Sunday, December 28, 2008

First Egg!!

Well, well, well.
Yesterday, during our warm spell, I was out doing chores in the barn. I had been out there almost two hours, and was just finishing up. I was replacing the water hose, and glanced down behind the water hydrant. My eye caught something-an egg! AN EGG! Finally! Good ol' Frances has finally come through and produced her first egg for us. I knew it was her, because the egg was green, and Frances is our only hen capable of laying a green egg. The others are all brown egg layers. Hooray! It's almost as exciting as the very first time one of my chickens laid an egg. It did have a crack from being frozen, so I figured it had been there a day or two, unfortunately. I knew she should be ready to lay pretty soon, so I've been hunting around in the barn in all the likely spots I thought she might try to hide an egg. We do have a nest box for them, but you know they won't use the thing you went out and dragged home. No, she decided to use a corner in the pig side of the barn next to the garbage can, on the floor. At any rate, it's hard to describe the feeling that comes with a first egg. It's pretty cool! Now we just need to get the cochin Billy, and the polish Tom and Sam to lay. Yes, they are all hens. You don't expect a 4 year old to care about gender restrictions when it comes to naming chickens, do you?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seed catalogs

Well, here we are at the end of 08, and looking at seed catalogs taking on a whole new meaning for me now that I have more than a few feet to garden in. I'm alternately excited but also intimidated. Our garden (2nd harvest garden) that we managed to throw in mid July right when we were moving in, did phenomenally well. It was exciting, and confidence building. We had squash pests galore, but it hit that balance organic gardeners speak of where the pests seem satisfied, but aren't thriving too magnificently, and yet we get enough. Our harvest was huge! But the garden we are planning will be 5 x the size, at least.

The vegetable gardening was always going to be part of our farming, while we have emphasized thinking about the livestock in our planning. The whole point really is to reclaim this integrated system where there are just enough animals per acre to improve soil quality, there is fertility to share with plants producing vegetables, and vegetable matter to share with animals. I just now asked Red how feasible is it to get a mill to grind our grain- the thought of home -ground corn meal for fabulous eating AND milling our organically grown corn for the chickens at least- is very exciting. But how much can two women do in a day when we are also working full time at our 'off farm jobs?' Now those of you who know me know that it's pretty unlike me to think about being less ambitious. I, well, have a tendency perhaps, to take on a little more than the average human. Maybe it's just that I have some sort of flu-bug this weekend (thank you Oscillo and Uncle Robb for providing it) my symptoms are manageable but I feel really weak and exhausted/achy- etc. And maybe it's my memory of my pnuemonia, which still plagues my energy level these months later, but I suppose I'm a little reined in from my 'we can do it all' enthusiasm. So I'm so excited to pin down our plans- to plan when we'll get our broiler chicks, when we'll start our seeds (and where????), will we start fencing this year to get going with grazing cattle? will we have to put more deer fencing up around our garden now that they may have figured out some fool is gardening here again? (last season we had very little lost to the invisible voles and 13 stripers that are very plentiful and NO signs of deer in our garden.) And then there's the issue of the pigs- when and where will we raise em again and MIGHT we keep one or two for farrowing? We still aren't sure they are all sold- and the date of slaughter is coming up in less than a month. We still need to buy a freezer AND a pickup.

So I think of all these 'one thing leads to another' elements of starting a farm and I'm a bit humbled for sure. I looked up the county extension's Master Gardener courses. Maybe I need to learn more. (Of course I need to learn more but how urgently do I need to consume the books, classes, etc? and should it be on vegetable growing, or livestock or husbandry? ) We will go to more conferences this spring. Plan to go to Mosa- and I'm awed to think how different my perspective will be from last year. We were just DREAMING last year- and I was being introduced to farming in many ways. Now we're really DOING it.

So I'm poring over the seed catalogs and making our lists. My baby is away for the holiday and it's hard, but reasonable. It's brief enough that I'm not so torn apart. But when summer comes, so much emptiness. Birkleigh wanted us to grow a picking garden- she mostly sick of my limitations that all flowers cannot be plucked! And I know that we will only maybe have time together to put the seeds in the ground and then she'll be gone. I know me- I'll be frantic to stay busy from dawn till dusk. I know I'll be learning about nurturing and letting go each day as I do chores with the animals, till up the soil, weed the rows. Honestly, I think I'm not afraid of the work, but I'm afraid of failing at it. Each crop that we put on our list I think of how awesome it would be if it grew just like the catalog pictures :). I guess I just hope that my work will come to harvest and it's not lost on me that this mystery ahead is like parenting- I suppose each year will be another newborn and I will be put to the test. Maybe I'll learn that you just keep trusting and do your best, learn what you can from the wise ones who came before you, and feel awe and pride for each seedling that becomes something nourishing and sustaining, each animal that gives us food and fertility. And maybe I won't worry so much about what doesn't come out the way I hoped.

As this year closes, I could not be more grateful. I can't believe my partnership is so satisfying and good, and has survived all the many stressors of the past year. I'm grateful for every moment we have as family and the everyday calm of making meals together, caring for each other and the farm. I'm grateful for peace, hope, health and abundance and for the perspective that comes from it's absence. I'm grateful for friends and family (both old and new). I'm grateful for the land that today emerges from the many feet of snow that is melting with a rare warm day. I'm grateful for the chance to try out something as meaningful, awesome, and challenging as sustainable farming.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Did we get a truck this weekend?

No- of course not. We baked and decorated cookies, truffles, and other holiday treats, decorated the tree, Red fixed our lights (a frustrating task no doubt) and visited the santa man. It was nice to just focus on our family. It will be my first holiday away from her we are all getting used to the new configurations of time apart. She is also talking of summer, which is early this year ;) to be wishing winter away. She is imagining it on the farm, when in reality she will spend it with her other mom. She talks of growing our garden, planting our picking garden (she wants to grow flowers with me and have a garden where she can pick all the flowers she wants- so maybe we'll be selling some cut flowers!) and I am gripped with sadness at how the summer will be without her. I can't help realizing how much it ties in with any farming plans and how my feelings about the seasons are changing. When summer comes, my daughter will go. I was thinking about how it is for parents as their children go off to college, leave home. I've been thinking more about being that older parent, in a new phase of my life. How much letting go is still ahead. So maybe I'll be a farming maniac come summer filling up all that time spent on mothering creating something else. Or maybe I'll want to crawl away and wither, like Demeter without Persephone. But that is ahead- and now I am appreciating the winter and the darkness and our snuggling in. Even if she is sassy to me. I'll just hug her tighter.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Full moon

We just emerged from Birkleigh's birthday and Thanksgiving the week before that. I've got my fridge stuffed with all the makings for holiday baking and truffles already underway and this weekend we hope to fit in our holiday preparations as well as finding a freezer or two! and finding a pickup. Our unending dilemma- we need a pickup but we need to sell my van and for some reason, I'm not getting any response from Craigslist. I'm hoping for a nice family weekend. We're busy with the pigs, trying to organize to sell them, still really working on unpacking and organizing! I inevitably feel too busy this time of year and sometimes the joy of making food, making crafts and all other things home made, in years past has made me more manic than peaceful. But I'm finding quiet. Tonight, I pulled out skis and made a loop around the pasture and the barns, and putting the pigs back into the barn under a huge full moon, made me feel another wave of gratitude. The work of the farm has added a 'busy component' to our lives for sure. I think of how different it is to do this as well as our full careers versus farming full time. But it's good stuff and I'm enjoying these moments when I can shut down my computer and get outside. Spending time with Birkleigh after school, watching a drama unfold in the snow (saw rabbit tracks, followed by fox tracks!), and still caught off gaurd by the everyday beauty of the sun going down.
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Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday, Dec. 8
20 degrees
5.5 inches of snow on the ground

Supposed to get between six and ten inches of snow between tonight and tomorrow. First though, a medley of rain and ice to keep it interesting. Karen has to drive to Chicago and back today for a big meeting. We have a plan to check in and me to leave work early if she can't make it back in time to meet Birk off the bus.

More and more happy with the decision to hire Curt to plow our driveway! He's already had to come out three times. Our driveway is long, and climbs steadily uphill. It's possible that at some point in the future we may address a way to do it ourselves, but whether we wind up buying a snow thrower for the Cub Cadet, or a plow for our future pickup, it will involve enough of a cash outlay that having Curt do it at $25 a pop is still cost effective (and time effective).

Our total of 5 and a half inches so far - and we haven't even hit the second week of December - is close to double our normal for this time of year. Uh-oh.

Last year was the Winter from Hell. And I mean that with a capital letter. No, wait, that's not bad enough: HELL. We had totals of over 100 inches of snow. The snow started soon after Thanksgiving last year and there were snowfalls of several inches about every. other. day.
After many years of complaining about winters not being like they used to be when we were kids, we got our royal kick in the pants. It's true, for years winters were a bit warmer and we had lots less snow than we were used to 20 or 30 years ago. And then, last year someone called La Nina came along and laughed at us and shut us up.

But that was an anomoly, right? I mean, last years' winter weather left a sour taste in a lot of locals' mouths. Very high numbers of us were involved in car accidents, or stranded on gridlocked interstates for hours in frigid temperatures. Used car dealerships and auto body shops were not able to keep up with the demand. Snowmobilers were happy, of course, and in fact, they literally rode up onto the interstate more than once to aid stranded drivers.

Once the sun returned and all the snow melted, I personally breathed a sigh of relief. No more long commutes in icy conditions. No more not stopping when you press on the brakes. No more shoveling snow staright up because there is no where else to put it. Done! And no two years can be exactly alike, right? In fact, I subscribe to a saying I've heard old farmers say, "One extreme follows another", especially when it comes to weather. So I'm betting that last year was one for the books, and we should have a much more normal winter this year. There's no WAY this year could be as bad as last year.

But all the locals have been talking about the Farmers' Almanac. "Did you know it says more snow even than last year?"

"It's calling for 150 inches!"

I just smiled and shook my head. This was when the sun was shining on my shoulders and I was weeding my garden. No way. Let everyone else run around worried about that. It ain't gonna happen.

Well, here we are, about two weeks into our winter weather pattern, and like I said - almost double our normal, and we are even ahead of last years' amounts at this time.

Don't know what else to say, except good thing Curt has a big truck.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dec. 6th

December 6, 2008

High 23, low 0

snow falling

Pigs: about 150 lbs.

Chickens: no eggs yet

It's Birkleigh's 5th birthday today! Happy birthday, Birk!!

Winter certainly has arrived here. We've got about 4 inches of snow on the ground, and it's gotten below 20 several times now in the last week. We've been adjusting to the conditions and learning how to best do that during our first winter here. It's always interesting to go through the learning process. Where will the snow pile? Should we shovel the snow ourselves or hire a neighbor to plow for us? How will we keep access to the barn open? Will the animals be warm enough? What about keeping their water from freezing? Do we have enough outlets and extension cords? How much fuel will we use to heat the house? Are the windows sealed well enough?

I was all ahead of the game. Things were in place. But you know that doesn't always mean what you think it will. I had bought a water tank heater for the pigs' water. For those of you who don't know, this is basically a heavy heating element on the end of an electric cord. You submerge it in a water tank, and plug it in. It keeps the water from freezing. I had it all set up, in the tank, ready to go. Didn't have it plugged in yet as temps in the barn were a bit warmer than outside and it wasnt needed yet. I keep a heavy piece of plywood over the top ot the pigs' water tank. The tank is actually a plastic 55 gallon barrel, with a drinking nipple at the bottom. It sits on a wooden platform. So the board at the top of the tank is too high for pigs to reach. Anyway, have I mentioned yet how mischievious pigs can be? I came into the barn a day later, and they had somehow managed to pull the board off the tank, and pull the heater completely out. The tank, filled with water, was thank god too heavy for them to overturn. But they chewed the hell out of the plug end for the heater, rendering it useless. It was all full of little chew marks, just like it had been in a puppy pen for four hours. Oh, they're so naughty!

Since the temps really plunged this week, the tank started to ice up, so I had to get a new sinking heater for the water. As soon as I came home from work last night, still in my work clothes, in the dark, pulled straight up to the barn and went to work putting the new heater together. Just in time, too, since the pigs were acting like they were trying but having trouble getting water out of their nipple. Nothing less fun than 1,000 lbs. of frustrated, thirsty hogs fighting me and eachother over one nipple. I think I averted total water meltdown by about an hour.