Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If Only

I could be a fly on the wall.  Then, again, maybe it's not such a hot idea.  I was originally thinking of calling my blog, "When Lives Collide", but it sounded too much like either a soap opera or a title for a romantic novel.  You are getting a glimpse of what I refer to as my "real" life, on the farmstead.  But, for 7 hours a day - not including 2 hours of commuting time - I have to sashay around as an adult in an office setting.  I think my office veneer is beginning to crack.  Yesterday, I mentioned in passing that - if I didn't return from the ladies' room in a half hour, I would have hung myself with my underpants.  To understand from whence came that particular gem, please see the prior blog entry.  Eyebrows lifted.  Today, as I was gesturing ('tho forbidden by my doctor) with my slinged (slung?) arm, hay fell out.  That would be leftover from this morning's feeding.  More eyebrow action.  It does make me wonder if I'm the topic of conversation over cocktails in suburbia.

A Little Cheese with that Whine?

The picture is representative (literally) of what my day was like yesterday.  Getting through the day one-armed is frustrating to say the least.  Thank goodness for the kindness of friends (especially you, Kay) for allowing me to storm around trying to do what I can, while they quietly do everything in the background.  The culmination of a frustrating weekend (you will find the word "frustrating" in ample use over the next few weeks) was getting ready for work in humidity that I swear was at 200%.  Although I've been trying my best to garb myself in CLR (clothing of least resistance - think elastic), nothing. nothing. nothing can hold up to 200% humidity.  Hot, sweaty, and wearing undies with elastic pulled to within an inch of their life, I headed off to work only to get stuck behind a logging truck.  On a wind-y road.  It went downhill from there.  I came home, peeled every piece of soggy clothing off, and tried desperately to pull on new dry clothing over the same sweaty skin.  Collected 10 lovely eggs, dropped same when I tripped over Gigi on the deck, who had dragged a frantic, still-live bunny across my path.  One egg survived intact.  Those you see were salvaged.  I had a vodka and tonic for dinner.  Hold the cheese.  (And, yes, Melanie.  That is the Sweet Woodruff I have yet to plant.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Word-Miser Monday.

I call them the odd couple - Puff (Khaki Campbell/Crested cross) and Alfie (Pekin).  Although Dotty is THE one, he seems to have an attachment to this little duck.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pecking - and we're not talking chickens.

The dreaded surgery is finally over.  Now I'm reduced to one-handed typing - which means short blog posts!  I worked myself up into a last minute lather and, once again, yelped for help.  I'm starting to feel like a third world friends Marianne and Melanie installed another much-needed honey super on my hive and patched up the housing for the cordon bleus (collectively, the meat chicks) yesterday, while Kay braved the crack of dawn and my caffiene withdrawal to lug me to surgery and back.  And she is helping me twice a day with my convoluted chore schedule.  It's going to be a long four weeks.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bon Voyage, Pearlie Mae.

A few things have ended recently.  I had been a complete coward about Pearlie Mae - going on and on about how "feisty" she was, and how "perky" she was. Sure, she was still eating and drinking, but she could not stand, walk or get out of her own way. One night I went out as usual, didn't see her in her enclosure, so assumed she had gotten into her house for the night as she always does. I locked the door and made the rest of my rounds. The next morning she was not in her house. I searched all over and found her wedged behind the bunny hutch, wet from the night's rain - looking very bedraggled. But still "perky". I had to suck it up and admit I was a wimp. I called my neighbor and asked him to come over and dispatch Pearly Mae. I know that I have to see to my own business and I've promised myself I will not call in the Marines the next time I am faced with this problem and will address it much earlier on. I think a lot of my cowardice comes from equal parts:  fear and ignorance. Fear that I will somehow botch the job and make the suffering worse, and ignorance of what is the best and most humane way to end a chicken's life. Sure, I know all the processing methods - quick chop/sharp axe, broom handle/foot, cone/knife - I've got the books. But this (at least to me) is different. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong. I had better arm myself better for the future - knowledge-wise, that is.
       Grendal is now off her nest of clunkers.  She came out of the nesting box loaded for bear and aimed straight for Alfie.  She pulled his head feathers; she jumped on him and bit him; she chased him around the yard.  In my best anthropomorphic manner, I imagined she was giving him hell for not providing the 'necessary ingredients' for fertile eggs.  In his defense, he is just a year old and not likely to be up to the task in the first place.  That does not, however, mean that he is not enjoying the process, if you catch my drift.  She had been setting on them for a month and a half and, recently, a crushed, rotten eggshell was found discarded outside of her nesting spot every other day or so.  There were two suspicious specimens left in her nest so I made the executive decision to cease incubation.  I have closed off access to her nest and will deal with the stinking mess another time.  It'll go right at the top of my to-do list.  Not.  Dottie's eggs came to naught as well.  Looks like next year will be the year of the ducklings.  Let's hope Alfie sees the light by then.

Little Blue.

My friend/neighbor Kayten brought me a gift a couple of weeks ago.  When she called and asked, "are you going to be home? -- I have a present for you!"  I had an inkling of what was coming.  That, and she was coming from the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair.  When she and her husband, Nick, walked up my driveway carrying a small cardboard box, I couldn't help myself - I was excited!  In the box was a small, incredibly fluffy, 6 week old, male French/German Giant cross.  Adorable.  I haven't introduced him because I have been trying to find his name for the past two weeks.  Some of the names I tried out on him were:  Fluffy (eck), Sweet Baby James (too long), Alfie (taken - drake), Little Bit (he'd grow - quite a bit, I imagine), Bento (my Japanese phase), and on it went.

Since he is a youngster, I am taking the time to handle him and it has led me to an interesting place.  With my crowded schedule, full time job, and looming surgery, I was spending every morning and evening racing from one chore to the next, and trying to squeeze in every item on my to-do list that I could shoehorn into my limited at-home time.  One of the things I decided to squeeze in, was to spend a couple of minutes taking the bunny out of his hutch and holding him.  After the second morning, I found myself cuddling the little fat, warm fuzzball, leaning against the fence and watching the meanderings of the chickens.  A couple of minutes turned into 5, which turned into 10.  A few mornings ago, while I was stroking his lovely, soft fur and giving him a blow-by-blow description of the obviously loving relationship that has developed between Dottie and Alfie (censored to fit his young ears), I looked down and realized he was dozing in my arms.  I also noticed that his under-fur was a beautiful blue-gray color.  Little Blue.  I realized it had been ages since I had taken the time to enjoy my chickens, ducks, sheep, llama, cats and dogs.  I still have to fit a lot into my mornings, but I am enjoying my bit of down time with Blue, watching chicken television.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!

I just rolled in last night from a two-day cheesemaking workshop at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, VT.  I had been looking forward to this for months - it was my first vacation in almost seven years!  What a surprise that my vacation had everything to do with livestock.  In this case, Brown Swiss cows.  It was an amazing two days, with so much information that I am still sifting through it.  Besides learning about the farm's history, eating delicious food mostly grown on the farm, seeing real sustainability in action, from the cows on pasture, their manure fertilizing the fields, their milk making the cheese that helps sustain the farm, the whey from the cheese going back to the fields and to the pigs, that are integrated into the Inn's dining menu, etc., etc.  It was inspiring.
And cheese .... we talked about cheese, learned about the varied histories of cheese, tasted cheese, made cheese.  Heaven.  Shelburne Farms came about in the 1800s and the Inn (pictured above) was the family house.  It is still furnished very much like it was back in the day - with most of the furniture still in its original rooms.  Thank goodness for farsighted and Earth-friendly heirs of the original Webb.  They have made the farm a not-for-profit educational and working farm, with some of the much-needed income coming from the Inn, the cheese, the dairy, and other enterprises.  It is situated on the shore of Lake Champlain and it is beautiful.  There is not one single bad view.  The farm raises and milks a herd of registered Brown Swiss cows and, during the spring and summer, all of their milk goes into the cheese-making operation.  Nat Bacon, an extremely generous and knowledgeable cheesemaker with a passion for the farm that was contagious, spent two days covering everything from the pasture the cows graze on, the health of the cows, the make-up of their particular milk, and the challenges of making a high-quality cheddar every day of the week.  Our group made over 500 lbs of cheese in an exhausting 7 hour stint - and that wasn't even a whole day of work for the cheesemakers.  It was enlightening.  And I learned
that there is no such thing as too much cheese.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I would categorize this as my first harvest - except for my rhubarb.  While I was frantically putting up my trellises between storms this afternoon, I looked over and discovered garlic scapes -- I absolutely love garlic scapes.  Garlic scape pesto is so amazing, it defies description.  My friend, Marianne, introduced me to garlic scape pesto - which she sells out of as soon as it hits the farmers market.  I love them small and tender, diced and sauteed in butter with a little sweet onion, either by itself or tossed with pasta. Ymmmmmm.  Gigi decided I was spending way too much time photographing garlic scapes when she was right there in front of me.  Waiting for dinner, no doubt.  How she managed to stay dry in the downpours, I have no idea.  She will not enter the barn since Joey arrived.  Sigh.

Monsoon Season.

Today has been one storm followed by another.  Bernie has taken up permanent residence under the bed, Gigi is miserable and I have cleaned the house.  During one brief dry spell - with actual sun - I raced outside and made trellises out of some cattle panels (bolt cutters -  a must-have tool), quickly tied them to the rebar posts and put up fencing around the last raised bed.  Lawdamercy, I made it in the house with seconds to spare before it started up again - thunder, gusty wind and torrents of rain.  You can sort of see the garden in the picture above - taken through the window.  Normally, I wouldn't mind a rainy day - it makes you stop and rest.  Or clean the house.  But when each storm brings with it the threat of high winds and flooding, it gets on your nerves!  On the next break, I have to sprint out to the chicken coop and close the people door.  I'm sure it's flooded by now.  I am going to work on getting Gigi to come inside.  I'm sure it will be 'exciting'.  But she is obviously not a feral cat, and there is no reason for her to be trying to find a dry spot, and me listening for coyotes all night.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pigs Are Beautiful.

A friend has a Tamworth sow who just had a litter of 8 piglets.  Cripes are they cute!  I haven't had that much exposure to pigs - there was an early incident of me stepping into a paddock to 'rescue' a lame piglet, only to have the world's largest, ugliest, slavering, red-eyed boar head for me at 100 mph (or so it seemed at the time), and I did have Kate and Ethel, who I really did love.  But the Tamworth is an exceptionally beautiful pig.  Red hair, hazel eyes.  Not too big, relatively speaking.  Smart, not hysterical.  Everything that one would want in a pig.  And, of course, there's the end product.  I like pork and I will not eat any other pork than Tamworth.  Period.  It is an interesting experience to develop such a relationship with your food. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Slow Coffee. An Oxymoron?

I drink slow coffee.  I buy my coffee beans from a local roaster less than a half hour from where I live (Roaster's Whim, a wonderful coffee shop in Dunham Hollow, NY, where my friend, Kayten's spinning group meets every Friday).  I grind my beans by hand in my great-great-grandmother's coffee grinder.  I make coffee in a Melitta drip coffee maker.  Okay, sometimes I cheat and use my electric coffeemaker - but on weekends I make it slow, all the way.  I can truly savor this coffee - I like a rich, thick, dark coffee, like Sumatra.  I drink less now, but drink it better.

What a Difference a Week (or less) Makes.

I have very little "pasture" land, so I need to take advantage of every lick of green space for the sheep and Uncle Hoosier.  Having electric net fencing is a great help, although it is a pain to drag it through briars and try to get the step in posts into my rocky ground.  The sheep are wonderful trimmers/mowers.  On the top you'll see them in the new area the first day.  Below, I have moved the fencing to a new area - less than a week, and with only one full day of grazing later.  I have a rotational method that seems to work well and keep the main body of my briars down.  I plan to fence in the small orchard area but need to make sure Hoosier can't reach the young apple trees.  He will strip a tree barkless in an hour!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Look, Ma! I'm Invisible!

Not really, but sometimes I think I am.  Yesterday I decided to celebrate the completion and planting of two raised beds by coloring my hair.  What?  Doesn't everyone????  I go from thinking that natural is best - and lowest maintenance - to thinking I look washed out, all shades of grey.  So I became a "Golden Brown".  I would say that I'm a DARK golden BROWN.  It is about 5 times darker than my usual hair color.  Later in the afternoon, when I flounced over to a friend's to deliver extra pepper plants and a basic beekeeping book, I waited for her reaction - which I felt would be positive and fervent.  She didn't notice.  Now, she had also been outside working like a slave for three days.  Maybe she was too tired to notice.  I mean, when I looked in the mirror this morning, I was shocked!  I had forgotten I colored my hair, of course.  I sashayed into the office this morning and none, not a one of my co-workers said boohoo, omg.  Nothing.  Nada.  So, therefore I must be invisible.  Or....dare I say....the color is so gawd-awful that no one wants to comment?  Nah.  (There will be no before and after photographs.  I never allow photographs of myself.  They will steal my soul.)