Wednesday, February 25, 2009

an interview with zhenya senyak!

I want you all to meet Zhenya Senyak, the author of the recently published book Banjo Camp! Zhenya hails from Asheville, a town I love and used to frequent when I lived in Tennessee. Banjo Camp! is a gem folks. It's a beginner's instruction book for teaching yourself the basics, but it's much more than that. This colorful and friendly book is a tour on the backroads of America's roots music. You'll see photos, hear stories, and learn about all the ruckus happening in camps and shindigs all around the country. It makes you want to sling your banjo over your shoulder and start waling to the nearest campfire jam.

Zhenya has been kind enough to stop by the farm for an interview. We'll be having a friendly conversation about old-time music, his love of openback banjos, and some advice for all of us new pickers out there. If you are even mildly interested in making the banjo part of your life, pick up his book. It comes with a CD too, so you can listen to what you should be playing as you frail along at home ( a must-have for all us self-taught folks.) Okay enough yakking from me, everyone pull up a chair and gather round.

Zhenya, thanks for stopping by. Welcome to the farm.
Hi, Jenna, appreciate the invitation. Love the farm… and thanks for the mug of coffee. If Jazz and Annie are willing to move over a little, I can put down my banjo case.

So you've been playing banjo for how long now?
That’s hard to pinpoint. Six years ago I started Blue Mountain Schoolhouse, a teachers cooperative that offered all kinds of classes around Asheville, North Carolina. And in the course of interviewing teachers I got turned on to old-time music. I found a little hand-made banjo at a garage sale, , cracks filled in with bondo, strings high off the fretboard and some assorted tuning pegs screwed into the peghead. The guy said it would look good hanging on my wall but that was my first banjo. I paid $12 for it, about what the Pete Seeger banjo book cost me.

That part of my banjo career lasted about two weeks, maybe less. But I did hear some banjo sounds before I got discouraged. It was three years ago, when I was about to start a newspaper job, that one of the Blue Mountain teachers traded an open-back banjo for one of my acoustic guitars. And there was something magical about that banjo. I played it first thing in the morning, lots during the day and last thing at night. I’d wake up hearing that jingle jamming plunking sound in my head and couldn’t wait to start picking. So I’d say, yeah, I’ve been playing about three years now.

I gather you started as an adult. Was that intimidating?
I don’t know about being an adult, but I know I was surely getting on. I finished that newspaper job two years ago when I turned 70 and figured it’s now or never. I just leaped full bore into banjo and mountain roots music, spending an intensive year studying, visiting banjo camps, jamming. Yeah there were some intimidating parts. I got started playing bluegrass where, beyond learning the rolls and repertoire, there’s a whole routine of lead breaks and backup that you have to know before feeling reasonably comfortable in a jam. Plus bluegrass is a lot more of a performance.

Old time music is mostly people sitting in a circle, putting their heads down and playing together. When I found my way to old-time music banjo playing kicked into a whole new gear for me, more soulful, rhythmic, communal. I’m lucky, living in the heartland of old time music, to be surrounded by great old time musicians. For now, that usually keeps me at the edge of the circle at fiddle conventions and the many old-time jams around town, but I can play along and get into the groove and be part of the music.

Do you think making your own music can be considered a form of self-reliance?
That’s a good question. The flip side of picking with friends – and strangers – is your relationship to your instrument and to music. What I love about the banjo is its transformative power, the way it can jack me up or calm me down, keep me company on the road.

With my banjo, I don’t have to depend on MP3 players or CDs, on an electrical hook-up or batteries and ear buds. I love music, all kinds of music and, play lots of instruments… somewhat. Most any instrument, for that matter, most any way of producing music or rhythm gives us the ability to create an environment. The open back banjo, to me is alone in its range as a solo instrument. It can be mellow or insistent, ring out or just sing along softly on a single string. It’s a drum on a stick with stringed intervals that encompass all musical forms.

Why do you think old-time and bluegrass music feel so kindred to living close to the land?
Old-time music, country music whatever its form, is really folk music, music people make when they come together. Sometimes the music is about current events but often it’s a variant on old tunes passed along in families and communities. This is music that sustained people working long hours on the farm, when maybe the only refreshment was picking up a banjo at the end of the day or coming together with others for a fiddle and banjo dance.

Handmade music as the accompaniment to rural life is the natural way it has been for many centuries, long before cities and concert halls arose All that living history of folk music only started being collected in recordings and published and passed along recently. It’s great that that work has been done because now we have some historic record of folks who are gone, music we might never have

Returning to the roots or roots music is not a big leap. We may take our Blackberries and other electronic gear for granted, but the World War One was less than a century ago and at that time radio didn’t exist. Television, in any form, has only been around for 60 years or so and personal computers only go back a little more than 25 years.

You did mention to me you recently picked up a fiddle. Are you saying mountain music has some inevitable side-effects
When I was researching Banjo Camp! I interviewed many old-time banjo players who also played the fiddle. Maybe it’s not right to say “also,” since you’re talking about some of the best old time fiddlers in the world, like Brad Leftwich. Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham are good old-time examples of the nexus between fiddle and banjo. When the fiddle bug bit me, I understood immediately why these instruments are so bonded together. Of course they’re both light and portable, but their voices just naturally blend. When played together, fiddle takes the lead and banjo provides the beat, but it’s more complex than that since rhythm is an important part of fiddling just as dropping melodic and harmonic licks into a solid frail is part of banjo. It’s a conversation and now that I’m past that first squealing sour note stage of fiddling, it’s a conversation that’s fun to listen to . Bob Carlin and John Hartford made a fiddle/banjo CD called just that, “Conversations” that’s worth listening to if you get a chance. An old-time musician, playing fiddle and banjo is a little bit like Pinetop Perkins playing boogie woogie on the piano, the parts just come together.

What has been the biggest reward since you played your first tune on your banjo?
Hard to say. There have definitely been some highlights, long sessions with David Holt showing me the clawhammer ropes, conversations with Pete Seeger and Tony Trischka, listening to Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at an Obama fund-raiser, the Carolina Chocolate Drops with Joe Thompson on fiddle at the Swannanoa Gathering, weekly Shindig on the Green events in Asheville or the Wednesday night jams at the Jack of the Wood Tavern. For all that, I’m pretty much a loner. The biggest rewards for me have been the break-throughs, the empowerment, feeling close enough to my banjo to make the music I hear in my head, or maybe even close enough to let the banjo lead into the music.

What advice do you have for the timid-wannabe-banjo players out there?
It’s called playing the banjo…and that’s the attitude to take. If you just sit down and mess around for awhile, get some good old-time banjo music in your head and learn a few basic chord positions, it will all come together. You’ve got to just do it, knowing it’s about the music and playing and having a good time. You can work hard at it because it’s fun but if you start getting all grim about it, might as well take up insurance sales or something.

Think you'll ever stop picking?
That’s my epitaph: “Finally stopped pickin’”

Thanks Zhenya, 'preciateya.
So… you ready to break out your banjo and pick a couple of tunes?

two lives and the big why

This morning I had an interview on Martha Stewart's radio show Whole Living. It was a fine, polite interview. Nothing out of the ordinary. But the host asked me something that gave me pause. She asked me what I get out of working so hard at Cold Antler? She wanted to know why any sane person would work a 40-hour office week and then come home to churn butter, feed chickens, and sew clothing? This is not an unreasonable question. I get it a lot.

I tried to give her a quick answer about wanting to transition my life into one supported by full-time farming and writing, and that seemed to appease her—but it didn't stop my wheels from turning. The real answer to why I live the way I do is much more complicated than that because it's so ridiculously simple. And I'll explain that more in a minute.

It's never easy to explain to people why sustainable farming has such a hold on me. But ever since it first dug those raven claws into my brain - my life as a regular person has been split in two. One half is a world of high-brow design and corporate culture and the other world is one of potting soil, bee hives, and turkey feathers. Together these two lives collide and make up the everyday goings-on of Jenna Woginrich. I'm okay with splitting my life in half. Things are never boring around here, that's for damn sure.

Now, as to explain why I dance this dance—here's something I wrote for Mother Earth News. This is just an excerpt but you can click the link at the bottom for the whole story. I think it explains the addiction just fine.

From the article Why Homestead
Why would a perfectly normal middle class gal, who had a nice city job, and a pleasant apartment pick up her life and shake it till trowels and feed sacks fell out? Why spend a year learning to raise chickens and keep bees and nearly pass out of heat stroke in the garden when eggs, honey, and broccoli are all for sale at the grocery store for less than the cost of that hoe in your blistered hands?

There are a lot of canned answers to this and you know them already. As fellow homesteaders (or friends there of) you get the whole “homegrown-satisfaction-quality-of-life-green-living” bit. All those reasons ring true for me too, but there’s something else writhing below those surface answers. Something deeper that makes me smile in the garden or laugh from my belly in the bird yard.

It’s the honesty of knowing what I do everyday directly helps keep me alive.

It’s that simple.

You can read the rest of that story here

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

saro sits

If you walk into my birds' coop right now this is the rump you'll most likely see. Little Saro brooding near the feed bin, living on a prayer. She rarely leaves her post, not even getting up to eat or drink. I worry about her, and hand feed her grain and water to make sure she takes care of herself while on duty. Cyrus (her mate) guards her and egg like a proud father, hissing whenever anything gets too close. I have no idea if the home team will pull it off, but there's a slight chance a gray gosling will honk in this spring melt. For now, our girl sits and waits and we do to. Stay tuned.

right proud

John from Washington sent me this photo, and I had to share it. Look at this triple threat! An antique coffee grinder, a Fire King Jadeite mug,* and a stove-top percolator. Readers of this blog know I am a firm believer in the power of green mugs and strong bean water. It is understood by all of us here that this trifecta has the combined power to help the timid take on anything that comes their way.

I love coffee. It's responsible for slaying four states in four years with all my limbs intact. Every morning I look forward to that first mug. It gets me started in the world. It's also what makes feeding sheep in a blizzard at 5:30 AM a conceivable reality for someone who used to think not having a blow dryer was roughing it... Anyway, John also wrote that while his Montana dreams are a ways off, he can have a good cup of coffee while he plans his great escape. Made me right proud, that. Glad to be of service John. If you're ever in Vermont, I'll buy you a drink. Thanks for the picture.

*Greatest coffee mug on the planet. This is indisputable. Sorry potters.

books for a better life awards...

I won!

Monday, February 23, 2009

everyday antiques

award shows, banjos, and guests

So right now while I'm writing barefoot in my cabin, adorned in a blue hoodie and brown bandana... somewhere in New York City Made From Scratch is nominated for an award at a place where people are far better dressed than I am. The Books for a Better Life Awards are going on tonight, hosted by Meredith Vieira. I'm up for the Green category, and if I win it'll be the first award I received as an author. If I don't win, it's still the first award I was ever considered for. That alone makes me feel a little fancy, even if my entourage consists of a pair of sled dogs, chickens, rabbits and some bitchy sheep.

Yesterday's storm blew in ten inches of fresh powder. I woke up to a world covered in white. Every tree branch, every fence post, every sheep had its own pearl coating to greet the day with. This morning I took this photo near the cabin looking down the hill at my outhouse. Yes, I have an outhouse. Don't worry, the cabin has plumbing, but I kind of like that I have a functioning old-school option. I think it looks kind of pretty out there in the snow.

I spent the blizzard in front of the fireplace, plucking the banjo and reading between regular trips outside to take care of the animals. I dig my Morhan Monro Hobo, and our happy progress together. I have moved onto my second tuning (sawmill), and am learning a new mess of songs. I am not as quick a student in clawhammer as I was with the fiddle, but I am getting it. I really don't take my backwoods education too seriously. Mostly I learn at my pace as I go, taking what I can and not letting myself worry too much about nailing it in one sitting. Unlike the fiddle, this isn't about love and passion - this banjo stuff is more like adopting a really great goofy dog. I enjoy its company, it makes me smile - but it's not going to make it into my wedding vows. But damn folks, learning a new tune is a fine reward.

And hey, when you can't grow anything in your garden - cultivating music is a perfect substitute. I highly suggest this banjo business for any frustrated/impatient gardeners out there. You'll be glad you learned a few licks when your tired and happy on the back porch after those first few days of planting. A cold beer, something on the grill sizzling, and a happy banjo frailing at sunset makes all that dirt and tilled rows seem so worth it. I look forward to that night so much it hurts. Snow melts, right?

And speaking of banjos... I have some interesting news for you pickers (and future pickers) out there. On a lark I emailed Zhenya Senyak, the author of Banjo Camp. I told him how much I loved his book, and that it was the perfect introduction to the instrument, the community, history and modern goings-on of us banjo-folk. I asked if he'd grace this blog with an interview about learning the banjo as an adult, and mountain music's role in simpler living. Shucks guys, he agreed! So this week the blog will have it's first ever bonefide guest interview! If you're new to the farm, you can click here to read my post about his book. I'm really excited to have him join us for a day. He'll be a hoot.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


People who assume sheep lack personality, dignity, or character have never met my Sal. He is my favorite of the flock, and I say that without apology. Sal's a lion of a sheep, and every time I look at him I wonder what he has already figured out about me. I was outside feeding them this morning and he hung beside my waist to get scratched on the head. In the wind his dreadlocks blew around his face as the storm picked up. I scratched his head and noticed a small cut. I thought about the bag balm inside, and made a note to bring it out at evening check in. There was probably a haiku in there somewhere, but instead I took a photograph.

before the storm

Took this photo right when the wind was picking up. A storm is coming in today, with a minimun of eight inches in the forecast. I was supposed to drive an hour south down the mountains into Williamstown for that event, but I had to call and cancel. I just don't feel safe driving back in the dark in a snowstorm. Not in Sandgate. The roads here won't be taken care of till the school buses have to drive on them tomorrow. So I'm holing up, and feel like a schmuck. I am sorry guys.

"You need to get a pickup, girl"

Were the words said to me yesterday morning as the proprietor of D&D Feed walked inside to meet me, pulling off his hat and mittens as he made his way into the main office. He had just noticed the current state of my transportation and did not approve. Outside the Subaru was in its usual train-wreck state. All the seats in the back were folded down to make room for the five bales of hay I just picked up in Hebron over at Nelson Green's farm. The back hatch couldn't shut so it was lashed down with dirty baling wire. The front passenger-side seat was already loaded with 75 pounds of Scratch grains and rabbit pellets. I had been waiting near the front desk, having just called the number on the door in case anyone showed up to pay for their stuff. I nodded when he made the truck comment. I'll get there eventually. We all know this.

After some conversation about tomorrow's snow report and a signed check, I left the feed store. I was a few short miles from home and trying to juggle a very loaded station wagon with the ice-covered back roads. At one point in my life an open back hatch might have made me cold, bothered me even, but I rarely flinch at anything over -4 degrees anymore. And to be honest, I was too wound up to consider the wind chill inside the car. I was still reeling from Nelson's place.

Earlier that monring when I pulled up to Nelson's giant post-dairy farm no one was there. So I walked up to the house to see if anyone was home. I was confused because I called and made an appointment, but was told by his wife he ran to town, and if I could, would I please load the hay myself?

Well, of course I would. I was just anxious about how to go about it. I turned and faced the giant hay storage barn across the dirt road. It was about seven times the size of my cabin. The only way to get in (that I knew about) was a small loft hatch one of Nelson's farm hands would crawl into to throw bales out of.

Okay. I was going in.

Now I've been buying hay from Nelson for months. The day I drove home with the flock in the back seat, he was outside this very farm as I drove past. He was loading bales into the back of someone's truck when I pulled over to ask him (then a complete strange) "Do you have any hay?" and he laughed out load at my sheep taxi and said "Sure! You have any sheep?" That same day I that I welcomed the first hoofstock ever to Cold Antler Farm, I went back to Nelson's and together we loaded the car with eleven bales. A partnership had been made.

But now I was left to my own devices. I parked the car near the hay barn, turned on my hazards, and walked to the hatch door. I crawled up into the loft, and for a few holy moments I stood there and took it all in. I was standing in the soft, dusty, beams of winter light in a giant wooden barn. All around me forty-foot walls of second cut hay towered over my head. It was beautiful. Moments like this are like farm pornography. For me they're blantant moments of self-indulged pleasure. A bit of fantasy come true. Someday I'll have my own barn loaded with hay like this. I stood in awe, ridiculously happy at the sight of it.

Sometimes I worry if it's normal to gain inspiration from piles of dead grass...

I recently saw a magazine at Wayside that made me do a double take. The cover actually had a headline "What to do with an old barn!" which instantly made my heart drop into my lungs. The idea that some people have perfectly good barns and have to look to their coffee tables for ideas on what to do with them, breaks my heart. An unused barn being converted into lofts or gallery space makes me livid. I can't stand the gluttony of unused farms. Not when I'm at a place in my life where I would do anything to work that hard on my own land. My problems would be fitting in all the animals, figuring out lambing jugs and creep feeders, not if I should hire a historical society to restore it for the state's collective rural nostaglia... Christ, why don't you start eating caviar around some Victorian-novel orphans?

But a barn is a long way off, and I shouldn't be so bothered by what other people do with their land. After all, it is theirs, and none of my business what they do with their land. Right now I need to focus on what is going on in my current farmlife. Things like a pregnant Angora doe, and a goose-in-waiting. I have fences to mend, bills to pay, feed to stack, mouths to fill, and hay to put up. A pickup, a border collie, a flock of Scottish Blackface sheep, and a million other dreams will all have to wait for now.

It's good to want things, but dangerous to need them.

roll uphill

If you ever get the chance to drive alone under cold stars while listening to Bon Iver's Blood Bank, please do it. Make sure it's in the middle of a New England winter while your dog hangs her head out the frigid window, the heaters blasting in your face. Listen as you roll uphill past ghosts of birches and sugar maples and the places you once lived. These are the small moments without consequence that infect a whole lifetime.

It was a great ride home.

Friday, February 20, 2009

can't blame me for trying...

I hope posting this doesn't upset anyone, as this isn't the usual content, but I need to talk business for a moment. As a farmer-in-training and a hopeful homeowner—I need to start really focusing on my goals of someday, somehow buying my own land to start my shepherding career. Right now, the first step is paying off loans and debts so I can get myself in a position to not scare banks, and currently that isn't a fast process. To be honest it's painfully slow. So in the spirit of doing what I can with what I have - I would like to start inviting a little advertising on the site.

If you own or work for a homesteading, farm, livestock, green, or like-minded business and are interested in possibly sponsoring the site, please send me an email and let me know. Off the blog I'll explain my goals, banner sizes, time tables, all the logistics. I can asure you the site is growing by the month, with more and more readers coming everyday. On average about a thousand people stop by the farm daily to check in, and I don't think any of us would mind a small link to a hatchery or seed company. I would like to think there is some interest to mutually benefit from the blog.

Thanks guys for your patience, and there won't be any more posts about business. A girl just has to try, that's all. Back to the important stuff tomorrow.

socks, among other things

Well folks, the weekend is moments away and I bought new socks. The combination of these two things have slapped a smile on my face (I am a very easy girl to make happy). On my lunch break I stopped over at Whitman's Feed and bought a bale of straw, a twenty-pound bag of dog food, and a super-thick pair of cold-weather Carhartt boot socks. Sitting here at my desk I am giddy with the thought that in a few hours all the farm chores will be done and I will be in front of my fireplace picking my banjo in the transcendent comfort that can only be stirred up by farm chores and warm socks. Socks that will feel twice as warm because I had just lined the sheep shed and chicken coop with a straw bedding, which I will undoubtedly enjoy with them. See, I started this little ritual of plopping down on the clean straw right after I lay it and spending some time with the birds. I sit there and check on their overall health, and watch them go about their lives in the glow of the coop's heat lamp while the snowy night outside howls and blows. It's comforting really. Our special avian-fort, warm and earthy, safe and glowing. My little omelet house.

So tonight I'll haul straw, feed the crew, pat some sheep on the head and then sit down and play some music. A perfect Friday night. And with the socks, well shucks, that just tips the scales in the favor of bliss. Like I said, I am a very easy girl to make happy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

bless those texans...

Not to be outdone by Liz, jay from Texas sent along this photo of Scratch surrounded by some good friends. I'm happy to see the book messing with that sort of crowd. A fat happy guitar and a mando make my book look kinda rugged. Thank you jay. Stick around and I'll post some banjo tunes I recorded soon as I figure out how to upload it.

come see me this sunday

So if you have no plans for this Sunday, and live around Williamstown Massachusetts, we can hang out. Images Cinema is hosting a movie/author talk at 2PM and I'm the author. The movie is The Garden. It's about a rogue gang of urban gardeners in Los Angeles. The theme of the movie, and the conversations afterward is sustainability and self-reliance. Should be a casual, education, fun afternoon following a provocative flick. I think books will be for sale as well. This is what the Website says:

Sunday, February 22nd at 2:00 pm
This film is showing as part of the Sustainability Documentary and Discussion Series. Screening followed by conversation with Jenna Woginrich, author of Made From Scratch, and members of the Target Hunger Northern Berkshire CSA Workgroup. This event is sponsored in part by the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation

The Garden was nominated for an Oscar for Best Feature Documentary
The fourteen-acre community garden at 41st and Alameda in South Central Los Angeles is the largest of its kind in the United States. Started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992, the South Central Farmers have since created a miracle in one of the country’s most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community. But now bulldozers are poised to level it all.

The Garden follows the plight of the farmers, from the tilled soil of this urban farm to the polished marble of City Hall. Mostly immigrants from Latin America, from countries where they feared for their lives if they were to speak out, we watch them organize, fight back, and demand answers. Why was the land sold to a wealthy developer for millions less than fair-market value? Why was the transaction done in a closed-door session of the LA City Council? Why has it never been made public?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


How great is this? A reader from good ol' Canada wrote me and mailed this picture. She said I got her grabbing her old fiddle and has started playing again. Thank you Liz, and good luck with your playing. Knock 'em dead.

i'll be inside

Things at the farm are quiet. That kind of lazy quiet you roll into this time of winter. Besides a hopeful goose, some miserable vibrating bees, kitchen seedlings, and the regular gang of chickens standing on the porch—not much is happening at Cold Antler. The big news of the day is we're expecting a few inches of snow tonight, and I'm actually really excited about that. You wouldn't think after such a long winter I'd still be looking forward to fresh snow (specially after all the bitching I've been doing lately) But I am. I'm a sucker for the aesthetics. Everything just looks nicer after a fresh coating, and when you've been looking at chicken poo and dirty yellow dog snow all week, it's a borderline morale boost to see it all pristine again. Hell, even the sheep look cleaner after it snows. So tonight I am looking forward to coming home, tending to the animals and then doing nothing but reading inside with hot coffee while the weather turns. Strike a fire, raise up a fiddle, scratch a dog's ears and let it snow.

I think people like us enjoy simple comforts. People who homestead (or people who aspire to) seem happiest when they realize all they need to feel content is a warm place to read with good lighting and an oversized sweater. Throw in something hot to sip and we're beyond set, blissful really. It doesn't matter if we're in midtown Manhattan or a cabin in the woods—that disposition is hardwired in us to relish in such basic activity. The sadistic part about it is we like it so much more if we just walked 13 blocks in driving snow, or chopped wood for 2 hours, or did something equally grueling because such basic rest is so much better when it's deserved. We're a little twisted in that way, old-fashioned even. Us highlanders like our rest when we suffered for it.

But hey, we're not monastic. We still like all the shiny distractions, blockbuster movies, and fast cars the rest of the world gawks at... but generally we can all agree on the merits of forgetting about all that awful business for a snowy night, our guitars, and a good book. For a while we forget iPhones ever existed. It's a nice vacation.

If you need me, I'll be inside.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

nebraska represent

Thanks to Sandy, in Omaha, who sent along this new bumper shot. It was Texans who started this weird CAF ritual and it's still going strong. To be frank, as a new author just seeing that hardcover near a license plate far away makes the hair on my arm stand up. I still can't believe I published a book. I am not trying to be cure or self-deprecating here, it really hasn't hit me yet.

So thanks Sandy, and thanks to anyone who takes the time to send me an email, write on my facebook wall, comment on the blog, or do anything interactive with the Cold Antler world. Your feedback is what makes this less of a stand-up act and more of a conversation and that is how I like it. Every night when I sit down at the kitchen table to check emails I look for that one gem amongst the 67 junk emails from an actual person. You have no idea how much they mean to me, even if I don't always have time to reply. Which is nothing personal, and please don't feel that way. It's just really hard to get back to everyone in all these venues with everything else in these short winter days. But I do read them, and they are the fuel that keeps me writing.

I'll say it again. Thanks.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I would just like to say before I posted this I was sitting in front of the fireplace learning a clawhammer rendition of Wayfaring Stranger on the banjo while simotaneously watching deleted scenes from the Office Season 2 on DVD. I think that pretty much sums up my life right now.

Moving on.

I like patches. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I was once girl scout (currently lapsed)? Or maybe it's the neat embroidery? Perhaps they're just more interesting and less annoying than buttons? Regardless, I like patches. I pick them up from places I've been, or from clubs I do and do not belong to. One of my favorites is an old Moose Lodge patch I found on the back of an old order-member vest. (It is huge and awesome). I take these finds and sew them into my life. I stitch them on plain hoodies or shirts to spice them up, make them feel more like me. I have an old police badge patch from Weiser* Idaho sewn onto the left sleeve of a blue plaid cowboy shirt, and that one really strikes my fancy. Someone once told me it was "illega" but I doubt anyone will confuse a short swarthy girl hauling hay in southern Vermont with an Idaho police officer... I sleep fine about that choice.

Anyway, I like how they add a homegrown personalization to things without being very specific. They make things your own, special, fun. If I ever get married, instead of bags of almonds or candles, everyone is getting a boyscout-style wedding patch with a deer head on it and some corny fireworks or rockets (or something like that) that says "Blank and Jenna's True Love Jamboree 2014!"** I am certain that idea isn't mine, but I can't remember the source to lend proper credit, so let's pretend I was being orginal there.

* Weiser Idaho is where the world-renowned Old Time Fiddle competition is held.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

ready. set. plant.

The peas in this photo are from the farmhouse in Idaho. As you can see, I built them a very fancy lattice from dowel rods and chopsticks. As you can see, it worked fine. The snap peas crawled up the window and a few weeks after this snapshot was taken we had pods.

If you click on the photo to look at the larger version, you may notice Mary Todd Lincoln outside on the back deck. A nice chicken cameo from my past. So guys, If I can plant snap peas indoors in an Idaho Panhandle winter - anyonce can pull it off. Okay so, my peas were planted at 7 AM this morning in Sandgate Vermont. If you took part in the challenege, please leave a comment with a timestamp and your location. We'll use it as a record of how many peas were finally planted.

So far, 1!

Friday, February 13, 2009

snap pea 101

This is it Antlers, Sunday is the big day. We're planting those peas. Now, if you're new to the blog and have no idea what I am talking about, I assure you there is a method to this madness. A few weeks ago I announced the CAF Snap Pea Challenge. You can click that link and see all the people (over 80!) that signed up across North America to plant seeds together on the 15th. Hopefully all you participants already got your seeds, plant bulb, potting soil, and a pot ready and waiting. If you're feelin' really motivated there are SPC shirts for sale in the farm store, and buying them gives a small donation to the farm here in Vermont.

How to Pea

Step 1: Dirt

All you're going to do is fill your container (which should have holes in the bottom for drainage. This is important. Let's not drown our viney brethren) with dirt. Hopefully you bought some decent container gardening soil, but really, any bag of dirt marked "potting" will do. The reason for this is bagged potting soil assumes you're planting your seeds in, well, a pot. Since your peas will be indoors that little bag of potting soil is prepared to give your plant some things other bagged garden soils may not have. Think of it as vitamins for the indoor kids. I grabbed a small bag of Miracle Grow's Organic potting soil for around 5 bucks, and I'll be filling a small flower pot Saturday night in preparation. I'll probably also add a little something something to the dirt. I'll crush an eggshell and about an 1/8 cup of old coffee grounds that are already dried out and mix them in with the 4 -5 cups of dirt I'll be using. This is to add a little calcium and grit to the dirt, and help things drain a little better. It also makes me feel like I'm doing something fancy, which I enjoy very much.

Step 2: Plant & Placement
Some of you may want to soak your pea seeds in water the night before, which is fine but not necessary. It's your call. Plant your peas shallow. Cover them with just enough dirt that a mighty wind won't reveal them, about a 1/2 inch tops. Pour on a little water, but don't drech them. Now, set them in a place that gets some natural sunlight. Peas are cold weather crops, the earliest of the garden. You don't need them baking in a window, but hiding them out of direct sunlight isn't the best idea. If you don't have a choice, this is where our light bulbs come in. I bought a 60 watt grow bulb, and have replaced the lamp above the kitchen table with it. Grow bulbs are great, and fun top start seeds with but you can't treat them like X-ray machines. Don't hover a desk lamp a foot above the pot. You will certainly get seeds sprouting fast, but they'll turn into spindly worthless things. You want fat happy stems, and it's better to wait a few more days then bake a quick growth that won't be able to take your indoor environment. I suggest having a nearby lamp's bulb replaced. Between that and your window, you should be set.

Now, the big point I want to make is location. Where you plant your sugar snaps is important because these suckers are going to climb. That picture right there was taken after just a few weeks, maybe two? Point being your peas can't sit in the center of the kitchen table unless you are willing to make some sort of jungle gym for it to climb up. Also, be mindful of what's around. If you have a collection of Victorian glass animals above your windowsill - move them. The vines will crawl up and take over in a very cool way, winding their little tentacles on your stuff. I like this, but I also keep my antiques away from it. (You can't really dust something held in place by nature.) Regardless, I like having food holding onto my shutters and winding around bookcases. But just make sure the place you're putting your peas can climb. Sugar snaps are the athletes of your indoor garden.

Step 3: Research, Share, Comment, Repeat
So I urge you guys to page through some pea-reading. I found this at, and found it helpful. There is endless information online, magazines at your bookstore, and books at the library to help you out. If anyone reading this has a helpful comment or tip, please, let us know. Also, comment and let us know where you're peas are going? Maybe really good hanging basket ideas or furniture planning has been figured out by you fine people? I want to hear it all. Also, make sure to take a picture of your just-planted peas. We'll all take a photo every Sunday. It'll be fun to see how crazy things get by April.

Guys, this is going to be fun. If you give it an honest try and follow these basic guidelines we should be set. Make sure to keep your soil damp, but not wet. Don't water your peas for the sake of watering them and you'll be fine. With some patience, moderation, and good faith we'll all be smiling at white blossoms in a few weeks. Some of us with our fiddles and banjos by our sides. We've got it good kids. We really do.

seedlings, songs, and goslings

Last weekend I planted my first seeds for the growing season. I start early, crazy early really. I know I should wait till May like all the normal people, but I like my rogue spring attempts. There is something cavalier about going out there with a hoe when you still need winter boots. I like the faux-parenting of covering the sprouts with newspaper to protect them from frost, and knowing it's a team effort to make early food happen that locally. Plus, having those early spring salads always taste like heaven after such a long winter away from my own backyard produce mart. So, Soon as the dirt thaws in late March I move my peas, greens, onions, and broccoli outside. Soon after that potatoes hit the soil, and from there it's a downhill run into summer. I can't wait to get my fingernails dirty again.

Right now however, those seeds I planted are just babes. They are sprouting In a small Jiffy greenhouse I bought for $2.29 at Home Depot. Inside it I have peat pots teaming with butter crisp, romaine, and broccoli and a few days ago they started to sprout. I don't know what it is about seedlings, but just having them on the kitchen table has transformed the mood of the cabin. What was once a dark, quiet, borderline sordid place is now feeling lighter and happier. Between the new green kids and the twang of my hobo banjo the world seems strangely optimistic around these parts. Not a bad vibe to get from some 99-cent seed packets and some dirt caddies. Considering the average 50-minute hour with a therapist would set us back a crisp Benjamin - it's nice to know you can alter your serotonin levels for $11.87 at the garden center. So, there's that.

Don't worry. I didn't jump the gun and plant any peas. That will happen on the 15th, along with all of you fine people. Get pumped, son.

Oh, and I have some exciting news! Saro, my goose has not left her nest in days. I think she is going to try and hatch the egg she is camped out on. She is dead set on giving this incubation thing a real college try. I haven't disturbed her, and if I so much as nudge her to check she instantly goes right back to setting. Man oh man, if her and Cyrus raise a gosling here at Cold Antler I will be thrilled. My Toulouse geese are possibly my favorite fowl, and to know I was able to raise a breeding pair right here in Vermont, well that would be a considerable victory in itself. Not too bad for a Mid February weekend: seedlings, mountain music, and possible goslings. Things are certainly looking up.

Oh, and I added a Saro shirt to the store, in case anyone needs a goose that supports green energy, as their own garment. Just a head's up.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

makin' music

A reader asked me to explain how and when I started fiddling. In Scratch I tell this story in more detail, but to summarize here on the thrifty internet - I just taught myself. Now, for anyone who read that last sentence and assumes I have some natural talent and that's why I was able to learn - I want to stress that is definitely not the case. I don't know how to read music (I barely get by) and when people at jams start throwing around heavy musical terms I just nod and smile and listen. The reason I was able to teach myself was simply because I wanted to. I was bored and anxious when I first moved to Idaho. I missed Tennessee horribly, and how the culture, mountains, and people made me feel. I wanted to taste it again, feel it again, hear it again. Old Time fiddling was going to be my sensory passport. I would learn in the dead of winter by myself in the farmhouse. Since I didn't know anyone, I was spending all my time in this with the dogs, so after work I had this open window of time to dedicate to my studies. Since all the ingredients were in place, I just needed a violin. So I ordered the saddest student fiddle money could buy off eBay, and taught myself over the long weeks till summer came. I think the fiddle was fifty dollars (and that includes shipping) and the book/cd I bough to learn from was another twenty. Which means I taught myself to fiddle for less than what most people spend taking out their Valentine's this weekend. The main difference between me and them, I was certain to get some play that night. (GET IT!)

Seriously though, learning to play any acoustic instrument is like learning to drive. You don't just jump into a racecar on your first lesson. You start slow. You get some help along the way if you need it, but generally you learn by doing. Driving becomes second nature from experience. So much so that a few years down the road it's almost automatic. You don't think about shifting or changing pedals, you just do it. Which (I promise) is exactly how fiddling is. Sure, it starts out squeaky and lame, but you get better. Things start to become comfortable. And before you know what hit you - you're practicing for an open mic night with your first band. Which is what I was doing last night. The reality of that still shocks me, and I've been playing for years now.

So like I said, I'm not special, I just made it a point to practice everyday. I was also lucky to come across the right beginner's books that made teaching myself easy. Those "Ignoramus" books by Wayne Erbsen of are pure gold when it comes to self-instruction. If you pick up his old-time fiddle book and a cheap violin, you're set. You'll be playing by the campfire come June if you're willing to practice. Really. He also sells banjo (bluegrass and clawhammer) and mandolin ignoramus books as well.

The point of mountain music is enjoying it. I think a lot of recreational fiddlers and banjo players feel the same way. We're not in this game to win prizes or be the best - we're in it to keep a tradition alive and entertain ourselves while doing so. Personally, I'm also in it for the community. Pickers, pluckers, and strummers are some of the happiest, most laid-back, and interesting people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Because of my dulcimer, fiddle and banjo I've been put in situations where new people and new experiences are always popping up. jams, festivals, lessons, campfires - thanks to music I get out there and learn people's names. Something that isn't always easy to do when your road has more horses than humans. I am even considering going to a banjo camp for a weekend this summer. You just don't get these kind of experiences when you take up scrimshaw.

So folks, if you want to learn, learn. You need no one's permission but your own. Start cheap and slow, and build on it if it makes you happy. Which, and I'm talking from direct experience here, it certainly will. See ya at the next jam, son.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


snap pea shirts!

Thanks to your requests I included two new shirts to the farm store. Now there's plain white Snap Pea Challenge Shirt (only ten bones!), and a baseball shirt of the same ilk. Both have the wolf, the peas, and claim you participated in the 2009 challenge. Let's be honest, you pretty much need one of these. Every shirt also gives a one dollar donation to the farm, so that in itself is a quarter bale of hay for the sheep (and much appreciated). So grab a ten dollar shirt, confuse your friends and coworkers with my wolf with antlers. Tell them it's a new thing, they found them in Bulgaria.

Order your 2009 Challenge Shirts Here!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

faking grace

That photo perfectly sums up my night. I spent it right there, camped out in front of the fireplace on quilts and blankets. My bare feet warming against the sputtering flames as I strummed my new banjo for hours. It was bliss.

Yes folks, after months without a pot to play, your girl Jenna has reunited with a fine banjo. My new best friend is a Morgan Monroe Bean Blossom Hobo—a modest beginner 5-string open back. She arrived today from Tennessee, delivered right to the office in a giant cardboard box. Her much anticipated arrival back to Cold Antler was announced by me as I got out of the car. The verdict being...the dogs remain apathetic, the sheep have no comment, the chickens blinked, and I am falling in love all over again, this time in double C tuning.

After weeks of setting aside cash, I found a bargain online and had it sent here to Vermont. Tonight I rushed through my farm chores, fed the dogs, and then lit a fire and didn't leave it's side for hours. Like a conversation with an old college rommmate, slowly it all came back to me. The clawhammer frail, the hammer-ons, the beautiful slow songs that made me smitten with mountain music in the first place. After a while my fingers throbbed, and my stomach growled (I forgot to make dinner in all the hootenanny) but I pressed on. You gotta work at the things you love, son.

Now it's late for this farmer to still be up. I can't help it. While going to bed would be wonderful, it wouldn't be nearly as wonderful as leaning my back into the fireplace grate, and mindlessly, instictivly, playing a waltz till I'm half asleep. Currently the tune in heavy rotation is Down in the Willow Gardens, and it is beautiful. I love a good waltz more than most.

So tonight, I am a very content little girl in a cabin in the woods. With my fire, and my kind dogs, and a fairly optimistic outlook abut all this 2009 business - I feel okay. I wish everyone ended their days closing their eyes to a mountain waltz. If we did, the world would be a better place. A place that can occasionally temper our collective exhaustion with the heartbeat pace of 3/3 timing.

I have no idea how anyone gets through this life without music. Without making it, without breathing it in, without listening to it like it's the homily of the all. Which is exactly what it is. These songs that I've been playing all night take me far away, back to humid southern summer nights where I could spin around in a skirt and bare feet. During a country waltz, even I can be caught faking grace. So with that thought keeping a stupid smile on my face, I am going to bed. Probably.

Probably not. GCGCD.

Monday, February 9, 2009

get your maude shirts!

I opened a dry goods store as a small fundraiser for the farm. For each shirt you purchase from Cafepress, a few dollars will be donated to Cold Antler. Four shirts buys me a fifty-pound bag of organic chicken feed, so while the markup isn't much, it is a fun way to help out with the load. I'll add designs as I go along, but right now we're starting this off with everyone's favorite jerk, Maude. I promise you'll be the only person at the office with this little number, and it'll be our little inside joke. There are also CAF coffee mugs (of course), hoodies, organic tees, and other odds and ends in there you can also buy if you are so inclined. Design suggestions welcome for other shirt ideas, so if you want a were-rooster sticker or "I give great bread" shirts... let me know. We'll have fun with this.

Shop the store here

Sunday, February 8, 2009

the sound of settling

Friday night I came home from work energized. I was uncharacteristically wound. Most week's end with me coming back to the cabin with a mixture of exhaustion and gratitude—happy to know I have some time to catch my breath and catch up with the farm. But for some reason, on that particular night, I was smiling and singing. I came into the house belting lyrics to the ipod, which had been cranked since I turned off my computer at the office and trudged down to the parking lot. The whole ride home I sang along with an old record. Transatlanticism was the culprit. A Death Cab album that has become quasi-nostalgia for people of my age and disposition. If that's fair to say? I think it is.

I crashed into the cabin, throwing on my dad's red plaid coat as I headed out into the night to tend to my scene. Between feeding, refilling water containers, and cleaning rabbit cages I found myself tapping my feet. As I moved from the sheep pen to the coop, I kinda swayed to the music, keeping up some jaunty steps with the beat. Soon after in the hen house, I was hitting my hips against the metal cans that hold the grains as I sang along with Ben. Within minutes I was flat-out bopping around, dancing by myself in the chicken coop, smiling like an idiot. I watched my long shadow stretch out into the snow from the glow of the heat lamp and when I realized there was two of us, kept dancing.

Sorry, but I just can't help myself when a band knows how to use a clap track. I was singing to the geese now, who eyed me suspiciously from their nest. When The Sound of Settling came on I got even more pumped. I started singing directly to the poultry. "...And I can't wait to go greeeey.." I laughed this at Cyrus, who incidentally already is grey and apparently isn't a Sub Pop fan. If geese could roll their eyes, Cyrus could've been one of the kids in The Breakfast Club. Since I don't owe my livestock explanations for my musical taste - I just kept my straw-floor dance party going strong. The geese did nothing to stop me. They are all talk. Honestly folks, If I ever did have any pride it died in the walls and rotted somewhere on the crooked road between Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Now, I dance in coops. And I dance with gusto. Ba baaaaa, ba baaaa.

Not that Friday night like these are exactly the envy of my peers. To the untrained eye I am a crazy person, possibly a fear-biter, spinning around a chicken coop singing backup to music no one else can hear. But hell guys, I'm happy. I'm happy to laugh and dance around my animals. I'm happy to come home from a job I like and feel like I was needed at said job. I'm happy to realize a whole weekend is ahead of me with friends, dinners, guitars, books, and fiddling. What more could I dare ask for?

It takes very little to make me content anymore. Maybe that's because of the farm, but I think it has a lot more to do with giving up on a lot of likes and dislikes, and letting go of what I consider good and bad. That's not some flippant comment on lacking morals, not at all. What I mean is I don't take changes in my life as positive or negative anymore. I don't assign them an emotion, I just let them happen. When something comes up I look at it logically, a long look up and down, and then act accordingly. It makes things better. By dropping my own stupid preferences I feel like I'm constantly winning some booby prize for social competence. I win by writing in my own loopholes, allowing myself to accept the things I can't have right now, regardless of how much I want them, and slowly planning a way to find them again later.

A perfect example being the border collie Sarah who had to leave. I couldn't have that part of my life now. That is just how things are. I can be miserable about it, or I can look forward to finding one again. Sometimes being content is a choice, and the only governing body is us. Right now I have this place and it fills me up with feathers, fur, wool and dorian chords. It's what I can have now. It's enough. I just let out a big ol' objective sigh.

Maybe that's the sound of settling?

my birds have mad flair

They're not designer chickens, but they are a designer's chickens.

photos from installing my first hive

Saturday, February 7, 2009

snap pea challenge check in

Just wanted to check in with everyone who signed up for the snap pea challenge. If you haven't signed up yet, you still have a week to get your seeds, grab a plant bulb from the hardware store, and throw a small bag of potting soil in the shopping cart. We're planting our seeds next Sunday, and if all goes as planned we'll all be throwing those beautiful pods into our stir fries in a few short weeks. It's going to be such a mud season treat to eat food we grew ourselves, right in the comfort of our own kitchens. later this week I'll write up a small tutoria on getting your seeds started, but for now, can't hurt to do some old fashioned book-learning. Dust off those gardening hardcovers off the library shelves. We've got an order coming up.

Also, the new Feb/March issue of Mother Earth News has a whole story on peas. Read up kids because it's a fine article by Barbara Pleasant that's great homework for the challenge. It also wouldn't hurt to do a little online research on your lunch breaks at the office, afterall you have some decisions to make. Like are you going to soak them the night before you plant them? Are you going to get little peat pots and start your seedlings on a heating pad or just wing it like I am? Get pumped week in counting and spring is on it's way.

Friday, February 6, 2009

used cow lot

Took this photo in a small sheep town in western Montana on one of my cross country drives. Sometimes the world throws little snacks your way. This is one of those snacks.

defending the stereotype

If you’re the first of your friends to move to the country, get some chickens and plant an organic garden there will be some inevitable social fallout. It’s not your fault, but you’re going to raise the eyebrows of some of your more cynical friends. While there are plenty of people out there excited about self-reliance, there are just as many folks jaded by the hype and greenwashing that society has been slinging at us ever since Al Gore shared his slideshow. As green living gets trendier, it can’t help but jump the shark. You just can’t blame people for rolling their eyes when oil companies air commercials about sustainability. Read the rest here at Mother Earth News Online...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

i tell myself things

My morning started with lugging bales of hay in the -4 degree weather. Hefting the 40-pounds bales over my shoulder, I carried them across the farm to the sheep pen from their hibernation in the garage. After a few trips my arms hurt like hell and I was barking for coffee. Caffeine addiction aside - I don't mind the extra morning efforts that running a small farm entails. Honestly, I look forward to a morning with literal purpose. If I sleep in there are consequences. I like knowing there is a small empire outside my cabin door that depends on me. Everyone needs something that depends on them.

With a scarf and headphones the cold becomes obsolete. Time flies while I'm stepping over chickens and pouring grains for the sheep with the aid of Wilco. Still, that doesn't (shouldn't) mean it was wise try to get it all done before work. I knew I was out of hay late last night, but inside the couch was beyond comfortable and Annie and I had already dedicated the night to reading and ear scratching. I couldn't possibly break our date for a nighttime hay-haul. I tell myself things.

So thing morning I did the chore. It would've been fine had I not decided to wear a skirt today. I spent a lot of the morning trying to manage constrained thighs, snow boots, and shoulders-of-hurtin all at the same time'. Which worked - but caused little strands of hay to fall onto me, everywhere. I am the only women in the office pulling hay out of her bra and coffee mug at 9AM. But you'll have this.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


So I joined facebook. Feel free to friend me up, son. I'm listed as my full name, and I'm fairly certain there isn't another Jenna Woginrich out there, and if she is, her page probably won't have sheep on it. But that's how this cat rolls.

oh, canada

sharing a memory

In late June 2007, a few friends and I decided to go on a special outing. We signed up for a guided trail ride under the full moon. The local ski resort hosted these events, and for two hours you and your rented horse spent some time trotting through the dark woods till you come to an amazing overlook over the town of Sandpoint. There you drink wine, eat cheese, and watch the moon rise before you take the trail back home. Looking back it was one of the best nights of my life. Going through the old blog I found this post about it, and while it has nothing to do with Cold Antler Farm - it's important to me, so I'm sharing the memory. (Proust aint the only cat in search of lost time...)

July 1st 2007

Last night, under the glow of a pregnant moon, I rode alone through the Rockies on the back of a white mustang. For a few holy moments, it was just the two of us in the wilderness. Somehow we had fallen behind the other riders and found ourselves in simpler company. It was after 11, and the rest of the horses knew the trail well and wanted their hay. But my horse, a wolf of a blue-eyed mare, was the personal animal of one of trail hand’s and was in no particular rush to want or need anything. My feelings were mutual. We took our time.

We were high on a ridge. Stalking a treeless overpass cut into the shoulder of the Selkirk mountains. The mare walked in meditation as I looked all around me at the cedars and stars. I originally had a skittish Arabian, but the riding instructor traded reins with me when she prooved jumpy—so instead of a trail horse, I had this amazing animal with some fire in its hooves. I was a little intimidated, but breathed slowly. I hoped we didn't run into a moose or I was screwed.

We rode silently up and down steep passes. Me leaning back and lifting the reins as she descended into a small gulch, or moving my hips forward and hugging her neck as she trotted up hills. The moon was so bright it flung our shadows on the bear grass and huckleberry bushes. It couldn't have been more than twenty minutes of this lonely riding, but to me it felt like time had turned around three times and laid down for us. Sometimes this happens.

I stopped her to look over the view; The view of the lake below us looked false - like some dreamy impressionist painted it in on a romantic whim. I could hear the voices of the riders ahead of us. We had caught up. Soon we weren't going to be alone anymore. I wanted to keep this, selfishly. I learned a long time ago that you can take photographs of these moments in your head if you really focus. I did just that. I will never forget what Idaho looked like that night.

From the perfection of that black saddle, I gave myself permission to forgot how much I missed the fireflies.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

migrant workers

Slugs eat vegetables. Chickens eat slugs. I have a small Japanese immigrant workforce at the farm taking care of the problem. They work for next to nothing and rarely complain. It's pretty great. Here is two kids from the gang patrolling the rows of Romaine and Buttercrisp. It’s a team effort.

This photo and post was from June 2007. It was back in Idaho that I discovered the hidden pest-control powers of a small band of chickens. Sometimes you got to let your flock get your back.

Monday, February 2, 2009

mama rock me

Old Crow Medicine Show has been a part of my life for many miles. I discovered them in Tennesse, played their songs at jams in Idaho, and recently my weekends here in Vermont have been spent with them once again - covering their songs with friends on the weekends. One of their songs, Wagon Wheel, is an all time favorite. Based on some old Bob Dylan lyrics, their incarnation makes me want to pack up the station wagon and head back home to Knox county.

Runnin' from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band
My baby plays the guitar, I pick a banjo now
Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin’ me now
Lost my money playin’ poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain’t a turnin’ back
To livin’ that old life no more

Sunday, February 1, 2009


So here is the deal. For all of you out there new to gardening, and all of you people with thumbs so green it could blind a vegan - we're all going to grow some food together. We're starting simple, humble, with one of my favorite indoor gardening buddies: the snap pea.

All you need to do to take part in the challenge is sign up. Once you sign up, you are making a promise to all of the CAF community that you will indeed go out and get some potting soil, a pot, and an agricultural light bulb for one of those old desk lamps you have lying around and grow some food. The point of this is to get everyone out there who reads about me doing this stuff also doing it. No more passive voices or living vicariously son, we're all getting our hands dirty together. And selfishly, I want to learn more about indoor gardening and get some sick recipes from you kids when our peas are hanging heavy on the vine. I think it'll be a fun, cheap, and interesting way to tell winter to go to hell.

We're choosing peas because they thrive in cooler climates (like our winter houses), crawl up windowsills, bloom pretty white flowers, and taste amazing. Unlike other peas - snap peas can be eaten whole, pod and all. Now, regardless of all the people out there who will poo poo our early planting - we're going to do it anyway. What's the worse that can happen? Some of ours won't grow and then the rest of us will learn why. However, some of us may get to eat something from our own hands for the first time, and share it here. And I think that will be pretty cool. Maybe even inspire them to do it again in May with tomatoes or onions?

We're going to stick all of our seeds into our pots on the same day, February 15th. That gives you two weeks to buy, order, or find the few items you need to participate. Really you just need seeds, dirt, a pot and a bulb. I plan on switching out the bulb over my kitchen table with a grow bulb, and that's as technical as I'm going to get. A trip to the hardware store and a few dollars should cover this for you.

So that's the plan. Together we'll watch delicious food grow right in our own apartments and kitchen windows. Come March/April we'll swap stir fry and soup recipes, snap photos of our dishes and plants, and have a big time. So what do you say future pea farmers? Eh?

So here's how you sign up:
Post a comment saying you'll do it
Order some organic sugar snap pea seeds online
Buy, borrow, or find some container garden potting soil
Get a grow-bulb if you don't have great light indoors

We'll be soaking our seeds the night before we plant them, and like I said, they'll go under our grow lights/ windows on the 15th. The "challenge" of all this is simple. It is just to take some green action in your life. To take the first steps to a little more self-reliance. If you're already a homesteader or pro gardener, stick around and do it anyway. Teach us new kids how to do it up proper. Show us where to buy seeds, how deep to plant them, all that. I plan on posting updates to the challenge and giving a "snap pea primer" the weekend of the 15th so we're all on the same page, but I'm not a professional - I'm a chick with some raised beds and an open mind.

I don't care where you live, or where you keep your peas, just plant them. Let them rise up cubicles and catering businesses alike. But together we'll figure out peas, and have one garden vegetable under our belts by the time the ground outside is thawed enough to plant more.

So what's the verdict guys? Y'all want to plant something?

cinnamon rolls, son!

Spent my morning making a dozen giant cinnamon rolls. I snapped this photo right before they went into the oven. I baked them all in cast iron and they came out golden, sticky, and wonderful. I used goose eggs (thanks Saro) in the recipe, and that seemed to oblige them just fine. I will try to write it down next time I whip these up, but today's concoction was made up on the spot. I can't remember how much oil, egg, and sugar was added to the bread recipe, but I can say it will be duplicated. When I write it all down, I'll share it. I had two already, and the rest went to neighbors and the guys I played some music with this afternoon. Annie also stole one, but that was a given.

you got to start somewhere

This was my first ever chicken coop. It sat on the back deck of the Idaho farm house. You can see the snap peas behind it crawling up the kitchen windows in the March sun. Yes, it's small, but it was all my original trio needed to keep me stocked in all the eggs I could handle. I positioned this coop in such a way that I could open the kitchen window and slide open the back panel of the hutch, and collect fresh eggs without going outside - still clad in a bathrobe. Now that's living. I also installed an inexpensive solar panel in it for winter lighting, making it the first off-grid house I ever bought. You got to start somewhere.

The pen itself is a small, portable, coop called the Chik-N-Hutch. These kit coops cost about a $160 and are all you need to house those first three hens in the backyard. They generally ship free, fold flat, are assembled in twenty minutes with just a screwdriver (so anyone of us can handle it). Which means, dear readers, you could transport your whole starter-chicken farm with some cat carriers in the back of a Geo with a folded back seat. I am telling you, if you want chickens, you can make it happen. These are not the birds of barn-owners and rural yuppies. They are everyman's backyard buddy. Chickens are easy, clean, hilarious, and perfect introduction to livestock. What I learned from my hens has carried over into breeding and raising rabbits, tending sheep, and keeping bees. They keep my garden pest free. They put up with beginner lessons on the fiddle. They feed me in exchange for room and board. They are the old standbys. I can't praise them enough.

If you are getting some spring birds—it's about that time to start planning your chick orders. Seeing as I am well stocked in the poulty department, I don't think I'll be buying many birds this spring. Probably just a handful of to replace any older birds that may die this winter or roosters i need to re-home. Now if you live near me, and just want a handful of birds as well, let me know and I can tack on your order to mine and we can both save on shipping (to just ship three chicks is ridiculously expensive), and you can pick them up here at Cold Antler. Hell, I'll even throw in a free rooster. Chuck Klosterman needs to go before Winthrop kills him in a were-chicken fit of hormonal rage.

For any of you folks just thinking about spring chickens, I strongly suggest you grab a copy of the Murray McMurray Hatchery Catalog. It's a full-color guide to birds for every backyard. Just having it on the kitchen table to page through over your morning cereal is a hoot (and educational, since it lists breed facts and history.) And hey, if you live in a city - where else are you going to order your hatchery-inspired trucker hats and amish egg baskets, eh? They also has everything you need to house your flock regarldess if you live on 30 acres or have a 30' lot behind your apartment. And no, Murray McMurray isn't paying me to write this. I just think they're a great place to get started and approach poultry in a freindly way. Honestly, I want chicks in the hands of everyone who wants them this spring. However I can enable that in you is fine. Even if it means hocking hatchery catalogs to you nice people. Pride is dead!

Request your free Murray McMurray Catalog here.