Tuesday, September 14, 2010

it's official!

Cold Antler Farm has a New York State tax ID number, and is working on a genuine business plan for the next three-five years of growth. The paperwork has been filed, the research began, and now the next phase can slowly evolve!

I needed the tax ID to sell goods at the Fiber Show in late September: so it was circumstance that is pushing me towards planning what the farm will be. I have no plans to quit my job, or farm full time, but I do want the animals' products to cover their own feed and care: eggs, wool, lamb, workshops, etc.

So I start on paper.

pour water into the bag

I planned for rain yesterday, but the weather report was wrong. The storm waited until the morning and met me at 5AM in the sheep pasture. It was a steady rain that joined me for my morning fence check. The sheep had once again pulled out the lower wire (their thick wool doesn't even register the shock) and to make sure the fence is still goat proof I need to check it several times a day to make sure nothing is grounded and the charge flows. So there I was, in my stood-up rain shower with a flashlight trying to pull the wire tight enough to get it on the corner insulator. When all was done I poured more water on the ground wire and flipped the switch. You can hear the charger click and see the wires give a little shake. I'll check it with my fence tester shortly. If it flashes red at the weakest part: it's on. I pack up my gear and head inside with a sigh. I want coffee, bad.

They should really brew a farmers coffee, none of the store bought stuff is strong enough to make up for rain-soaked faux-electrician work: just pour water into the bag and chew.

Finn is still here, and thanks to Annie's third line of wire and the 30-mile charger we are keeping him inside the pen. He must have gotten zapped a few times because he has stayed in even when the fences were down occasionally: a good sign he's learning a little about proper domestication. Someone was supposed to take him home to their farm Sunday, but canceled last minute and now isn't returning emails. Pre-buyers regret? He needs a new home by Thanksgiving—that's for sure.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

stowaways outside the kitchen window

september mornings

By 5:38 I was up. I had not set my alarm, but apparently the extra hour was all the sleep my body wanted (or needed) anymore. I had gone to bed early the night before, around 10. I had had a long day that started on the back of a horse, rounded out with a five-mile run, and ended with a bowl of pasta. I love hooves, heart rates, and carbs. I enjoyed all three, with gusto, but they tend to wear a woman out. After nearly eight hours of sleep (twice of what I normally get a night) I felt like I'd go crazy if I went back to bed.

It was dark outside, 2AM dark. A few weeks ago 5:38 would be full daylight and morning chores would be done in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. This morning seemed chilly, and I was already barking for coffee. I stood up in the dark farmhouse and went about a favorite fall ritual: candle mornings. I lit the Jack-o-lantern on the stove and a few pumpkin-shaped votives in giant quart-sized canning jars. The big globe around the flame reminded me of hurricane lamps. I lit another orange candle in the living room and let Gibson out of his crate. He had been whining for a while now. His whimpers are short and high, chirps really. When I first heard them I thought the battery was low on the smoke alarm. But in the gentle light, started with out an alarm clock, his whines were more melodic then piercing. I let him out, leashed him up, and stepped out into the light of the lamp post in the front yard. Gibson peed like a champ.

Then the ruckus started.

The sheep realized their servant was up. All three erupted in a chorus of baaing followed by the nickering of Finn. They raced down the hill from the shed to the gate. Soon after they started hollering the chickens caught on and crowed and clucked to be let out of the coop. The semi-feral rabbits started to circle me (they knew I would be throwing down grain shortly for the birds) and June Carter howled from a nearby tree stump. Gibson barked and lunged at the noise. This was a full-blown hootenanny. I was silently grateful everyone who moves to Washington County has to sign a waiver saying they understand they are in an agricultural area. All my neighbors (though I doubted any were up yet) couldn't call the cops about the party I was throwing. They literally signed up for it.

I took G inside and fed him back in the crate and started coffee on the stove. I then walked Jazz and Annie, fed the sheep and Finn two flakes of hay, dumped some cat food, and scattered chicken feed outside the open coop door. I grabbed yesterday's eggs and realized I only had four in my hands. This meant about thirty were hidden on a pile somewhere else and I would probably find them when I moved the hay bales later. Farming is mostly outsmarting your animals, or learning to play their games in a way that lets them think they won; and you still get omelets.

Within moments the hungry noise had been replaced by chewing mouths and gentle coos. Why had none of my beginner farming books described the whole point of a job well-done before coffee was if everyone shut up? I went inside, content that everyone outside was well fed.

I started my coffee, grabbed my book, and let Gibson join me on the daybed. Under the quilts I snuggled with a memoir (Reading the Bucolic Plague and loving it) and on top of them he snuggled with a rawhide bone. Jazz and Annie were already back asleep in the dim morning light. The coffee I had started before walking the dogs was perking. The outside animals were quiet. My dogs content. It was how I wanted to start every day for the rest of my life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

sunny and me

Friday, September 10, 2010

event at hubbard hall!

I'll be hosting a film and book signing here in Cambridge at Hubbard Hall on November 5th. The film is Handmade Nation, and afterwards I'll have a short talk and signing of Made From Scratch. If you're in the area, or just want to see a documentary about a movement, stop by my little town and say hello. We've got a hotel, bars, restaurants and farms. I say that's a combination for a fine time.

Event information and details, as well as a trailer of the flick can be seen here. There is also a call for local artists to join in. So if you spin, knit, can, sew, or turn a potting wheel you should consider showing up and joining the party.

i still can't believe it happened

It's a small miracle every time I mail in that mortgage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

21 days to go

Simple Pumpkin Muffins
3 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Mix all those dry things in a bowl larger than you expected...and then add 1 cup oil, 4 farm eggs, 2/3 cup water, and 2 cups of pumpkin. Mine was a little stringy but after the beaters got to it all was well. Grease your muffin tins with butter and add a sprinkle of flour too. Shake out excess flour and then fill then 3/4 of the way full (though I went nearly to the top...) Bake at 350 for about twenty minutes, check to make sure a toothpick comes out clean. I spread cream cheese icing on mine after they cooled. Coworkers will be happy.

i have a pumpkin and i'm not afraid to use it

I bought a pumpkin at Gardenworks this weekend. A small one, just big enough to make a few loaves of pumpkin bread or muffins, but large enough to still make a fine jackolantern. Tonight I'll fill the house with smells of baking pumpkin and lantern light. With the clouds and rain it'll make everything seem safer, warmer. These past few days have been overcast and blustery. I was outside around dusk with Gibson, watching the trio of crows in the dead limbs of trees high above the farm barking at us. Everywhere around me were the leaves of the big maple. The dry summer may have stopped another season of Blight in the garden, but it also is causing an early foliage turn. All the October tourists will be finding a lot of empty trees. September will be our peak, mark my words.

I am happiest when I need wool wrapped around me, rubber boots against damp earth, and the sky is swirling and overcast. I adore precipitation: rainy days, storms, and snow. The weather that makes us stop and hunker down with books and mugs. I like being outside in it too. There is something a little more tangible about those damp days. The world has a stronger grip on you. You're forced to pay more attention: to how you drive, what you wear, and even if you cupboard has all the right supplies for hot chocolate or tea. I like working outside in a cold mist and getting sweaty, feeling the heat of work bounce back against my skin off wool. I like seeing my breath swirl, hearing distant wind and then seeing it rush into the trees. I like seeing the crows scurry like buckshot, their sounds calm me, very much so.

I don't ever want to be too far from crows and cold wind. That would be just awful.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

!!!

my god it feels like fall tonight.

practicing my english

"See, this is why we call it Burdock Meadow," Hollie said to me, half joking and half surprised I didn't pull the seventy-jillion burrs out of Sunny's tail while I tacked him up for my lesson. Sunny's a chestnut Appendix, a regal looking animal in his english saddle and bridle. But it's hard to look good when your personal assistant doesn't realize you have stickers on your butt. Hollie was joking, but she made her point: grooming is head to tail, not just where the saddle goes. I've almost got the tacking part of the lesson down. I can brush backs, pick hooves, pick out and adjust the right pads, lifts, girths and saddles. I can put on the bridle and halter: but I never thought to check his tail. I blushed a little and apologized in some rushed bit about not-knowing-about-the-tail. I made a mental note.

Last night was my best lesson so far at Riding Right Farm. For one, long, side of the arena I did my most-correct, most-comfortable, and most-chilled out posting trot yet. I beamed as Hollie praised me. For weeks I'd been coming to lessons tightly wound and over-working my body. I was nervous being back on a horse again. It had been since college that I rode regularly. (I'm cautious by nature, so having a 1,000-pound animal below me that could throw me at whim had me a little tense.) But tonight some part of me gave up the fight, gave in. For the first time I was at home up there, even for a dozen yards. I could tell it was correct because it felt effortless. I trotted with Sunny, not on him. For a moment my mind was clear and I understood everything he was doing and he tolerated me beautifully.

Within a few more laps and circles I was back to overworking, poor hand position, and over steering. But I'll get it eventually. The point is progress was happening and all it took was letting go.

When the lesson was over Hollie let me un-tack Sunny alone and left me a lantern and instructions to return him to Burdock Meadow. The meadow was on the other side of the farm and it was already after 8pm and dark in New York. After I put away all my gear and Sunny was back to just a halter. I thanked him and gave him a kiss on the nose. I pulled every burr out of his tail. He stood patiently. A good man.

The barn was ours for a minute. I turned on the lantern and we walked under the stars to the meadow. We walked slow and I could look up and around me. At the trees starting to yellow, at Sunny's large brown head just to my right. I opened the gate and removed his halter. The rest of the night was his to do things horses do. I thanked him again for helping me relax, let go, and just be present with him for a few moments tonight. He turned around and trotted off into the dark. I headed back to the stables with a lantern in my right hand, and was smiling. I didn't know horses could be buddhist.

Monday, September 6, 2010

lawn pedicure

fabulous finn?

The three day weekend was kind to me, kinder than it seems from the frustration of earlier posts. I needed it too. I was able to jog everyday, caught up on housework (The shower has never been cleaner) and sleep. I got more sleep last night than I get during the work week in three days. Top off that kind of slumber with a morning of pumpkin coffee and cast-iron baked apple pancakes and you have yourself a remedy. Living on a farm is both the poison and the cure, but at least you don't have to go far from your front door to experience both.

Yesterday Annie Dileo came back over to help run a third line of electric fencing around in the inside of the sheep pen. So far it's working great and should hold him while I'm at work so I don't have to pace around the office worrying. I made her an apple pie with a smiling goat on it as a thank you. I wish I could do more, but I am learning as a new home owner you can't do much of anything when the mortgage is due. I happy and sobering reality, that.

I'm working hard on finding Finn a new home. I'm talking to everyone from Doug at Wayside to Brent and Josh of the Fabulous Beekman Boys (who's farm is south of CAF in Sharon Springs). It would be quite fabulous to get Finn a gig on a TV show with those goat boys, that way this sheep girl can move forward with the fall plans of barn raising and pasture expanding with a lighter heart and less stress.

Someone's gotta adopt this guy, and they will. In the meantime the third strand of wire is working, for now...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

annie has her masters in comfort

a follow-up

A few weeks ago I announced a post where a farm family in Florida needed our help. Donations were sent in from all over the country and HeartSong Farm is slowly building from the ground up. For anyone who donated I would like to thank you personally, and for those of you who sent a gift their way: here is a note from Crystal.

Dear CAF readers,

I feel like I should call you family now. "Readers" has such an impersonal tone, I don't think it's appropriate anymore. So, family you now are and will always be at HeartSong Farms.

I cannot express in words how amazing the responses to Jenna's post have been. I have read each personal note. I have cried in thanks over every penny sent our way. I have prayed for each person that has sent good wishes to us. The world seems a smaller, closer place now. I am in awe over the intimacy humans can accomplish over state lines and broadband connections.

After much frustration with local building laws, we have inched forward with our move to the land. We have a permit for electric, an address, containers for water, and tools to start a simple life on five undeveloped acres. These are all thanks to you. And yet, we've been down right stingy parting with such fine gifts. We have enough left to make the shed a safer place for our babies to live.

There is a lot of work infront of us. But we're moving forward with cautious steps even if they're a bit hurried from our initial plan. We've been rushing out resumes and have had an interview for a job about 45 minutes from our land. I've been sorting out our possessions and have scheduled yard sales over the next few weeks. It's still scary. It's still nervewrecking and nauseating at times but we're resolved to not let this break us. To become a better family because of it. We are fortunate to have a place to call our own and a faceless family that wants to see us get there.

Thank you. Each and everyone of you. We have kept each email and hope someday to return the favor however we can.

Sincerely,

Crystal and the HeartSong Farm Family

Saturday, September 4, 2010

what to do about finn...

I pulled into the driveway and there was Finn, coming from behind the house. He was fine but I could see the damage that had been done. The chicken feed container was knocked on its side, the remaining vegetables devoured, strawberries I planted by the door gone, and a rhubarb plant torn to shreds. How Finn knew to not eat the leaves is beyond me. The stalks were gone and the floor of the planter littered with the poisonous leaves. Had he not been such a clever goat he'd be dead.

I am starting to seriously consider rehoming Finn.

I do not take that consideration lightly. After months of waiting for his return I have been doing my very best to accommodate him safely. I have spent hundreds of dollars on fencing equipment and supplies. I have enlisted the help of experienced goat owners. I've read the books, called the vet, and what it all comes down to is this: am I best home for this goat?

If I'm 100% honest I can admit I am not. Finn is well fed, vaccinated, and kept but he lives in a small electric pen with sheep who seem to bore him. He spends his day pacing around looking for something to occupy his mind and time. Yesterday he managed to knock out all the electric fencing wire again in one section, climb out, and destroy property and eat poisonous plants. This is not good.

I know some of you are angry at this idea. We've watched Finn grow up on this blog, people asked me about him for months while he was with Abi (poor Abi, now I understand everything she emailed me about!) or Bobbie. We all adore this little guy, and want to see him thrive, but so far all that has come of this is stress and concern. I put off bringing him here because I wasn't sure my home could hold him. I wasn't prepared (or able) to afford the special accommodations he needs.

I am getting to a point where I can not leave for more than a few hours for fear he'd hurt himself or wander into the road and hurt someone else. I have no idea how I could even drive to PA to visit my family overnight, something I really want to do but can't, because someone has to be here to keep an eye on the electric fences and Finn. And christ, If I got a call that a neighbors' teenager was in the hospital because my stock was out in the road and he swerved into a tree... I can't even begin to wrap my head around that.

People have suggested I build a play structure and get another goat so he can be more content, but that seems unreasonable to me. If this was a dairy goat operation I'd be hammering away at wooden fences and caprine jungle gyms, but this is not a dairy. This is a wool and lamb farm just starting out that happens to host one goat. Acquiring another animal I do not have a use for—other than a babysitter—seems foolish (an expensive) when the profit and point of the farm is sheep. And is he even happy here? Does he want to be in a pen with three sheep? Does he miss the camaraderie of other goats?

This is what I fear. I fear the only reason I have been keeping Finn is because I said I would—not because it's what is best for the farm or the goat. I am torn on what to do and where I would even be able to rehome him. I am not proud of this but understand I am not trying to shirk responsibilities. I am trying to decide what will keep Cold Antler sane.

Your advice and suggestions are welcome. What would you do?

Friday, September 3, 2010

upset

I decided to name my second Ameraucana rooster Upset, after the not-so-famous horse. If you're furrowing your brow in confusion, here's the story of the name: There was a very famous race horse named Man o' War back in the 1920s. He was amazing. He was undefeated and unstoppable on the track. I say "was" because he wasn't entirely successful... In his illustrious career only one horse beat him in a race. That horses name was Upset. Till this day the phrase upset is used in sports and politics when an underdog takes the day.

I want this chicken to win.

Chuck Klosterman was put in the freezer because he was a man of war. He was violent as hell, loud, and angry. I'm going to hope that Upset beats him at being a good farm rooster. I'm going to hope he watches over his girls, croons like lounge singer, and leaves the memory of that mean ol' bird in the dust.

you've been warned

Thursday, September 2, 2010

flying machines

I was outside with Jazz and Annie tonight when I heard a helicopter overhead. I looked up to watch it flash red and said a quiet prayer for those people far away. A helicopter at night means one thing around here: get to the hospital quick. I felt my anxiety rise up as I counted all the other planes in the sky tonight: five total. I never realize how many people are above me... Hundreds tonight, just over Jackson.

I know there's supposed to be a thrill in flying, some sort of freedom. I don't see it that way at all. Flying is freedom to a bird, they are built to do it, meant to. But to a human being flying is a prison or a coffin. You are either trapped in a machine you depend on to not die, or the machine fails and you do. Either way you're a codependent or a victim. Neither option seems like freedom to me. Both rattle me to the core. I'm a land-rail-or-sea kind of gal. The world makes more sense down here.

I'm so scared of being up in the air. I hate flying, am terrified of unnatural heights. I'll be fine up in a tree but a roof of the same size makes me jittery. I hold the record for the fastest descent down the Statue of Liberty. I was nine and nearly had a panic attack in that stupid crown. I remember looking out over the Atlantic and knowing I wasn't supposed to be that high. I looked up at all those planes and all I could think of was how good it feels to walk out of the terminal and start making your way to the car or family waiting to take you home. Every time I get off a plane I am amazed I survived. I wanted everyone up there to walk out of their terminals to smiling, warm, faces. I want everyone to be content.

I think this is why I was so drawn to homesteading and why I am trying to become a farmer. There is such good in knowing everyone is okay. There is no deeper sense of calm here than when everyone is eating, and watered, fenced and safe. Tending to animals isn't the same as landing a 747, but the idea of getting everyone through the day alive is. A lot of times I don't. Foxes snatch, rabbits get sick, raccoons learn to scale walls and steal polts. But when everyone is okay I beam and sigh. A little faux order does wonders for me. I'll take a sheep over a flying machine any day.

The dogs looked up with me for a while and then peed. They could care less who falls out of the sky tonight.

sal says good mornin'

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

welcome fall

At dawn I was outside with the animals. I walked the perimeter of the hoof fences and was pleased to see not a single line or insulator was down. I threw the last two flakes of hay to the herd and said my good mornings. I plugged in the fence charger and watched a wire dance. It was on. So far my fences hold.

Then I walked over to feed June Carter. She came running—somewhat awkwardly—up to meet her can of turkey food. She leaped up to the top of my rubbish bin with a baby mouse in my teeth, still alive. She spit it out soon as she saw the cat food but I was thrilled. Just three months old and already on the job. It was the first mouse I saw with her but for all I know it was her third that morning. I am happy to have such a fine working cat here. I pet her spine and watch her arch under my hand. She purrs with all she's got.

I went about my morning work of hauling water to the hoofstock and feeding the chickens. The rabbits got their bottles refilled and pellets restocked. I took note that the pair of goldfish I won at the Washington County Fair were thriving in their new home: the water tank. I had read on a FFA website about how keeping hardy goldfish in your sheep's tank keeps down algae and mosquitos. They were already twice the size since I won them throwing ping pong balls under the ferris wheel. The water was cleaner than usual too. I suggest my golden filters to anyone with a small number of animals to keep watered. They do the job.

It was the first morning of my autumn. Jazz and Annie went for their morning walk stepping over the first fallen leaves, red as stop signs along the side of the road. The king maple in front of the house already is barking for the rake. September is here darling, and she paves the way to holy October. You can read back entries of previous Septembers and Octobers and notice the verve. This is my time.

woodcut by andrew waddington

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

and...

The fences stopped working again. Finn was playing with the wire between his horns this morning.

Finn 2
Jenna 1

UPDATE: Went back at lunch and Annie was coming down the road, she repaired the down fences and had them hot again. I thanked her, and then went home to let the dogs out. Finn was on the hillside in the shade with sal. Fences on.

Finn 2
Jenna 2

Monday, August 30, 2010

headlock!

fences on

Annie my a goat farming neighbor came to my rescue. Annie has a herd of goats in Cassyuna, fifteen minutes to the west of Jackson. We spoke briefly over emails—certainly we were strangers—but when the shit hit the wall with Finn I had a gut reaction to email her. The subject like read ANNIE HELP! GOAT EMERGENCY! within an hour she was on the phone.

I explained my worries and she said she'd stop by in the morning after I left for work to check things out. Then, after I came home that evening, we would attack the pasture with a proper double line of wire at head and chest height. Do this and my goat problems would be over she assured...for now.

She explained that I should ditch the nylon tape and get straight up wire and a stronger charger. That tape isn't goat proof, and in her opinion raw wire is the only way to get a goat to mind. So on my lunch break I picked up a 1/2 mile roll of wire and more t-post insulators and called my friends at Common Sense Farm to see if the offer to loan their spare fencer was still on the table? It was, and after work I stopped at their farm stand in Cambridge for watermelons and a 30-mile charger (the last one was 2 miles!!!). Now were were stocked and ready for honorable caprine combat.

Listen. I love Finn. But I understand now why people keep sheep and alpacas. I really do. It's humbling being outsmarted by something with four stomachs.

I asked her to meet me at the farm by six, but I was running late from chatter down at the farm. At ten-past the hour I pulled into the driveway and saw quite the sight. I was just as concerned as I was amused. There by the fence was Annie, a fit blonde in an orange chicken t-shirt, sitting with Finn outside the fence gate. They looked like kids on the bench at a little league game, playful. "He was just standing in the front yard when I pulled in a minute ago," Annie assure me, "He's a sweet boy." She seemed to take to him and I took that as a compliment.

Goats have very liberal interpretations of captivity. My four-foot field fence was a joke to him. At some point while I was at work he got bored and pulled it down enough to climb over. Probably walked around, took a tour. You know, the usual house warming. We put him back inside the gate and got to work.

It took us two hours but together we electrified that pasture. Finn and Sal were our shadows, following both of us around like our jeans were stuffed with hay. It was nice. It was also somewhat of a work bee. We spent the whole time talking about our lives, our animals, our farms and other farmers. I learned tonight if you want to make new friends in the country, get a goat. The sayings are true. Single moms may be strong, but it takes a village to raise a kid.

Her husband Joe and her are old hands at this stuff but she seemed willing and able to help me out. I thanked her over and over but it didn't seem like enough. Giving up a sweltering afternoon to electrocute a goat isn't many people's idea of a good time. God bless Annie.

We ran the fence both Finn and Sal took a shock on the nose. JUICE! I gave her a high five. Before she headed home I handed her some honey. I told her I would be coming by with pie later this week and arguments would not be tolerated. Thanks to her help I learned how to set up, ground, and work my fence. Finn is safe inside and away from the road and predators will have to really second guess hopping inside too. Tonight I go to bed with a little extra spark. Not from the new fences, but a new friend.

Not bad for a Monday night among hayfields.

staredown: jazz, annie, and june carter.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

help!

Help! The electric fencing charge is so weak..it barely sparks my bare palm. Yet the grounding wire is wicked charged...I know because I brushed it by accident with my hand. I am using a 2 mile electric charger on a 1/6th of an acre pen...I went out in a panic and bought a grounding rod three feet long and nailed it into the ground to replace the 1 foot copper rod that came with the kit. I don't know why it's barely working but Finn is ignoring it. I have to go to work tomorrow and am terrified he'll get out, break down the fence so the sheep get out too while I am half an hour away... If he got into the road and got hit or caused an accident (people fly down this road) I am just so stressed out.

I have been running around all over Washington and Bennington county buying sledgehammers, grounding rods, electrical supplies and the works yet it is barely buzzing. Does anyone know what I can do to up the charge? help!

If I can't contain Finn safely I don't know how I can keep him. I have spent the day either in a panic, in tears of frustration, or driving all over trying to contain him.

juiced

Well folks, less then 24 hours after his return home to Cold Antler, Finn has broken out of the fence. He found a weak spot by a tree, placed his hooves on the Red Brand woven wire, and ripped it down. Pulled the nails right out of the bark. I caught him in the act on the return from a jog. Just as I was coming into the driveway huffing and puffing—he was half out of the fence eating some sapling all to hell. So I grabbed a hammer and nails, fixed the downed fence, and hoped it would hold while I ran to Bennington to buy electric supplies. I set up a top line of eletric tape around the whole first pasture pen. So far, no more escapes....

finn's return

The side door to the mini van opened and I caught my breath. Standing in the back, taking up all the space there was to take, stood a grown man. The little toddler I had bottle fed on the cabin porch was no more. Before me was a sturdy caprine who's shoulders came up to my hips with long, curved, horns. He had the exact same eyes though, yellow and childish. He started to nicker and I smiled when the sound was exactly the sound I left this past winter. How could such an animal still sound like a little kid?

It was so good to see him. I had tried to ignore missing him. If I didn't think about Finn I could focus on other things. Part of me worried I'd never have the fences he needed (part of me still worries about that) or he'd me miserable as the lone caprine laughing in a pile of wool. But he seemed good, healthy, and strong as an ox. All I could do now is pray the fences would hold and no horns pierced anything but tree trunks.

I lead him into the sheep pasture and unsnapped his collar to see what would happen next. Sal, Maude, and Joseph watched from their corners of the hillside. None of them looked thrilled. I knew Sal would trot down here and challenge the goat but wasn't sure what would happen next. Would Finn leap through the sheep field fence? Would he fight back? Did he know what those horns (the size of my forearm) could do to a pissy sheep? I watched from the other side of the gate.

Sal and Maude did chase him around a bit. Sal knocked him over twice. Joseph watched. He had no interest in smacking a goat around, and I laughed when I realized he was watching a black sheep for the first time.

After those initial introductions all went well. Finn walked up the hill to the shed and the others returned to their grazing. The goat curled up under the shade of the apple tree and looked around the new farm. I watched him swat flies with his ears and nod his head up and down. I know he was just avoiding the bugs, but I like to pretend it was approval.

Thank you Abi and Bobbie, for watching my boy. I hope to return the favor some day.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

he's back!

big day!

Big day today. In a few hours cars will be pulling into the drive for the fiddle workshop and one of those cars will be holding my goat Finn. After months of foster homes and moving drama I am fenced and ready for my little pack goat. So I'm going to start a loaf of bread and get a quiche in the oven and coffee on the stove and prepare for my guests. It should be a grand day of music, food, and if the fences hold: dinner with friends at the Washington County Fair. Photos and stories to come.

I can't wait to see my boy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

washington county fair




snyder farm: a backyard put to work

Snyder Farm is what I call it. It's a small hidden place behind a sidewalk along a road in a small town. You might think when you pass by that it's just another suburban house but then you might find yourself making a double take as you notice the landscaping is all...well, edible. My friends Zach and Shellee live on an 1/8th of an acre in the small town of Bowmanstown, Pennsylvania.Their house takes up much of that space, but what backyard is left has been transformed into a farm. This is the Snyder's first year gardening outside of the occasional container adventure, and it has certainly paid off. Now what was once a lawn and above ground pool (Zach ripped out the pool for gardening space) is a cornucopia of production. They grow salad greens, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. They've pulled turnips, scallions, beans and beats. They have corn rows and pumpkin patches. All of it on land that once hosted flip flops and swim towels. I consider this a vast improvement. So do they.


The Snyder's are an average American family. Shellee is a stay at home mom, Zach works as an antique dealer in a home office and holds a part-time night job as well. They have a little girl named Madeline, a pair of dogs, and a cat named Mojo. They pay their taxes, go to church on Sunday, vote and love Netflix. There is nothing all that different about them from you and I. They simply made a choice to grow what they could and step back a little from a culture obsessed with consumerism. They both agree the work has been worth it.

They added some angora rabbits to the mix this year and use them for wool and tea compost, both of which help other aspects of the homestead. They plan on chickens eventually if they can butter up the idea to the town council woman who lives across the street... big plans on Snyder Farm, that is for sure.

here is a list of what they Snyders have grown from 200 square feet of town backlot:

Kidney Beans: 2.5 quarts dried ~ 5 quarts soaked
Pumpkins: 1 dozen jack-o-lantern size
Pickling Cukes: 25lbs
Horseradish: 2 large plants/roots
Eggplants: 1 dozen
Bell Peppers: 20lbs
Basil: 5 full mature plants
Peas: 1-2lbs
Corn: 60-70 stalks with 2-3 cobs/stalk - we lost most to rot because of the weird weather we had this year. These will make good compost though
Broccoli: 10 full heads
Cabbage: 10 green, 6 red
Garlic: 15-20 bulbs
Onions: 10-15lbs
Scallions: 4 large freezer bags
Turnips: 3lbs
Carrots: unknown - they were a bust
Potatoes: 15lbs
Tomatoes: I have no clue. I'm pulling a plastic shopping bag worth every day or two and have been for a while now. We've pulled easily 40-50lbs with no signs of letting up. We planted Better Boy, Beefsteak, and Romas (25 plants in all) and have cherry tomatoes in the compost pile :)
Strawberries: all 20 plants died



Zach says this about their year of food so far:

We were able to grow quite a bit, because our last frost date was earlier this year. We were able to grow turnips, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and onions, and then pull them to put in our summer plants. I pulled some of our summer plants and put down cabbage and broccoli. The cabbage got eaten, but we have about 6 heads of broccoli still kickin'.

We built all of our beds from recycled deck wood from the pool we took down. Any fencing we used was acquired from estate sales or yard sales. We said very early on that our garden needs to be practical. The whole point is to be more self-reliant, not to see whose beds look the prettiest.

We did not spray anything or use anything unnatural. We used our own homemade compost and compost tea. We started our compost pile last August after we moved in, in order to have rich compost for this year. The rabbits are really helping build our supply. We fenced anything that the wild rabbits would bother. Other than that we did things like plant basil in between tomato plants to cut down on pests (it really works well). Also, we let the dogs pee around our raised beds of kidney beans. I read about this in See You In a Hundred Years. They emptied their camber pot around their corn to keep rodents away. We let the dogs go around 3 of our 4 raised beds. Sure enough, the rabbits/squirrels/etc only ate out of the bed we didn't let the dogs near. We were told by a neighbor to brush our dogs and put their hair around our beds to keep rabbits away, but we haven't tried it yet.

We started with 4 small 8x4' beds and grew from there. I read You Can Farm, per your recommendation, and he says if you can't make it in your backyard, you won't make it on 20 acres. We took that to heart and had at it. We still have to be careful, because we're in the middle of town and it can't look too wild, but by letting passersby take a walk around and look, giving neighbors fresh peppers and tomatoes, and talking garden with the Bowmanstown Lifers, you'd be surprised what they'll tolerate.

The difference this garden has made on our grocery bill has been and continues to be amazing. To be able to cut an onion from the braid, pull peppers from the freezer, and snag a tomato off of the plants really adds up.

Next year, it's on like Donkey Kong.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

pasteurized reading

chuck klosterman is back...

Yup. One of the surviving pullets is not a hen, but a rooster. A white, black, green and gold rooster exactly the same breed and size of Chuck Klosterman. God laughs.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the sacred 45

Gibson woke me up to go outside sometime around 4AM. My alarm goes off 45 minutes later, but those are a sacred 45 minutes. Sleep is something I want more of but my body seems to disagree. Without fail I get up every morning around 4:47 AM.

I like my early mornings. I wake up to the pre-dawn light (now almost dark again as fall creeps in) and see the world before most. I take time to listen to the farm wake up from my bed. I cab hear the young roosters moan and the shuffle of Maude as she shakes out her wool and starts rooting for apples that fell while she slept. I know every sound and where it comes from.

Gibson usually sleeps right till I get up but today I was ready to go outside early. So I wrapped myself up in a blanket and took him outside to pee. We came back inside and he ran fast as his little legs could carry him back to my bed. He was curled up and eyes closed in moments. I sighed. Some battles are not worth fighting. I found a place for myself and he sidled closer to me. He placed his head in the crook of my arm and scootched his spine back into my belly. He was snuggling and then fell alseep. A puppy out cold. I whispered to him the same question I ask all my dogs, "Are you getting all the love you need?" and set a hand on the side of his dear head. He turned onto his back, stretched out his long paws and then collapsed back into a heap with a sigh, like he gave up on the effort of the stretch. I took that as a yes.

We slept for 38 more minutes like that. Crates be damned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

i barely put a dent in that box...

jackpot

The Stannard Farm stand is just down the road from Cold Antler and I love it. It's a small farm in south Cambridge that produces meat, eggs, and vegetables. The stand sells all their food and also carries local cheeses and milk. It's kind of like having a farm-fresh mini mart a bike ride away (exactly 1.8 miles from my front door). The clientele up here in Jackson isn't interested in five dollar cartons of milk or over-priced organics, so the food is priced to move for the locals. This crate of slightly over-ripe/bruised tomatoes was $5. I almost fainted when I saw the sign. Jackpot.

The woman at the counter said when the fruit goes slightly past its prime it's perfectly fine for sauces and canning, but not for commercial sales so they box them and sell them to canners. I told her I could make a pot of sauce and freeze it tonight, to hell with canning on the fly. (My canning pot is used for chicken scalding...so I need to get a new canner before I start preserving this fall.) She smiled at the ambition, but seemed to think all the people snatching up the five dollar cartons were crazy. She could think whatever she wanted. A twenty-pound box of locally grown tomatoes for a Lincoln was worth rolled eyes. And I bet if you asked around your local farm stands and growers, they'd sell you their over-ripes for a song as well. Worth a phone call anyway and that homemade sauce defrosted and poured thickly over pasta is going to taste just as amazing when the first snow falls. Think ahead a little and savor in advance. That's what I say.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

lanky defined

hudson valley saturday night

Kinderhook Farm is beautiful. That's really what this comes down to. I was sitting on Lee and Georgia's porch last night with a slew of their friends at dusk, drinking Saranac and watching their flock of Dorper/Texels half a mile away munch on their new pasture. It was a scene right out of a story book. The kind of farm we grew up thinking all farms were based on songs and illustration. I drank my beer and smiled. Right before I arrived they had moved the entire flock (without a dog) by Georgia simply sweet talking them through it. No grain, no yelling, just a new fence on fresh grass and the request to follow her. I heard it became quite the stampede.

Kinderhook Farm is in the heart of the Hudson Valley. It's a haul from Cold Antler, almost an hour and a half drive, but lazy and fine. I always opt to ride down 22 instead of the highways. It takes an extra fifteen minutes but instead of whizzing down the interstate I can weave the truck through old towns and farms. When I hit 295 I head west through Chatham and then a few county roads later you find yourself coasting along a series of fences and hillsides. Black cows eat happily on what seems like endless pasture. (At 1200+ acres endless isn't exactly accurate, but you get the idea.) Keep driving and you'll come up to a red barn with an old restored GMC truck and a restored barn that doubles as their farm store. Exhale and grin: you've reached Kinderhook Farms.

I pulled up to the farmhouse and let Gibson out on his leash. Louie, their handsome boxer, came rushing to play with my pup. It took Gibson a while to realize the gentle giant wasn't going to eat him and then his tail came out from between his legs. In a few hours Gibson was with us at the kitchen table, playing with a little girl named Meg who took to him like a pair of old roommates. She walked him around the farm and yard. They were a happy pair.

I had first met Lee and Georgia at the Greenhorns event they hosted this past spring. I wrote about it on the blog and Georgia read it and got in touch with me over email. We chatted and emails started back and forth. She liked what I wrote and I loved their farm and thanked them for hosting such an inspirational day. I mailed her a copy of my book, and we said eventually I'd come down for dinner. Last night they held their promise true, and we had an amazing meal of Red Devon burgers, potatoes, glazed carrots, and a chocolate soufflé-type dessert with cream and berries. Fresh pressed cider (hours before was apples) was made by Shaun, and I was proud to serve my own bread and honey as an appetizer.

The meal was amazing, that goes without saying. Eating anything that fresh and clean, right off the farm, is an experience that changes how you understand a meal, what a meal can be. But food aside: it was the farm itself that wowed me. Just walking the miles around the main horse barns. Checking out the moving layer flocks and meat birds. Watching the lambs follow their mothers, bleating as we walked by with Louie trotting ahead like a carriage master. At night before I left a crew of us young guns went out with flashlights to close up the birds and settle in the farm for the night.

Night rounds are my favorite of all farm chores. I walked through the fields with the others, following erratic flashlight swerves and thought about closing up Diana's farm in Idaho. I remembered how we'd go out to close up the chickens and feed the cattle after a few drinks and dinner and then come back to her warm house and family with that satisfying feeling of safety-granted. That sense that everyone outdoors and indoors was okay. I did the same with my small Idaho farm, and then again in Vermont, and when I drove back to Cold Antler I would do the same. Across years and this nation: putting chickens to bed connects me to a place in a way an address and electric bill can't. Taking care of future meals, keeping them safe as possible, collecting eggs and saying goodnight...it makes a place home, for all species involved.

After the farm was put to bed, I was ready for the same. I thanked my hosts, gave Louie a kiss, and drove north up 22 to my own warm comforter. Gibson breathed slowly at my side, asleep on a sheepskin as the first drops of rain started to hit the windshield. My stomach was full, my nostalgia fresh, and my body tired from walking and driving. Tomorrow I'd pick up feed and t-posts and start planning fall work parties, but as I drove all I thought about was this culture of food and people I have been so lucky to have fallen into. I have fallen into it, sure, but it is there for anyone with a container garden and a canning jar. It's there for anyone who opts for the farmers market or a chicken in the backyard (even just once in a while) over the grocery store. It's a club, but it's not exclusive. It's for anyone who wants to know the story behind the recipes and sometimes those stories come with chicken lullabies and full stomaches.

I sighed, smiled, turned on the wipers, and headed home.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

the road home

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

how long does it take...

...for a house to feel like a home?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

keeping time

Well, there's two ways to look at this darling. Two ways. I can look at these tiny excuses for watermelons and feel like a complete failure for growing something so weak that it could barely entertain a flock of egg birds. Or, I can look at these tropical fruits I managed to conjure out of yankee dirt on a brand new farm and be proud to turn them into vitamin C enriched eggs. To a farmer they aren't much. But to a chicken....that is one huge watermelon.

Tonight I'm taking the chicken's point of view. A little kindness for the attempt is a recipe for better sleep. I've scolded myself enough about the garden, the meat rabbits, the slow fence progress, and other things. I think I've had enough self-admonishing for a while. I have to keep reminding myself no one is keeping score.

a barn on fire

Friends, readers, future farmers, and current homesteaders:

When the Amish suffer the loss of a barn or home, it is tragic but understood. All members of the community know that even in their hardest times there is the insurance and care of their community. If they lose a barn they know the community will raise up their shovels and hammers and help them rebuild. It's a good system, this looking out for each other.

We are not Amish. We still look after our own.

The community of this blog is large and kind. When I was facing eviction, and scared out of my mind how I would ever land on my feet: the support and donations from this blog lifted me to a place where I could find home. Sometimes you have to realize when you need help, ask for it, and be very grateful. One of our friends has arrived to this time.

I recently found out one of CAF's readers is losing her home. The bank sent the notice. She's scared. She's not alone in this either, her husband is just home from Irag having served his 400 days. She wrote me, "Grateful we are that he's here, hearty and hale. One of the many reasons it's hard to ask for help since we've been so blessed with that alone and others have not." and together they raise five children. All of them are facing foreclosure next month.

She did not ask me to do this. I somewhat demanded. I understood her reservations but thought we could help. I knew we could help. Like us they are hopeful farmers, working towards the dream of homesteading. They have some land they bought and it hosts a storage unit, but no house. So they need to find a way to convert the land they have into livable quarters and start living off it. Through circumstance and hard times they are being forced onto their land and are going to start working it for their income. But they can't do this alone. They'll need some help.

I'm asking if you have a dollar to spare, please send a donation via paypal to this address:

HeartSongFarmFamily@gmail.com

The cash will go towards getting our friends back on their feet, starting their farm, and give them the help they need.

Their barn burnt down. Pick up a shovel. It's what we do.

Monday, August 16, 2010

my first jar of farm honey!

Sitting in my kitchen is a quart of honey. it's a rich, dark, golden brown and when you hold it up to the light, it shines. I just held it in my hands for a while as I leaned against the kitchen sink. For three years I have been keeping bees, hoping for this moment. I had lost hives to my own faults, poor planning, two bear attacks, and poor luck. But because I wanted to harvest honey I kept rebuilding supers, spray painting hive bodies, and ordering new bees. Yesterday I finally filled a jar. A very large jar.

I had only planned on checking the hive. I had no plans whatsoever to harvest honey—but like so many things out here—plans rarely matter. Last night I was out checking the hive. It had been a few weeks and we'd been through quite the mess of rain and heat waves—it seemed like a check-in was due. So I suited up in my bee gear, grabbed my smoker and hive tool, and headed out to the hive to see how the girls were doing.

When I got to the bees I was shocked how many were hanging outside of the Styrofoam super. I had read about how bees look before they swarm, and this wasn't far off from that description. But how could they? They had two giant supers on that hive (without a queen excluder. I planned on not harvesting at all this year and putting it on next spring under a third super) and all my previous years keeping bees no hive had managed to fill two to capacity by mid-August. Specially when it was practically June when they were installed...

So I did not expect much when I went to lift the lid. If a quarter of the top section was filled in with comb I'd be ecstatic. smoke rising all around me. My goatskin beekeeping gloves protecting my hands as workers crawled between my fingers. I placed my hands on the lid and tried to lift it. It wouldn't budge. Using my hive tool (a mini-crowbar for beekeepers) I wedged open the lid and then did the same for the inner lid.

Oh. My. God...

The super was exploding with combs and honey! I was expecting famine and discovered a feast! Each frame was packed. Wafting fumes of the gold stuff hit me like someone just opened one of those tree-shaped air fresheners in a compact car. I loosened out to frames with my hive tool and lifted one out. Honey, honey honey.... it dripped off the edges. I realized around this point why the bees were swarming around the outside. They were done here. It was packed. I would have to add another super pronto or give them some other form of work to give them reason to stick around. So I ran (literally ran) back into the house to get some roasting pans from the kitchen to hold a frame or two. I came back out and pulled two fames heavy with honey into the pans, but soon realized one was full of brood chambers and would have to be returned. I was interested in honey, not genocide, so I put it back.

I had no idea how I was going to extract the bastard. I had only watched extraction once. A neighbor in Sandgate showed me how she used an expensive Italian machine to whip honey out of the frames by centrifugal force. I had no such machine. I knew how to prepare and load combs into that but alas, I was a long way from Sandgate now. So I figured something else out.

Necessity is the mother of invention, of course. I grabbed a giant Lobster-sized saucepan and stuck a colander in the bottom. I heated a large serving knife under hot water and carefully removed the wax caps. The wax fell into the strainer and globs of honey poured out into the large metal container. It was pretty primitive honey extracting, but easy and inexpensive to pull off. Annie watched nearby. When a drop or two of honey fell to the floor she licked it up and then padded back a few steps and sat again to watch for another drop. I threw her a piece of comb and she chomped it happily. Annie is a fine sous chef.

When there was a remarkable amount of honey in the pan, I poured it into a jar, filtering it again through a strainer. The liquid was warm which surprised me, but why shouldn't it be? I sealed the lid, ran it under hot water to clear off the stickiness outside. I wiped it off with a dishtowel and leaned back against the sink, just as I said. My house clothing, floor, counter, sink and pans were covered with honey. The place was a mess. I was slick with sweat from the hive clothes and running around. One gold jar.

I am the wealthiest woman in Jackson.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

gibson stalks a rabbit

big ol' bowl of heirlooms!

Compared to last year's bacchanal: this year's scruffy garden is a bust. But this bowl of ripe tomatoes is a lesson for me. Even if the garden wasn't what I hoped it would be, it still keeps providing food for me. I may not have a cellar full of potatoes and walls of garlic and onions. But I do have some of each, and this humble bowl of heirlooms will make a great sauce for my pizza tonight. I can caramelize some of the onions on the back of the attic door and if I'm feeling really frisky: even make my own cheese to top it off. It may not be a storehouse of food for the winter. But it is a cupboard of options. There's always next year.

P.S. I would like to thank the reader who sent me the DVDs of the Welsh Sheepdog Finals. I have been watching them over and over, I didn't even know about the TV show Come Bye! Thank you!!!

homebrewing 101

I got an email about root beer, and it reminded me how much I enjoyed making it last summer. So I decided to put a pot of homebrew on the stove tonight with directions. Check back and see how easy it is to procure your own DIY carbonation. I'll be making a few quarts of either root beer or birch beer. I think soda is a perfect introduction to homebrewing. It's a short, harmless (well, try not to use glass...mostly harmless), two-week curing process and ends with good inexpensive soda for floats and post-fence building music jams. I'll be using a store-bought base (not actual birch roots) but even if it's a kit soda: it's still kinda of neat learning to make it yourself. Check back for more tonight.

UPDATE: Out of sugar (well, soda making-amounts) and will have to do this tomorrow night. I'm sorry!

cooperstown

The trials in Cooperstown were fantastic. I have never seen such a crowd at a sheepdog trial in my life! The Annual Leatherstocking Sheepdog Trial had so many cars in the parking lot you would think it was the little-league playoffs. I'm used to being one of a possible dozen stragglers watching these contests, but I was in the throngs yesterday and rightly so. It was a wonderful event.

There were spinning and weaving demonstrations, food tents, vendors, and shade seating under the tent. I forgot my folding chair (still not in the habit of bringing my chair) and just rolled a sheepskin under my backpack to be a blanket. I sat along the fence with a couple from the south who were here as part of their RV Gypsy Life in the local KOA campground. We talked about the south, what they had seen. They asked me about the trial and I explained the points and dogs. Gibson didn't seem to care much about the event. He liked eating a big marrowbone and digging holes more.

I got a chance to watch my future charges....um, charge. The Scottish Blackface ewes I'd be raising were in the trial, right in front of me there were loping across the field with their spring lambs. Have you ever seen a Scottish Blackface lamb? My dear lord...they're like little-chubby-cuddly-monster stuffed animals: hooves and horns and shaggy coats with tiny bleats for mom. My heart melted. Gibson coughed up some dirt clods.

I got to talk to a trainer in Massachusetts I really admire and respect. Her name is Denise, and I have been to her place before for lessons and clinics so I felt okay approaching her. I asked if I could train with her a little in the fall? I already have plans to train with the blackface breeder, but her farm is just as close and offers different land, sheep, and opinions. She said sure and to email her later in the season. Gibson will be seven-months-old in October and ready to try out sheep for the first time by then. We talked briefly about dogs, turkeys, chickens and the trial.

The rest of the time around the trial was observing and watching. I am still amazed these dogs do what they do. To see a black dog turn on a dime 400 yards away from his handler, because of a series of whistles: amazes the hell out of me. When the sun came out we hunkered under the shade tent and I looked at the scores posted on the wall, hand-written on poster boards. One small category caught my eye, the Novice scores. Friday was the beginner trial and about fifteen new sheepdogs did their best. I smiled. Seeing those scores on the board was like wanting to be a pilot at an air show and walking among 747s until you found the glider hanger. This was my level (eventually). I tried to picture my name with Gibson on the wall.

The drive home was long and hilly weaving up into the northern part of the state from south of Albany. Roadtrips like this wear us both out. I was content with the radio and some iced coffee, but Gibson slept the entire time on the sheepskin, breathing slowly like the tired boy he was.