Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Mermaids for the Weekend

We got to spend nearly an entire weekend with a couple of mermaids.  Did you know that nieces turn into mermaids when there's a pool to swim in?  It's true!  I spent so much time in the pool with them that I felt like a mermaid myself.

Our adventure started on Friday, when I picked them up at home and we began the long drive to our little farm.  On the way, we stopped at Goodwill for a shopping extravaganza.  They asked me how many things they could get, and I said we should just put everything we wanted in the cart and then see how much we had in the end.  Oh boy, did we shop!  First, we each picked out a purse, and then a wallet to match.  Then we found cute pajamas and some fun t-shirts, which led us to fancy dresses to match the purses.  Shoes, of course, to go with the dresses, and while I perused the kitchen items, they dove headfirst into a giant bin of toys and after much debate made their choices.  Hours later, we left the store with a pile of treasures for about what it would cost to buy one pair of new shoes.  Brandon laughed when my youngest niece walked in the house wearing a bright orange Dollywood hat and carrying a toy riffle.  He said that wasn't what he expected!  

After shopping our hearts out at goodwill, we made a trip to the grocery store to buy food for the weekend.  Brandon and I are still on the elimination diet, so the girls were supportive and agreed to a no sugar weekend.  We loaded up on fruit and broccoli, which they declared was a vegetable they would both eat.  By the end of the weekend, Brandon said he had never eaten so much broccoli in three days!  I tried to hard to make food they liked that was healthy, but I still think they had hot dogs for at least two meals.  Hot dogs plus broccoli.  Feeding kids is a challenge.

We spent a lot of time in the pool, of course, but we also gave the zip line a good workout, and picked some pretty flowers for bouquets.  We made popcorn and watched the Dark Crystal, which is a Jim Henson movie from 1982.  I remember the Dark Crystal from my childhood, and it was creepy.  Turns out, it's way more creepy than I remembered!  The Little Buck seemed to be the favorite farm animal this time, and they wanted reassurance that I wouldn't eat him someday.  No promises.  

They caught a monarch butterfly!  It's the first one we've ever seen at our place, and it was exciting to find.  The girls had fun running around the yard making swipes at butterflies with the butterfly net.  When they would catch one, Brandon would help them put it inside this collapsible mesh insect viewing basket.  Most were released after a few minutes, but we kept the monarch for a few hours so we could show it to Uncle Jamie.  We tried to feed it a watermelon slice, but it wasn't interested.  

I'm glad that all my effort to save the milkweed plants from the mower are starting to pay off. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kelp Tongues

Some friends of ours visited recently with their young sons.  When the kids and I went to visit the goats, I brought out some scratch grains that I feed the chickens, and helped the kids give the goats a nibble.  The littlest boy was hesitant to let the slimy looking goat tongues touch his hand, so I held his open palm in my hand and prevented him from retreating so he could experience the full impact of having an animal lick kernels from his fingers.  While Peaches and the River brothers lapped up the grain through the fence with their long sticky tongues, the little boy squealed with a mixture of glee and repulsion and I could feel his entire body shiver and convulse with sheer grossness of feeling those wet tongues lick his little hand.  Ha!  

I ordered a box of kelp meal.  I can't even really remember what I read that convinced me I need some for my goats, but once it arrived, Brandon and I had fun offering the goats and donkeys a taste from our hands.  

They love it.  They squirmed and pushed each other so they could squeeze their faces close enough to our hands to lap it up.  It smells like the beaches of Maine to me, and brings back memories of a fun hiking and camping trip from years ago.

Our little town has very few commercial establishments, but thankfully it does have a Dollar General store (and a liquor store!).   I'm not sure how the dollar store manages to have some of everything, but it does, including small bags of black oil sunflower seeds for feeding the birds.  You know who loves black oil sunflower seeds?  The goats and donkeys!

Even the Little Buck finds his courage when sunflower seeds are offered, and he will brave Peaches displeasure by sticking his tongue out for a taste.  She pulls hard on his ears if she thinks he's getting more than his share.

They look like mamma goat, papa goat, and baby goat.  But they are not.

How could I resist that funny face?  Okay, Peaches, more sunflower seeds coming right up!

I picked the first batch of big tomatoes from the garden yesterday.  The plants are so leafy that I didn't realize the tomatoes were getting ripe until I got down on my knees and peered inside the leaning and tumbled down cages.  This is just the beginning!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

But, I Like Sugar!

The nine little chicks that hatched here at home a few weeks ago are out of the coop during the day now, and enjoying the fresh grass and interactions with the rest of the flock.  Eight of them are white with random black feathers, and one is a pretty brown hen with speckles.  The mamma hen has her hands full, keeping them all safe and leading them to tasty bits in the grass.  

They know I'm the food lady now, and when they see me approach they run toward me peeping and begging for food.  I have so many birds to feed that when the whole flock clusters around my feet begging for dinner, I can hardly find a place to step that isn't occupied by a chicken or a guinea.  

Yesterday evening, as Brandon and I prepared to gather up all the hay that had been drying in the field, we could smell rain on the breeze, and see the curtain of rain drops in the distance.  Instead of working on hay, we walked around the farm putting away our tools and admiring the sky as we watched the rain approach.  I was glad that the garden got a shower, but it wasn't very good for my nice dry hay to be rained on.  

We don't always have a sunset, an approaching rain shower, beautiful cloud formations, and a rainbow in a break in the clouds all at the same time!   

Brandon has been working on the exterior trim on the new studio barn addition so we can paint the outside and make sure the wood siding doesn't get ruined by the weather.  He's not supposed to be lifting heavy things while he recovers from surgery, but he's feeling so good that it's hard for him to restrain himself.  

We're both feeling pretty good after more than thirty days on the elimination diet.  There are times when I feel like we might be a little predictable with our meals, since we tend to make the same dishes over and over again, but, we're introducing a new ingredient every three days (today is chocolate!), so it's not always exactly the same.  Brandon has had pretty clear reactions to some foods that we did not anticipate, like pork, and walnuts.  Until we tried cane sugar, I hadn't had any type of reaction.  

I still have a hard time believing this, but I think when I ate the organic cane sugar, in my tea, on my breakfast, on my sweet potato, and in some homemade coconut cookies, my nose got all stuffy.  I couldn't breath well through my nose, like my sinuses were swollen, and my throat felt raw, like it does with post nasal drip.  By the morning of day three with sugar, I was sure I was getting a cold or having a seasonal allergy.  I had two nights of terrible sleep, felt all congested in my sinuses and just generally felt sort of crummy.  Could it really be the sugar?  According to some stuff I read on the interweb, sugar is one of the most pro inflammatory foods that cause sinus congestion.  I stopped eating the sugar after breakfast yesterday, and I slept good last night since I could breath through my nose, and feel much better.  Sugar?!?  Really?  I'm going to test it again in a few weeks.  Maybe it was just a coincidence and I was having sinus problems because of some plant blooming outside or something.  Or maybe I'm in denial - I like sugar!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Little Buck

I did what I said I wouldn't do - I got a buck.  Oh no!  He's just a little buckling right now, so he isn't smelly or weird like he will be when he's full grown.  Right now he's cute and cries like the thirteen week old baby that he is.  He's a Nubian like Peaches, and we've been calling him the Little Buck.  

Planning for pigs is what made me finally decide I needed to just bite the bullet, and get a goat buck.  Since our pig fence and shelter is complete, I spent a little time researching organic pig food, and realized that it just doesn't exist around here.  I want to raise my own bacon, but unless I can figure out a way to feed a pig with mostly organic foods, my bacon wouldn't be any different that the bacon I can buy from the store or from Farmer Joe, who raised pigs with non-GMO pig food and lots of pasture.  

There is a way to raise an organic pig, but it means I need to be able to feed the pig organic hay and pasture, vegetables from the garden, kitchen scraps, eggs from my chickens, and milk from my goat.  Peaches needs to have a baby in order to make milk, and I think I'm right to assume her chances of getting pregnant are much higher if we have a boy goat.  A real boy goat.  No offense to the River brothers, but they just don't have what it takes (snip snip) to make a baby.  


Don't worry Peaches, he will get taller! There were lots of male goats for sale on Craigslist, but most of the big impressive males that folks were selling for breeding purposes were very expensive, and quite intimidating.  I'm sure Peaches would appreciate a big manly goat with a proven breeding record, but I was more comfortable starting with a little guy that I can get to know before he's big enough to smash me with his hard head.  He's untested and who knows if he will make nice babies.  At this point, I think I've proven to myself that trying to read Peaches body language and work it out to quickly drive her a buck is not very practical for my skill level and schedule.  I'm just going to cross my fingers and hope they figure it out on their own.  

So far, Peaches and the River brothers pick on him constantly.  She bites his long floppy ears and the boys ram him with their heads.  He cries and runs away, but at night he's snuggled up in a pile with everyone else, so I think it's normal goat behavior.  The biggest problem with letting them all stay together is that I will not know the delivery date of the babies, should any be made.  Also, when he starts to have that male goat aroma that everyone likes to talk about, he will contaminate the other goats with his stink.  Will this be his forever home?  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pig Fence, No Pigs

The pig fence is finally complete!  It has woven wire fence on four sides, posts, a shelter, a gate, and even a water bucket.  All we need now are the pigs, right?  Brandon worked hard to finish the fence, because we new he wouldn't be able to lift heavy things and tug on fencing for weeks after his gall bladder was removed.  Let me tell you, this homesteading thing we're trying to do requires more lifting and tugging than I even knew, and for a whole week now, I've been the primary lifter.  Poor Brandon is going stir crazy after only a week of reduced activity!     

The goats make pigs of themselves all the time, but they only get to borrow the pig fence for an hour or two at a time until we have acquired the piggies.  

We had a partial roll of goat fencing, which has small openings that a goat cannot fit it's head through, and thought we measured and planned our fence size to fit what we had.  Not for the first time, our math was off, and we ended up using a piece of horse fencing for the front side.  This fencing has small holes on the bottom and they get bigger toward the top.  The goats like that they can eat the plants growing on the outside of the fence too.  

Peaches and the Rivers were nervous to be left alone in the new pasture, and when it started to rain, they stood on the gate and cried for me to save them.  I walked with them to the little pig shed, and once I was inside they mustered their courage and finally got out of the rain.  

Once inside, they were pleased to find they could munch on grass growing on the floor.  Save some for the pigs!  This pig shelter is pretty far from the house, although the pigs will have a view of the back door.  

During a break in the clouds, the donkeys expressed their unhappiness with being left behind while the rest of us were enjoying the new fence.  Hattie brayed and Rufus pawed the ground and paced.  They weren't happy until they had a giant bundle of ragweed to chew on.   

While the animals were enjoying their dinner, I explored the garden and met a new bug living on the kale.  It's the harlequin bug, a type of stink bug, that eats garden plants.  The poor kale was attacked by cabbage loppers early on, then nearly destroyed by Japanese beetles.  Now that the beetles are mostly gone, the new leaves are becoming the home for these harlequin bugs.  In the photo above, you can see an immature bug and a row of eggs.  It looks like I need to grab my bucket of soapy water and spend some time trying to save the kale from this new infestation.  The poor kale deserves some attention.  The same few plants, despite their many enemies, have kept us supplied with all the kale we can stand to consume.  We mostly use it in our morning vegetable juice, so a few holes in the leaves are no big deal.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

What Weeds?

 I opened the greenhouse door for my guests, and heard, "Your greenhouse is... ah..."

"She won't let anyone cut down the weeds," was someone else's response.

To which I asked, "What weeds?"

I do believe they were referring to the soil amending regenerating mulch and green cover crop of native annual plants that colonized the greenhouse.  

During the spring and early summer I regularly used my trusty garden shears to trim pathways to the plants that I was harvesting and tending.  But, in the last few weeks, I've let the pathways have their way, and even without being watered or babied at all, they have grown to several feet tall and have dark green healthy leaves.  They haven't gone to seed yet, so I've begun to smother them with bedding taken from the goat shelter.  My theory is that they have added lots of organic matter by growing roots in the greenhouse soil, and once they are smothered under a thick layer of old hay and goat poo, their leaves and stems will add even more good stuff to my garden soil.  And I didn't even have to plant them - they grew there for free!

It rained on Sunday.  While the world was soaking up the much needed rain, I escaped the drizzle inside the greenhouse.  I stayed busy spreading the piles of goat bedding I had dumped just inside the door, and admiring the marigolds and tomato plants which are still holding their own amidst the jungle.  A little bird fluttered around inside, and slipped out through the chicken wire wall.  Spiders watched me work from their webs strung from the ceiling, and little moths and butterflies flitted among the leaves.  

I was well fed as I perused the isle of cherry tomatoes.  A thick layer of hay laid down when they were planted has kept them fairly weed free.  The tomato plants inside the greenhouse look much different than the giant green monsters growing outside.  These spindly plants with some yellow and spotty leaves starting making tomatoes very early, and are still producing.  I think they didn't get watered as often as the plants outside, and they have to deal with the extra heat even with the plastic up on both sides.  I didn't fertilize them with my manure tea concoction either.  

My favorite this year are these super sweet little orange tomatoes.

The lettuce plants that fed us salads all spring have gone to seed.  I think I could save these seeds, and have enough seeds to plant the greenhouse full next year.

Lettuce seeds look like tiny dandelions, with fluffy tops.  

The little red lettuce plants make pretty purple flower scales.  I have several different types of lettuce seeds now.  I think I'll mix them all together and next year it will be a surprise lettuce garden.

One of the permaculture books I read over the winter said that most gardens come into their own during the fifth year.  Although I was experimenting with the garden during our house renovation years, this is only the second summer that's I've been in attendance.  Each year, the boundaries get a little more clear, but now that I have so much organic matter from all my animal friends, I can see how I will make faster headway.  Maybe the greenhouse in 2020 will look more impressive to guests.  Although, I though the weeds were pretty impressive this year!  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Still Talking About Food

Brandon and I are well into our third week on the elimination diet.  It's been quite an adventure in eating.  We've had to let go of our old standby meals, and are learning a new way to cook and new foods to enjoy.  Instead of oatmeal and eggs for breakfast, we've started to look forward to quinoa and fruit, with some coconut oil and honey.  

Lunches are no longer sandwiches and soups, but things like salads, salmon, and sweet potato.  Luckily, we like lots of different foods, and we enjoys salads and vegetables, so eating the delicious foods we are allowed to have is not a challenge.  The challenge is planning for preparation of the foods.  It takes five minutes to throw together a sandwich, but it takes an hour to bake a sweet potato, make salad dressing, etc., so we can't wait until we are hungry or it's time to leave for work before we start to fix lunch.  We have to plan ahead.  Planning ahead is not my favorite thing, but I'm determined to do this.  

By the end of the second week of the diet, we were both feeling pretty good.  Our digestion was calm, the caffeine withdrawal symptoms had abated, and we both lost some weight, which feels good.  

We've been growing our own broccoli sprouts, and our good neighbor gave us bags of frozen fish that he caught while he was on vacation.

Our sweet tooth cravings have gone.  Actually, we don't crave anything really.  Sometimes I wish for cheese, of all things, but not in desperate way.  Brandon wants coffee in the afternoon, and I think it's the ritual of it that he misses more than the caffeine.

I made a variation on one of the desserts from the book.  The crust of these funny looking little green tarts is unsweetened coconut flakes, hemp seeds, dates, and salt mixed in the food processor, and the filling is avacado, coconut oil, honey, and lime juice blended.   The crust is smooshed into a cupcake paper, and then the filling is poured on, and it sets up in the freezer.  We really liked the crust, but the filling was just okay.  Still, it was nice to have a healthy dessert type snack waiting in the freezer for whenever we wanted one.  

We went to a cookout over the weekend, and it was our first foray into society with food restrictions.  We brought our own lamb burgers and salad, but couldn't enjoy the lovely barbecued pork ribs, home made cake, or even the special mixed drinks.  That was a bummer.  Also, we felt even more like weirdo's than we normally do, because you can't say no to all the food and drinks without some explanation.  Everyone seems like they are used to folks with food restrictions these days, but it does seem rude not to partake of the hosts food.  But, we don't want to miss out on the whole party, so we go, and we take our food, and we are those people.  At least for a few more weeks, anyway.        

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Donkey Ding-Dong Secret

Please, donkeys, don't get up on my account.  I'm just here to clean up after you, feed you, and take care of all your needs, so don't bother getting up just for me.  Relax, would ya?  

The donkeys stand to attention when they see me coming with an armful of ragweed.  They love ragweed, and ragweed grows like weeds around here.  

The goats love it too.  Peaches eats the stalks and all!

There's a well kept secret about donkeys.  I say it's a secret because no one ever mentioned it until I got a donkey, but once Rufus came into my life, the secret was out of the bag.  Even the donkey book talks about the secret, and has diagrams!  

Recently, as I was puttering about the barn, like I do, I glanced at Rufus and heard... ding-dong!  If you saw Rufus when he is relaxed, and looks like he's grown a fifth leg, you might hear it too.  Rufus has a big ding-dong, which normally is tucked out of sight.  The secret about donkeys is, according to the book, the ding-dong should get regular cleaning.  Especially for castrated males, like Rufus.  The books says that the owner (me!) is supposed to wash it with warm soapy water, and remove a hard "bean" that accumulates near the tip.  I'm not joking!  After I read this, I had a few potentially awkward conversations with other donkey and horse owners, and this is true!  They don't talk about it, for obvious reasons, but they assure me that it's just part of the job.  What?!  

Well, Rufus has been with me for almost a year now, and other than some exploratory groping and blushing, just to see if he would even allow it if he needed it, I've been ignoring the secret, hoping it would go away.  I wasn't sure, but this time when I heard the ding-dong, I thought it looked a little... odd... and dirty.  Oh dear.  

Rufus got tethered, I got a bucket of warm soapy water and a wash cloth, and I attempted to be a good donkey owner.  He really didn't mind that much, although I'm not sure I was a thorough as the book would like.  Maybe with practice I'll perfect this new skill.  It's definitely one for the resume!

Since he was all tied up and in maintenance mode, I took the opportunity to brush some of his shedding hair.  I used the grooming rake type brush that I use on the dogs, and for the first time he didn't protest.  I watch the donkeys groom each other, and they use their teeth quite hard, and seem to like it.  I think the other brushes I've tried to use on Rufus were too soft, but this tool digs deep and scratches, in a good way.  Piles of hair came off. 

The donkeys got a new mineral block too.  One block lasted almost a year.  I never see the donkeys licking it, but the block gets wet with donkey slobber, and shrinks over time.  When I offered them a lick of the new block, they tried to bite it with their teeth.  

The donkeys got a package in the mail this week.  It's a bag of fly predators!  These tiny bugs, which look like gnats, come in their cocoons, mixed with saw dust.

In this photo, you can see the cocoons are dark brown, but the predator bugs are those tiny black spots.  Some of them hatched in the bag.  The instructions said to sprinkle them around areas that have damp vegetation, wet old hay, or manure, which is where flies lay their eggs.  These predator bugs kill the baby flies before they become adults.  It cost twenty dollars for a package.  I sprinkled them around the barns, hay piles, and compost heaps.  The donkeys seem to always have a few flies on their legs, which makes them stomp their feet to knock them off.  I'm hoping these predators will keep the fly numbers low.  We'll see.  
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