Thursday, May 22, 2008

farmas eve is here

I got out of work around five and drove home feeling like I was back in elementary school and on my first day of summer vacation. I swear if you looked below the dash you could see my feet swinging in a pair of faded jellies inches above the pedals. I am taking off work Friday - half out of necessity and half out of the need for a long break from fluorescent lights and ergonomic desk chairs.

Over the next few days I’ll be picking up chicks, goslings, and installing a hive of bees I'll personally pick up from their apiary in New York. I’ll also be helping a co-worker install her first hive and holding fiddle lessons here at the cabin. I’ll be working hard in the garden too - planting mounds of jack o lanterns and rows of sweet corn. And if that wasn’t enough, Saturday I’ll be driving up to Rutland for a rabbit show, partially to be a spectator but also to pick up my own pre-ordered pair of French Angora rabbits from a breeder in Massachusetts. I’ve never been to a rabbit show, just walked through rabbit sections at county fairs, so I’m extra excited about that. I'll be breeding my own fancy rabbits in the next few months, so talking with people in the biz will be an eye opener.

Tonight the work was light, prepatory and for people like me, exciting. My bathroom has a climate controlled brooder box waiting its new occupants. The cardboard box is lined with pine shavings and the thermometer inside reads a toasty 90 degrees, perfect for the new downy fowl on an airplane right now as I type. Outside my hive is set up under some maple trees awaiting its swarm. I have a pot of sugar water on the stove (bee syrup for their feeders) and the water font and feeder are stocked in the brooder. With experience in all of this under my belt, I feel prepared and less anxious than I was a year ago. I’m excited to know that in 24 hours I’ll have a hive going to work on combs and Jazz and Annie will be prostrated like in front of the closed bathroom door, cocking their heads at all the cheeping sounds behind their walls. It’ll be like the time I tried to watch March of the Penguins and they spent half an hour trying to “find the penguins” in my Knoxville apartment. They're crazy, them.

I have about 20 small corn plants ready to transplant to rows and seed corn as well (so to extend my summer corn harvest, I’ll have them ready at different times). I have starter pumpkins and seeds for them too, (for the same reason). It’s all out there waiting for my attention. It will all get it.

I know it sounds like a lot. All this running around, preparing and planning. But just like you look forward to cutting down and trimming a Christmas tree, I look forward to making this cabin into a farmstead. Both require effort, and dirty hands, and sometimes occasional discomfort – but when the work’s done… Well, I stand in front of my coops and gardens the same way I’d stand in front of those decorated living room trees of my childhood. In awe of the effort. How it made something magical out of hollow space. I know a better writer could’ve somehow explain that by coming back around to the summer vacation metaphor, but all this farm stuff if more complicated than that. Or it is too me. Christmas in July maybe? Eh, too far of a reach. Regardless, I’ll update all weekend with pictures and stories.

less bugs, more plants

This is a psa for all you gardeners out there. I got one of these at the Orvis store in Manchester, and it has been a blessing outside. When you're hiking, or more importantly, gardening - you'll always be a sweaty mess that bugs are constantly swarming around. Well these bandanas are treated with some chemical that doesn't hurt you, but repels insects. So the biters and flies leave your face alone while you plant or smash mountains. They are a little pricey, at 15 dollars or so a piece, but you're paying for a bug-free face, not a fashion accessory. However, you get both. Bully.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This past Sunday I loaded up my day hiking gear and dogs in the wagon, and we drove upstate to Merck Forest and Farm center. Which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a local Mecca of hiking trails, barns, sheep, rhorses, sugaring and chickens all surrounded by the lazy rolling vistas of the Green Mountains. You can stop in at the visitor's center, grab a free map and the shove off to spend the day hiking through the woods, or if you're not into that, you can just spend a day hanging your feet off a fence post and watch lambs play in the fields.

If you mix backcountry with farm country, I am a very happy girl. So I spent a few hours there with Jazz and Annie. We parked at the visitors center, walked across the dirt lot to a building marked visitors center, and I tied up the dogs to a post while I went inside to explore. The center had walls lined with jugs of syrup, books, maps, eggs and yarn from their animals. It was nice. Quite a little store for the middle of nowhere. I talked with Pam (the ambassador/salescler/ranger behind the desk) for a while about the finer points of maple syrup (they sell their own farm made syrup in the center, and we both agreed darker more maple-tasting version is better then the "finer grade" light stuff)

After this we started walking down the dirt roads to the barn and pastures. Cars aren't allowed through here, only foot traffic. Which makes the fields of animals and gamboling horses even more pristine. We walked past the fields of animals (which Jazz and Annie slowly stared at with resigned apathy of restrained wolves) and padding towards the signs for hiking trails and cabins.

Everything was uphill. It was awesome.

We got a hell of a workout, and in less than two hours had climbed uphill nonstop. Annie, who started out with more energy than Jazz and I combined, hated everyone 45 minutes into the hike. Jazz, a master of moderation and pacing himself kept his head down and just kept hiking without glance at Annie, who kept trying to lie down and snap at salamanders like little orange pieces of salt water taffy at her paws. Annie's kind of an asshole.

When we arrived back at the farm area, storm clouds were brewing. I loaded them up in the car and checked back at the visitors center's events calendar. Merck is renowned for it's sheepdog trials in July. They say if you want to get into sheep, herding, border collies or all three, you should go and talk to this person or that person. I of course, will be there will bells on.

Friday, May 16, 2008

my porch, coop and gardens (so far)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

coming attractions

The next few weekends will be picking up on my little farm. Soon there will be angora bunnies, a hive of bees, and rows of corn planted by swirling pumpkin vines. All of it will happen in a fever storm the rest of the world will know as "memorial day weekend" - and I'll know it as get-everything-in-the-ground and get-your-animals-in-line weekend. I want everything for the summer growing season in the dirt by the end of next weekend, which means not only another raised bed or two (sod busting and all) but hand tilling three rows for sweet corn, mounds for the squash, and about a dozen tomato plants for salads, salsa and sauces. Can you taste the yummy? I can.

Besides gardenland there is chicks and goslings arriving, along with a Friday morning pick-up of bees in upstate New York. Saturday I'll be meeting an angora person at a Rutland Rabbit show to get a breeding pair of rabbits (papers and all), so in a few months I'll be selling my own farm-born bunnies... Holy night, it's going to be a long weekend. Which is exactly why I want to become a writer full time - to transition my career into something I love to do, that I can do from home. I'll get there eventually, right now it's office life 40 hours a week till I'm free to dive into these crash-course weekends in the real world of farming.

P.S. Check out how badass Rufus Wainright looks in that picture.

Monday, May 12, 2008

wooly buggers and royal wolves

This weekend I took a two-day intensive introduction to fly fishing with Orvis. The company has these schools that take complete beginners and show them how to fish. It was one hell of a packed schedule. It covered everything you could possibly need to know to get out on the water by yourself - I learned how to cast properly, how to tie delicate knots, read water, gear checks, etiquette, trout species, heck we even looked at charts of what bugs were hatching where and when so we'd know what flies to use. I came home both days exhausted, but happy. I didn't catch a single fish (I don't have the skill too yet), but I dipped my toe into this world of naturalists, travelers and outdoors-people. I am humbled by it's history and complexity. I am challenged by it's simple rewards. Fly-fishing and I are going to get along just fine. I can already tell.

After my certification was through, I went to the store and bought my own rod, reel, and fishing vest. Thanks to our discount I was able to afford slightly better gear than my tax bracket would usually allow. On the way home from work I stopped on the Batten kill to practice my casting, and relax from two days of classrooms and instructors. It was sunset, and the Hendricksons were hatching and wafting around me in little clouds. I wouldn't know what a Hendrickson fly was, or any fly for that matter, before my fly-fishing course. Now they seemed to be everywhere. Every now and then a trout would rise to meet one. I got excited at the sight of them. After a while I stopped trying to catch fish, and just focused on my casts. I listened to the redstarts chattering around me, (a bird I didn't even know the name of until I came home and looked it up) and felt the water rush over my hips. I didn't have waders, I just let the river get me wet. The sun set in the green mountains. I counted breathes like I would in Zen meditation, and thought about nothing. Thoreau wrote that, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.” There certainly is something to that. And since spinning reels weren't invented until after WWII, he was talking about fly-fishers.

I pulled in my dry fly, cut if off the line, stuck it in my hat and went home.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

chicken invasion

pies and neighbors

I made a few apple pies for some co-workers and neighbors this past weekend. They are my usual recipe, but I hand-rolled little birds nests on top of them, and on each pie placed a dark chocolate blackbird (compliments of the Chocolate Barn and their creepy 17th century molds). They came out adorable. And here's a picture.

A few days after their delivery, I was pulling onto my dirt road after work, and my neighbor Nancy ran out to the car, arms waving. She yelled at my car, 'That was the best apple pie I ever ate!" - a thank you holler from her yard. Earlier that week I dropped off her pie and a six pack of brown eggs as a thank you gesture. My birds are often on their property, using their nice yard as pasture. It only seemed correct they got some of their eggs every once in a while as rent.

The pie was also for the load of wood they delivered to my house so I could enjoy my fireplace. These are the kinds of things neighbors have done for me here. I've gotten firewood, handmade raised beds, wild leaks and moose meat (though, this was awkward to accept as a vegetarian, but I tried to do it graciously...) Point is, out here in the woods people go out of their way to help each other. For the first time in my adult life, I know everyone's names and jobs that I live by. Hell, I know their dogs names. I know Juno, the crazy-fast black border collie mix will be peeing on my porch every morning at 6 Am. I know Cody, the gamboling old lab, will rumbled out to say hello to jazz and Annie when we're on walks. To know you neighbors, of all species is a sense of community I am thriving on.

I like seeing Katie out in her yard, and walking down the hill to talk about the hawks in the area, or wild fiddleheads for soups. I like that most people with horses use them instead of cars, and it's common to pass them on the dirt roads. I like my community, and sometimes something as simple as a pie with too much butter and powdered sugar (my secret) is all it takes to sew the seams a little tighter. SO if you have the chance, do something small for a neighbor. Chances are, you'll get it back. And it's always amazing when you do.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

city veggies

I wrote about Nisaa coming up for the weekend to help with the garden, which she did between gritted teeth, but I guess it grew on her, because now Nisaa has the gardening bug bad. She sent me this picture of her lettuce and snap peas growing in her Brooklyn apartment. She named the lettuce Harold and Maude and the peas Lennon and McCartney. They are thriving! Those snap peas are grown from seeds, and the lettuce was left over from my garden here. She took them home on the Amtrak from my mountains down into her city, and they couldn't be doing better. Now she's thinking about seeking out a veggie growers city meet up group, and going to grab some tomatoes this weekend! Nisaa's proof positive that you don't need five acres and a border collie to grow a little independence on the windowsill. I bet it'll be the best goddamn salad she ever ate too. I know that's stromg language, but homegrown greens deserves a loud modifier.

they strongly discourage trespassing of any kind

This is a blog about farming, or dreams of future farms. But, today I want to write about something that is a huge part of Cold Antler. A little radio show that has been on in the background of nearly every garden planted, chick raised, and drive cross country. I have had episodes saved and replayed so many time I feel like a mini expert on some arcane topics few people care about, but if you're taking the time to read this blog, you might too.

A few days after I started work at my first real job, my manager asked if I listened to any podcasts. I didn't really know what podcasts were, only some vague notion that they were internet radio shows you could download and listen to on a mp3 player. Seemed kinda geektastic to me, and I was more interested in hiking in the smokies than I was in listening to someone talk about the new ibooks online.

But then I came across a radio show that I have listened to religiously since the day I found it. New Jersey based Hometown Tales, a show about local legends, lore, food, gossip, ghosts, and everything else strange and weird in the news, took over my headset in the office. Once or twice a week, Bryan and Gene update me on things like ghost ships, world war two legends, Hollywood deaths, weird festivals, bigfoot, and in and out burgers. What started as a rekindled interest in weird news turned into getting to know these guys. Over the years these men have changed jobs, gotten married, adopted children, traveled the world and watched their little podcast turn into an international sensation in the web radio world. They don't sit in their glass towers about it either, in fact just a few weeks ago they had a cheeseburger Friday, where people, anyone really, was welcome to join them for beer and burgers in Jersey to talk. Some people drove from as far away as Kentucky to say hi. Impressive.

I adore this little radio show. Not just because of the folklore, but because of the community around it. Bryan and Gene gave all of us armchair cryptozoologists a place to talk on forums and laugh with each other. It gave us a place to read up on crazy-ass news we'd never hear about in the mainstream channels. But most importantly of all, it gives us a place to share stories - a virtual campfire that's thousands of us sit around in our offices or on our ipods every week. It brings a little mystery to a world where we constantly strive to separate ourselves from superstition. I really enjoy this little niche of the internet. I will miss it terribly when they've had enough of microphones and blogs. But for now, please check them out, tell your friends, and sit back with a pork roll egg and cheese sandwich and enjoy the carnival while it lasts.

Home Town Tales

Sunday, May 4, 2008

cold antler produce

Jesus, Mary, Joeseph and the camel!! The gardens are coming along. Every weekend I plant a new 4x4 plot and pick up a few potted plants for around the cabin. So far we have the following in the garden – potatoes, snap peas, green beans, onions, rhubarb, broccoli and three different types of lettuce. In pots on and around the porch I have tomatoes, parsely, chives, basil, strawberries and mint. As the weeks get warmer I will be adding rows of sweet corn, pumpkins, watermelon, zuccini, cucumbers, peppers and more. The goal for this year... my own jack-o-lanterns for Hallows.

Last year I was way to much of a designer in the garden. I tried to make it pretty instead of practical, growing things I rarely ate for varieties sake. This year I am sticking to what I eat, and a lot of it. Which is why half of that space n the garden now is salad greens and broc. I am a girl who loves her broccoli. As the summer goes on I hope to eat most of my meals from the backyard, and what I can't eat will be canned, sauced, jammed, and stored over for the winter.

poultry swap!

This morning was the May Poultry Swap in upstate New York. What started a few years ago as a fancier's tailgate party had now evolved into a full out livestock trade show. Off the top of m head head I remember seeing chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, pheasants, rabbits, lambs, goats, doves, quail, peacocks, puppies and of course free barn cats. There were farmers from all over southern Vermont and upstate New York and a few straglers from other regions looking for a specific breed or animal. It was a fray of feathers, vendors, squawking, crowing, and races of human conversation. All of it happening at 7 Am on a rainy 45 degree morning. Yet despite the weather, the crowds showed up and the 4-H stand sold coffee and donuts. Bless them.

Being without a rooster, I was on a mission for a relatively calm gentleman to join my little homestead. I saw all sorts of males from tiny little Sebright bantam cocks to giant Cochin roosters, which were so big they stood three feet tall and triumphed over the tom turkeys in the neighboring crates. I would’ve brought one home, but a toddler could’ve ridden those guys and honestly, I didn’t have a cage big enough in the station wagon. I would've had to buckle him into the front seat. I’m serious, those guys were bigger than lambs.

So, giant roosters now out of my shopping picture, I ended up with a smaller Ameraucana rooster. He's beautiful. He has a cream mane of feathers around his head, a gray body, and speckles of green and rusty gold feathers along his cape and saddle. He’s flamboyant, colorful, generally calm and a somewhat soulful crower. I named him Rufus Wainright. An added bonus - he can’t be mistaken for a turkey, which is in season now for Vermont hunters.

Besides Rufus, I came home with a few more layers. A nice little Dominique (black and white bars along their backs) a jet black Australorp, and a little Ameraucana hen I named dove, after the Carlin’s favorite Ameracuana back in Idaho.

It took every fiber of my being not to buy two lambs and “figure it out” but I have said no to 10-week-old goats before (which is hands down the worlds cutest baby animal) so I can say no to some sheep. All of my hooved livestock will find their way into my life sometime down the road, When I have a barn, and fencing, a man to build said fencing, and pasture. Right now, I have chickens and some veggies.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

plant your own insurance

It’s snowing outside right now. Not a squall, just flurries, but it’s enough to have me on edge, baffled at April’s audacity. Not a week ago is was over 75º outside. The sun was beating down on Nisaa’s salad garden and I was planting potatoes, onions, and broccoli in a new bed beside it. I was being bitten by bugs and watching the chickens scatter dust as they rolled around the dirt lined driveway, shaking any mites from their feathers in the process.

But last night… this killing frost came. Vermont is a fickle bitch when it comes to weather, and like all the other silly early planters; I was outside in the blustery evening wind, covering up the tender seedlings with decapitated soda bottles and newspaper.

Maybe some gardeners were doing nothing, having given up on the bi-polar weather, but this wasn’t mine to squander anymore. Nisaa had given up a whole day of her life to help me plant these greens and I had spent hours planting the box aside it myself. I wasn’t losing 32 square feet of food over one bitchy night. So I made little greenhouses, and held down the newspaper over the buttercrunch with rocks went inside feeling tired but smugly benevolent. It still surprises me how much emotion dirt and plants can rise up in you. Like a dipper in a well, it brings up whatever’s just under the surface.

This morning, the plants were fine. My newsprint and recyclables insurance policy worked. When I checked on them at 6 AM, the paper and bottles were covered in a fine ice, but the leaves below seemed hardy. I felt proud. It’s nice to watch the land take care of you while you take care of it.

So… speaking of insurance policies…

I am comforted, even if it’s just a little, by my garden and flock of birds. Knowing that there is a free source of protein and vegetables right outside my door brings me a little security. Come June, the price of a pound of tomatoes might shoot up to a ridiculous amount. I can’t imagine what organic vegetables will cost by then, but it’ll easily trump their chemical brethren. Right now the prices of gas and grain, and the world’s shortages in food are all I hear about on the radio (If not that, the war) While I could not survive off my little homestead for a long time. I can supplement my diet, and half of my meals this summer, with fresh local food from the backyard. And yeah, it’s a lot of work, but I’ll also be saving a lot of money. The six broccoli plants I just put in the ground cost 2.79 cents all together. Right now one head of organic broccoli is 3.49 in my local stores. Making my heads run me about 14 cents each, and I can keep planting more if the skillet calls.

And it’s not just eggs and the garden. There is comfort in the other skills I picked up along the way. When strawberries go on sale I can make a years supply of jam in one afternoon for a few dollars and some mason jars. A few pounds of flour and some yeast and I can bake all the bread I can eat. A good tomato crop and I will have all the pasta sauce (and pasta too, thanks to the eggs again) I can eat all winter long. If I’m lucky this fall will have a few jars of golden honey and some home brewed wine as well. Knowing how to produce, preserve and create some of your food feels kinda good when the average barrel of petrol is going for 150 bucks a pop. We’re not there yet, but you just wait. When your next salad costs ten bucks a pound you’ll feel it there and at the pump. If there was ever a time to start learning to garden, if only for the saved cash, now is that time.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t expect the recession to drive us into a depression. I don’t think America needs to start turning their lawns in victory gardens. I do however; strongly believe they’d all be happier if they did. It’s harder to be angry at the news when you’re biting into your own roasted and buttered sweet corn.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Check this bruiser out, it's a wool hat knit from 100% pure icelandic ram wool. And what's that on my hat? Why it's a perfect little head-pocket that fits my little nano in it. When you're hands are full, and you don't have pockets -yet still need to hear the newest Iron and Wine album.... choose ihat!!! Can you handle it? Yes, of course you can, and you should knit one too.

the pope has left the building...

So, here's a little sad update. Ben and his Polish ladies are heading off to a new home on Friday. They were great birds but the hens have been eating eggs and I just can't have that. For one, it cuts back on the eggs I'd want to collect or set to hatch. It also might get the other hens gobbling eggs, (if it hasn't already.) So a local Manchester couple wants them as glorified lawn ornaments and pest control. They'll go to a nice home, and I get to keep the 4 eggs a day they've been eating. We'll miss you Benedict.

And now, the hunt is on for some new cock.