Saturday, May 16, 2009

a fine saturday

I am writing you from my porch, and about three feet from my deck chair is Saro the goose. She's very interested in whether or not my new Chacos are edible, and has been trying to eat the straps for about ten minutes now. You know you're a homesteading blogger when your iBook and hand-raised French goose are sharing your leg room...

I spent the entire morning in Manchester—doing laundry, running errands, the usual town stuff. I always bring the dogs with me on these Saturday excursions, and together we listen to music in the car with the windows down. (I am not an air-conditioning person. I do not want the world to feel like a morgue to avoid sweating.) After laundromatting, all of us putz around the Northshire Bookstore (where good dogs are welcome, which I love). I picked up the new issue of the Small Farmer's Journal and grabbed a sandwich to go. Can you handle the non-stop action of this very exciting young person? Eh?!

I kid.

We drove home listening to some CDs. I recently got a package of great music by a band called Trapper's Cabin. While guitars and banjos sang on the car stereo, Annie hung out the window smiling. It is hard to be angry at any part of this world with a smiling wolf riding shotgun.

When I returned to the farm I really got down to business. I let the sheep out into their pasture to dine on some green grass. They were so excited to be off hay they literally made it three feet out the gate before they started eating away at the tall green blades. While the sheep enjoyed their buffet, I let Finn out to run around and chase chickens (basically, just be a kid). He loped about and then came when called when I offered him lunch. He drank a bottle of formula while I leaned against the back bumper of the Subaru. I fed him while watching the sheep graze among the hens and roosters circling around their feet. I looked over at the garden, bursting with new seedlings, listened to the crows above and felt glad. Things are very good right now in this life. They won't always be, but in that little moment my life let out a long sigh, stretched, and smiled.

Finn joins me in the garden most nearly every day. He's fine. He doesn't touch the veggies, but does wander around the inner fence chewing on weeds. Today I picked him up and he reeked of onions...LEEKS! I looked around the fence and pulled out two dozen fresh wild leeks, which will be part of my dinner tonight. Foraging is something I do little of. I prefer the safety of a well tended garden, but when I score something like this I feel rich. Who knew I had a leek-sniffing goat?

We're down to four kits. Another one died in the night. Sadly, half of season's first litter has perished. But I am happy to report the remaining four are healthy, already growing fur, and starting to open their eyes. Bean is doing the best job she can, and her man Benjamin (the Angora Stud on my porch) is also doing well. He's due to be shorn soon.

Tonight this girl rests. I'm building a fire to keep me and my instruments company during the rain storm they are calling for, and will happily repose knowing that my hoofstock got some hours in the pasture, my poultry have a clean coop, my rabbits are in clean hutches, and I broke sod, tilled, and planted two new beds in the garden (we're now at 13!). I will not want to peppers and potatoes, that is for certain.

Tired and happy. That is the way to end our days. Sore, tired, and happy.

alarm clocks on the porch

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

in defense of impermanence

Ever since I started writing about farming, I've always typed from rented land. In Idaho and here in Vermont—Cold Antler has always been built around someone else's mortgage. Because of this I occasionally get the comment (really, it's a warning) that it's irresponsible to raise animals and gardens in a place you may have to up and leave. That there is practical and emotional danger when you toy with impermanence.

They're right. I don't care.

I suppose the risk of this farm imploding is always there. My landlord could cancel my lease. I could lose my job, be forced to leave this all behind... I'm okay with that. I'd rather live exactly how I want to while renting someone else's land than putting it off till the day I can afford my own. It just seems like happiness suicide to postpone something as simple as salad greens because I don't own the dirt it grows in. If I did this gig by the book, I'd still be in an apartment in Tennessee. That life would be fine too, but personal velocity takes some grit. I'll take my chances and farm now.

I know that may come across as selfish. I don't mean for it to be. I just don't want to waste my time here. Even if I live another sixty years—it's all going to flash by in an instant. And while I'm still among the living I would prefer it be spent in the fine company of hooves and paws, gardens and hives, hammocks and guitars... Cold Antler Farm is nothing, if it isn't a personal manifestation of hope. You are witnessing the dirty seedlings of a possibility, people. Stayed tuned and watch it grow.

I keep learning that sometimes you need to ration happiness. Sometimes the things you want aren't yours, can't be yours, and you can either take that lying down or fighting. I learned this with so many signed leases, with a failed border collie, with tear-filled eyes as I left Knoxville and Sandpoint...

You can take things in this world as they come, or wait until the winds are perfect to act. I decided long ago that I would rather set sail in choppy waters than stay docked till things were safe. Waiting for safety is a luxury for people more in love with the future than the present. I understand the foolishness of this, but also understand poor sailors have better bar stories.

No, this land isn't mine. But the experiences I have created are. The taste of that first garden grown salad is mine. The feeling of a three-week-old goat kid drinking from a bottle in my lap is mine. The music I play on that rickety porch is mine. The memories, conversations, prayers, hopes, tears, births and deaths are mine as well.

I can't afford many things. But I feel wealthy here everyday. That is more than most people can say. I am grateful as hell. And if all this means I need to borrow happiness to get by, it's a concession I'll happily make.

This is what I am certain of: when you love what you are doing it belongs to you. You can pull the rug out from under this farm but it already happened, and if it falls apart in my sweaty hands, it will surely happen again. That is a promise.

this is my life

this aint the OC

My neighbor Katie emailed me today at work to let me know my geese have a car alarm built in. When they hear the crackling studded snow tires of my Subaru they erupt into a cacophony of honks and run up to the driveway to meet me. They start this long before they see the car, or I turn into the drive. She said they ignore all other cars and trucks, and must know mine from the rest. I think that's neat. I have custom-imprinted goose valets. Take that, Housewives of Orange County.

Another long evening outside... The garden needed watering and weeding. The poultry house needed some tidying up and fresh food and water. The sheep needed their dinner (and fresh water as well). The kid needed to run and jump and chug down two bottles of formula. By the by, Finn's become an expert at head-butt-the-roosters, which is hands down his favorite game. You haven't witnessed joy till you've seen a goat kid make feathers explode in the air like that, and then watch him kick up his feet to the side in celebration. What a guy.

People have asked about my garden in the comments. To address a few of your questions: No, I don't plant my garden from my own transplanted seedlings. I either plant my seeds right in the ground (i.e potatoes, corn, onions, peas) or I buy six-packs of healthy started veggies. I am still fairly new to gardening, and since I am using my humble crops for food most of the summer, I hedge my bets with what I know I can pull off. But every year I learn more and more, and someday I hope to grow everything from seeds I saved myself. And as for my pesticides: I use an organic insecticidal soap on my leafy greens and basil, to help keep away the bugs that dine on those the most.

I am very content, but very tired. After the farm's needs, a walk with the dogs, and a bit of writing, I think my only aspirations will be my fiddle and that fireplace. With nights this week dipping near freezing (fingers crossed for the garden) the main source of heat now is that roaring evening blaze.

Tonight I did a little census and here are our totals:
11 raised beds (and counting)
10 hens (and counting)
7 rabbits (breeding adults, 5 kits)
4 roosters (would like 2)
3 sheep (Marvin's leaving though)
2 geese (live to be 40!)
2 dogs (roommates)
1 duck (asshole)
1 goat (adorable)
1 girl (exhausted)

Monday, May 11, 2009

keeps padding along

So it's after eight, and I'm just getting done with the evening chores. Every night after the office is like this. I pulled into my driveway around quarter to six and went through a systematic trance of work outside. May is the busiest time of the year for this small farm.

Tonight pumpkins and sunflowers were planted, sheep fencing repaired, goat formula mixed, dogs walked and fed, the garden watered and sprayed with organic pesticides, the sheep let out to pasture to eat fresh grass, the birds and rabbits had feed bags to deliver and water to resupply... it's just nonstop motion till dark comes. And when it finally does I'm inside with a long shower, a guitar, a simple dinner and then sleep. Life rolls.

Finn is growing up and doing well. He still comes to work with me, and is slowly getting weaned off his bottle. He's got such energy and character. He really brings a new found friskiness to this farm. Before Finn this was a calm and rolling place with the occasional sheep antics and possessed roosters...but now it's a non stop, hoof kicking party.

Bean's litter is down to five. Three kits died of exposure in the night. They were smaller, weaker bunnies, and sadly that is just how things are. It is a somber experience to start your day outside bottle feeding one baby animal and then removing the bodies of others. But farms are nothing if they aren't a constant reminder of how serious the business of life is. Cold Antler just keeps breathing in and out. The farm itself is an animal always on the move—a sheepdog padding through tall grass.

The garden is nearly in. All that's left is the big corn planting day and some sunflowers to line the northern end. So far, I have in the ground: broccoli, green beans, peas, onions, four types of lettuce, brussel sprouts, strawberries, rhubarb, sunflowers, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkins, basil, mint, and other things I'm sure I'm forgetting (forgive me, I am quite tired). But soon my life will be weeding and mulching and yelling at French geese to get out of the garden's water buckets. Which is exactly how I prefer life in May to be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

11 beds (and counting...)