Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hungry For Change

I am hungry for change. Today I scooped some beautiful black soil out of the worm bin and set it into a quart-sized yogurt container. I sprinkled in some kale seeds. My little recycled planter is in the kitchen under a desk lamp-cum-grow light. I took out the regular bulb in it and replaced it with an agri-bulb of the same wattage. If it takes, you can expect to read a lot more about getting early garden transplants ready. I am even considering putting up some folding tables and hanging grow lights and heat-mats in the basement to get an army of seedlings started. I plan on putting up a few plastic-hooped rows soon as the ground thaws, too. Hot damn, I want some green food in the ground.

I love raising my own meat, milk, and eggs. I feel like livestock is something I understand. I know how to get an egg turned into a roasted chicken and how to turn goat milk into cheese—but I am craving the green life more than ever before. I'm not sure why? I just know I want more of it and I want to get better at it. I don't want this to turn into a vegetable farm without livestock, far from it! I simply want to use more of my land to plant and produce food. I want apple orchards producing, a pumpkin patch, a corn field, wheat and beans. I want a colorful groundhog-proof garden. I want a larder stored tight with canned and preserved goodies from the garden to last the whole winter. This weekend all I can think about is the glossy pages of seed catalogs and the secrets they keep.

What are you guys ordering for your gardens this spring?

P.S. If you think that image of a person-carrot isn't very realistic. You should see what came out of my garden this past growing season!

Ears or Devil Horns?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter Walkers

I got a hold of a pair of snowshoes recently and have been having a blast with them. I strap them on, call for Gibson, and together we head out with high poles and high tails to explore the winter woods. We walked out past the goat pen and into the timber and hunting trails, and made a half circle around the pasture fences. I saw deer tracks, so many. I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head. All the deer tracks were right in or past the places I had set up blinds and waited for hours, days at a time. I didn't bag a deer this year but I sure knew where to look. Gibson peed on every patch of deer pee or droppings he could find. It was a lot of peeing. I worry about that dog's kidneys.

We went as far as my property stretches, up the mountainside and I huffed and puffed. Gibson danced through the snow, a thousand times more athletic and less tired. The horses watched me make my silly circle around the outskirts of the farm. They whinnied and kicked as they ran alongside the fence lines to watch the Food Lady. I hollered to them and Merlin's ears shot up like little radar catchers.

After the half-hour trek around the farm - Gibson and I returned to the front door and I stuck the snowshoes and poles in a drift by the front door. If it wasn't for the chicken and goose poo and the rust on the cheap plastic siding it would look like something out of an L.L. Bean Snowglobe catalog. I brought G inside to rest and took Annie out on her walk. We did our usual mile on the road. No snowshoes, just us two gals trotting along the brook. Annie seems to not miss Jazz, and has more energy now that she gets more exercise. I think she's trimming down as well. Just watching her and that big open-faced smile makes me beam. Huskies aren't the dog for everyone, but for me as a young lady just starting out into the professional world alone, they were everything. And now my life is full of border collies, a new puppy in a year or two perhaps. I want a little girl, a companion for Gibson. I'll name her Friday, after a favorite old movie of mine.

So much to write about, so much ahead. I have plans for breeding not just my flock of sheep with my ram, but others. I have pork shares sold right into fall. I have kids to bring into the world from two fat goats, and need to train Francis to be milked. I have a big garden to plan, my biggest ever, market sized - and possibly a poly tunnel to put up. I have a book to prepare for publishing in the fall. Lambs to raise and sell. A horse to get into his own trailer and a proper cart....and more I am not even writing or hinting at yet. I thought of all this on my winter walks with the dogs. And it buoyed the gray mood of the day. It's windy and chilly out there, not a lot of life in the forests or by the road. But there's a girl on the mountain who's very much in love with this scrappy place and the possibilities, meals, and friendships that lay ahead of it.

Luceo Non Uro. Always.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Colder Weather

No sleep last night, and that's fine. I stayed up through the whole thing, feeding the wood stoves until they roared back at me, so hot it hurt to open the door and stand in front of it. My efforts kept the place warm, around 55 degrees as the temperatures dropped 40 degrees below freezing. This is not a complaint, but a triumph. I was grateful and excited for the night fighting against the cold, battling for my comfort. I shared that quote from The Dirty Life because I know it to be true. You live like this, on a farm like this, and you forget about distant comforts. They become another realm, just like she said. That is not a life I miss or want back, sleeping in a warm house without sheep to feed or chicks to rescue from woodpiles. I could not find meaning or happiness there. My work and effort did not make sense. Last night, if nothing else, made primal sense. I would not have traded it in for anything. I'll catch up on my sleep and sneak in a nap today when the thermometer rises above ten degrees and the house is in the sixties. For now it's just the high of woodsmoke and not having to commute to an office.

I feel like my life is starting at thirty.

-11 and Smiling

...As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of your thickened hands, the beds of your nails. It asks so much of your body that if you're not careful it can wreck you surely as any vice by the time you're fifty, when you wake up and find yourself with ruined knees and dysfunctional shoulders, deaf from the constant clank and rattle of machinery, and broke to boot. But farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavors, makes them seem paltry. Your acres become a world. And maybe you realize that is beyond those acres or in your distant past, back in the realm of TiVo and cubicles of take-out food and central heat and air, in a country where discomfort has nearly disappeared, that you were deprived. Deprived of the pleasure of desire, of effort and difficulty and meaningful accomplishment. A farm asks, and if you don't give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul.

-Kristin Kimball
The Dirty Life

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Heat & Food

It is January 2nd and there are chicks in the house! Can you believe that? Soon as I found the two babes and the remaining four, unhatched, eggs I brought them all inside. They are in my back mudroom under a headlamp in a large 50-chick brooder. They (and mama, a tough 2-year old Pumpkin Husley from Greenfire Farms) are doing well. She is sitting on them and the other four eggs and I kinda hope more hatch. Seeing the chicks in this bleak time of year is like seeing a snap pea shoot, or hearing a frail on a banjo in double C tuning—it means spring.

Spring is a while off. I need to plan for so much. Lambing, the new garden, milking goats, acquiring new bees (Meg Paska, nudge nudge) and finishing up edits on my new book coming out in October. Part of me is excited for all that, but another part of me (and if I am honest, the majority of me) is enjoying this winter vacation. Right now my life is all about firewood and chores. Heat and food. That's the name of the game.

I need to figure a lot of things out. More firewood needs to be ordered, more hay delivered, and I am behind on some bills. But plans are in full swing to get ahead of the chaos and I'm writing you from a farmhouse up to date on its mortgage and utilities. I need to remember, when things feel out of hand, how in-hand they really are. I may not be ahead of the game but I am off the bench. Things are getting done, goals being met, and dreams being planned.

It feels good. It feels like the world is rotating and my claw marks are making it turn. I wish that last sentence was mine, but those of you who know my favorite story know that line belongs to another fast, fast dog.

I Heard Them Behind the Woodpile

Merlin's Bow

Pulled a tuff of Merlin's mane out of his curry comb. It was long and when I pulled on it, felt strong. So I tied it up to an antler and slid a cake of rosin up and down the black strands. I played it on my fiddle and it rang out with that sweet music, clear and strong. It sounded better than any bow I ever bought. I am going to make a proper bow out of some green wood and some more of Merlin's hair. I don't know of many black-haired bows but I am excited to create one.

A Winter Tour

Thought I'd film a short tour of the farm. It's taken with my old iPhone, and Blair Witch shaky, but it gives you an idea of the lay of my land. You can see how small this farm's center of gravity is. How all of the animals converge so close to the house. The pastures and forests expand out but my little 6.5 acre slice of heaven really is all about the backyard. You can grow a lot of food and raise a lot of livestock on a little. You just need to learn the right dance steps, the right animals, and find out what works for you.

The Center

My wood stove has become the center of this winter home. It is a three-dimensional scrapbook of the day. Scattered about it - the gear, supplies, clothing, and work of the day. You can look at my stove and see what time it is, what I have been up to, and take measure of my mood from it.

Right now it is still early morning. I awoke around 5AM, almost three hours ago and when I checked the temperature outside from the comfort of my comforter… it was -3. Inside the house was a comparatively blissful 54 degrees. I lit the fires in the house and set a percolator of strong coffee on the top of my trusty BunBaker in the living room. This is how you know it is morning at Cold Antler Farm, the sounds and smells of perking coffee next to a crackling fire.

Last night I cooked dinner in the oven. It was my second night roasting a chicken breast over a bed of kale and carrots, all three brushed with a little olive oil and herbs. Last night the fire baking was intentional, but the night before it was not. I had left a plastic-handled spatula in the oven and pre-heated it without realizing. What resulted was a fire and angry petroleum fumes that made me open all the windows. So I popped the chicken in the cast iron skillet and cooked it right there in the oven below the firebox. I let it bubble and crisp while I chopped wood and did evening chores. About an hour later I had a perfect meal waiting for me in my living room. Brigit's Fire, I love that little stove.

Keep looking! Next to the coffee pot is a cast-iron kettle used to economically steam out water, not to drink tea from. It is a tank of a pot, replacing the humidity in the air that the fire dries out. At the Bunbaker's feet you can see drying socks and gloves, worshipping combustion next to an iron stag. The stag is one of the symbols of blessing on this little farm, and you'll seem them everywhere. Rabbit water bottles defrost from the night before. Hanging on a horse head shaped hook is a damp wool scarf and Merlin's bridle, which was drying from our ride up and down the road yesterday. There is a dutch oven there, currently filled with fire starters and small kindling and a cast-iron sheep sits atop it. On the right side of the stove you can see slightly damp wood drying off in little pryers. To the left, you see the same happening with some new-to-me boots a friend gifted when she got a new pair. They were Patty's and when I tried them on after our sledding adventure this past weekend, Joanna exclaimed, You fit into a size 9 boot? You're 5'2"?! And I exclaimed, "Yes! I'm 5'2" and wear a size 9 and I prefer to go barefoot. I'm a hobbit" And looking at this stove, it only promotes the evidence further.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Magical Moments

If I wrote you this sentence —I took Merlin out for a ride in the snow today — what would you picture? Would you picture a long-maned black stallion romping through explosions of powder? Do you see something out of an old Idaho western with a cowgirl coming down a mountain pass in a sheepskin jacket? Or can you picture what really happened... Me trying to convince a freaking out Merlin that the three-foot snowbank on the side of the road wasn't quicksand, as he stomped and screamed while a Geo Metro tried to pass us without looking too concerned?

It was the latter.
I still love the brute.


Crazy Lonesome!

Cold Updates

Yesterday was dedicated to the animals' basic needs (and a few of mine, too). With a new level of cold slashing into the county — certain measures I had been taking to fight the weather have been proving inadequate. For instance, every morning I go out and break the ice on the horses trough so they can get to their big gulp. A few good kicks and the ice breaks and all is well in the world. But yesterday morning the ice was thick enough to stand on. No kick would do.

So there I was in my rabbit hat, trying to crack into it with a broken singletree while Jasper stared was a moment Norman Rockwell would have sketched for the Saturday Evening Post. It was as country as could be. Red cheeked, clouds of air puffs, and a horse that would roll his eyes if he could. Classic. After a while I had to pour a tea kettle of boiling water to crack on.

S So, yesterday: I bought a floating de-icer. (There goes my notion of not spending money!) For those of you who do not live in this climate, it's a metal buoy of sorts that heats up with an internal thermostat when the water hits a freezing point. It cost thirty dollars and the 75 feet of extension cords cost around the same, but I am thrilled. It means no more breaking chunks of ice or worrying about the horses being parched. Water de-icers are a reality here for winter livestock. The sheep already have a heating element in their big bin of water and the goats have an electric 3-gallon bucket. The pigs (who live in the barn and spill or swill their water long before it could ever freeze)just have a plastic bucket and have yet to complain about the system.

S Speaking of pork: my piglets from October are looking so large and good. I'd put them both well over a hundred pounds. I am calling Greg Stratton tomorrow to set up their slaughter day in about 5-6 weeks (possibly sooner). I am keeping 3/4 of the meat from a pig for myself and I bartered the other 5 quarter-shares to friends. I'll be contacting the first pork fellowship shortly to invite them to be at the slaughter if they are interested. I'm sure some are.

Besides water defrosting and slaughter dates: there were other small changes made to the farm. I bought extra mineral bricks, so everyone could take a chunk of multi-vitamin when they so desires. The horses get a big lickable bucket, the sheep get a course block of what I can only describe as the same consistency as fireplace starter logs, and the goats get one like it (With copper and other pro-goat minerals). It felt good to divvy out that little extra winter nutrition. It felt good to set up the horses with fresh water at their whim. And today it'll feel good to get a load of hay from Nelson and set up an order for more. I need to fill the barn up with around 30-50 bales and stack another 15 or so near the woodpile for easy access. That will last a month or so with the horses, sheep, and goats. I offer some to the pigs and they eat it up as well. Who knew? You never hear of grazing pigs but it makes sense.

The woodpile is getting skint. I think I need to order another cord. I will do so soon as I can, but for now I am alright. Most of the time I only need to fire up the living room stove, but soon as the nights dip into single digits both stoves need to be roaring to keep things from freezing and me from yelping. It's a full-time job, heating with wood the way I do, but I like it. It's a good way to live for a farm writer. The woodpile forces me to spend a lot of time near my computer and my animals. Not a bad place to be for a modern homesteader. Not bad at all.

Monday, December 31, 2012

I Thank You

With the last morning of 2012 here on the farm, cold and crisp, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you. To thank you for reading, for buying books, for clicking on ads, for emailing sponsors. Thank you for sending comments and emails (those notes, they make me so happy) and for coming out to the farm itself to take part in the big show. Without this readership none of this would be possible. I don't pretend for a minute that this is a one-woman show. It is a community, online and in the flesh.

Thank you so much.

These past twelves months saw so much change. I started the year as an office employee and am ending it writing to you on a Monday morning from my farm. I left a life behind this year, taking on a new one. There's a horse pasture and barn out there (and a new horse) that wasn't even a twinkle in my eye last January. If it wasn't for one of you encouraging me to email Merlin's owner about a lower price or payment plan I wouldn't even have him. I lost a friend, I lost a dog, I gained new people I can't imagine my life without. I ate dinner with Temple Grandhin and watched Joel Salatin demonstrate the right way to kill a chicken in a conference room at a resort. I finished a book (comes out in October) and that will be my fourth. I had some of the best and hardest times of my life this year. I have been the most scared, confused, and sad in my life but I also learned that as long as you keep positive people and support around you, you can accomplish anything. And when you mix that with a scrappy resourcefulness and a business plan for 2013 including expanding lamb and pork operations and a HUGE garden dream....

Well, you feel good. All of this, all the accomplishments and the plans ahead are happening because of you. As the new year starts I'll share more of whats ahead, changes and apologies, new ventures and dreams. I will be fixing old problems and inspiring myself to get more done. This farm will keep going strong. And as long as you are there to witness it, I won't be shutting the gate anytime soon.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sleighs and Two Degrees

It'll be a cold one. The temperature will drop near zero, tonight. That's cold, friends. The kind of cold that stops you from feeling your toes in rubber boots, hardens fluffy snow drifts into ice caps, and makes people like me turn into full-out Hobbits for a few days. The farmhouse is in full defensive mode, too. There are two wood stoves stoked and roaring, all the electric heaters are chugging, and I have already set out my insulated Carhartt pants and heaviest wool sweater by my bedside for the morning. The animals are ready, too. I just came inside from Night Rounds. I worry most about the pigs, who thrive and need comfort more than any other critter out there. I gave them a half bale of straw to nest. They'll tuck in and fall asleep in their corner of the barn, out of the wind and close to each other. The horses have a windproof shelter now (thanks to Brett and Elizabeth) so they're golden. All the chickens are out of the wind and well fed. The sheep have coats that let them scoff at anything above -40. And Annie is finally getting comfortable around here. So we are as prepared as we can be on this mountain.

I had a good day, spent mostly outdoors. It was a slow morning of chores and wood splitting, but the the afternoon was spent with friends trying out Patty's new 4-person sleigh. (New to her. It belonged to a dairy farmer's grandfather, she bought it at auction.) We hitched up Steele and he did wonderfully. We flew across the foot of powder and how grand that grey Percheron looked! Sometimes I need to stop and realize that here in Washington County we do things on our weekends people usually have to pay for at designated recreation areas. We hitch up, bundle up, and go.

The sleigh is so different than the carts. All the speed without the maneuverability (also a lot easier to tip)—and yet Steele trotted along like he was born in front of that hundred-year-old cutter. I sat in the back right-hand seat. I was covered up from head to toe in wool and my trusty rabbit fur musher's hat—comfortable as possible in the wind and sun of a twenty-degree day. I held the long, black, whip and felt my cheeks turn red. Mark was next to me, just back from a morning of duck hunting. He got some drakes and was on cloud nine. Joanna (our friend and Patty's newest driving student) sat up front and watched hands and lines. I'm so excited to add another gal to our riding club. The more the merrier.

It was wonderful spending the daylight with friends, but it was also so satisfying to get home. I made a quick dinner of scrambled eggs with cheese and veggies and drank enough water to drown a woodchuck in. I think most of the next week will be spent close to home. Here in the North Country we are in for many nights around zero, and when you heat with wood that requires a diligence that doesn't allow for long trips from home to cut though snowdrifts. I'm ready for it. I have my Ax inside by the front door so my hands don't freeze to it in the morning and a stack of kindling ready to go at the first embers of waning heat. I got a box of Long Trail's Hibernator ale, and a stocked pantry. Heat and food will be plenty.

I'm on a tight budget so it'll be up to me to keep my mind and body busy this week without swiping my debit card. Running to bookstores or ordering movies on the internet is out, a luxury for richer times. Instead I'll be reading, visiting local friends, walking Annie, riding Merlin, and taking care of the animals that are my world. You don't need to spend any money to have fun, you all know that. Fun is the feral version of that long-domesticated notion we call "entertainment". Entertainment always costs you, but fun is free. You make it yourself.


This place right now is a winter wanderland, and yes, I mean wander. I have been wandering all over the place, both in my own mind and on foot. Lots of walks with Annie, lots of visits to friends with long talks and open minds. I am thinking a whole lot about this idea of escapism and every time I sit down to write it feels too personal (and you know that must be pretty intense since you guys know nearly everything about me), but it does. I have been thinking about what Cold Antler really is to me.

I can say I love how things are turning out. That's more than most can state in writing. My life may be a little more complicated and wandering than I would like but there is no place I would rather be on this Sunday morning than inside this 1860's farmhouse covered in snow with nothing to do but pick up some hay when the roads are a little better.

I sold three-quarters of a pig yesterday. Not too shabby. That covers the feed for the current pigs. The mortgage has been paid every month since I left Orvis and so has my transportation payments and insurances. I still manage to cover my meager hospital insurance, car insurance, and while I do get behind on some bills from time to time I have a plan of attack and prosperity ahead.

It's not perfect here, not financially or emotionally, but it is always climbing uphill. It feels like I am working towards something big. Every month gets a little easier. Every mortgage payment made (even a few weeks late) shows me I can do this. It does require constant resourcefulness, I can't let my guard down. I need to constantly be figuring out the next bill, the next workshop, the next event, the next book deal, the next ad sale, and so on. I used to not sleep because of that, worrying about how the hell I was going to stay here. But then one day a friend said to me, as confident with his tone as if I asked him to tell me what C-A-T spelled, he said, "I would be fine."

I asked him how he knew that?

He said, "When have you not been?"