Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lettuce Be Grateful

Tonight we made delicious BLTs starring the first lettuce from our garden - our very first garden produce. I can't wait until the BLTs also feature home-grown tomatoes!
Here are some of the lettuces in the garden. With rows of plants growing now, the garden is starting to look pretty. I promise to post a garden update soon.
Cadence has spent many hours hand-digging a trench along the fenceline where she intends to plant hills of the Three Sisters--corn with beans climbing up the stalks and squash winding underfoot, in the Native American tradition. Digging has been slow going in our heavy clay soil with dense pasture sod. Today we rented a rototiller ($30 for 2 hours) - a temperamental, unwieldy machine which Cadence cursed every step of the way, but we have to admit, it probably saved 8 hours of digging.
This evening Sara and Cadence drove to town to pick Rog up from work and get the groceries for our baking marathon for Saturday's Farmers Market. I stayed home to feed the cows and chickens and make dinner--but in the middle of my chores got a call that there had been an accident. While driving in Rochester rush hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the car ahead of ours stopped suddenly. Rog was barely able to stop in time, and the car behind was able to stop, but the next car plowed into everybody and created a 4-car pile-up. Our little Vibe was smashed front and back and appears to be totalled. This has been the perfect, hard-working little car for us and is my very favorite of all the cars we've ever had. Why couldn't it have happened to our battered old, ugly Contour instead? But, on the bright side, nobody in any of the cars in the pile-up was seriously hurt. We are very grateful for that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Week Work

Life is running at full throttle these days! May has pretty much whizzed by, way too fast. I can't wait for those promised lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Since I can't seem to fit in regular blog posts, here are a few highlights from the past week.
The Dexter cows are becoming much more friendly. Lariat, the mom, allowed me to brush her--she is shedding and itchy and has been rubbing against the fence posts, so I know she actually enjoyed it. Lasso, the steer calf, now approaches me curiously and has let me pet his nose a few times.

Cadence cut down many armloads of dried pampas grass and hauled it into the barn for future use as animal bedding.
Sara ended her restaurant prep chef job. She is focusing on finishing her documentary film project and is thinking about doing some small town Farmers Markets.

Our Rochester Farmers Market stand has sold out every weekend. Seems like however much bread we make, it is gone by 10 a.m. We are definitely at capacity for what we can bake in our wood-fired clay oven and our inside oven, so Rog wants to build a bigger brick oven soon.
This weekend we found some wonderful fire-bricks for the new oven (through Craigslist) which Rog and Sara hauled home from Wisconsin in our little trailer. The bricks are so pretty, but will be used to create the interior arch of the oven, so you won't be able to see them.

Cadence has been testing out making various kinds of pasta to sell at the Farmer's market. We have enjoyed being forced to devour her tasty experiments.
On Tuesday, I spent 5 hours mowing the entire estate and afterward it was spectacular-the farm looked like a beautiful park. Then, two days later, dandelions sent up their seedheads everywhere and the estate was a sea of downy dandelion puffs. We don't want to use chemicals to control them--but Rog had a great brainstorm idea: to shop-vac them. It was a clever thought, but turned out to be not very practical for a 5-acre yard.
The ducks and geese are doing their part to control dandelions by feasting on them, but unfortunately they don't seem to like the seeds.
Sunday we filled up one of the kiddie pools and let the goslings swim for the first time. They had a splashing good pool party.
The granary continues to gradually be transformed into a rustic cabin. The next step is to install more windows...then wall insulation... flooring...doors on the north side...

Finally we had a perfect sunny, warm windless day that I didn't have to be at work and I was able to check on my bees. I have now mastered the use of the smoker -this very cool-looking tool that calms/distracts/confuses the bees while you intrude on their hive.

When you wave a bit of smoke over the open box, the bees retreat between the frames, some peeking out curiously. One at a time I took each frame out, covered with honeybees, and held it up to the light. I saw plenty of cell construction, stored pollen, nectar in all different jewel colors, and - best of all - baby bee larvae! The bees are busy dawn to dusk and seem content. I have been feeling confident enough to not wear gloves while handling the frames- so far, no stings.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Blowing in the Wind

When Sara was little, she often sang the Bob Dylan song the way she understood it:
The ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind. The ants are just blowing in the wind.
I didn't actually see any ants blowing around yesterday, but if they had ventured out of their anthills they surely would have been. We had about 90 degrees F with constant blasting wind, gusting up to 50 miles per hour. I was working at the garden center where all the plants were at risk of drying out and tipping over; our goal all day was to keep everything alive through repeated watering.
When I called home at lunch, Cadence told me she had been in the woods pulling buckthorn when she heard an incredible crash. She ran to the pasture to discover a huge, old maple tree had broken and fallen over the fence into the pasture. Luckily, no cows, chicken tractors, buildings or daughters were injured and the entire tree is resting on a huge limb so the fence is mostly intact. It will, however, create a tremendous amount of work that is not in our workplan. I hope our little chainsaw is up to the task.
The tree was not the only casualty of the wind. Our little greenhouse was picked up by the wind and collapsed in a heap. It's a good thing I was in documenting mode when I got home from work or I might have cried. All of my 120 beautiful heritage tomatoes, Sara's 20 types of herbs, Cadence's assortments of peppers, and the flowers I had wintersown that were waiting for garden space were dumped out. Everyone but Cadence was off at jobs at the time, so she had to take on the overwhelming rescue alone. She saved the majority of the plants, but now they are all mixed up. We probably won't know what type of tomato or pepper each plant is until it begins to set fruit -- and there is no hope of organizing the garden by variety. Maybe we will discover some advantage to random garden planting...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Birds on the Brain

Cadence and I did the Farmers Market on Saturday--and a very cold, windy day it was. Cadence wore not one but two winter down jackets, mittens, hat and a scarf. Nevertheless, business was good and we sold out of everything except the 3 beautiful bags of nettles Sara had harvested. We couldn't convince anyone that they are tasty, nutritious and do not sting when they are cooked. (All true!)
Cadence was expecting her second batch of 100 assorted heavy-body chicks to arrive Monday. On the way home from Market she noted that last time the chicks were supposed to arrive on a Monday they got here the Saturday before, so there was a distinct possibility we would have to deal with chicks when we got home. We were so tired from baking until the wee hours of the morning and getting up a few hours later for market that we just wanted to take a little nap and we hope-hope-hoped the chicks would not arrive early.
No such luck. We arrived home to a phone message from the post office that our chicks were in. Cadece had already cleaned and disinfected the stall, but we rushed around finishing setting up the wading pools and heat lamps and then Cadence drove to the post office to pick them up. We felt like old pros unpacking the chicks this time, dipping their beaks into the water to give them their first drink. They look so very tiny compared to the first batch that is now 4 weeks old, living outside in the chicken tractors.
In other bird news, the goslings have grown so much! They are surprisingly affectionate and love to snuggle into your lap.
The duckling-exotic chicken trio is rather obnoxious to the goslings. Perhaps they will regret their rudeness when the goslings grow up and tower over them and can effortlessly kick their little duck butts.

Friday, May 15, 2009

5 Chicken Tales

It has been a week for chicken news--some successes, some tragedies, and one happy ending.
The Exotic Chick We think the "exotic bonus chick" that came with Cadence's 100 heavy-weight broiler chicks is a Black-tailed Buff Japanese Bantam-- a very pretty chicken when full-grown, according to the catalog image, but so slow growing and tiny. And very funny-looking as a chick. He/she is living peaceably with the black runner ducks since we rescued him/her from the broiler chickens who were merciless brutes to him/her.
Missing in Action. We would like for the laying hens to roam free on the farm, but they seem to prefer being cooped up. One sunny afternoon the girls put the chickens out into the pasture to discover the banquet of bugs and plants to be found. Our red Aussie pooch, Cocoa, is obsessed with keeping the chickens together in a close group. So, when the little black silkie bantam wandered off, Cocoa was on it and Sara and Cadence didn't really worry about her. But apparently, Cocoa got distracted by a burr that she had to chew out of her fur, and the silkie wandered further afield and hasn't been seen since. I don't think she has much of a chance amid the hawks, owls, coyotes and raccoons. I looked in vain for a photo of her for this story, but truth be told, she was not the most photogenic chicken and I couldn't find any.
Chicken Tractor Yesterday, Cadence moved her 100 broilers to the Chicken tractors. The "chicken tractors" are movable pens that will each contain 50 young chickens until they are harvesting size, in about 4 weeks. They have to be spacious, sturdy and lightweight-- architectural beauty comes lower in priority. This chicken raising method came from one of the gurus of sustainable farming, Joel Salatin. The tractors will be moved each day so the chickens will have fresh grass to scratch in. The chickens are essentially "free-range," but much more protected from predators and adverse weather.
Cadence moved the chickens from the barn to the tractors in big plastic baskets in batches of 10. Her faithful companions, Cocoa and Rueben, followed her back and forth as she moved the chicks.
The chickens seem to enjoy their new digs!

The Prodigal Chicken After losing the silkie, I was hesitant to put my egg chickens outside. Since the chickens do not seem to like the ramp out the window entrance I built for them, I decided to leave the coop door open so they could choose to go in or out at will. Nobody chose to go out...except apparently one of the brown Polish hens, Carol Channing (twin to Phyllis Diller, the other Polish.) We didn't actually see her go outside, but when I went to close up the coop for the night, she was gone. We searched all over and couldn't find her. I was so sad to lose another laying hen! This story has a happy ending however. Two days later Cadence spied Carol at the edge of the woods, peering in through the pasture fence - and we ran over and swept her up. She looked glossy and healthy and seems happy to be home. I am glad she survived the scary predators of the forest.
Mysterious Death in the Coop - Tonight when I went out to water and feed the chickens I was shocked to discover Picasso, my large, lovely, feisty Aracauna rooster (more handsome in real life than this photo) lying lifeless on the floor! There was no evidence of foul play (fowl play?) and how he died is a mystery. The only thing I can conjecture is that maybe he and Matisse, the other rooster, got all riled up and he flapped himself into the wall and broke his neck...? I am very sad to lose him. All the other chickens seemed sobered by this event, too, and sat very quietly. I wish they could give me a clue about what happened.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mothers and Others - Miscellaneous Tidbits

When I came downstairs Sunday morning , Cadence had created a lovely Mother's Day bouquet from flowers blooming on our farm. So sweet. However, we are all nurturing so many critters and plants right now, I think we all deserve to be recognized for mothering this year!
This Mother Day was special because Rog's mom, Ruth, is visiting from Oregon. It's her first visit to the farm, and she seems to be enjoying the gardening, the bird-watching and the baby animals.
Rueben, the Jersey calf, has grown a lot and now drinks from a pail rather than a bottle. He has to look up from the bucket frequently so he doesn't miss anything, milk dribbling down his chin. He has the beginning nubs of little horns starting to come through.
The black runner ducks are huge! Not full-grown yet, of course, but they have tripled in size and their body shape has changed to look more like an adult. They are still living with the little bantam chicken (peeking into the bottom right in photo)that came as our bonus exotic chick with Cadence's hundred heavy-body broilers. That chicken thinks he's a duck.
The blubells I transplanted from Flo's yard are thriving...but they are no longer blue! They turned vivid pink. Maybe the shock of being moved? The acidity of the soil? Leprechauns playing a joke? My friend Judy gave me a few more bluebells from her yard this week and she can vouch that these were definitely blue. We'll see what happens this time.
It's finally reliably warm enough that Rog helped me move the little greenhouse from the basement (where it held seed starts under lights) outside to the patio.

The plants seem to be happy to have real sunlight -the tomatoes and the gourds are doing great!

Cadence has finished drywalling , taping and mudding the ceiling of the granary. We still need to install windows, a floor, and any civilized amenities(water electricity), but she and our dog Nutmeg have begun sleeping out there.

We have all been working very hard, but still manage to find time now and then to just enjoy the farm

and the warm spring days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Goose Saga

Our original plan was to get 3 goslings. The problem is, when you order goslings, you must order 15. A friend had offered us goslings from their geese which were sitting on eggs, but the eggs did not hatch. We were starting to give up on the idea of geese this summer.
But then last week Cadence and I drove past a nearby farm and noticed they had dozens of assorted geese, many with goslings. Cadence persuaded me to stop and see if they would sell us a few babies. Don and Betsy, the farmers, turned out to be very friendly, fun people, wishing to downsize their flock a bit. They offered to give us as many geese as we desired. We settled on the plan of taking a Toulouse goose, her mate and her four goslings. Don said he would catch her after dark and clip her wings.
The next evening Don and Betsy delivered the mom and babies. Don showed Cadence how to pick up the goose, carrying her by the neck (so she does not bite) and the base of the wings. A large, hissing goose is pretty intimidating and Don was quite impressed by Cadence's bravery. We put them in the chicken coop for the night (poor startled chickens!) and created a pen for them the next morning to keep them confined until they got used to living here. Within half an hour they had somehow escaped the pen and were exploring the yard, but we thought all might be well even though they were loose. They looked so picturesque strolling around the farmyard.
By afternoon, Cadence was getting concerned about the babies. The mother repeatedly stepped on them. She kept walking and did not allow them to rest, eat or drink. Don had warned us that it is not unusual for geese to walk their babies to death. Then we looked out and saw that the geese were walking in the ditch outside the fence and one gosling was missing! Cadence looked for it everywhere, no sign. She was so upset she decided to take the goslings into protective custody. At first they were very unhappy, but once we warmed them up and fed and watered them they began to peep sweetly in their crate. An article online suggested giving them a stuffed animal for comfort. They snuggled up to the stuffed raccoon toy and fell asleep.

Meanwhile, mother goose seemed totally discombobulated. She sat in the center of the pasture for two days, barely moving. Geese are flocking animals and we knew she must be lonely, so this morning we caught her (easier said than done) and returned her to the farm to be with her flock. As soon as Cadence lowered her to the ground, a large gander who must have been her mate, came running fromacross the field toward her, honking loudly. I think she will be much happier.

The goslings have already bonded with us and accepted us as members of their flock. We intend to give them lots of handling and attention so they grow up to be people-friendly geese.

Starting an Orchard

It was a lovely day last Thursday and I had the day off, so my goal was to plant some fruit trees for our future orchard. I envisioned the orchard on the sunny knoll on the southeast corner of our property - doing double duty as a future screen for the possible future high-traffic road. I believe that a couple apple trees may have once stood on this hill (Farmer?)so it seemed like the right spot.

I planted all semi-dwarf treees---a Kiefer pear, two varieties of cherries, a Mount Royal (self-pollinating) plum, one Honeycrisp Apple, one Redwell, one Honeygold, one Haralson and two Prairie Spy. The Prairie Spy were a real find--they are an older variety almost impossible to find, but one of my very favorite apples. I finally found a source via Craiglist in LaCrosse, WI, from a fellow who grafted them and the Redwell. They are only sticks about 3 feet tall now, but they only cost $5. I hope they catch up in a few years.

I was warned by John, the orchard expert at Sargents Garden Center where I am working, to watch out for deer nibbling them. I don't know if deer will be nearly as big a problem as our darn cows, who seem to be irresistably drawn to these trees and have devoured a few leaves.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

4500 Bees!

My bees were supposed to arrive in the mail today, but Monday afternoon we got the call that the bees were here, please come get them. At first I was a bit annoyed at having to take all of Tuesday afternoon to drive to Houston (MN) and back but it was sunny and vast fields of Virginia bluebells were blooming, so it turned out to be a pleasurable road trip.
I drove home with my bee box humming in the back seat --3 pounds, about 4500 bees. As soon as I arrived home, I spritzed them with a bit of water in case they were thirsty and then set about installing them in the boxes. I couldn't afford to buy a bee suit yet, but I had purchased some white overalls and a windbreaker at Goodwill that worked swell with the bee veil and helmet.

Cadence was my fearless assistant, sans bee suit, reading me the step-by-step instructions and documenting the occasion with these photos.
First, the bees were sprayed with a sugar water solution , supposedly to make it so they can't fly until they clean themselves off.

The box is rapped sharply so the bees fall to the bottom and the feeding can is removed from the top of the shipping box. Then they are spritzed with a bit more sugar water.
I took out the very small wood and wire mesh box within containing the queen. One end had a cork that I removed and replaced with a miniature marshmallow. (Of course I had to purchase an entire bag for that one marshmallow.) The queen will feast on marshmallow, eating her way out of the queen box in a couple days and by then the rest of the bees will have accepted her as their queen. For now, she went into my pocket to stay warm.
Next, instructions say, one simply dumps the bees into the hive body, from which four frames have been removed. Easier said than done! My bees did not pour very well. They held on with their little bee feet for dear life, to each other and to the wire mesh.
I ended up taking the bee shipping box apart and using a bee brush to get those last stubborn bees into the hive --all the while surrounded by about a hundred perturbed, airborne bees who didn't realize it is supposed to be impossible to fly after being spritzed by sugar water. Neither Cadence nor I got stung, although the Jersey calf did when he nosed his way in too close.
The little queen box was wedged between two frames. I will check in a few days to make sure she has gotten out.

The bee feeder attachment is backordered for a few days, so I was insructed to place the can of bee food over the hole on top of the inner cover.

This morning I checked on the bees and to my untrained eye it appears that they are settling in. Bees were coming and going from the small opening at the bottom of the box and the box was gently humming.