Saturday, February 28, 2009

Feeling a Bit Sheepish

Today we met two delightful women who raise a flock of fiber sheep, a few goats, and Icelandic herding dogs. Connie and Laura live on a great old farm 20 miles west of us, but due to health reasons are moving to town and selling their livestock. When we arrived, two of their four guard llamas checked us out to make sure we were not a threat. The llamas take their job of guarding the flock from coyotes and stray dogs very seriously.
Because Connie is a fiber artist, the women raise Icelandic, Lincoln Longwool, Romney and Shetland sheep selected for their fleece texture and colors. I was smitten by Icelandic sheep when I first saw them at Knoll Farm in Vermont last year and have been dreaming of raising them ever since. They are a very hardy calm breed, great for meat, fiber and milk. And they are strikingly handsome. These particular sheep are doted upon and very friendly. The ewes came running when they saw Connie and Laura.
The women recommend a small flock of five sheep for our space and pointed out which five sheep would be a great fit for our farm and our purposes (fleece, friendliness and fun - probably not breeding or meat). Connie and Laura offered to visit our farm and make suggestions for the fencing and shelter. Now we have to decide whether to commit --and whether we can afford a flock of sheep...

I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

You Dirty Dog

I was all set to write about our crazy winter storm today--beastly, blowing snow with thunder and lightning - very weird - but I was distracted worrying about Nutmeg. She had been out in the storm for several hours, and not come when I called--not even for supper. That's worrisome.

Finally, about half an hour ago, she came to the door. We let her in --and immediately regretted it. She must have been obsessively digging in pursuit of a mouse or rabbit -she was caked in mud!

This photo is from a mole-chasing episode earlier last fall when only her feet got dirty. She has tufts of fur between her toes that collect a LOT of mud. This time she was filthy up to her belly, and the mud was frozen like ice cubes stuck to her.

I just finished giving her a bath. I am not sure which part was worse--cleaning her, or cleaning the bathtub afterward.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Trudge on the Trail

It has been cold and stormy and we haven't been outside nearly enough lately. There was a brisk breeze this afternoon but the sun was shining, so Rog and I bundled up and walked the Douglas Trail loop. There was a fresh, powdery 5-inch snow, but it was on top of a layer of ice, which made it quite slippery. It was slow going--we wished we had taken our x-country skiis.
So nice to see some blue sky! The neighbor's cornfield seemed to stretch endlessly.
Rows of silage wrapped with agricultural plastic looked like strange snow drifts.
There is a water pump on one neighbor's farm that seems to be in the middle of nowhere.
Snow had melted a bit along the edge of the gravel road, exposing the dark pebbles.

Once in a Blue Moon

On Friday night, we got to hear our daughters' band perform at the Blue Moon Ballroom. The evening began with a dance lesson in cumbia. After the lesson, Fuego took the stage. There may have been a few people like me who didn't have a clue about salsa dancing, but most of the people there were smooth salsa dancers and entertaining to watch, for those of us who felt hopelessly klutzy.
Fuego's music is high energy--with Latin,African, and Caribbean beats. There are nine musicians who play keyboard, sax, trombone, two drumsets, congas, and a plethora of percussion instruments.
Marcial, the smiling drummer in this photo, is the lead vocalist and the musician who started Fuego.
Sara and Cadence have been singing with the band for just over a month and this was their first performance (a 3-hour gig --lots of songs to have learned!) We had so much fun. Now if we could just learn to salsa dance...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Something Hot, Something Sweet

You might be wondering, what does this photo have to do with this post? Well, this is a scrumptious strawberry pie Cadence made last summer, hot out of the oven and oh-so-sweet.

I am enjoying an evening of exceptional peace and quiet. Everybody is off making music elsewhere.

Sara and Cadence are practicing with the salsa band "Fuego," preparing for their first performance with them tomorrow night. "Fuego" means "Fire." They play Caribbean, African and Latin music with two drummers, horns, keyboard, guitar and bass. S and C sing harmony and play percussion. I hope to get some photos of Fuego in action tomorrow.
If you are in the vicinity, please join us for some hot music on a cold night!
Friday, Feb 20th at the Blue Moon Ballroom (2030 Hwy 14 East, Rochester, MN)
7:30-8:30 - free salsa dance lesson
8:30-11:30 Dance to Fuego
Admission $10
Cash Bar available
In the meanwhile, Rog is performing with Candy Freak tonight. It's a musical, based on the book "Candy Freak" by Steve Almond, which was selected as the Rochester Reads book for 2009. Rochester Reads is an annual winter event in our town where everyone is encouraged to read the same book and participate in events based on its theme. Our friend Bob Sanborn wrote and directed a musical adaptation of the book, complete with choreography. Rog is one of the musicians.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday
February 19, 20, 21, 2009
8:00 pm
in the Charles E. Hill Theatre on the University Center Rochester Campus
Admission: FREE!
This play will also be presented in the Rochester Civic Theatre Lobby on the following dates:
Saturday, February 28, 2009
8:00 pm
Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chickens and Snow

We are begining to get to know the individual chickens' personalities. We think the dark grey hen in this trio is a blue cochin. She is the bossiest of all the chickens, insisting on everyone getting out of her way until she has eaten the choicest scraps. She prefers to roost on top of the water dispenser at night. She is kind of obnoxious, but we forgive her because she is so darn pretty. Sara and Cadence call the two brown hens "the twins." We can't tell them apart yet, and they are a bit shy. They must be a mixed breed, maybe with some golden Polish in them? They are getting tousled crests on their heads as their feathers grow out.
This morning we awoke to a bit of snow, maybe half an inch. If it is going to be winter, we might as well have snow, that's what I say. Even though it's a gray, gray day, it's so much brighter out than with the bare, brown ground.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What We Did This Weekend

Our weekend culminated in some awesome bread-baking. Rog woke up his sourdough starter yesterday, and today from the dough Cadence made these beautiful bagels (too bad you can't smell how delicious they are!), Rog made a perfect loaf of bread, and Rog and Sara created two fabulous pizzas.

We all worked extremely diligently this weekend. Sara wrapped up her final report on local foods, Rog and Cadence installed the second layer of insulation in the granary roof, and I tackled organizing the basement shop. I got about a dozen big boxes unpacked that hadn't been opened yet since we moved here last fall. I also winter-sowed 25 ziplock bags of flower seeds (see yesterday's post for details).

We faced our first tough farm challenge on Friday night. When I went out to tuck the chickens in for the evening, the crippled rooster was not doing well. He hadn't moved all day and was totally listless. The other chickens had either been pecking him or walking on him. We didn't think he'd make it through the night and decided it would be kindest to not prolong his suffering. We did the deed, but with considerable angst... maybe it gets easier.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Winter Sowing Experiment

While meandering through Blotanical garden blogs yesterday, I somehow found my way to (sorry, I don't recall who to credit for this link!) where I read about an idea so crazy I just had to try it: Planting seeds NOW, in winter, using zip-lock bags as mini-greenhouses and putting them outside until spring. I immediately selected some perennial seeds (suitable for zone 4) to try. Today I picked up a box of quart-sized zip-lock bags and some potting soil and I was ready to garden.
I wasn't sure whether to use potting soil or seed starting mix, so I made a blend with 1/3 seed starter. As explained in the instructions, I cut 3 drainage holes in the bottoms of the bags and filled each a third of the way with soil.
After watering each bag, I set it on the drainboard to drain (don't tell Rog I did all this gardening in the kitchen sink!) Then, I sprinkled seeds on the surface and patted them in a bit. Each bag is labelled with the variety, plant height, sun preferences. I planted: gaillardia, blue flax, columbine, false blue indigo, hollyhock, Icelandic poppy and monarda. I also took a sample of the wildflower seeds I have been cold-moist stratifying since January 25th (bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, bittersweet, and liatris) out of the refrigerator and planted them.
Each bag is zippped up to a clothespin, clipped on the top to keep a small ventilation opening. I packed all the bags into a plastic bin and set them out on the patio next to the house. Now comes the hard part--waiting to see if they sprout!

Total cost: $13.63 ($10.63 for 7 seeds packets on sale, $2 for zip lock bags, approx $1 for soil)
Total zip lock bags planted: 24

Valentine Poinsettia

The poinsettia plant that I got before last Thanksgiving is still going strong almost three months later on Valentines Day. It has lost a quite a few lower leaves but still has nine big "blooms." Gotta love those poinsettias!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Something to Crow About

This morning when I went outside to feed the chickens I heard a strange sound--a raspy, wailing "Roo-oo-oo." I didn't have a clue as to what it could be. Neither did the dogs; they raced around barking, try to figure out what it was. Then I realized the sound was actually coming from the chicken coop --one of the roosters must be learning to crow!

When I went into the coop, I discovered it was the smaller, buff-colored rooster making all the racket. He was strutting around, quite proud of himself, even though he doesn't really sound recognizably like a rooster yet.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

February Thaw

Last week the farm was pretty much covered by two feet of snow and the fields in the distance were white. Amazing how a few gray days of warm rain and blustery winds can change everything. I was at the CERTS conference in St. Cloud and when I returned home last night the snow was nearly gone. We were blessed with a bit of sunshine this afternoon.
Even in the woods, where it is shaded, the ground is nearly bare. There is the delicious scent of spring in the air! It's hard not to feel a bit giddy, but we know better than to get too excited. We still have at least two months of winter to go.
Sara and Cadence tended the chickens and the sprouts while I was gone. The chickens seem to have grown! There are three roosters--this one, who is getting to be rather cocky, a buff-colored rooster that is a bit smaller, and the disabled aracanua rooster, whom we are worried about. We are giving him a bit of extra attention, making sure he gets to the food and water and under the infrared light at night, but since he can't move very well he may not be able to retain his body warmth as well. As long as he can sort of fend for himself and doesn't seem to be suffering we will keep him around.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Profoundly Objectified

Probably the last thing I need to do, with spring just around the corner and learning to be a farmer, is to launch another blog. But I just did.

I am kind of a junk store junkie--When you are an artist, most everything either has inherent beauty or has art potential. My new blog, Profound Object, will document my best thrift store and garage sale finds. Wondering about the photo? You can read about this curious objet d'art in my first post.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Today we acquired nine assorted chickens! Cadence found them on Craigslist, posted by a kind woman who incubated the eggs and hatched them out last October. Due to health issues she needed to find them a new home. We drove early this morning to Kellogg, an hour away, and picked them up. They made uncertain chicken peeps the entire way home in their dark cardboard boxes. When we got to their new home, this brave chicken was the first to poke his head out and hop out of the box.
They had been living in an unheated laundry room, but it was was undoubtedly warmer than our coop, so we hung two heat lamps over a straw bale - white for daytime and a red one for night so they can sleep. I would call these 4-month-old chickens teenagers - I think their feathers will still grow out to be much more showy. Some look like they will have extravagant head-feathers.
Nutmeg and Cocoa were intrigued by the chicken vocalizations and really wanted to come in and meet the chickens. I hope they will eventually learn to protect the chickens.
I installed two roosts - one made from a dead sapling and one made from an old stair handrail. The chickens seemed to like roosting in the sun streaming through the little windows. They didn't seem to be at all phased by the dogs whimpering on the outside of the windows.
While I was bonding with chickens and making them comfortable in their new home, Rog and Cadence installed the first layer of insulation on the ceiling of the granary. We had plenty of foam insulation so they ingeniously overlapped three strips of insulation between the joists to create the ventilation channels.
So now after such a productive day, we are making supper and drinking a glass of wine. This bottle seemed particularly appropriate for today.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why I Love to Brush My Teeth in the Morning

The view from the window over the bathroom sink sure makes it easy to get out of bed--I don't want to miss the show! I will have to rise earlier and earlier from now until midsummer to see the sunrise (not a bad habit for a farmer to get into, though.)

If morning were a painting, it would be trite art.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cactus TLC

My two grandmothers were fond friends who played Scrabble and Dominos together and both loved flowers; Grandma J. was an irrepressible outdoor gardener and Grandma W. nurtured houseplants.

When my Grandma J. was in the hospital two years ago, just before she died at age 92, she told me she wanted me to take care of The Christmas Cactus. My Grandma W. had given it to her about fifteen years earlier when she moved away to live with my aunt in Oregon (She lived to age 90.) I remember every winter when I was a little girl Grandma W. would gleefully brag about how many blossoms The Christmas Cactus was sporting. She told me that The Christmas Cactus was very old--she had inherited it from Grandpa W.'s mother. I guesstimate that it must be at least 80 years old now! The center of its woody stem (trunk?) is about 3 inches in diameter.

I am not the most reliable houseplant caretaker, so I was a bit worried about this responsibility. However, the next Christmas the plant was totally smothered in spectacular blooms- I felt like it was a gift from my Grandmas.

When we moved to the farm in September, I set The Christmas Cactus on a stack of big boxes in my office, where it thrived for several weeks until one day, there was a tremendous crash. The top box had suddenly caved in and The Beloved Christmas Cactus was lying upside down in a heap on the floor. Half of its branches were broken off. Dirt was everywhere. I scooped it back together, and it has been sort of languishing ever since. It didn't bloom for me this past Christmas.

Today Cadence and I re-potted The Christmas Cactus into a bigger pot using official "cactus" potting soil. I moved it to the west window. It looks visibly happier already.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Progress of the Projects

Last week, Cadence spent a couple of extremely cold days attaching 2x4's to the granary floor to support the new subfloor. We were able to find nearly enough scrap lumber on the farm to do the job.
Nutmeg supervised.
On Friday we pulled our trusty little trailer to Minneapolis where we got salvaged particle board for $3 a sheet at the ReUse Center. We also discovered a building supply liquidation center that had a fabulous deal on insulation. Our Vibe got very crummy gas mileage pulling this un-aerodynamic load home.

Rog and Cadence got the insulation and subfloor installed over the weekend. Some of the particle board has to be screwed down yet.
In the meanwhile, I screened off the top of the partition wall in the chicken coop/potting shed (I don't know if chickens could fly over it, but better safe than sorry) and installed a door. It's a rather fancy door for a chicken coop, but it was only $4 at the ReUse Center.

Sara built some snowpigs to add an agrarian element to a our farmyard.
She assigned the curly tails to me. Hey-they were challenging!

Cocoa Has Cabin fever

Will it ever be spring??