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...
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