Friday, June 26, 2009

a car full of hens

There are eight laying hens in dog crates in the back of my car. They are parked outside the office, near the back door. More later on the lunch break, rain storm, soaking-wet, chicken caper.

Stay tuned.

still going strong

The farm is trotting into summer. It's starting to feel like summer too. The days are in the 80s, humid, and long. Yesterday I turned on the ol' Westinghouse to cool the dogs and I off after our walk up the mountain. Still going strong and made in th 40's. God bless 'em.

All the kits are sold, so we're back to two rabbits. It's always a little sad to be suddenly bunnyless around here. Those little guys always lighten the mood. However all four members of the snappea litter are in good pet and fiber homes and the sunflower litter will be on it's way mid July. Or so I hope.

The garden is breathing deep. Growing steady and handing me all the salad I can eat. The peas are nearly here, and the onions, potatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts and such are all nearly knee high and thriving. The corn I planted Memorial Day weekend is already foot tall, and the pumpkins and other squashes are turning into vines. I weed and water like an obsessive compulsive. So far so good.

Now that Finn's off the bottle, and on grains and grass, the morning chores seem to go smoother. I wake up and grab his leash on the way to dump some hay off to the sheep (who are in their pen till I come home from work and then graze from 6-10) and Finn gets tied out to lounge and chew on the grass while the birds debate his worth all around him. So far the chickens seem bored by the new kid and the waterfowl think these new field buckets of fresh water showing up around him are top shelf service. Few complaints around here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

hey all you city kids!

There's a new magazine hitting the racks this August. It's for everyone who wants a farm, but still has streetlights. It's called Urban Farm. I'm excited about this, not so much because I want to flip through the magazine—but because there must be such a demand for sustainable living the publishers know they can make a business out of it. That means more and more people are looking at their lawns and thinking about gardens, or looking at their ovens and realizing they can bake in them again. That thirst for scaling down and simplifying is a great comfort to me, and a quiet thrill as I'm about to head into the office. And hey, the book does look pretty cool. I'll certainly be picking up a copy when it arrives at Northshire.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

on my mountain

I wish you could see the fireflies tonight.

a weekend's haul

I love junking. Going out on the weekend and finding old things. This photo is from a while ago, but I did find all those items on the same day. A day of driving past a garden center, some yard sales, antique shack and the such like. I found my fireking mug, a Tom Waits record, and a kickass suitcase. I also scored that fiddle for thirty bucks (and it came with paperwork from the turn of the last century). It needs some serious work from a luthier, but I'll fix her up down the road.

I like filling my life with these things. There isn't a lot of new stuff in my home. I have a computer, and a cordless phone, but everything else has switches and dials and tubes and cloth cords. They're just better. At least for me.

P.S. Thanks to the reader who sent me the link to that Wolfing Tag. I'm wearing it right now!

raisin' bread

This is my own recipe, adapted from a basic white bread recipe and some practice runs. But I have it down and, by god, it’s delicious. The whole process takes about 3-4 hours of time. But you’re only doing stuff for about 20 minutes, the rest is just waiting around. So it’s a great Saturday or Sunday errand-time thing to do. I decided to bake all my bread for the week on Sunday evenings. It’s a nice way to end the week.

White unbleached Flour
Butter (or margarine, or whatever)
2 eggs
Warm water
Light vegetable oil
Yeast packet

Step One: Yeast Party

Yeast comes in little packages for around 50 cents at the grocery store. If you’re new to baking bread (which I was) buying yeast is kinda novel. When you make bread you need to put two cups of warm water in a big bowl. The water has to be bath water warm, not scalding hot. When you accomplished this, dump in the yeast packet. Stir it up till it dissolves and then let the yeast set in there until it bubbles (about 5-15 minutes), which means it’s ready.

Step Two: Dough Party

Now that you have a pool of live cultures, add a teaspoon of salt and 2 big old tablespoons of honey and mix it up. Then add 2 cups of flour and your eggs and really beat it together into a sticky batter. It takes about 200 strokes or 2 minutes with a real blender. When that’s all mixed up add a 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of cinnamon (I like cinnamon, you can use less) and 3/4 cup of raisins. Spend some time on this and use your shoulders. Then add 3 more cups of flour one cup at a time. Mixing and mixing and making the dough more and more soft and not sticky.

Now take a half cup of flour or so and cover a clean table top or kitchen space with a fine layer of the flour. Dump your dough onto it and really knead it. Punch it with your hands, throw it in the air and catch it. Toss it on the table and then slap it. Press into it while you talk to your dogs about why Prince didn’t get electrocuted at the super bowl, whatever. Then when it’s all perky and in a nice weighty ball. Set it aside on your flour strewn table space.

Take either the first bowl you were using, or a brand new one and clean it out. (Wash and Dry it it if it’s the same bowl). Line the inside of the big bowl with butter or cooking spray and place your dough in there to rise. Make sure it can get twice it’s size. Cover it with a cloth and go do something else for an hour and a half.

Step Three: Dough After Party

Now this is my favorite part. You take the cloth off your bowl and see this giant glob of junk. You need to really punch it down and pop out all the air. I’m serious, just back up on that guy. Take out the dough and put it back on your table area. Hand knead it again and press out all the air pockets. Now you have this weird animal to work with. You need to cut the dough in half with a sharp knife. And these guys will be your two loaves.

Now here is where you can get creative. I like to take my one loaf and put it in a bread pan so it rises in that classic bread shape and it’s easy to slice for sandwiches and toast. But I like to take my other half and cut it into thirds. Then like play dough snakes I roll those buddies into long tubes and braid them together. I tuck the ends under and kinda twist them so they don’t unravel while baking. This really looks pretty.

Then you place your panned or braided dough on the counter, make sure you’re dogs can’t snatch them, and go do something else for an hour and a half. Weed that garden.

Step Four: Glazing and Baking

Preheat the over at 375 and then get some butter, sugar and cinnamon and melt and mix them together into a glass. Brush or hand wipe (that sounds dirty?) your glaze onto the second-risen bread dough. Filling in all the nooks and crannies with diabetes-inducing goodness.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until tops are slightly browned and hardened and a sharp knife comes out of the dough clean without any residual on it. Then, chompsville.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

jazz the pack dog

a dirty day

I write a lot about the things that make this small farm beautiful. I share stories that are important to me, or show me a better way to live thanks to these 6 borrowed acres and a cast of farm animals. This morning, however, I am not going to write about any of that. I am going to write about sheep shit.

It's been raining for days. The ground can only take so much. The soft, often-trampled dirt and straw that makes up the sheeps' pen had become a bog. I didn't realize how bad it was until I saw Maude and Sal laying under a tree in a rainstorm. I couldn't understand why they'd opt for a tree when they had a perfectly wonderful custom-built structure across the pen? Then I noticed the 6 inches of mud inside. And not just mud, but mud and rain water in a stew of sheep feces and rotting straw. I walked in there and it smelled like nothing I had ever smelled before. It was putrid. No wonder the sheep had been avoiding it. It smelled like the way a perm smells out of the bottle, but mixed with burning hair and rotting shit-soaked straw. Not a delightful way to spend your Saturday afternoon.

How did this decline so fast? Three days ago this shed was dry, the straw compacted and solid. But the rain and the slight grade downhill sent all the water into their bedding. This would not do. I had to roll up my sleeves, pick up a pitchfork, and get that stuff out of there.

Which I did. And it was exhausting. For everyone out there thinking about taking on livestock, know that while the lambs and wool are heavenly...there are days where you do nothing but exist in shit. For hours I pitchforked and shoveled their pen. he weight of the wet straw and mud was ridiculous. My back and arms screamed for me to stop, but I knew if I did I couldn't pick up that fork again. So I kept going till the entire shed was empty. I created a three-foot pile of the waste outside their pen. I looked down at my hands and new blisters were already opened and bleeding.

It was still better than any task at the office. Which is how I am certain I'm cut out to be a shepherd someday. You get me my land and some good fences and a border collie and I will be a force to be reckoned with.

When the ground was clear I laid down fresh, clean, straw. I will go back in tomorrow if the rain stops and do more, but at least I was able to get their shelter back in order. And I know my work was well worth it because Sal went right back in and curled up in his spot. And when the rain came that night, and was hitting the tin roof on the porch, I knew two sheep had a clean, dry place to wait it out. So that's something.

It's Sunday morning. I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. I covered myself in sore muscle badger balm and went outside to let the sheep into their little pasture and feed the chickens. Right now I'm going to take Finn for a drive down to Wayside to pick up the Sunday paper. He sticks his head out the window sometimes, which is a riot.

You folks have a nice day. Check back later for garden photos and a veggie update.