklyn Lager in his refrigerator and played darts in a league.
Raised on the Upper East Side by a father who is a foundation executive and a mother who writes about criminal justice, Mr. Shute graduated from Amherst and worked for an antihunger charity. But something nagged at him. To learn about food production, he had volunteered at a farm in Massachusetts. He liked the dirt, the work and the coaxing of land long fallow into producing eggplant and garlic.
He tried growing strawberries on his roof in Brooklyn, but it didn’t scratch his growing itch.
And so last week, Mr. Shute could be found here, elbow-deep in wet compost two hours north of New York City, filling greenhouse trays for onion seeds. Along with a partner, Miriam Latzer, he runs Hearty Roots, a 25-acre organic farm. Read more here
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I had bees in Idaho. You also know those same bees were sent packing in a swarm when a jerk bear destroyed their hive. I took the hit, and now I'm starting over this May. New bees are on the way May 10th. I have to pick them up from the apiary in Granville NY (an hour south of me) on that Saturday and install them in the hive that same day. I should be getting my laying hens around the same time, so it could be a full out farm installation weekend. If anyone of my friends or family want to visit that weekend and help out, that would be aces. If you get stung (you won’t) I’ll even throw in a free lunch.
In other news, my love of dairy goats has gotten me an invite to visit a vermont goat dairy operation north of me called willow moon farm. I won't be getting any kids anytime soon, but I can see how they are housed, ask questions, learn more about the Nigerian Dwarf and pet a few yellow-eyed horned heads. Besides informal goat training, there will be formal sheep training soon. Sheep 101 is March 29th, and will be a full day at a local farm in Danby. Sheep are becoming more and more of an interest and dream every year. A few days ago a Southdown Sheep farm near me asked if I wanted a pair of lambs of purebred babydoll sheep (miniature sheep). I had to turn them down, but man... I flinched. Anyway, I'll have plenty of pictures and posts ahead from both.
There’s a bale of straw in the wagon, and another two in the garden shed. I bought chick fonts and feeders and this weekend I’ll get their feed and a heat bulb for them. I am trying not to spend more than fifteen dollars a weekend on livestock adventures because it’s easy to get out of hand. With chickens being the yuppie suburb pet of thousands now, there are designer yard coops and overpriced treats and feeds stacking pet store shelves. I’m trying to keep it basic. MY birds get a mixture of 60% organic layer feed, 30% scratch grains, 8% oyster shell and 2% grit. I mix it in buckets and a full bucket lasts over a week. The chicks however, just get their special puppy chow chick feed and some chick sized grit (rocks). I look forward to the summer when I’ll be able to go out to the shed at 6, collect eggs, say hi to the gang and let them out into the woods to patrol.
In other news, I have been trying to learn some traditional Irish music on the fiddle. I have one song down called the scartaglen slide, and am working on a really fast fancy reel called man of the house. What I really want to learn are the old Scottish reels and waltzes. I love a good waltz more than most. It’s a whole new animal for me, and the songs take me days to learn what takes a minute to play, but since Scotch/Irish music is the heart and soul of Old Time music, I feel I should know it. Plus, whipping out man of the house someday in Ireland would be awesome.
I really want to get a Nigerian Dwarf wether but can’t justify it, but if you ever saw a miniature goat kid, you’d understand. Someday, there will be sheep and goats. For now, chickens
So the jury is in. After a lot of thought here are the winners of my selection process and why. I’ll be getting just twelve chicks, and a trio of goslings. The chicks will only be 2 breeds I have a lot of experience with and really liked. The Brahma and the Ameraucana. The Brahma’s are a heavy set bird that does great in colder weather and lays brown eggs. They were all over Diana’s farm in Idaho and my Veronica, the calmest and sweetest bird of the entire flock was a Buff Brahma. I’ll be getting Light Brahmas because sadly, the buffs aren’t sexed and I might end up with a bunch of roosters instead of laying hens. So I’ll get getting my white and black speckled chicks in a few weeks, maybe sooner.
The second breed is the Ameraucana. Which, my friends, is awesome. These chickens lay green and blue eggs instead of brown or white ones, and let me tell you, I am pumped about that. I never raised this breed myself, but I’ll get getting six pullet (female) chicks of these are well and they will be sharing the shed outside by the garden as their new home. I have to lay down a bed of straw and pine shavings and install a few vertical 2x4s as roosts, but all is okay with the property owner and the close proximity to my garden means the chickens will have a safe fenced in area to hang out safe from roaming coyotes and fisher kings and in view of the cabin. Right on.
So twelve chickens may sound like a lot, but the sad truth is only about nine of them will survive to laying age, if that. Between drafts, foxes, health problems or what have you – you can almost always count on a quarter loss with your flock. Maybe since these are pets as much as livestock, that won’t happen. I did manage to raise all five Silkie chicks to adulthood easily. Who knows, all I know is my max capacity for laying hens is about 25 and I’d rather have 12 blissful hens than 25 cramped ones.
Oh, and geese. I am getting a trio of Toulouse goslings, which are a dark gray, beautiful breed. I will be having as much contact with them as possible so they are never biters or honkers at people. They’ll share space with the hens and lay their own giant eggs for food for me. I doubt I’ll keep them through the winter, the plan is to sell them at fair time. Since they are such a pretty lot, I doubt I’ll have any trouble selling them all to a nice pond farm near here who would love friendly geese on the premises.
It is going to feel so much more like a home when seedlings are sprouting, chicks are chirping and the cabin starts to mature into a farm and not just a place that keeps the rain off. I can't wait. Come visit in the nest two months and prepare for super cuteness.
Lehman’s big non-electric catalog is wonderful. It has gadgets and gizmos you didn’t even know existed. Things like a table top hand crank pressure washing machine (40.00) or a natural peanut butter stirring lid. It has all the homestead essentials you’d expect. Things like oil lamps and woodstoves and propane fridges. But it also has soap and butter molds, single cup coffee presses, and cast iron waffle makers for a stovetop. It has all the gardening stuff you could need for a small operation and backyard poultry supplies too. This catalog has been a staple of the Amish community for years, but for us regular folks it has a lot of clever things that are hard to find old and don’t need to be plugged in to be used.
This weekend the farm has officially been started, seedlings are incubating indoors for cold season crops, and ones I know I can grow. Peas, broccoli and lettuce are sitting inside under a warm light and in a few days we’ll have the beginnings of a summer of fresh organic food. The cabin has an already huge garden complete with compost, a tin shed (soon to be chicken coop) and a burning barrel for paper and brush. Whoever was here before was pretty serious about living off the land too and I just happened to fall into it. By late April, when the soil is over 45 degrees and not soaking wet I’ll be working in compost and planting the first seeds outdoors. I’m excited.
Besides the garden, chicks and goslings are on their way! I’m getting laying hens (Brahmas and Ameracanas) and some bantams (Mille Fluers!) and a trio of Toulouse goslings, which I will be hand feeding from babes and either sell at fair time or keep if they are good. It sounds like a lot but it’ll be about the same amount of animals as I had in Idaho, with neighbors right next door who already offered to feed and chicken sit for me when I’m away. So, it’s a start. There will be plenty of chick and gosling photos ahead, I’m sure!
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Where pop culture meets agriculture! Here she writes about her adventures following her feral life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, music, running far, and eating animals.
On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs