Monday, July 7, 2008

chick and a turkey

back from pa

Back from a long weekend in Pennsylvania. Three days of family, gardening, fireworks and French toast. Now that I live in New England the drive home is considerably less of a big deal than it was in Tennessee or Idaho (10 hours or 4 day's drive respectively) I hit the road at 7:30 Friday morning and was home around lunchtime. Not too shabby.

The big project was my parent's garden. This is their first year planting any substantial food-garden. Not that they are strangers to fresh veggies, by any means. I grew up in a house that always had tomatoes plants by the back deck and my mom, who would happily eat out every meal of the rest of her life, knows there is no excuse to put canned pumpkin in a pie (plus, she tends a mean flower garden). So, they have grown and cooked with their own food before. But we were expanding the operation to mythic proportions for our own family's humble backyard history.

My neighbor here in Vermont is a retired botanist for a New York City college. He has a heck of a garden at his house, and he overestimated his flats of seedlings - leaving him with more food than he could plant. He graciously gave me a crapload of free veggies. So in the back hatch of station wagon I had corn, pumpkins, pole beans, peas and Russian yellow tomatoes. All going to 330 Columbia to meet their new home in PA soil.

We weeded, mulched, shoveled, hoed and planted as a family. My mom commented that she felt Amish, what with the neighbor's raising a barn next door and all (they are loudly rebuilding a new garage from the ground up). After our work was done we had a nice little patch of corn, two hills of pumpkins (two plants each), pole beans in stakes, peas along the fence and heirloom tomatoes planted in containers around the perimeter. I was proud of it. When all the work was done and the ground was watered we all sat outside on the porch with lemonade and the banjo. Good times.

By the end of the weekend we were bickering over stupid things and I was ready for a quiet log cabin. But it was a nice little trip back home and when I returned all my poultry was healthy and well. But there was a small tragedy. One of the bunnies had crawled out of the hutch and had made it to the chicken's fencing. Where it got it's head stuck in the wire and perished. No chicken had touched it, much to my relief that it didn't meet it's end at beaks and claws. But It was still a sad site to come home too. Now we're down to six bunnies, and if I end up with five I'll be content. I lost one to natural causes, and two to wandering away from home.

There was the somber realization that had I been home to watch them maybe I wouldn't have lost the little guy. But what is done is done, and now it's my job to make sure the rest grow up healthy so they can start helping other spinners get their own wool from their own herds. As Catherine Friend put it in her book, "Hit by a Farm", where there's livestock there's deadstock. Keeping animals means sorrow and joy every day. It's a reality I'm learning more and more as I expand my own homestead every year. And one i'll wrestle with personally as I raise my first ever animal for the table - our family's Thanksgiving turkey.

I am sorry though, little bunny.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

i'll be back

With high summer bringing the garden into overdrive, 22 chickens running around, a new litter of rabbits and all the adventures and small crisi that go with it (we did lose one of the bunnies) I've been very busy. Work's been good and exciting and between my office life and farm life it seems like I haven't had as much freedom to write. But I'll update soon with notes from VT and PA (going away this weekend to my folk's house) Hope you all have a great 4th of July!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

newborns and hailstorms

Last night during a rainstorm, Bean Blossom the Angora rabbit kindled a litter of baby bunnies. (Kindle, if you're not familiar with the term, is the rabbit business's word for giving birth to a litter of bunnies and has nothing to do with electronic reading aparati.) This morning, when I went to check on her hutch, there were 8 (possibly more, hard to count right now) little pink bunnies breathing under a pile of soft angora wool. Poor ol' Bean looked half her size. Between the fur she pulled to make a nest for the newborns, and the weight loss from the birth, she was a shadow of the giant fluffy rabbit I knew the day before. But her eyes were bright and as of this morning all of her newborns were alive and well (keeping fingers crossed). In about ten days they'll open their eyes and be covered in a coat of soft fur. In three weeks they'll be hopping around the hutch and ready to be registered, tattooed and sexed. When they are about 8 weeks old they'll be sold to spinning and 4-H homes. I'm really proud of her. This is her first litter ever and she did everything by the book and right on time. I can't wait till they're old enough to show pictures of...

Also, yesterday Ol' Bitch Nature* was one angry broad. A hail storm came and ripped apart the garden. I came home to lettuce and pumpkin leaves shredded. But I think everyone will make a full recovery. The picture above was taken by my neighbor during the hailstorm. All my hens (and Rufus Wainwright) took refuge on the porch to watch the weather turn.

*My little holler to Logsdon there

Sunday, June 22, 2008

important business

Yesterday started, like most Vermont summer Saturdays do, in the Battenkill river. I was standing in my waders out in hip deep water, trying to roll cast to some promising trout holes under a fallen log. I have yet to catch a fish out on the river, but those few hours on Saturday mornings aren't bothered by that. I like the way it feels to feel strong water rush over your hips and be surrounded by the flapping songs of ceder waxwings and scarlet tanagers. I like the sound of the river. The herons stopping by or waving to kayakers that paddle past. There's this whole community on the Battenkill like that - of anglers, paddlers and the occasional tube floater. River people.

This morning I wasn't in the river. I slept in, and then after morning dog-time I walked over to the coop. Inside Cyrus and Saro (my goslings, who are now as large as the rooster) were chasing the hens around the coop. Great. That's what I need, stressed-out birds that won't lay for a whole day because of some smart ass posturing geese.

I shooed the pair outside with the duck into their special waterfowl hotel next door and went about the business of scooping grains, pouring fresh drinking water and letting the hens into their outside pen. Within moments I heard the "kaPlop" of a fat gosling jumping into the metal tub to swim and clean off his chest feathers from the night on hay. The hens were cooing happily with their scratch grains in their beaks. Rufus Wainwright crowed a mighty crow. All seemed back to relative calm when I turned to the garden.

The gardens are looking good, with a few exceptions. My onions and eggplants seem to be drooping and not growing much at all compared to the other vegetables. But they are the only crappers. Other veggies are going gangbusters. The snap peas, lettuce, and broccoli are all ready to harvest - and harvest I have. I've already enjoyed stir-fries, quiche, and salads from their spoils. The pumpkins and watermellons seem to be vining just fine. The corn is knee-high. The zuccs have big fat orange flowers. Life rolls.

But now I'm back inside, and the way the rain's been coming down, looks like I'll be in most of the day. It's thundering and the coffee's hot. So I'm going to get back to the very important business of doing nothing. Y'all have a fine Sunday. Don't pull anything.

Friday, June 20, 2008

like the ravens in the corn

A few months ago I was given a copy of Sew What, Fleece, a book about small projects you can make with polar fleece using instinct over patterns. I loved the book. It's simple, fun, and has some cool stuff in it I could make for gifts or myself. I found a bunch of ideas, but none as cool as the hooded fleece vest. I wanted to make one for myself so I got some warm brown fleece and hand-sewed myself a zip front, giant-hooded version of the one in the book. For kicks I took an old pair of blue cords and made a giant raven patch for the back of it.

I've never lived in a place without crows and ravens. I like them, always have. When I drive to work or walk the dogs in the morning they swoop and dive through the maples like acrobat fighter planes. Beautiful pagan angels. Here in the hollow they seem to be watching over my place. When a hawk comes through, they swarm and chase it away - making the world a little safer for my chickens. While I know it's because they don't want to compete for food, I like to think of them as my own security force. And so, in homage, I wear one proudly on my back every morning when I go out to feed the chickens and haul water to the garden.

Monday, June 16, 2008

romania eh?

The longer I live in Sandgate, the more I think I'm in Romania. Sandgate feels like a pre-industrial farm society nestled in big dark mountains. The roads are dirt, and there are more horses on them than cars. There are more farm animals than people in general. Ravens and crows are more common than sparrows, and the rolling hills of ancient farmhouses (some I'm sure older than America itself), make the place seem ancient and worldly. I adore this place. I don't even miss the sounds of trains.

So yesterday, while on my usual Romanian jog, I stopped at a barbed-wire fence by the side of the road to pet some neighbor's horses and give them a big fistful of green grass just out of their long neck's reach. I was patting their heads and tussling with their manes when I heard a "Ba Buck BAWW!" and turned around. Behind me, Alfred Hitchcock style, were about seven chickens. All just staring at me on the dirt road. They had snuck up behind me from the farm across the way while I was in horseland.

Now, these aren't the docile dumpy chickens I'm used too, but like, a gang of underprivileged youth chickens. They should've all had matching bandanas and switchblades with the way they looked me, casing me for a weakness. The horses behind me I swear nearly laughed. "You're on your own kid," and they trotted away to the other pasture. At my thigh was a giant white rooster, looking up at me with little dinosaur eyes. I reached down to pet him, tell him I'm okay with his bad self, and "BAW CAAAAAWWWWW BUCK BAWW!" He jumped up and slashed at me with his spurs! he cut open my hand and then started coming back for more. I yelled, sweaty and stupid in the pastoral Eden "WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM BIRD!" and he strutted and hissed circles around me. The dairy goat and her kids on the hill watched, amused I'm sure, with muted thrills. Not wanting to temp the jerk by fighting back or running, I just stepped over him and continued my jog. Apparently, not all roosters are nice as my Rufus.

As I jogged back to my cabin, I came across a neighbor with two draft horses on a cart. The little rhinos without horns were plodding along in what looked like it had once been an old tractor converted into a draft cart. They ambled on past me, hand bloody as I waved, and headed back to their farm with polite but concerned looks. Now I've never been to eastern Europe. But I have a feeling on the backroads 45 minutes outside of Prague, a similar event probably went down.

P.S. The top image in this post is Sandgate, the one below, Romania...

just say no to powder mix, son

I'm a big fan of fresh lemonade and real brewed ice tea. But since I'm usually the only one drinking it, it's silly to make a giant piutcher for one. I found a way to make my own single serving version in portable containers. Which is great when you're on the run into town and want a cold drink for the road, or have been out in the garden and need something instantly cold and sweet to boost up your blood sugar. Enter - MasonAdes.

Ingredients
Box of pint mason jars (with lids)
Fresh lemons
Water
Ice cubes
Sugar
Lemon juice
Black tea bags
Fresh mint or lemon verbena from the garden

MasonAdes are soda-can sized servings of hand-squeezed lemonade or iced Tea. You can make enough for a whole weekend in about 5 minutes, which makes me wonder how powdered mix ever even made it in the public market?

Take your jars and fill them up half way with cold water. Then cut half a lemon and squeeze it's juice into the jar and then plop the whole half into the jar as well, making the water tart and filled with little bits of pulp and flavor. If you really want to kick the tartness up - add some fresh lemon juice (about a teaspoon) to it as well. Then add as much sugar as you feel appropriate (depending on mood and heat it could be as little as a teaspoon or as much as 2 tablespoons) and then top it off with ice. Seal the lid and shake the hell out of it till it's one big frothy delight.

I make a few of these and stash them in the fridge. Instead of grabbing a can of soda, I grab a cold jar of real lemonade. Which not only tastes amazing, but feels a little more authentic than most beverages. MasonAdes can also be made into iced tea - which is a healthier alternative. I just pour hot water from a kettle into room-temperature jars with a black tea-bag and let it cool on the kitchen counter. Then I add in a little lemon slice and a pinch of sugar, some ice, and a sprig of lemon verbena or mint and let it sit in the fridge alongside the jars of lemonade. When it's cold enough to condense water off the sides, it's manna from the still.

Friday, June 13, 2008

bean blossom in the garden

gosling life

So I'm new to geese. I have two. A breed called Toulouse, and they're just a few weeks old. I'm already a huge fan. I named them Cyrus and Saro. I'm assuming their a male/female pair because Cyrus is much larger, and acts a little more aggressive and protective. Possibly, this is just me being a goose sexist and they're both ladies or both dudes. Regardless, I'm sticking with their names. I'll risk it.

They are so different than the chicks. If the chicks were little velociraptors running around the hen house, these goslings are like lumbering brachiasauri - big and gray and longnecked. They move slower, and stretch out their necks to chirp and honk so I can tell they mean it. Surprisingly, they've already bonded to me like a puppy would. If they are loose in the yard and I walk away Cyrus flaps his little wings and runs after me. he'll waddle and faux-fly at me till I reach down and scoop him in my arms and sit on the grass with him. He'll then curl up like a swan and rest his big head on my arm, occasionally nibbling at my shirt sleeve with his tiny-toothed bill. He's charming.

The geese aren't alone. They share their little pen with a lone Magpie duckling named Henry. The trio of birds are the only waterfowl on the homestead, and hopefully I'll be able to use them for both weeding and lawn control (they devour grass) - and for their eggs. Duck eggs are raved over by bakers, and one goose egg can do the job of up to three chicken eggs. We'll see. Honestly, their here because I like taking care of them, and I enjoy the variety from all the other yard birds milling about. Some people say geese are a nasty lot, but it seems like I'm only hearing that from people who never owned any poultry of any sort and are basing that information off being chased around farms and parks by packs of angry feral farm geese never fed by hand or raised around people. But people who have raised pet geese say wonderful things, and since the average lifespan is about 40 years, I hope that Cyrus and Saro will join me at my future farm someday, and watch my life unfold. They'll see our lives evolve from scrappy chickens in a modified shed to a flock of sheep on a hill. Or so, I hope.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

chickens and past lives

There's a lot to update on. I have so much to write about... All the animals (the ones I planned on having, and some I didn't) are settling into their homes and doing swell. The bees are installed and busily building comb in their hive. The garden is starting to produce food, complete with the first snap peas on the vines this morning! Last Saturday I ate off every meal from my own backyard. Between the garden and eggs I was able to have an omelet for breakfast, a crunchy green salad for lunch, and homemade pasta for dinner- a quiet thrill for this little homesteader.

I also planted a few more hills of organic sugar pumpkins and sugar baby watermelons (This girl has big plans for Hallow's jack-o-lanterns and August mellons.)Along with those I hoed in another row of sweet corn next to the already established crop. Staggering your planting means you have more corn longer, because throughout the season since it'll come into harvest in succession. Fire-roasted sweet corn straight off the stalk is one of the great pleasures of the human experience, take my word on that.

Besides my current life, I got news from a previous one. Two emails were in my inbox last night from Idaho. Susan, my old massage therapist, who adopted my Black Silkies when I left, announced I was a grandmother! Emily, my Cold Antler Idaho raised hen, had just hatched a nest full of little chicks! How great is that?! I asked her to snap some pictures so I could post them here.

The other email came from Kelli, the homesteader who took in the rest of my old flock. She sent me a link to her new blog, and on it she mentions my old birds Mindy - one of my first ever hens. It's so good to know the birds that taught me so much are still happy and well in their old hometown. You can read up on them at the Bent Tree Farm blog. She's also the photographer of that great shot of the hen above (which I think might be Veronica, if it's a Brahma, not sure. Regardless, I miss the old girl)