Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Strange (garden) bed fellows.

In my previous post I mentioned a tomato-like fruit on my potato plants - on the fingerling potato plants. I took pictures of them this afternoon. 

There's a threesome in there.

And talk about strange companions, look what's keeping my Meyer Lemon tree company in its nice big pot -- tomatoes!  As is always the case, it seems, volunteer tomato plants show no signs of blight or any other problem. 

Click to bigify.
And more taters!  These were planted in the Gardeners Supply potato bag.  The potato is a "red".  Can't you tell?  Honest - I kept notes when I planted the garden this year, and these were reds.  Not.  But they are a very nicely shaped, large white potato.  Do they look familiar to anyone?

Still to harvest are fingerlings and Yukon golds.  Maybe.  Could be?  We'll see...  Another nice thing about vacations - I am looking out the window at my laundry on the line.  And it's raining.  And I don't care.

Monday, July 25, 2011


One of the tire-planted potato plants went from robust to rheumy in a matter of a couple of days, so I thought I'd dig down and see what I got.  I keep forgetting that digging for potatoes is an adventure!  I unearthed three marble-sized spuds and then hit a big one!  In the picture below, you can see my harvest.  Not too bad - this tire was an experiment in organic potting soil + left over soil + llama beans.  I have four more tire stacks to go.  I am curious about one of the plants - it has set tomato-like fruit!  I have not seen this before and I'm wondering whether it is a characteristic of this type of potato, or if all potato plants do the same.  Anyone?

Also in the picture is a fairly puny onion.  The red onions are ridiculously small.  I'm new to onion (planting) so I don't know if it's the soil, the dry, dry summer or poor seed stock.  I am guessing it's a combination of the dry weather and poor seed stock.

But, most exciting of all... it's RAINING!  And a goodly soaking at that.  We've had blisteringly hot weather with a couple of small storms that produced more thunder and lightning than rain.  I am very glad to see it.

Poor thirsty pansies are enoying the rain.
And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KAY!  I hope you are having a wonderful day in Northampton with your daughter.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Holy Heat Wave, Batman!

I have been doing everything in tiny increments.  Open door, walk outside, water one plant, go back inside.  The chickens have been on strike - it's much cooler, fluffed out in the shade under the bushes than in that chicken coop.  Sheep are unnaturally quiet, which is a small blessing.  If I could stand to walk out and stand on my back deck for more than two minutes, I would be enjoying the silence.  They are tucked under the shady trees, quietly chewing their cud.  Even Sage isn't doing her "screaming baby" routine.  The only way you survive in this heat/humidty combination is to lay low and keep quiet.

I have succumbed to my poor, panting dogs and keep the portable a/c unit in the living room on low or just on dehumidfy during the day.  All the windows are open during the night, not that last night let much cool air in.  I doubt if it dropped below 70 degrees.  When I finally gave up trying to sleep and got up at 3:30, it was already 75. 

When it's really hot, I give each dog a marrow bone section that I keep in the freezer.  They are so happy and it keeps them quiet and focused for ages.  The cats look like little black rugs.  This would be the perfect time for a solar oven - but I've only managed to find one box and need a slightly larger one before I can make my homemade version.  Maybe I'll root around the office. 

I hope you are all keeping cool and not overdoing it.  According to the weather service, we have two days to go before relief, counting today.  I cannot wait.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's all in the timing, isn't it?

I have done pretty well dealing with the fallout (or, thawout) from my blinky freezer.  I am down to one thawed chicken.  Which MUST be dealt with.  Now.  I hemmed and hawed and did everything but deal with it and now I must.  So I am going to stew it up and make chicken soup and pressure can it.  How nice that it's in the 90s with a heat index of 100+.  Perfect weather to fire up your stove, no?

Yesterday, Melanie and I went on our little road trip to the poultry processor (see her scientific take on chicken breeds/feed regimens/results here).  I just find the French Reds to be a very nice bird to raise and I prefer the flavor of a darker meat chicken.  No "Mae West breasts on steroids" for me.  I raised mine on feed and grass.  I found that they loved the white clover flowers and leaves, but were not much interested in grass.  While the chicken tractor worked fine, it was not made to be a permanent structure, so I herded them out to pasture (using the term loosely) every morning, and herded them back to the lattice house every night.  Where I had set up a devilishly complicated system to close them up.  It took me 20 minutes every morning and again every night to deal with them.  This just underlines the fact that I am my own worst enemy.

Linden was banded on Monday evening, and seems to have recovered his normal gait.  It was quite a process, as he is a big boy in every aspect of the word.  But he is also a sweet, gentle lamb and was stoic through the process.  Sweetie.  I also took a good look at this year's hay and find it lacking.  It is, unfortunately, just one of the vagaries of farming.  He usually has great hay, with lots of crunchy protein.  This spring, however, there was a LOT of rain, lots of cool weather and, by the time the farmers could get into the fields to cut it, there was a lot of lost protein.  I am going to have to supplement and/or downsize even more than I planned.

From the garden, I have harvested 68 heads of garlic, most of it very nice and large; one small red onion (just checking); about three quarts of English peas; two cherry tomatoes; one pint of Alpine strawberries; 1/4 pint of black currants; tons of lettuce - now gone to seed; radishes; pak choi; and I am still harvesting tons of Swiss chard.  Coming along:  three type of beans - the Trail of Tears are in blossom; onions; potatoes; zucchini; summer squash; basil; parsley; tomatoes - although this doesn't look like a particularly good year.  I am glad that I have friends who have better gardens and that I still have a goodly amount of canned produce from last year. 

Next week is vacation week.  I can hardly wait.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vaarwel lieve Els.

Yesterday afternoon, a friend and lovely woman passed out of a long illness and into something better.  She was an artist, mother, wife, and friend to many, and a beautiful soul.  We will miss her mightily.

Good things continued.

On Saturday, there was a package in the mail!  I get very excited about packages in the mail - especially when they are NOT from Jeffers Livestock Supply.

Inside was:

And, inside that was:

I love packages inside packages!  I had forgotten I had won this lovely washcloth and handmade goats milk soap from Carolyn Renee at Krazo Acres!  They are almost too lovely to use.  Almost....

Thank you Carolyn!  (And thank you, Rhiannon, for picking my name!)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Let's talk about good things, shall we?

There is only so much negativity that I can stand before I have to come up for good, positive air.  It's been a week that tested my mettle sorely, but there are also things going on in friends' lives that make my little inconveniences just that.

Without further ado...

Kay brought over a huge bowl of fresh-picked red currants!  This, when she was here to help rassle sheep for worming.  I rassle, she administers.  I mean, how generous is that?  I may have to live to 100 just to pay her back for all her kindnesses.

Very little was lost in the great freezer meltdown, thanks to my pressure canner and a neighbor's freezer space.  I managed to get all the meat-type thaws cooked or canned.  The only loss was my frozen pumpkin, but it wasn't a total loss, as the chickens sure loved it.  All the rhubarb and rhubarb strawberry sauce has been safely water-bathed.  This has made me rethink 'convenience' foods, and I am going to start canning make-ahead meals.  I also have a nice, defrosted freezer!

Garlic has been harvested and will be hung in the barn this afternoon.  It's supposed to be a corker today, so I will be doing my outside stuff early.  On the list is staking the beans - my initial 'string' method is woefully insufficient for the plants.

My Swiss Chard turned out wonderfully, which is doubly wonderful, as it is my favorite green.  The peas are done, so Sage and Chickie are enjoying some extra fiber.  I've started them on a natural wormer that I used before with goats -- it's from Hoegger's, which is my favorite place for everything goat & dairy.  I'm hoping to work on the sheep yard, but it depends on the heat factor.  As we all know, I am not a hot weather person.  But, there is plenty to do inside.

This morning's barn treat was Grandma's Donuts -- an amazingly easy concoction that doesn't entail turning on your oven.  With the water bath canner going full steam this morning, I didn't want to add to the kitchen temperature.  It does entail hot vegetable oil, but only for a short time.  The bad thing about it?  It involves convenience food.  Well, hot times call for drastic measures.

I've just started a home remedy that I think I will really enjoy - drunken raisins.  For purely medicinal purposes, I've put a cup of golden raisins in a quart canning jar and covered them with gin.  There they will sit for two week or so, until the raisins soak up the medicinal properties (ahem) of the gin.  Then I will consume them at a rate of 9 a day to help combat the arthritis in my hands.  Really, no lie.

I've decided to rename Slim.  He's now Trip.  Nuff said.

I hear the kids calling, so I'm off.  Here's to lots of good things for all of us.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Farmy-type Stuff.

I realize I have to be more diligent about rotating the sheep within the tight confines of my small farm.  On the Fourth, when the sheep were finally sheared, Flora very conveniently deposited a nice pile of sheep beans on the shearer's foot.  Those were sent off to the vet for analysis, as I thought she showed signs of being wormy.  Right-o.  The results came back and she's loaded, so I'll drench her tonight (with Kay's help) and tackle the rest on an as-caught basis.  Poor old dear.  I wonder if there is a female shepherd out there that does all this stuff solo.  If so, she must be strong as an ox and a LOT younger than I.

I am going to have to come up with more marketing ideas, it seems, as it's necessary to reduce the sheep population by almost half before winter.  Acacia (one of Flora's ewe lamb twins) is going to Heartsease Farm in Dansville the weekend after next, so that leaves three more to go:  Hazel (Flora's other ewe twin), Banyan and Hickory (Cocoa's ram/ewe twins).  Actually, either Banyan or Juniper can go - both are moorit mouflon soon-to-be-wethers (Banyan's on his way there, Juni's time is nigh).  Juni is growing an impressive set of horns, though, and that is usually a deal-breaker, even though he is the sweetest little guy.  They are all beautiful lambs and will make a wonderful addition to someones fiber flock.  I am keeping Linden because a) he is sweet and b) he is a white soon-to-be wether.  I think most people are looking for color in their flock.

The Red Rangers have their date with destiny next Tuesday.  They are going late, as I would have rather had them smaller -- I swear they are small turkey-sized.*  I have nothing but good things to say about them, though.  They grew well, are calm, lovely birds and forage well.  That will be one less chore, so it's all good.

Next Monday, Linden gets banded and we check to see if Juni has grown enough.  That will be a relief to have done, as I do not want any surprises this spring.  Lambs are not in the plans for this farm for a while. 

I have been slowly working on skirting all of Flora's fleeces and have a good amount of fleece ready for the fiber mill.  We are going to be up in the area on Tuesday, so I will bring it along and drop it off for processing.  Apparently, they are not fast on the return, which is fine with me, as I would rather deal with wool in the fall.  And it will give me an idea of how well they turn it out.  I have a large assortment of fleece (fleeces?) but I want to keep a couple to wash, card and spin myself.  I am determined to learn to spin this winter.  Now that the Boyz are only mildly insane, I might be able to work on it without dealing with flying cats tangling up my yarn.

Grendal, my female Muscovy, and Alfie the Pekin drake are in the market for a new home.  They are too disruptive and need to go elsewhere.  I will have to think about Puff's happiness, which will probably have to include a small drake of some type.  She, apparently, cannot live without a man.  My sister is graciously house sitting for me while I take Acacia to Dansville.  She and her husband will take their four little pullets home with them when they leave.  So it looks like I am on track for meeting my downsizing goals.

Lambs anyone?

*It seems the freezer, after a thorough defrosting and two-day rest, is coming back to life!  Woot!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When the Universe hands you lemons... is tempted to punch the Universe in the nose.  Lemonade, my arse!  I had to go look at the calendar to make sure today was not the Ides of Friday the Thirteenth.  If that is possible, that is my day.  It started at 4:30, when Scrappy, being spooked by the ever-present Boyz, bolted through the screen door.  While it was closed.

This was closely followed by the discovery that my freezer was kaput.  Let's hope it's not a terminal condition because I cannot afford to fix it or replace it.  Could this be the Universe suggesting I defrost the freezer TODAY?  I put as much as I could in the freezer compartment of my refrigerator, then ran through a mental list of friends who a) might have room in their freezer; and b) would be up at this gawd-awful hour.  It was quickly reduced to one and I called him.  Hallelujah, he was up and had room in his chest freezer.

I then did a quick run-through of what was salvageable.  I said to myself, "What would Jane do?"  I piled up all the thawed meat, fruit sauces, etc. in my fridge and will process it with my pressure canner and water bath canner over the next couple of days.  This little mishap is greasing the slide toward my becoming a vegetarian, so to speak.  The rest of the contents were shuttled the mile to my neighbor's freezer.  Another reason I am hoping this is a self-repairable condition is that I will have six giant meat chickens to deal with after next Tuesday morning.

I finished up as well as possible by 8a, then trotted out to do my chores.  To find that the lambs had found a way to squeeze out.  Lordhavemercy.  That meant I had to steer the lambs back into a fenced in area (much like herding cats, or pushing string), then let the sheep out with them, then close them all in, then go get grain with which to tempt them back into the main sheep area.  A half-hour later, this was accomplished.  Then I fed the goats and took care of the chickens, then watered the garden, then took my much-needed shower, then...

Discovered I had nothing ironed to wear to work.  To my credit, I did not lose my temper, I did not shout bad words.  And I did this all on one cup of coffee and no breakfast.  I am having thawed bean/ham soup and two hard boiled eggs for breakfast/lunch.

So, how was your day?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Progress - I'll Take What I Can Get.

Now that summer has arrived, dragging with her all her luggage - heat, humidity, Japanese beetles...I find that my pace has slowed.  Working into a summer routine means taking my ever-present list and cutting it up into bite-sized pieces.

I get into a nice rhythm - go outside and weed my way to project number one.  Complete project and weed my way back into the house.  Do inside project.  Repeat process.  I used to curse the heat and humidity for showing me down.  Now I am trying to be open to the moment.  Not an easy task for someone who measures a day's worth in how many items get checked off her list!  There are definitely upsides to this heat.  The sheep and lambs are flopped out under the trees with half-closed eyes, chewing their cud.  Other than a cursory bleat here and there, I am not assailed every time I appear within view.  Peace!

Progress made this weekend:  Sage is coming around and I was able to scratch her ears yesterday!  Chickie (aka Butterball) is very affectionate, but I'm going to have to work out a different feeding system.  The two surprise chicks who where rapidly outgrowing their brooder have been moved out of my laundry room and into the nursery coop!  This has meant the shifting of the teenagers into the big-girl coop.  I was surprised at how smoothly that went (oops - jinxed myself!)  I got the laundry room cleaned up and washed my bigger rugs.  It's so hot out that it's perfect for drying them out on the deck.  I put up the electronet so the sheep get a bigger grazing area, although they're limited to grazing in the late afternoon/early evening.  Flora gets so easily overheated, I limit their exposure.  Even though there is shade available, she will just stand out and eat and not take advantage of it.

My parents were with me this weekend, having come down for a friend's annual birthday bash.  Her mother comes up from the city and they are all around the same age and get along famously.  It was a lot of fun for all of us.  They stay overnight and it's a nice visit, even with the unexpected cat visits during the night.  My mom is not a cat person and my cats, being the perverse things that they are, lurk outside the guest room door, waiting for an opportunity to dart inside.  Things can get pretty lively in the middle of the night.

All in all, a very satisfactory weekend.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Calamity Jane Strikes Again!

My youngest sister is nicknamed "Calamity Jane" for a good reason.  I have never known anyone who has had such a calamity-filled life.  Yet, she remains buoyant and positive and always lands on her feet.  And she is as sweet and well-meaning, kind and dear as you can get.

She told me a recent hair-raising tale about the near miss of the half a brick that was holding her window a/c unit in place as it took a dive onto her super's glass patio table, seven floors below. Thank goodness he had just moved to the other side of his patio.  We agreed that she should always have someone on hand to help her with ANYTHING involving open windows from now on.
Those of us left in the wake of her visits are sometimes left picking up the pieces.  She was in town for a typical short, fast-and-furious visit with her son and stayed with me last night.  They are both anxious to help and pitch in with a lot of enthusiasm; being knowledgeable about the task at hand is low on their list of priorities.

I took them to the train station this morning, after she gave me a hand with morning chores.  I came home tonight to find all 28 of my chickens spread over the yard, the road, and over hell's half acre.  She hadn't latched the gate to the chicken yard fence.  Did I mention I got a total of about 3 hours of sleep last night?  And it was sprinkling?  And the sheep were baaing, goats were bleating, dogs were barking?  I have all but one back in the yard and I'm hoping to be able to lure the ninny toward the gate in a few minutes while there's still light.

I believe this will be a two-glass-of-wine evening.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

And now, the details.

As my friend, Sylvia, said, that back business was god's way of saying, "SLOW DOWN!"  Amen.  But, as you ALL know well, that phrase is not used often on the homestead.  It's more of a "giddyap".  Here's the loooong weekend, as it happened on the homestead.

Friday, the lovely woman (and her brave husband) who sold me the Nigerians, met me in the afternoon to band the ram lambs.  Kay volunteered to cut her spinning group date short to help, too.  We rounded up the youngsters and, to give it a literary bent, it was the Three Bears all over again.  Linden was too big for the equipment and a larger elastrator must be found.  Juniper was too small, and gets a few weeks reprieve.  Banyan was just right, and walked funny for a couple of hours.

Saturday was F.U.N.  I was up early and had chores finished by 7:15a, so I could drive over to a little dairy goat farm to try my hand at milking.  I didn't do too badly for my first try.  My very generous and patient teacher was Mary Lou, who raises Nigerians, milks them and makes cheese.  For fun.  She lives on a beautiful place with a big pond, nine goats, 20 ducks and 2 geese.  I had a wonderful visit and am invited back whenever I want.  Then came my weekly sojourn to Vermont, where I ran a few errands (goat treats, mineral block, groceries), did some planting for my mother, had lunch with my parents, trotted back to the homestead, started on the chicken coop (two loads down, 30 to go), raked llama beans and spread them around, fought Japanese beetles, reinforced the gate on the hoop house, did four loads of laundry, and let the tweenage pullets out with the big girls for the first time - under supervision.

Sunday was back to monsoon season.  The dogs and I got caught halfway between home and farm and were soaked to the skin by the time we hoofed it back home.  For added enjoyment, there was thunder, which meant that Bernie was a sodden hysteric on the end of the leash.  After toweling us all off and letting Bernie under the bed for the duration, I retired to the kitchen to bake two pies for the library function (pecan and peach custard), brownies for the barn crew, and a peach/blueberry/raspberry cobbler for a cookout on the Fourth.  I also made a large batch of Scandinavian-style egg salad (horseradish/capers).  Then I cleaned the house and delivered the pies.

Monday morning was a frenzy of getting everything together for the shearer.  I take full advantage of having the sheep on their bums and planned on Cocoa's CDT vaccination, hooves trimmed, wormer where needed, and I wanted to check Flora's temperature.  She was sounding like a steam engine - she's 10 and tends to have respiratory problems.  When it gets hot and humid, she starts wheezing.  Melanie arrived early to help and we had a very nice sit-down visit until Kevin arrived at 11.  I had just tricked them into the hoop house and slammed the gate shut behind them.  This left poor Melanie to scramble in and out of my convoluted gate system to get the tarp, plastic bags and medical kit.  (Thank you, Melanie!!)

Flora as a bean bag
I love to watch Kevin work - so careful, gentle and methodical.  He knows sheep and can let you know if there is something lacking in their nutrition (poor fleece growth), whether they look wormy or not (they all did), and anything else you may or may not have noticed.  The sheep are so relaxed while he shears that they just sag around like lanolin bean bags.  I noticed that Cocoa was much calmer this year and wonder if it's due to a second round of lambs.  Flora was kind enough to deposit a nice pile of sheep beans, which I scooped up and put in a baggie for the vet.  Then Kevin looked at Hoosier and said, in his lovely Gaelic lilt, "so, are you planning to shear that llama?"  Well, yes, but I hadn't thought to ask if he sheared llamas.  There aren't many around who will.  It turned out that, yes, he did indeed shear llamas.  So off I went to grab Hoosier's halter and lead, and we got him tethered to a tree in the shade.  What a transformation.  And what fiber!!  Little did Hoosier know but, until that fiber hit the ground, he was two steps from the exit door.

Hoosier, as an Alien Giraffe
 After I hauled up the little fleece that I can use -- most was mulching material -- I figured I had an hour and a half before I had to get ready for the cookout.  So.....I decided it was enough time to squeeze in more shoveling out of the chicken coop.  Wrong-o.  Never, I repeat, never rush a really physical job.  As I twisted around with my heavy shovel-full of gak, a nice hot pain went up my spine and I was down for the count.  I hobbled into the house, took a bunch of ibuprofen, grabbed the phone and took a prone position on the floor.  Where I instantly became (and remained) an object of feline fascination. I called in my regrets to the cookout hosts, left a message for the dairy farmer to stop by and pick up the cobbler, and watched Murder She Wrote DVDs until I could hobble out to do rudimentary chores, close everyone up, and take more ibuprofen.

I am back to about 90 percent.  Live and learn.  Of course, one would think that, having lived through this more than once, I would learn more quickly. 

Sage, looking sage-y
Enough of that!  Now for the goatie announcement!  After trying out at least a dozen names on them, meet "Chicory" (Chickie for short) and "Sage" (not short-able).  Kay came up with Chicory (although, I am surprised it wasn't Garam Masala, hehehe), and Sage is one of my favorite names (and herbs).  She seems rather serious for such a pixie-like creature.  Chickie, the little dear, responded to every single name I called him.   He is not particular, as long as he gets a treat and attention.  Sage actually took four goat treats out of my hand this morning!  Progress!!!  Thank you to all of the creative minds that offered up wonderful name ideas.  I was tempted to give them multi-hyphenated names (Chicory-Homer-Snow-Vern-Billy-Janus-Honey-Sam) or (Sage-Fern-Suni-JudyJetson-Houdini-Aster-Thunder-Hester).  But, then, I have trouble remembering my own name most days.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Playing Catch-up.

The holiday weekend remains a blur.  Names have been chosen for the goaties.  Sheep were sheared.  Llama, too.  Chicken coop cleaning was interrupted by back spasms.  Sleeping on the floor with cats is not for the faint of heart.  Pictures and details at eleven.  ;-)

Friday, July 1, 2011


Last night, a friend brought me this.  I was flabbergasted.  And I am not easily flabbergasted.  It's an egg-shipper, for lack of a better description.  One carefully wrapped four dozen eggs, placed them in this metal shipping box and mailed them.  Amazing.  All the original wrappers are here, along with the last shipping label and the original stamps.  He said that he believed "things" belonged to certain people and that this certainly belonged to me!

Egg wrappers in their tubes.

Shipping label from a farm in NJ to Brooklyn.

Closed crate - you slid the strip with the postage from the inside, so that it
would be visible in the dark square to the right.