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