Mood: on fire
The hothouse (I like to call it the orangery because of all the citrus in it and in honor of my beloved Regency romances) is coming along! I’ll try to get a picture uploaded this week. The temperatures are finally starting to dip so it isn’t a moment too soon!
With the HOT (think August) temperatures, some of our summer produce is lingering on. I love the colors of this fall bounty.
That is the good news. The bad news is the heat and lack of rain is destroying our traditional fall crop of cole-family vegetables (greens, brussel sprouts, kale, etc)
John finished the chickhouse so in the spring we will be ready for grass-fed broilers. We are on the lookout for a heifer to raise up to be milked. Our big push now, believe it or not, is the hothouse because LAST October we had a freeze. While that’s nearly impossible to imagine, we must be ready. Our hothouse is already loaded with citrus trees and pineapple plants. I call it the “orangery” and can hardly wait for those cold winter days when being in there will be a joy.
The farm blog is going the way of all previous attempts at journals and diaries–starts with a bang and then, nothing.
BUT, I’m BAAACCK–trying again. I’m going to blame it on work.
So, here’s the update. All 3 chicks are thriving. One is definitely a rooster (bummer) but one looks like it is definitely a hen.
The processing kitchen is looking good. We are taking a break from it because we MUST finish the hothouse next but the kitchen should get finished this winter. I’ll attach pics soon.
Meanwhile, I can’t help but think about a blog my nephew Drew mentioned in HIS blog. The aforementioned blogger said that blogs actually hurt communication because we don’t have anything to talk about when we meet up if we’ve already said it all in our blogs. Thus, perhaps being a failed journal-er is a good thing–I’ll have something to tell you that you haven’t yet heard when next we meet!!
It’s been quite a week. Still VERY hot. And, we had both our first farm birth and first farm death.
On June 30th, our first chick was born.
“Golden Girl”, who initially didn’t seem like an attentive mom, pulled it off. Despite our country’s unofficial national breeding program designed to eliminate motherhood and replace it with incubator-hood, this hen found the instincts to be successful. Meanwhile, her colleague didn’t do as well. “Carnivore Woman” as we now call her, ate 6 of her embryos. The last one is now sitting under another hen that just went broody. If it doesn’t hatch in the next 3 days, her clutch will be a complete loss. But the death of the embryos is not the only death. Golden Girl had one more egg hatch yesterday. I saw the little beak protrude from the shell in the morning. We then went into town. By the time we got home in the afternoon, the chick was completely out of the shell but the hen was ignoring it and it was getting cold. I warmed it up and put it back but the hen accidentally stepped on it while keeping up with her first born. I took it out of the pen and put it on a heating pad but it was dead this morning. It was underweight and may not have been healthy–this may be why she gave it up. Or, it could be the fact that she was a new mom and her instincts aren’t fully developed. This, of course, is why most farms have taken the mama out of the equation. Out of 13 eggs, and two hens, we have one chick. However, our hope is that we can selectively brood “motherhood” back into our chickens. One success story is a beginning.
Update: After the new mom abandoned her un-hatched eggs, we put them on a third hen who had just gone broody. She successfully hatched the two eggs and now has two chicks. She’s a bit confused that a “sit” of an expected 3 weeks lasted only 3 days, but she seems to be adjusting.
We’ve been working on our “processing shed”. When finished, this will be the kitchen where we will process the food from the farm. It’s coming along nicely and hopefully we can finish it before August when I need to be thinking about preparing for classes. Meanwhile, we’ve been eating most of what we harvest. Today for lunch we had a one-pot meal of basmati rice, field peas (courtesy of our neighbor, Mr. Melton), a bit of curry powder, and a dash of chili pepper, a slice of bacon, and topped with fresh tomatoes (for me, not John) and sliced almonds. It was scrumptious. It reminded me of something the author of “Under the Tuscan Sun” (the book, NOT the movie) said about cooking with fresh ingredients–it’s so easy to get it right when the ingredients have such great favor!
Update on the broody chickens: One of the chickens has accidentally knocked two eggs out of her nest and cracked the eggs. Both had embryos in them. The other chicken has cannibalized three of her eggs. I don’t know whether they were viable. There is one week left until their “due date.”
Farming is hard work. It’s hot. Today the temperature is in the high ’90’s–as is the humidity. The gnats are annoying. As we manuever a 4’x8′ sheet of 7/16″ OSB over our heads, I wonder why we are doing this.
One thing that does keep us going is the support we have. Sharon, Janice, Susan, and Tom have been long-time egg-buyers–even after the peanut butter debacle. Boots, Dottie, and Dennis were all out there in the damp cold as we set out 400 blueberry starts. Before we bought a tractor, John V twice used his 4-wheel drive to help us out of a sticky situation. To the delight of the chickens, Boots brings day-old bread and stale crackers. Asa and Lucinda, Carol and Bud, have given us coffee cans, margarine tubs, and plastic detergent bottles that we have reused in a myriad of ways. Asa’s old 1-bys are the trim in our processing shed along with Randy and Melissa’s old window. We’ve used Dennis’s front-end loader to save our backs. Merry and Walter, Deb and Krys, Eric and Becky, John and Boots, Melissa, have all given us plants. Ken and Frieda have given us all kinds of materials and advice. My mom Arlene, along with Joe when he was able, has been incredible. Aong with all the other things my mom has done for us, she’s the painting queen.
Of course, this (partial) list doesn’t answer the question of why we are doing this. To know that, you need to join us at the end of a hard day as we sit on the front porch, gaze out over the farm, drink a cool beer, and count our blessings. We’ll save a rocker for you.
A couple of days ago Walter said something that I’ve been thinking about since. He said that he keeps hearing about the farm but is wondering when he’ll see anything from it. Good question.
We ARE starting to see some benefit from all our work. We have had a fairly steady 4-eggs-per-day, lots of blackberries, about 5 pounds of blueberries so far, 3-4 yellow squash per week for several weeks now, assorted greens. The problem is two-fold: quantity and consistency. This is why we can’t use the farmers market and why we feel we can’t yet offer anything for sale.
So, how do we deal with these problems? Why don’t we plant more? What’s the hold-up? The reason is that we are still feeling our way into making sustainability work. We are making good progress with the chickens and hope to offer pastured poultry in the fall. The produce is another issue. Here is a recent example of the hold-up: a possible way to deal with the quantity issue is to have value-added products (such as preserved foods and jams) that can be accumulated into enough volume so that it makes sense to take it to the farmers market. For that, we need a certified kitchen which we are in the process of building. But we want to use the graywater to water the gardens–rather than the non-sustainable practice of putting the wastewater into a giant holding tank and then pumping well water out of the aquafer. However, this is not the standard approach so we have to figure out what can be allowed and how to get permission to do this. Ironically, many of the officials we have queried about this seem to believe we are trying to get away with something–when the fact is that it is more expensive initially to be sustainable. Pumping water from the aquafer is, we have been assured, CHEAP. what IS our problem?!
Note the pictures below of our current watering system. The problem with this system is that it is a capture system that requires rain–but we only need it when it DOESN’T rain. Sometimes we run out.
This is just one small piece of the puzzle. There is also the issue of tryng to build our kitchen sustainably with as much recycled and reconfigured materials as possible. This type of construction generally takes more time. Another piece of this sustainable puzzle is that in the past most of my preserving has involved freezing because I like the taste and texture better than canning. However, freezing is not sustainable while traditional canning is. So, I need to learn how to preserve food sustainably.
All of this “stuff” takes time–time away from weeding, hoeing, tilling, tending a garden without chemicals. But all of this stuff is part of the sustainable journey and stuff we need to figure out before we can begin to make a profit and share with Walter the fruits–and vegetables–of our labor.
The wonderful thing about farming sustainably is that again and again I have the opportunity to see that for everything there is a purpose. Three recent examples stand out.
First, there is betony weed. I had disliked this weed for quite a while because it is so hard to irradicate–it grows back from any small piece left in the garden. But then Judy Pruitt in my Master Gardener class told me pickles can be made from it. I did that and had the most disgusting grub-like but delicious bread-n-butter pickles. Then I tried eating it raw. It tastes like a very fresh water chestnut! WONDERFUL! Now I look forward to digging up betony.
Second, fire ants. Fire ants are the bane of my farming existence. I react badly to the bites and am generally covered with either scabs or recent scars from fire ants. They swarm onto you before the first one stings so that by the time I know they are there, it’s too late to successfully defend myself. I couldn’t imagine looking at them with anything other than fear and loathing. Well, that hasn’t changed entirely but I feel a bit better about them since I recently found some devouring an orange dog caterpillar. The “orange dog” looks like a bird dropping and can set back the growth of a young tree. For once I was actually glad to see the fire ants because they had dealt with this threat to our young trees before I was even aware it was there. So, while I still do not love the fire ants, I can at least acknowledge they serve a purpose.
The most recent example (but not likely the last) is pigweed. Pigweed is a prolific weed in the amaranth family that loves manure. Our variety is the spiny pigweed which has thorns on it. Pulling it out of the ground requires gloves. It is EVERYWHERE this year. But, I recently found out that it is edible. It is one of the few pot greens that grows in the summer around here. Not only that, it is a plant that will pull nutrients up out of deep soil and into the topsoil–important in an area that has too much sand. So, I no longer loathe it but instead welcome its presence. While I still pull it out of the ground, I no longer worry that I must obsessively irradicate it.
All of this is a valuable lesson. We all have weeds and things that bite and sting in our environment. We face them every day. It is a wonderful relief to know that they all serve some purpose–now if I can only figure out the reason for those spiny cactus!!
Well, finally I have started the farm blog. Many times as I have been enjoying the meditation we refer to as “weeding”, I’ve thought about a blog. Something about the random thoughts that appear during weeding remind me of many of the blogs I have read. So, finally, I’ve taken the first steps in making it happen. Pardon me while, feeling a bit self-conscious, I begin.
Last evening was a beautiful evening–one of those where the temperature is perfect and there is just enough breeze to keep the bugs at bay. We were enjoying the company of the kitties and sitting out among the herb beds when we noticed that Scooter was wallowing in the catnip.
John got up and put a fence around it so Scooter wouldn’t completely destroy it. The next thing we knew, Scooter had climbed inside the fence and after battling the forces of evil (known as Macbama),
enjoyed the fruits of his illicit labor.