Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chicken Fence-Diving

Chickens entertain themselves with Fence-Diving competitions.

Solar-Powered Cow Containment

Ever since we got these cows we have intended to practice rotational grazing: rotating the cows from one small pasture to another small fresh pasture to force them to completely graze an area while allowing the previous pasture to recover. This method reduces weeds and improves the quality of the pasture. It also allows us to use our yard as pasture--increasing our cow-supporting habitat significantly.
We had experimented with this method when the calves were very small and they kept escaping - we had only used 2 strands of wire and they sneaked under. Then I mowed and the grass wasn't tall enough for grazing. Then we took the fencer away to use for the pigs. NOW we have a new Zareba solar-powered fencer, an unmown section of lawn and we have successfully contained our cows in the front yard.
The solar fencer electrifies the fence without having to drag extension cords out to our temporary pastures. The portable fence is easy to move--it has plastic poles that you just step into the ground. We have strung three wires around the perimeter-one at nose-height for each of our cows. After just one or two jolts the cows have learned to keep their distance from the wires and have not attempted to go through.
This fencing method requires a bit of rigamaroll- we have to move water containers and the salt and mineral blocks to each new paddock. It also requires that I suppress my mowing aesthetic--I have to let the front yard grass grow tall and scruffy for the cows to graze. But I sure love the view of cows browsing in the front yard!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Veggie Blossoms

It's indisputably summer and everything is taking off in the garden now, as evidenced by Potato blossoms...
Tomatilla flowers...
Eggplant buds

Snowpea blossoms...

and actual Snowpeas!

Now Turkeys

On Thursday ten adorable day-old turkeys arrived. Yep, now we are raising turkeys. Cadence, the family poultry farmer, decided 10 turkey poults - that's the proper name for a turkey chick - might be easier than 100 more chickens (She has 200 now, and she is frustrated by the damage they have done to her corn and lettuce!) These are Bronze turkeys--hard to envision that they will look like this by Thanksgiving! They make the cutest trilling, peeping sound--also hard to imagine it will sound like a gobble by Thanksgiving.

How to Stay Cool

Last week was tropical-- so hot and humid it drained the oomph right out of you. We all found ways to stay cool. Nutmeg draped herself upon a comfortable pallet of bricks in the shade.
The chickens hung out under the bushes and daylilies.
The geese had it best of all, taking frequent dips in the kiddie pool.
Rog and I did not do nearly enough of this. This photo is for Mara.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Afternoon in the Tomato Patch

I spent the entire day with the tomatoes today. There are 97 tomato plants that survived the Greenhouse disaster and got planted in this bed--but since they had been dumped in a chaotic pile we won't know which tomoatoes are which until they set fruit. I staked and pruned the tomatoes and laid a soaker hose between the rows for future watering.
Some tomato plants are blooming!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Few Great Guests and the Great Cow Escape

Last week we hosted our first Couch Surfer. Couch Surfing is a way to meet new people by either staying at their home or offering your home as a place to stay. Sara had signed us up online and we had our first request from Andrew, a UW-Madison student coming to Rochester to take the MCAT exam. Despite the fact that each couch-surfer's profile, photo and references are posted on the website, I was a bit worried that we could be inviting some crazy person into our home. However, Sara asked Andrew if he was a serial killer, and he said "no" so of course my mind was put at ease.

Andrew turned out to be the ideal considerate, charming guest. Plus, he had lived on a farm before and dived right in, helping Cadence fabricate a set of killing cones for her chickens and helping Sara install a movable electric fence for her pigs. He would have even helped Cadence harvest her chickens (so much for the serial killer denial!) but she determined they were still too small.
I didn't get a photo of Andrew installing the fence, but the new fenced area is behind Cadence in this photo of her feeding the pigs. Those pigs are very happy exploring that large wooded area and they learned to mind the fence after just a single touch of moist snout to hot wire.
On Sunday, Rog's brother Chris and family arrived for a brief visit from Danville, CA. Our sister-in-law, Vicki, fell in love with the cows and asked us to let her adopt them if we ever planned to eat them.
Our 12-year-old nephew Zack and his buddy Nick had never been to a farm before, but by the end of the afternoon they were catching chickens and driving the garden tractor around the yard.
Shortly after Chris and family left, another car drove into our yard and a man got out and asked if we had cows. "Yes." "They are out on the road!" "OH NO!!" But then we realized that our cows were safe in their pasture. we looked out the kitchen window and saw that our dairy farming neighbor's cows were out and traffic was stopped along the highway.
The man drove across the gravel road to the dairy farm but returned immediately when he couldn't find anyone home. Cadence and I followed him to the loose cows. We discovered that 15 cows had busted out and were romping in the neighboring cornfield. Compared to our little Dexters, Holsteins are HUGE and kind of scary! We didn't know what to do, other than signal the cars to slow way down and try to prevent the cows from running onto the road.
Fortunately, a few moments later Nancy, the farmer's wife, happened to drive by and pulled over to see what was up. "Your cows are loose!" She sped away and within minutes the entire family was there, some on foot and some on 4-wheelers, herding the cows back through the broken fence. One rebellious cow charged out toward the road and fell several feet into the ditch. We held our breath, sure that she must have broken a leg, but amazingly she was ok.
By the time the cows were heading back to their barn, our adrenalin surge was beginning to calm. Cadence and I looked at each other, relieved that no cows or cars or people were injured and slightly comforted by knowing that our cows are not the only ones that occasionally escape.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seesters Invasion

My Seesters, three dear friends since high school (Rog was also an honorary Seester), have just departed for home after spending the weekend at Squash Blossom Farm. They descended Saturday afternoon, promising to help with our farm projects, and, true to their word, they worked pretty darn hard. But any time the Seesters are together is filled with hilarity and fun. Here are Patty, Debbie, Gayle and I having coffee on the patio about to dive into one of Sara's amazing rhubarb pies.
The Seesters helped install a large picture window in Cadence's granary. Patty and Rog, the seesters with the strongest muscles, are on the outside holding the window up.
We built a bonfire and burned a significant portion of the brush from the huge felled silver maple. Gayle inspired us to make hobo dinners in the fire, girl-scout style, and Rog serenaded us with his guitar late into the night.
Yesterday we went shopping - at thrift stores, antique stores, artisan shops, bookstores, and shoe stores - and had lunch on the Peace Plaza. We did our part to stimulate the economy, each purchasing a pair of stylish new sandals--which we are modeling here.

A Brush With Our House's History

Last winter, a Christmas card to our neighbors was accidently delivered to us. When I popped it into the neighbor's mailbox I noticed that the name on the return address matched the name of a previous owner of our farm. I copied down the return address and sent a holiday card to her, inviting her to visit someday and share stories of how the farm used to be.

On Sunday, Lois and her youngest son, John, came to visit. Lois and her husband Ray owned our farm from 1967 until 1998, raising 5 children here. When they moved here, the house had no running water, no insulation and was heated by coal. They renovated the entire house bottom to top over the next couple decades.

Lois told us many anecdotes and brought a book of old photos --it's pretty dramatic how the landscape and house have changed. The little seedlings they planted on the windswept hill have grown into large trees. With the mentorship of kind neighbors, Lois, a city girl, learned how to garden, raise chickens and preserve food. The kids sold strawberries from their huge berry patch. Lois planted the wonderful lilac hedge, the spectacular crabapple trees and most of the flowering shrubs on the property. John and his father planted many trees - once he rescued a burr oak seedling from the ditch when the road was being widened and planted it in the yard--it is now the handsome tree we call Burr Oak Obama.

What a sweet opportunity to meet Lois and John and hear first-hand how the farm grew. They have left their mark on this place and we recognize and appreciate the thought and love they put into it. I am sure it was rather bittersweet for them to relive so many memories and see how things have changed in the decade since they lived here, but I hope they feel pleased about how much we love it here.

Saturday Market

Early Saturday morning as we loaded for Farmers Market it was misty and magical. The fog soon burned off into a perfect, sunny market day.
I helped Rog and Cadence set up the market stand and then rushed home to clean the house for impending company.
Rog found a nice table-top display case for sale at an antique store and we replaced the glass with plex. It is sort of a pain to transport but is working well to showcase the breads and Sara's pies.
This week we had wood-fired sourdough (white, wholewheat and rye), braided cardamom bread, German walnut beer bread, Cadence's luscious lemon lion sandwich cookies, Sara's rhubarb and rhubarb-rasberry lattice pies, and three varieties of cupcakes (orange-almond, carrot-walnut, and red velvet with berries.) We sold out before the morning ended--we need another oven!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Breakfast Time

We are getting breakfast on the farm down to a pretty smooth routine. First we open the chicken coop door and Chagall the rooster leads the the laying hens outside to forage.
As soon as Cadence's free-range roosters see a person they come running and flock around excitedly expecting breakfast. Cadence spreads the food in a long line on the ground so everybody gets his fair share.
The geese and the ducks wash their breakfast down with ample swigs of water.
Lariat takes care of feeding Lasso. Yesterday during breakfast the road grader went by on our gravel road and then they spread magnesium chloride in front of our stretch to reduce dust. What an incredible difference that makes!
Reuben still gets a bucket of millk morning and evening.
Is that all there is?
The pigs get fresh water in their kiddie pool (liddie pools are such an invaluable farm tool!) I brought the pigs grapes this morning, which went a long way in building friendship and trust. They even let me scratch them behind the ears. Their snouts are muddy from rooting around in the understory.
Next to the chicken coop a mock orange bush is blooming, perfuming the entire farm with an intoxicatingly sweet fragrance. Many of my honey bees were gathering nectar from this plant this morning.
We also feed the ducks, cats and dogs, of course, but they missed the photo call. Finally the farmers get to eat--eggs today, courtesy of our hens!

Sara's Pink and Purple Scheme

Sara has been trying to persuade us for some time to get a couple of pigs. She would buy them. She would build them a shelter. She would take care of them. In the fall we would butcher them for meat and have delicious bacon. Finally she wore us down and we said ok, but I told her I hoped they would not be pink, a pig color I have always thought was kind of creepy.

She decided to turn the shed in the woods west of our house into a little pig house. It was originally built for raising pheasants but hasn't been used for many years and was in pretty sad shape. Sara and Cadence shored up the roof - which still needs tarpaper and shingles - and patched the saggy floor and cut an opening to a fenced area so the pigs can go in and out at will.
Sara found a farmer in Arcadia, WI, who raises organic pastured pigs and arranged to get two piglets when he delivered some to St. Charles. Yesterday was the day to pick them up. When the pigs arrived at the farm in the dog crate in the back of the pickup they looked pretty scared.
But they seem to be settling into their new home fairly well. They are females, a cross of Hampshire, Duroc and something else. I have to admit, they are kind of cute even though they are pink. Sara named them "Pink" and "Purple" but I don't know which is which yet.

Major Purchases

It's been an extravagant week at Squash Blossom Farm, but we are very excited about our new gear. First, we got a new (used) Vibe to replace our car that was totalled last week. This one has only 82,000 miles on it...and a sunroof. Fancy! Even better, we also splurged on a farm pickup so we don't have to haul livestock, hay, lumber, etc. in the Vibe. It doesn't look as much like an old beater pickup as we intended--it's rather sporty--but it has quite a bit of rust and 180,000 miles on it so it is probably doomed to look like an old beater in the not-too-distant future. We have already put it to very good use hauling a load of bricks, a load of pigs, and a load of commercial kitchen equipment! (On the down side, I was stopped by a police officer because the windows are tinted too dark. Who knew? Next week the dealer will remove the tinting.)
Last night we got a very good deal on a deep freeze, commercial cooler and 3-compartment commercial sink! They came from a BP convenience station that had closed. We installed them in the shop in the barn, which we envision someday being transformed into a commercial kitchen.
Rog already has his sourdough for tomorrow's Farmer's Market proofing in the cooler (you can see why it has caused a strain on space in our household refrigerator.) It won't be long before that new freezer is full of chickens!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Goofy Farm Animals

Reuben's horns are growing in and I have been trying for days to get a photo of him showing his horn buds, but it's impossible. This is the kind of shot I get when I go in for a close-up.
The geese are getting huge, but are such sweet babies. I don't think we will have to worry about them becoming mean geese that chase people. Well, they might chase people, but only in an effort to get into their laps.

The ducks have discovered the joy of water. Or maybe this is just the one place they can get away from the exotic- chick-who-thinks-he-is-a-duck. They don't mind if the water is dirty--if it is clean, it won't be for long with them hopping in and out.
Lariat, our Dexter cow, has become an escape artist. We discovered that she got out a few nights ago and was walking on the gravel road--at great risk to herself and vehicles, since she is dark brown and almost invisible. The next day she got out again and was enjoying the woodlands outside the fence and the prairie next door. Sara's halter training came in handy leading her back into the pasture. Then Cadence and I built a new section of fence where we suspected she was escaping. So far it has worked.
Note the amazing growth of the prairie --this is the land that was burned a few weeks ago.
Chagall, the rooster patriarch of my laying flock, demonstrated the Hokey Pokey dance to the hens.