Thursday, April 30, 2009

Too Busy to Blog

It is always a delight to learn that quite a few people actually read this farm blog! I usually find out when they complain that I haven't updated it for a few days. Sorry about that, but life is getting pretty zany around here lately, with new cows and chicks, honeybees, seed-starting, garden-planting, bread-baking and becoming a Farmers Market vendor. It's getting harder and harder to find time to post on the blog.
So, here are a few of the recent things I haven't had a chance to post yet:
Yesterday, our farming friend Dawn dropped off the two ducklings we had added to her duck order. They are Black Indian Runner Ducks, a type of duck that stands upright and runs, rather than waddles (a la the duck that thought he was a rooster in my favorite movie, Babe.) Runner ducks are supposed to be good egg-layers. We have a male and a female, so our flock could expand in the future. They are very cute now --but I can't wait to see them racing around the garden eating weeds and bugs.
We've been planting berries, asparagus, lettuces, greens, potatoes, onions and trees- often assisted by our curious Jersey calf. He is growing so fast--he has probably doubled in size since we got him two weeks ago.
The Dexter calf is the exact same age as the Jersey (3 weeks) and he has grown as well, but the fact that he is a much smaller breed is more obvious each day. His mom now lets him frolic with Reuben, the Jersey calf, and it is a joy to see the two of them racing around the pasture, literally kicking up their heels. We call the Dexter calf "Lasso" because his mom was named Lariat (formerly spelled "Larriette," after the previous owner, Larry.) Both calves are beginning to eat a bit of grass.

Our first Farmers Market is this weekend. Last weekend we practiced making huge quantities of sourdough bread and bagels and growing larger crops of sprouts. We learned that we need several more huge mixing bowls. Of course, we couldn't consume all that bread, so we delivered many loaves and bags o' bagels to friends and neighbors to taste-test.
Sara has always been fascinated by foraging for wild foods, and she has been harvesting all sorts of fun foods for us to try. Last night we dined on a tasty dandelion green salad. She also made candied violets from the wild flowers growing in our yard. Each violet was washed, painted with egg white and dusted with castor sugar. They will be beautiful decorating a fancy cake.
Cadence continues to work on the granary/cabin a little bit each day, hoping to move in very soon. She and Rog completed the hardest job--drywalling the ceiling. Now they must tape and mud, install windows patio doors and flooring, and paint. We had a brilliant brainstorm idea for a little deck or porch out front: The Rochester Rowing Club (Cadence and Sara are former rowers)had a 10 x 10 cedar dock platform they had used briefly before replacing with a plastic dock, leaning against their building. They wanted to get rid of it --so we loaded it up on our little trailer and hauled it away for them. It will be about perfect!
The factor intruding on my farming and blogging time the most is that I accepted a seasonal, part time job with Sargents Nursery and Garden Center. What was I thinking?! Well, I was thinking that I could use a bit of extra income to invest in my gardens, maybe get an employee discount on plants and learn a lot. All of that is true. Plus, it is fun to work in a place surrounded by spectacular color and where everyone - coworkers and customers - shares a passion. I have learned so much already, but it is very physically demanding and I am working many more hours than I intended. I am conflicted, loving the work but wishing I could be putting all that effort into my own gardens!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April Flowers - and Other Growing Stuff

The first half of April was weirdly warm -as high as 90 degrees - and extremely dry, but the past few days have been more normal and the earth has been quenched by April showers. Now spring is bursting out all over. We have begun planting, selectively, until the promised frost-free date of May 15th, anxiously aware that that's when the real craziness will begin.

At our closing last September, the realtor who helped us with the purchase of our farm gave us a gift certificate to Sargents nursery. I used it this week to purchase a magnolia tree like the one I loved so much at our old house. I can't wait to smell those fragrant blossoms.
We got a silver maple seedling at the Arbor Day event and three swamp white oaks at the RNeighbors Think Green conference. Cadence, who is a trained citizen forester, planted them on a windy afternoon, two oaks in the front yard and the other two in the back.
There are two, huge, wonderful old crabapple trees along the east edge of the yard. They have buds just aching to open, as well as a few hanger-on apples from last fall.
Couldn't resist planting a few columbines by the front entrance

and some color by the door. Ever since we moved here I have been dreaming of a carpet of spring wildflowers -especially Virgina bluebells - amid the grove of trees in the back yard. My friend Flo generously offered to let me dig some Virginia Bluebells from her spectacular yard, which we did in the thunder and raindrops just before the hailstorm hit. The next day, Terry and Joyce brought over another favorite -wild ginger - from their yard. My wildflower carpet is underway. Thanks, kind friends.
Our vegetable garden is not much to look at yet. In fact, it is sort of an embarrassment right now. We are experimenting with the "lasagna" method -no till, deep mulch, and so we have grass clippings, leaves, cardboard, horse manure, and shredded corn stover all over the garden. This is the west bed, where we have begun planting onions, many varieties of lettuces and greens, Kennebec and German butterball potatoes, and a few early cabbages.
The onion sets and cabbages are tucked down into the mulch, not even in the soil!

How to Make a Bee Box Sandwich

At last I finished assembling the 20 bee frames for my honeybee boxes. Each frame has an insert of bee foundation--a layer of beeswax imprinted with a hexagonal bee cell texture to provide a substrate for the bees to build upon. The top of each frame has a built-in spacer ensuring that the frames will be the optimum distance apart to allow the bees to move around, build comb and store honey or raise a new brood, yet the frames can be removed by the beekeeper without harming the bees. While I was nailing and gluing the frames a wild honey bee inspected my craftsmanship.
This afternoon I assembled the bee box in anticipation of my bees arriving in the mail,--probably tomorrow. This is my basic beginner bee set-up, bottom to top:

The box is set up off the ground on a pallet. On the base I have added a special layer recommended by a beekeeping friend: a mite screen. As the bees are working in the hive and brushing against each other, bee mites will be knocked off and fall to the bottom of the hive. Instead of being able to climb back up to the bees, they will fall through the screen and become stuck to a metal plate that has been smeared with a thin layer of Crisco. A nifty, non-toxic method to reduce parasites.
Next is the hive body section, which contains 10 frames where the queen will lay eggs and new bees will be raised.

On top of the hive body is placed a metal grid with openings large enough to allow worker bees to pass through but too small to allow the queen to get through. This way, the queen will lay eggs only in the lower chamber and the upper levels will be reserved for honey storage.

Next is the super- another box with 10 frames for honey storage. As the colony grows, more supers can be added.

The cover has a metal top to protect the wooden bee box from moisture. I have drilled a 1-inch hole in the front of each box for ventilation. The entire set-up is sloped slightly downhill so that rain will run out of the hive rather than in.

My bee box is sited in the east pasture, along the fence next to the asparagus bed. It faces south with a sunny exposure so the bees will warm up and can get to work early in the day. There is a risk the cows could knock it over, but once the bees are settled in they will probably make sure the cows keep their distance.

So, I think I am ready for the bees. Not to say that I really know what I am doing. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Udder Chaos

Wednesday was the first day that all of us had to be away at work at the same time. Sara was the last to leave at 10:30 and when she went out to her car she discovered that the cows were out of the pasture, exploring the front yard. She didn't know how they'd gotten out or how to round them up and she had to get to work. Fortunately, the perimeter of our yard is fenced, so she quickly barricaded the driveway and left.
When Cadence got home a couple hours later she was baffled to find the cows grazing on the lawn. She figured out that the cows had wandered into barn, found an unlatched gate, and explored their way out to freedom. The Jersey calf followed Cadence back into the stall easily enough, and then she herded the Dexter mom into the pasture. The Dexter calf was trickier - he's pretty wild still, and all the while his mom was bawling crabbily.
Finally, all cows was secure -whew! - and she went to feed and water the chicks. She opened the door of the shop to discover... chicks scurrying everywhere! They had jumped out of their swimming pools and escaped despite her safety net enclosure. It is much trickier to round up 108 loose chicks in a small room than 3 loose cows in a huge yard, we learned. Since the chicks are obviously too big to stay in the swimming pools any longer, Cadence transformed the stall in the barn where we had kept the Jersey calf into a chick pen. Reuben, the Jersey, is big and strong enough to stay outside now.
We've only had cows one week and chicks two weeks, and already everybody has escaped. Some farmers we are!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Today was probably our saddest day on the farm so far. We put our beloved 14-year-old cat, Kittywampuss, to sleep. He has been gradually failing over the past year, getting extremely thin and confused.In the middle of the night last night we doubted he'd make it through the night to go to the vet this morning. The vet confirmed that he would never have a good quality of life, even if he miraculously pulled through with infusions and heating pads and antibiotics and blood tests and who know what else, and so I made the tough decision, with many tears.

At least he got to live a while on the farm, and even caught a mouse once. And, as Cadence noted, he dined like a king, with Sara hand-feeding him the finest albacore tuna and organic, free range chicken in an effort to put some weight on him.
This afternoon Cadence and I planted Wampuss's body next to the peony plant in a sunny spot in the yard. We marked his resting spot with a ceramic garden cat sculpture. Cadence thought we should mark it with a pink plastic Barbie doll gazebo--his favorite location to hang out when she and Sara were little girls.
We needed something to lift our spirits, so Cadence and I went out to the pasture to socialize with the cows. The calves were romping and leaping and kicking up their heels --that made us laugh. Lariette, the Dexter mom, touched her nose to a cow cookie I offered her, but wouldn't actually take it from my hand. It's a start in our relationship.

The Dexter calf, whom Cadence calls "hippo" (he does sort of resemble a baby hippo) really wants to frolic with the Jersey calf, but apparently his mother does not want to give him much freedom yet. She keeps him very close.

Before supper, we tackled a neglected shady flower garden bed on the east side of the garage, pullingout the dried overgrowth. It is full of crowded irises and hostas. Oh glory--I think there may be a couple of my favorite Virginia bluebells coming up there! We discovered the painful way that there were also lots of stinging nettles. Instead of pulling those, we harvested them --Cadence put them into a pesto lasagna for supper. Absolutely delicious!!

Monday, April 20, 2009


Cows are us. Cows have been our main focus the past few days. In the last installment you learned that we got two Jersey calves. We knew the 3-week-old calf was significantly smaller than the 1-week-old calf, but we chalked that up to genetic variation. It turned out he was not eating well and he was not nearly as frisky as the younger calf. So, we returned him to the farmer, who will surely be able to care for a vulnerable calf better than we novices.

Sara and Cadence talked to the dairy farmer across the road about buying raw milk for the Jersey calf we are keeping, preferring to feed him real milk than powdered calf formula. They worked out an arrangement and walked home lugging the 5-gallon pail.
Our calf definitely appreciated it. Unlike his herdmate, he has a vigorous appetite, chugging a gallon in just a few minutes. So far, Cadence has leaped out of bed by 6 a.m. every day to feed him breakfast.
Last night Debbie and Lawrence of Dream River Farm and their daughter Kate delivered the small Dexter cow we purchased and her calf. We were quite impressed with Lawrence's finesse manuevering the huge horse trailer through our long fenced driveway and deftly turning it around in our farmyard.
The Dexters leaped out of the trailer into their new pasture. The week-old baby is the same age but considerably smaller than our Jersey calf - he's precisely the size of our Aussie, Cocoa. The new cows kept their distance and stayed mostly on the hill on the far side of the pasture last night, surveying the view of their new farm. In the meanwhile, we humans all feasted on wood-fired pizza with a fabulous bottle of wine Debbie and Lawrence brought and they patiently answered our myriad questions.

This morning it was so lovely to look out and see the silhouettes of our cattle in the foggy light!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jersey Calves

Yesterday, Cadence and I drove to the Drinkall Dairy Farm (appropriate last name for dairy farmers) to get 2 bull calves, one a week old and the other three weeks old. Cadence asked the farmer every question she could think of about raising Jersey steers.
The calves were small enough to transport in the back our our Vibe. I had purchased an old sleeping bag at the thrift store to protect the car and give a bit of comfort to the calves, but they mostly preferred to stand on the 45 mile drive home.
We stopped briefly at Fleet Farm for powdered calf milk and a few supplies. I ran inside and Cadence stayed with her babies. A family pulled up in the next parking spot and the children were excited to see baby calves in our car.
We arrived at our farm. So this will be our new home...
We were a bit worried about the older calf. He didn't want to eat and actually vomited. Cadence called the famer who was puzzled -he has never had a cow vomit before - and thought maybe he was carsick, but if he didn't seem better today to bring him back. This morning he seemed to feel considerably better. Both calves have been treated for scours- diarrhea related to stress and diet, so that is another thing we have to watch out for.
Sara gave them water with electrolytes to help them recover from the stress of moving.
Nutmeg met the new calves. She was amazingly calm and tender with them -and almost the same size. Cocoa , the panic attack dog, barked at them, so we made her stay away for now.
The calves seem to be settling comfortably into the stall in the barn, which is much more spacious than their old calf pens. They frisked around a bit. They are so darling!

B-i-i-i-g Loss

Cadence and I arrived home from our calf expedition to see a view to the sky and a huge pile of debris where our gigantic silver maple tree had stood. I must admit, I felt a bit choked up. I don't know how old it was, and we can't count the rings to find out because it was hollow all the way down to the ground, but the trunk was 123 inches in circumference near the base.

The wood peckers will miss this tree - they often pecked away at that amazing machine-gun-fire rate on it, but at least we got it cut down before it housed nests. It was a bit of a menace -- it kept dropping large boughs and was threatening to crush our chicken coop if a bad storm hit, but I hated to see it go. In addition to the loss of the tree, it costs a small fortune to get a big tree like that removed!
But we were happy to pay Kyle Herring and his expert team to do it. They even thoughtfully measured our pizza oven and cut the trunk into lengths that will fit inside, once we split it.
This wood pile will be a splitting headache. Enough fuel to cook quite a few pizzas, though!

None Cuter Than Scooter

The fuzzy gold kitten we adopted from the dairy farm across the road is turning out to be a great addition to the family (we all agree, except for Shamu, our black and white cat, who still doesn't like him.)
Not only is he very affectionate, calm and playful, he caught a mouse out by the patio. Good kitty! True, he let it go, but he did catch it.
We still haven't officially agreed on a name for him, but sounds like it might be "Scooter."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Green Eggs and other Chicken Tales

Until now, all of the eggs we have gotten from our chickens have been a beautiful peachy-buff color. Yesterday, we were surprised to find a green egg (which I am sure would be good with ham, Sam-I-am.) We think Lacy might be responsible for this egg. She must have some Aracauna in her - Aracaunas are called the Easter egg chicken because their eggs come in a range of colors from buff to blue to green.
The 100 chicks are growing rapidly. Soon they will be getting to their not-so-cute phase. Cadence is a very conscientious chicken farmer, tending to them many times a day. We haven't lost a single chick yet and they seem to be thriving, thanks to her attentiveness.
Already most of the chicks, which are only 4 days old, have feathers appearing on their stubby wings!

I have been wanting to allow the big chickens go outside, but I don't want them to run around free until I can be certain the dogs won't chase them. I plan to fence in a chicken yard (more to keep dogs out than chickens in) but the arborist will be coming any day now to cut down the gigantic dead maple tree that threatens to demolish our chicken coop if it falls in a big storm. I can't build the chicken yard until the tree is dealt with.
The chickens were looking longingly out the coop windows at the gorgeous afternoon today. So, I pounded in some fence stakes and wired on some plastic netting to create a temporary chicken yard and put all the birds outside. They mostly hung out next to the coop, a bit hesitant and possibly worried about the excited dogs, but they seemed to relish exploring and scratching in the dirt and stretching in the sunshine.