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.