Saturday, March 14, 2009

this place is a musical flophouse...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

mud season

And so it's Mud Season. That wonderful time in Vermont where the top layers of our dirt roads thaw and the base remains frozen. This creates a foot of waterlogged garbage with ruts deep enough to lose a Jack Russell terrier in. Driving to work is like trying to find the right set of tracks to hook your tires into and hope you don't bottom out. But crappy roads mean temperatures are rising, that things are changing, and I'll put up with them because of what happened after work last night.

I came home to a relatively warm, and sunlight porch. It was 52 degrees, the stream down the hill was roaring. I grabbed a bottle of hard cider, put on a heavy sweater, grabbed my guitar and banjo, and went out on the porch to play a few songs outside. Since the porch is screened, I can leave the door to the cabin open and the dogs can pad in and out from the fireplace to me. So we had this weird twilight time of open front doors, a fire inside, a bubbling creek, a waltz on the banjo, and dogs milling about at the same time. With the chickens strutting about, and the sheep finally back in their spring pasture the whole farm seems to be stretching its arms into daylight savings. That deserves a few songs.

I hate how far away from October we are, and how long ago fall was. But to know the seeds of summer and a lot of change are getting planted, well that feels good. Really good. Mud be damned.

P.S. My peas are a foot tall and climbing up my desk at work and my kitchen window. So front porch dog concerts aren't the only signs of spring.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

annie always rides shotgun

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the backyard homestead

So there's a new book out for us front-lawn farmers and I highly suggest it. It's called The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. I actually know Carleen fairly well since she was my editor for Made From Scratch. She's visited the farm in Idaho, and I've met her a few times down at Storey's HQ. (She has a paint-by-number of Monticello over her desk, which is awesome.) So if you liked my book, and after reading it considered gardening, baking, chickens or any homestead skills I wrote about, this book is the next step. It's a chunky info-packed volume going into the details you'll need to take on this farm life one step at a time. And the great thing about it is it isn't meant for people with acreage and rural mail boxes—it's a book written for people working with a quarter acre or less. I have my copy on my coffee table at the farm, and it's been the first book to make me seriously consider pork in the backyard. Not this season, but in the future for sure.

So I think it's a dandy, and here's a little more off the Storey website:
With just a quarter acre of land, you can feed a family of four with fresh, organic food year-round. This comprehensive guide to self-sufficiency gives you all the information you need to grow and preserve a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, and grains; raise chickens for eggs and meat; raise cows, sheep, and goats for meat or milk; raise pigs and rabbits; and keep honey bees. Simple instructions make it easy to enjoy canned, frozen, dried, and pickled produce all winter; use your own grains to make bread, pasta, and beer; turn fresh milk into delicious homemade yogurt, butter, and cheese; make your own wine, cordials, and herbal teas; and much, much more. It truly is possible to eat entirely from your backyard.

Monday, March 9, 2009

farm update

A lot of people have been asking about different aspects of the farm. I've received emails about the sheep, comments about Saro, and questions about the chickens. Seems like it's high time for a status report. Here's an update on all things Cold Antler. Make sure you're in a comfortable chair. This may take a while.

The Sheep
So my trio of Romney crosses seem to be ready for sheering and some possible de-worming. With days hitting the balmy 50's now, and all three of them still wearing their winter coats, it's high time for a trim. I'm quietly thrilled about this. CAF's first ever sheering day is hopefully going to be attended by friends and musicians. I want the day to start with hard work and end with a campfire and friends with instruments. This may not be a possibility, the whole post-fleece shindig, but if it isn't this year for certain it will be in the years to come. My life as a shepherd-in-training has some very specific goals and the annual fleece and fiddle night is one of them.

The Hive
They made it. My first ever fully-wintered hive of bees survived. I'm proud to say that the whole backyard colony of Italian bees is now flying around the hive and drinking their spring sugar water I already have on tap for them. Come May I'll throw on another super and by late summer I hope to get my first ever backyard honey harvest. This is also a big deal. As you can see, my bar for "big deal" is pretty low. Bee vomit, fiddles and sheep hair and I'm over the friggin' moon.

The Flock
All the birds made it through this brutal winter save for one. The old Dominique hen died last night. When I walked into the coop yesterday morning she was there on the straw as if asleep. I gently removed her and thanked her for all her hard work. One chicken isn't a big deal, and I certainly wasn't brought to tears over it, but if I lined up the breakfast platters of omelets, quiche and baked goods just one hen contributed too I'd have a buffet. I want every animal here to know they did good.

The goose is still sitting, but I think Saro's egg is a lost cause. It seems like it should hatch any day, but she has left it for hours at a time (I recently found out) and I've already touched it when it was cold. If nothing comes of it in the next few days I'll remove it. Even if her laying was in vain it doesn't mean she won't try again this spring. I hope she does.

I'll be ordering a few chicks from the feed store again, just some Silkies because I miss them. I switched to bigger homesteader breeds when I moved to Vermont to be more serious about production animals. But I miss those quirky little birds. Plus they were amazing at eating garden slugs and I have big plans for that garden in the next few weeks. I can use all the help I can raise.

The Rabbits
My breeding pair of Angora rabbits have been mated and Bean Blossom is expecting her kits in mid March. Six weeks after that, early May, they'll be ready for the open arms of you fine people. It's been a long winter for those two troopers. They've been stuck in their hutches for months, riding out the snow and storms. When the weather got really cold I brought them into the furnace room to ward off the bitter—but mostly they've lived their wooly lives outside. Soon the snow will melt in the fenced in garden and they'll be able to hop in there and stretch those long legs. I look forward to that as much as they do.

The Writer
I've been okay. I think this winter wore me down a lot. I found myself feeling stretched thin between the book, the blogs, the office and the farm. In a way it made me run into the arms of my music, and for that I am beyond grateful. Because of music I have grown closer to neighbors and coworkers, and our little band (By the way, we named ourselves Swearing Hill, after the steep, miserable, Sandgate Road we all know and love) We played at an Open Mic Night, we practice regularly, and this fiddler sleeps happy with that thought. We cover songs right now, mostly things you guys have heard on this blog like Iron and Wine and Old Crow Medicine Show, but we also mix it up with some stuff like Dinosaur Jr and the Cure. It's fun.

I might be heading to Brooklyn for the BUST Craftacular in Williamsburg. I need to figure out if that's something I can pull off, but I hope it is. I have some friends from design school living in that town and I would love to get a drink with them and catch up. Plus, I think Williamsburg could use some old-time fiddling and banjo frailing. I'll tear the place up with a fiddle on my back and a banjo on my knee.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

we're so fancy

This week my Books for a Better Life Award came in the mail. It is by far the fanciest thing I now own. I brought it out to the sheep and chickens to show it off, but no one seemed to care. Well, Marvin was possibly interested in eating it, and gave it a lick, but that was the closest thing to an ovine accolade I got. Maude hates anything that has to do with me, including acrylic book-shaped objects, and so she just gave me her trademark glare. Oh 'ol reliable Maude. Surely you will live forever.

I showed the chickens and Sam perched on it without defecating on it, so I guess that's a thumbs up. Besides that little pat on the back, none of the other birds seemed to notice and/or care. Aren't I a classy broad? I get a fancy award and walk around my muddy farm shoving it in livestock's' personal space. I bet Michael Pollan just put his on his mantel like a reasonable person. But Pollan doesn't live with vindictive sheep and codependent poultry, so really comparison has no merit. I tell myself things.

P.S. Big farm update to follow later tonight.

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