Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ducky and Curly Update

This monster sized egg, which mom found in her nest box last week, may have come from Ducky!  Do you remember the little chick that was my first semi-successful hatch using the incubator in my office?  Her toes were crooked so I used band aids to straighten them and she looked like a duck.   An ugly duck!  That little ugly duckling chick had some strange behaviors, and didn't understand about being part of a flock right away, but now she is one of mom's best layers.  She's still strange, even for a chicken, but maybe she just takes after her mother (me!?).     


And who is this handsome rooster with Ducky in the photo above?  None other than Curly, my favorite chick from my second slightly more successful hatch.  Well, to be honest, we're not sure this is Curly, since there were two roosters from that batch and one was recently killed by an unseen predator.  Without the comparison mom can't be absolutely sure this is Curly.  But, since Curly had a really funky looking comb, which this rooster has, and he was my favorite, I'm going to assume this is Curly from now on. 

Even though Curly is young, and his biological mother (opposed to me, his "hatching" mother) and aunts are in his flock, he's doing a good job of keeping everyone focused on the best foraging areas, not letting anyone stray too far from the flock, and diligently announcing that scary animals (like me!) are in the vicinity.  This boy is getting some respect.  Of course, it's not like he has much competition since he's the only rooster left.  I would be nervous if I were him.  Unless he is the unseen predator...

Uh oh, he know's I'm on to him - he's giving me the rooster stink eye!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't Count the Garlic Before They Hatch

 Saturday, despite the sprinkling of snow on the ground, I planted garlic at the little farm.  I planted a lot of garlic.  While Brandon was busy removing old wiring from the house, and doing other constructive things with his time, I played in the dirt.  I've never gardened in the snow before, at least not outside, so I was excited to find out that planting things in the winter is fun!  Is it productive?  I don't know.  I may have wasted a bunch of garlic cloves that I could be eating, but if there's a chance that I will have beds of garlic next year, which will be my very first planted crop in my new garden, it's worth all the effort. 

So far, the carpet technique is really working.  I peeled back the carpet which has been lying on the grass all summer and found the dirt underneath to be loose and mostly weed free.  I think earthworms have been tilling the soil all the way to the surface under the protection of the carpet, which made for some lovely dirt.  Unfortunately, part of the reason the soil was so loose and crumbly was because of the many small mammal tunnels that were in the soil too.  Hopefully it's a mole or something that doesn't like to eat garlic.  If it's a garlic loving shrew, then I just stocked it's larder with some fresh cloves.  I shall soon find out! 

After I pulled the carpet up, and broke up the garlic bulbs into cloves, I placed the cloves in a grid pattern throughout the beds.  I tried to leave the width of a hoe between each clove in case I need to do some serious weeding this summer.  Not that I will actually do the weeding, based on my gardening past, but just in case having a new garden encourages new good habits, I'm keeping my options open.  I scrounged around in one of the junk piles that came as a bonus with the property until I found enough old barn boards to make a rough border.  I keep telling myself that I'm not gardening in a small suburban yard anymore, that I can spread out and stop thinking in little raised beds, but old habits die hard. Without a border, what keeps Brandon from mowing it down? 

Instead of digging holes for the cloves, I just covered them with dirt I dug from what is left of our mysterious dirt mound in the front yard.  This was extra effort, but I would like to raise the garden anyway, to make sure I'm clear of the clay layer I know is near the surface.  I did learn that if my wheel barrow has a flat tire it's easier to pull it across the yard than to push.  Easier, but still not easy!  It's been awhile since I really put my mind to wheel appreciation, but after a few loads I was ready to sing praises to that important invention.  I love wheels.  

I think what I would really love is wheels attached to a cart and a friendly donkey to pull it.  The old hay bales in the photo above belong to my neighbor.  He was generous enough to say I could have some to mulch my garden, and even offered to haul a bale to the garden with his awesome tractor, but probably didn't realize I need it now, not next spring.  So, I had to invent my own, sadly donkey free, method of rotten hay transport. 

First I had to crack into the frozen bales, which reminded me of frosted mini wheat cereal, only huge, with a white and crunchy sugar coating on the top.  But, once I broke through the frozen outer crust, what was once hay turned out to be damp, black stems crawling with life.  Ah, the Good Stuff.  For my first trip, I filled a big garbage can and half dragged half carried it back to my garlic.  In the picture above, which I took after I stopped panting in that hands on knees pose that really out of shape people use, is at the half way point.  The tree line in the distance is where the hay lives.  From this point on, it's all up hill to the garden.  After all the pie and turkey I consumed for the holiday, I thought I might blow out an artery getting that first load!  Miraculously, my feet were no longer cold afterwards.  I small hay generated miracle. 

For my second load I filled up a tarp and dragged it across the ground all the way back.  It was easier, and I got more hay, but I nearly gave Brandon a heart attack when he looked out the window and saw me laying flat on my back on top of the tarp.  I was just trying to catch my breath and cool off.  Why was it so hot all of a sudden?!    If I don't get those wheels and that friendly donkey, my new garden may actually provide exercise.   

I took this picture for Future Rain.   Since I am terrible with labels and usually immediately forget what I planted and where I planted it, I am trying to leave myself a cookie trail with this blog.  Maybe next summer, if I manage to harvest garlic, I can look back at this post and remember that the garlic in the bed closest to the house is from mom's garden, and the garlic in the other bed is called Susanville, a mid season soft neck variety.  It was the only garlic available from all the on-line sources I checked.  Since everyone else in the world knows to plant their garlic earlier than I did, they probably bought up the good ones.  Susanville sounds like a friendly place, so it's got to be good, right? 

Remember, Future Rain, the bed on the right is mom's garlic, that she harvested from her garden.  We really liked that kind, and the cloves were really big and dried nicely, so I hope if the shrew decides to eat some he eats the other ones.  

I know it's not wise to count my garlic before it hatches, but, I estimate that I planted two hundred and twenty cloves!  I may have been a teensy bit over excited for my first garden item.  And really, I like garlic, but what I liked most about this garlic adventure is not the thought of all that garlic bounty, but that my first real food production experience, at this place I have spent so much time day dreaming about, was such a good time.  I mean, it was a cold and dreary day and I had a flat tire and I nearly busted a gut hauling rotten hay, but when I was done, I felt good.  I felt like I moved my body and stretched my muscles in a useful and healthful way, and I was comfortable there in my garden spot.  I even enjoyed the view of the power line free sky while I lay panting on my tarp.  I think I'm going to like it there as much as I thought I would!  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Forest Creatures Visit the Blue Bus in the Woods

At long last, Brandon and I made a visit to our blue bus, which lives in the forest on a cliff above the river.  In years past we have taken advantage of the autumn weather and the lovely foliage to spend as many weekends loafing at the bus as we could.  Not this year.  This year we have been so busy with the farm house renovations that the bus has been neglected.  We have not relaxed around the campfire at the bus since the spring!  When we went for a visit last weekend I was worried that we would find hobo's living it in, or junkies cooking up drugs while they enjoyed our new deck.  Fortunately, even hobos and junkies are afraid of snakes, so the bus was just as we left it.  

We took the dog on some exploratory hikes through the forest, following deer trails, and enjoyed the view of the river far below now that the leaves are off the trees.  In the photo above you can see how steep the land is, and how our little deck is perched on the edge of the slope so we can have a nice view of the river and the opposite cliff line.  

The forest is interesting even after all the leaves have fallen.  I had fun trying to capture the spore cloud in a picture as I pinched these little puff ball mushrooms that were growing on a mossy log.  

I say the bus was the same as we left it last spring because no humans had messed with it, but there were some visitors that left their calling cards.  One of which was this giant spider.  The spider was dead, thankfully, but Brandon picked it up and stretched it's legs out so we could see how big it really was.  Big!  I think maybe this is why we enjoy the bus so much in the fall, winter, and early spring.  Hanging out in the forest in the summer means hanging out with the forest creatures when they are the most numerous and mobile, and this big guy might not have been fun to share a seat with.  

And can you see what is on the table, on top of a pile of string we left there?  A snake skin!  I guess this is why we didn't find the mouse damage I expected.  Not only do we have a house snake at our farm house, we also have a bus snake.  How handy.  It's better than locks on the doors, having a snake leave it's skin on the kitchen table.  Hobos beware!

I hated to leave the bus, especially since I know it's likely that we will continue to spend our free time at the farm for the near future.  But, the bus isn't going any where and it's nice to know we have a place where the most pressing chores are sweeping up dead spiders, hiking, relaxing, and enjoying the tranquility of the forest.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

Turkey Day and Egg Day


I know the turkey is supposed to get all the attention on Thanksgiving, but when I look back through the photos I took as I prepared the meal, it was very apparent that the eggs were stealing the show in my eyes.  The pictures above are all screen shots from my phone camera that show how many pictures of eggs I took!  I may be obsessed.  Since Helen and Mrs. Hall are taking an egg laying break while they grow new feathers, and because the holiday meal would require more eggs that those old biddies could produce in a month, I bought two big cartons of eggs from Joe.  They were lovely eggs.  So lovely in fact, that I took dozens of photos while they were still in the carton.  Turns out there are all sorts of fun compositions to be found with eggs in a grid pattern.  

The majority of the eggs went into the pies.  Chocolate pies with fluffy egg meringue, and pumpkin pies made with honey.  The apple pie made from the apples picked by my nephew turned out perfectly!  The apples held their shape and were nice and tart, just the way I like it.  Notice the vase of turkey feathers I kept from our recent plucking party.  I kept some of each type of turkey, so I had black feathers, red feathers, gray feathers, and pretty white ones with black stripes.  Little did I know that my feather collections would turn out to not only be decorative, but also be perfect cat toys.  It's not ideal to have feathers coveted by kittens in the midst of your holiday decor.  

The kittens love to chase the turkey tail feathers and fight with them.  Of all their toys, they love the feathers best.  

Even the dog enjoys some turkey tail tug of war.  Who knew? 

I used lard to make my pie crusts this year, and they turned out very lovely to look at, and flaky, but not as tasty as crusts I've made in the past with butter.  I thought they were a little bland and left a bit of a greasy feel in my mouth.  

Isn't this a pretty apple pie? 

The turkey, which was raised by Joe, plucked by Jamie or Brandon, and gutted and cleaned up by myself and Ashley with help from Leigh (it takes a team to make a turkey!), turned out to be one of the most delicious turkeys I've ever cooked.  I used an oven bag, and included lots of potatoes, herbs, and vegetables with it, and because it was a heritage breed of turkey, with smaller breasts and bigger legs, cooked it a little less time than a factory farm bird.  It was so moist!  And if you are a fan of turkey flavor, it was the perfect bird.  The meat was so very flavorful, especially the dark meat, that now I realize that most of the turkey I have had in the past was bland and salty.  I used the giblets in the dressing, and stock made from the giblets for the gravy.  

I like to daydream of someday serving a thanksgiving meal of all food from local sources.  This year I had homegrown turkey and eggs, my own herbs, lard in the pie dough I rendered from a local pig, and apples picked by my nephew for the pie.  Surely next year I can plan the garden a little better and have some potatoes and carrots.  Not sure how to grow cranberry sauce...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank You, Turkey

Look how much Joe's turkeys grew since May, when they arrived as fuzzy chicks in a box at the post office.  In just six months those little puff balls grew to be big beautiful birds.  

These photos of them in their transport cage were the last I took of them while they were still alive.  I knew from the beginning that these turkeys were destined for the Thanksgiving table.  While I didn't get to spend much time with them, I did get to see them as they grew up, and because they are such curious and vocal birds it was easy to appreciate them as interesting animals in just a few visits, so I sort of understand how hard it must have been for Joe to kill them on Saturday.  He seemed to be dreading the job more than when we butchered his chickens, and mentioned that he may prefer to raise only white turkeys from now on, just so he can't tell them apart as easily as he could with this mix of heritage breeds.  

We used the same technique to kill the turkeys as we used with the big batch of chickens.  There is one difference though - all of the turkeys were so big they stuck up out of the killing cones, and the two biggest, shown above, were more out of the cone than in.  The cones still worked fine though.  

The last time we had a chicken butchering party, we used a rented scalder/plucker, which worked great.  This time, since we only had ten turkeys and eight chickens to process, we saved the expense of the rented equipment an did the scalding in big pots set on gas stoves, and Jamie and Brandon plucked them all by hand.  This also worked great, especially since I wasn't on the plucking crew!

The long plastic aprons are genius.  The chickens we harvested were some of the white cornish rock cross birds that were too small to harvest last time, but had grown into monster sized chickens, some weighing in at more than nine pounds!  When dealing with such big chickens, and even bigger turkeys, it was great that the plucking crew could rest the birds on their knees while they worked, and the apron kept them clean and dry, and is easy to wash off.  

Ashley and I manned the gutting table.  What can I say, I'm good with guts! 

The two black male turkeys were the biggest of the lot, weighing over twenty pounds with their feathers, and over sixteen pounds when they were finished.  In exchange for our labor, Joe gave me the second largest bird.  I have to say, this may be the most appreciative I've ever been for the holiday turkey.  There's something to be said for watching turkeys grow and hearing about the trials and successes of raising them and keeping them happy, then watching one die for my plate.  Normally, all my metal energies concerning the Thanksgiving turkey would be directed at the cooking and eating of the bird, and the only sense of accomplishment that would come with the turkey would be from getting the darn thing to thaw out on time and hopefully get some praise on my seasoning.  Not this year.  I'm proud of this turkey already, for reasons I've never considered before, and it's still frozen.  Imagine how excited I'll be if it tastes good too.  

Joe ordered turkey sized shrink wrap bags, and we put the heart, gizzard, liver, and neck in the body cavity so they will be handy for making stock for dressing and gravy.  Mmm... gravy... 

I think we are all getting accustomed the the process of making birds ready for cooking.  The things that were gross, smelly, and weird are becoming less so.  I can see how, over time, the work of removing feathers and guts, and cleaning up the meat so it looks appetizing can become a normal part of cooking.  Because I'm learning to accept this as a new norm, I decided to intentionally pay more attention to the part of the process that so far I've mostly avoided to see if I can get used to it too.  The part that involves a knife to the throat of a living animal.  Not that I want to become desensitized, or less empathetic, but I do want to understand that part of being a carnivore.  So, I stood and watched some turkeys die and I payed attention to the sequence of my thoughts and emotions while it was happening.  It's difficult to explain, but my first emotions were distress as I empathized with what the turkey could be feeling as it was bleeding.  I had a thought that wouldn't it be better to skip the roasted turkey and just eat the dressing and mashed potatoes, and not do this to the turkey and to myself?  But, I'm glad I didn't turn away and end the experience with that thought and those frightening emotions because I know that dressing and potatoes come with their fair share of death too.  Nothing lives without something else dying.  We are connected that way.  I don't want to get too deep here, but as the turkey's eyes were closing and it's blood flow was slowing, I was thinking about circle of life stuff, and getting a glimpse of how I fit into that, and I felt grateful.  Grateful to the turkey for sure, but also for the opportunity to get to serve a turkey that until just a few minutes ago was as happy as a turkey raised to be eaten can be.  I was also grateful to get to participate in my friends farming adventure, and grateful that when I closely examine the meat eating practice I've participated in my whole life, I find it acceptable, even the frightening part, especially under these conditions.  Good to know.  Thank you, turkey.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Helen's Shame

I have a very unfortunate looking chicken.  Poor Helen is molting, and this is the worst molt yet.  Or maybe the best molt, depending on how you look at it.  I try to ask myself if I would be willing to lose all my hair over the course of a month if it meant that it would grow back thick, shiny, and new, and look great for the rest of the year.  Maybe.  Unfortunately Helen doesn't get a choice, and even worse, she lost her feathers during the coldest autumn days we've had in a long time.  Even worst than that, she hasn't laid an egg since this whole thing started!  

The wind blows her remaining wispy feathers apart to reveal bald spots.  She shivers in the breeze.  I wonder if chickens ever wear sweaters, like fancy lap dogs?  

It won't be much longer before her new feathers fill in the gaps.  Right now they are still wrapped in their sheaths, so she looks like the love child of an ugly chicken and a porcupine.  

I kind of like the punk rocker look, personally, but I don't think Mrs. Hall approves and it's effecting Helen's confidence.  Normally she's first in the pecking order, but lately it seems Mrs. Hall has been asserting herself and getting all the choice compost scraps.  Of course, it could be that Helen is so cold she's just moving slower, but I'm pretty sure having a bad hair day that lasts for weeks can really put a dent in your self esteem.  

Don't worry Helen, it won't be long before you'll be back to your normal vain self.  Maybe I should let her read this post, so she can remember how beautiful she normally looks.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Buying Stuff I Didn't Know I Needed

It may be obvious from looking at my threadbare wardrobe that I don't enjoy shopping for clothes.  My style, if someone had to label me, could probably be described as a cross between a twelve year old who wants to grow up to be either a lumberjack or a comic book collector, and that nutty chemistry professor we all knew in school who favored comfortable shoes.  Maintaining my look sort of limits my shopping venues, as you can imagine.  I've never liked to shop for shoes either, since my experience is that a shoe that looks cute on a woman with a size six foot does not look anything but silly when enlarged to a nine and half and worn with pants with frayed cuffs and unmatched socks.  Because I don't like to wear shoes that would reduce my already slim chances of out running a bear, my shoe options are even more limited.  Without shoes and clothes to exercise my shopping muscles, I stay in practice by shopping for stuff at junk stores.  It's amazing how easy it is to find things I really want that I didn't even know existed!  And I get to keep my clothes and shoes on while in the store.  

On a quick trip to the big Peddlers Mall in town today, I managed to score this beaded wire dog wall thingy with two hooks for hanging things.  For just four dollars I am able to own this hand crafted beauty! Just think, some one made this, on purpose.  Four dollars is the price of a Starbucks coffee, so just imagine, I could have an aromatic hot beverage made from the scientifically roasted beans of plant grown in the tropics, which has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years and has evolved into the taste and mood stimulating perfection of Starbucks, or I can have this thing.  Wait...  When I showed it to Brandon this evening he looked for several moments before he said "it's... amazing".  Yes, yes it is.  

When I picked up a little cookbook called Welcome Back to Pleasant Hill, published in 1977, by the chef at the hotel that was originally built by the Kentucky Shakers, and I randomly turned to a recipe for breakfast bacon cookies, I knew I had to have it.  Published the year I was born, by someone just down the road, and featuring a cookie with bacon?  Three dollars is a bargain, right?  The book is organized by season, and includes the recipes for food that is ready in the garden during each season.  There is even a recipe for pickled watermelon rind, and wassail bowls, both things I've been curious about recently.  There are selected journal entries from the Shaker records, too, and most of them are about the weather, harvest, and preservation of the food they worked on that day.  It will be interesting to compare notes with folks from the 1800 who were gardening so close to home.  

In honor of the Thanksgiving season, I also bought a small horn-o-plenty for a couple of dollars, thinking I might be able to jazz up the holiday decor by creating a overfull basket, Hallmark pilgrim style.  It looks like a funny hat, but the kittens wouldn't model it for me.  

Puck was more accommodating.  Say Happy Turkey Day!  I've had two dollars worth of laughs torturing my pets with the horn already.  

My first table arrangement didn't have quite the traditional Martha Stewart quaintness I was hoping for.  

I got a brand new five foot long rag rug for eight dollars, a baggie of thread on bobbins for a buck, and a stack of felt leaves for two dollars.  Can you tell I'm proud of my thrifty finds?  My thought with the leaves is to use them as trivets for Thanksgiving dinner, avoiding putting my ratty looking pot holders on the table under hot dishes as I've done in the past.  I'm glad I started practicing with the horn arrangement now, because now I know a Chiquita banana sticker, almost rotten pears, and some crusty carrots just aren't enough.  My horn needs more o-plenty.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Breaking Lights and Busting Logs

What's the very first thing I did when I got the the farm house for our Saturday workday?  I broke the light we just put in.  I went straight to the newly painted bedroom to admire our progress and turn on the brand new ceiling fan light fixture, and when I pulled on the chain to adjust the fan speed, the glass globe in the light came crashing to the floor to shatter in a zillion pieces.  Of course.  sigh... But other than that, the downstairs bedroom is looking pretty snazzy even with a retina burning light bulb exposed in the room.  Thankfully, we still liked the sunflower colored floor after being away from it for a week, so we will proceed with a few more coats of paint on the floor at a later date.  We put up some trim around the top of the walls and painted the baseboards, window frames, and doors.  Finally, we have a room that feels clean.  With the change in the weather, the unheated house also feels cold. 

Working in the cold at the farm house has focused my house renovation planning on how to heat our house once we live there.  By "planning" I mostly mean half formed day dreams about alternative energy and quirky handmade stoves promoted by strange looking people on the interweb.  The house has a propane tank and a small gas wall heater and an old brick chimney with a tiny hearth that was probably meant for burning oil or coal.  At some point a hole was made in the chimney above the mantel so a wood burning stove could be used in front of the fireplace.  When the wood burning stove was removed someone thoughtfully stuffed an old pair of pants in the hole to block the draft.  Bonus pants!  

Since we have an abundance of trees at the bus, we are considering using wood as a source of heat, and maybe keeping the propane tank as a back up.  If we sprinkle in some electric heaters and our emergency kerosene heater and we should have all our bases covered.  With all this in mind, it seemed like a good idea for me to get some wood chopping practice by helping Jamie and Leigh cut and bust up some logs for mom and dad's wood stove.  

No big surprise, I guess, but it didn't take me long to realize that chopping wood is hard work!  Jamie made it look pretty easy, and Leigh managed to bust up a log on her first swing.  Not me.  I quickly figured out that I was most effectively utilized by picking up the pieces that someone else busted and stacking them in the cart.  But only if I wore gloves because you know what logs are made of?  Splinters!  Despite my inefficiency with an ax, and my fear of the chainsaw, the overall experience is very pleasant.  I love the forest when the leaves are thick on the ground.  The wood smells lovely, and the exercise kept us toasty warm.  I could get in to having a yearly chore that required time spent in the autumn forest.  Especially if Brandon does the hard part!  

Jamie and I even managed to figure out how to sharpen the chainsaw blade using a dremel tool.  This photo is supposed to remind me of the hours (yes, hours) spent reading the instructions trying to put this thing together and actually make the blade sharper.  Now that I have acquired this skill, I feel I have a responsibility to use it.  We need a wood stove for sure.  

I've become enamored with the idea of a rocket mass heater, which is a type of wood stove that involves a combustion chamber made from a metal drum over some brick architecture and a mass of clay and stone to absorb and radiate heat.  I'm attracted to the claims of it's super efficiency and the do it your self nature of the stove.  On Sunday, Brandon and I spent quite a bit of our day discussing the stove and trying to understand the hand drawn blue prints we found online.  Eventually I had to break out the wooden Jenga blocks from the toy box so we could create a mock up.  I know it doesn't look like much in the photo, especially since I used the plastic cup from my juicer as the combustion chamber, but this exercise really helped us understand.  At least we think it did. Either way, it was fun to play with blocks.  
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