Friday, March 21, 2008

hens on the way!

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.

oh, i love bluegrass!

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.

No.

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.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

my home brew creeps up

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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

friends heading north

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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My heros

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