Friday, July 30, 2010

Joyance (a real word- look it up)

It is difficult to believe that July is wrapping up already!  This month has whizzed past, maybe because we have been so busy. I haven't had much time to blog, but I have documented a  few memorable moments and accomplishments that I will jumble together in this final hodge-podge post for July.

One of the 50 Freedom Ranger chickens adopted the guineas as his buddies and formed a ballet troupe.
The Freedom Rangers grew surprisingly fast! So fast, that we will already be harvesting them next week. Here is one at 10 weeks old, 5 pounds.  They are easy-going,  friendly birds.  They are not very adventurous, rarely roaming beyond the pasture just outside the loafing shed. But that's perfectly fine with me--they haven't done any damage to the flowers or garden like our free-range chickens did last year. They have amusing, kazoo-like voices.
We found a great cedar pergola on Craigslist that fits perfectly on the deck (a recycled section of the rowing club dock)  of the  granary.  Grapes or wisteria will eventually  clamber over it.
Cadence's exuberant edible & medicinal flower garden in front of the granary has been blooming crazily this month.  There are sunflowers, borage, lilies, nasturtiums, runner beans, calendula, echinacea --just to mention a few.
Katrina, daughter of the dairy farmer across the road, stopped over with Jonna  and another friend to visit the critters.  It's not every day you see  3 beauties in fancy sundresses traveling dusty gravel roads via 4-wheeler.
Louise, our pretty gray hen, hatched out 6 darling chicks.  She braved the elements in an outdoor nest tucked in the daylily border (where I wouldn't find it until it was too late.)  She is a very attentive and protective mother--here, she ruffles up and guards her chicks from the scary muck boots.
The five remaining turkeys (we lost 4 to the great-horned owl) have grown quite large and are very funny characters.  They are curious about everything and like to be with their flock, the people.  They learned how to untie shoes, biting onto the laces and pulling.  They like this game and will play it repeatedly.
Despite our attempts to train the turkeys to go into the chicken coop at night, every evening they roost on the bench by the patio and we have to carry them one-at-a-time to the coop.  Probably they are big enough now to be safe from the owl, but we don't really want  them roosting on the bench anyway--they make an uninviting mess.
This felt like a Real Farmer experience:  I ordered bull semen via the Internet to breed Lariat and LaFonda. It came in thin straws,  frozen and immersed in liquid nitrogen, delivered in an insulated storage tank via UPS.  When it arrived, my dairy farmer neighbor let me store the straws in one of his  liquid nitrogen tanks so the transport tank could be returned.
Lariat went into heat two weekends ago and we called the Artificial Insemination technician that our neighbor recommended.  Because a  cows heat cycle is only about a a day long, the AI guy is always on call. He showed up  and it took him about 10 minutes to warm the straw and administer it.  If all goes well, Lariat will have a calf at the end of April! LaFonda should go into heat this weekend.
The sires we chose for Lariat and LaFonda are mini breeds-mini  Dexter for our Dexter, Lariat, and mini White Park for our Jersey mix, LaFonda. Our reasoning was that we have such small acreage, our pastures will better support mini cows. As novice farmers we are also a bit nervous about calving and we figured there would much less likely be problems if the calves were small breeds.
It has been a great summer for butterflies. We are seeing lots of monarchs and  swallowtails. Lately, during our evening walk thousands of yellow sulphur butterflies are  fluttering above the alfalfa fields, and clustered along the edge of the road. As we walk they swirl around our ankles like confetti.
We have carved out a bit of time to enjoy with friends by reducing the number of weekends we are participating in the Farmers Market. Although we love being part of the market, summer is much too fleeting and we need some precious, free weekends to accomplish some farm projects or just relax with friends on the patio. Last Saturday was a perfect evening of fantastic food and wine (one bottle made by Jim) and song with friends  Carla and Jim, Pauly and Ann.
We've been enjoying our sun-gold cherry tomatoes for a few weeks, but finally got our first three large red garden tomatoes a few nights ago.  So many are coming that soon we will be struggling to keep up with them.  Let the tomato marathon begin!
One last tribute to our dear steers,  Lasso and Reuben.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


It has taken me a couple of days to be able to compose myself to write the follow-up  post about the steers.  It went both harder and easier than I expected.

Friends lent us their horse trailer to transport the steers.  It was a challenge to get them inside--Reuben had never been inside a trailer and Lasso only when he was a week old and came to our farm. An old heavy-duty barn door was used for a ramp.
We made a chute with the moveable electric fence to guide them toward the  trailer, but once they got close they could escape into the bushes. Then I remembered the metal bunkbeds I had purchased at  a garage sale with the idea of creating a garden trellis. The mattress supports were perfect fence panels to guide the steers close to the trailer so their only option was to go inside.
Reuben could not resist cow cookies and finally  climbed aboard.
Once Reben was in, Lasso  was willing to climb in too.  I was sobbing by this point, but Cadence stayed amazingly relaxed and collected, which was surely helpful in calming the steers.
Rog and Cadence drove the trailer to the processor in Winona.  When the  truck pulled out onto the highway, Lariat was standing at the edge of the yard mooing mournfully after it --that's when I totally broke down.

Lariat mooed herself hoarse all night. I lay awake worrying that sometimes her voice sounded far away and maybe she had broken out--so I got up five times during the night, put on clothes and went out to check on her. I would stroke her and talk to her and she would quiet until I went inside and the bawling would start again.
The first two nights were pretty wretched, but last night Lariat was quiet.  She has never been very nice to LaFonda, pushing her around all the time to show she is boss, but now she seems to have buddied up to her a bit. Perhaps the hierarchy has changed now that Lariat doesn't have a calf,  but LaFonda does not have such a bossy disposition and is very sweet to Lariat.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Toughest Farming Day Yet

I tried to write this post last night but I couldn't because looking at these photos made me cry. Actually, I am crying now, too. Today is the day our two steers, Rueben  and Lasso, go to the processor.

Everybody  tells us you shouldn't name any animals you plan to eat, but honestly, I don't think having a name or not would make a difference, we would still know them as individuals, and how can you not name  them when you have so few? 

We spent the weekend giving them extra attention and cow cookies. We let them into a new pasture with fresh yummy grass and gave them  some of the new, sweet hay our farmer friend Bill delivered. 
They have grown into such handsome animals.  Last weekend when the AI  technician came to breed Lariat, he noticed Reuben and remarked how he is a good looking Jersey steer---and is going to make excellent, lean beef.  

So far, Cadence seems to be handling this  impending event much better than I am. She comforted me, reminding me that when they were calves we made a contract with Reuben and Lasso, promising that we would feed them, shelter them,  brush them and give them treats. We would lead them to green pastures and protect them from harm and love them, and in a year and a half, they would  let us eat them.  Now it is time, the contract is up--but the time went too fast.

This is truly the most heart-wrenching aspect of farming.  I think from now on, when I can face eating beef, I will eat my hamburger or steak with a lot more reverence. 
I am going to miss looking out the window and seeing four amiable bovines ambling across the yard. 

Friday, July 23, 2010


Another really fun thing to do on a hot, muggy day is bake 48 loaves of sourdough bread in a wood-fired oven.  First you build a big fire and let the thick oven walls heat up to 500 degrees. Then you pull out the fire.
If you are adept, you can fit 6 loaves in at once. You have to be careful not to  brush the  oven with your arm or you will get a nasty burn.  Don't ask how we know.
A few of the  finished loaves ready for the Farmers Market tomorrow morning.  This bread is so delicious!  Rog has a pretty devoted following of sourdough bread-lovers - he must not disappoint his fans!

Afternoon Break

Some  days it is so hot and muggy all you want to do is lie around... with a warm fuzzy cat sprawled across you. Not.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bad Cow Tale

Next week is the event we have been dreading all summer,  the week our steers get harvested.

Since raising the steers was originally her project, Cadence has been  researching all the options, figuring out the costs, and making all the preparations.  She composed a marketing message that I emailed out and posted on Facebook and she made some posters to hang at her work.  I sent the email out last night and already have two responses reserving quarters. And two emails from friends who have met our steers and said they don't really want to know their meat that well.

This is going to be tougher than slaughtering the pigs last summer because we have had  over a year to get to know these cattle.  We  have  talked about whether we should sell the steers to somebody else so we don't have to  deal with this part, but we agree that this was our intent, and we raised them so we would know exactly how our beef was raised--in this case, with no antibiotics or hormones,  on green pasture, sustainably-grown hay and creamy milk, with love and affection and plenty of pampering. They have had a pretty idyllic life.

Last evening  just as I was  getting in the car to pick up Rog from work, I glanced at the small pasture we had moved the cows to that morning and it looked empty. I walked over to see the cows they were hidden behind the chicken coop, but NO!  The gate to the woods was swung open and all four cows had  escaped.

I ran to the edge of the woods, hoping to head them off before they got to the highway, but then I heard horns honking--they were on the road already.  The highway is just two lanes with no shoulders and the cars come very fast over the hill, not expecting to suddenly have obstacles on the road, so this was very dangerous for them and for my cows. By the time I got to the edge of the woods I could see that the cows had safely crossed over and were running along the ditch to Douglas, the village at the bottom of the hill, where they tromped into a soy-bean field and started munching contentedly. As I ran the quarter mile along the road, I breathlessly phoned Rog at work and  told him I couldn't pick him up yet - I had a cow emergency and was all alone and could he give me our dairy farmer neighbor's phone number?

When I called the neighbor's cell, Nancy wasn't at home but she said  her husband and son would just be starting milking; when she arrived home she would see if anyone could come help me.  I tried everything I could think of to herd the cows toward home but they were not interested in going that direction and dispersed every which way.  I had no treats to lure them, no halter to lead them.  Finally I tried rationalizing with them, telling them that I really needed them to follow me home, and miraculously, they did! for a little ways, to the ditch.

Our road is not a very busy road except in the morning and evening when people are driving to and from work in town. It was evening rush hour and cars had started to whiz by- many  drivers craning their necks curiously as they passed, but nobody stopping.  My biggest fear was of the cows suddenly bolting up from the ditch into the traffic.

Finally, a couple pulled over and asked if I needed help. I said YES! I would be so grateful, if they weren't afraid of cows. Well, the man turned out to be a dairy farmer from the next town who has 3,000 holsteins.  He was so calm and knew exactly how to keep them moving together back along the ditch. His wife followed along in their vehicle, slowing the traffic. We finally got the cows across the intersection, where they immediately ran into the dairy farmer neighbor's cornfield, just as he and his family arrived to help herd them up.  Getting the cows out of the corn was a bit tricky because our cows are so small and his corn was so tall, much taller than a man, they just disappeared.  Finally, I  located them in a row and drove them toward Mark, who turned them toward the road and his kids chased them up the embankment and across the road to our driveway. Then they all rushed back to do their milking while I lured the wayward cows into their fenced pasture.

After that hour-long chase scene, I was totally red, drenched in sweat, plastered with dirt, and had been crashing through ditches of dangerous wild parsnip, so I took a long, cold shower and let the adrenalin subside.  Now I feel a teeny bit less sad about the idea of harvesting those steers next week.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Something to Sprout About!

My sprout orders have tripled in the past few months, with sprouting taking over almost half of  the kitchen counter space--a big problem during Farmers Market baking season.  In addition, the weather has been so hot and humid, the sprouts are growing too fast.  So, this weekend we transformed the unused little bathroom in the nice cool basement into a sprouting room.
The spot where the toilet used to be makes a nice alcove for wire shelving  for the sprout trays.  We removed the door from the shower surround and set up the sinks inside.  The sinks drain into a pipe that will empty into a 5-gallon bucket so I can capture the  rinse water  for watering my plants (sprout rinse-water is supposed to be full of plant growth enzymes.)  If we ever move or I  discontinue c growing sprouts, it will be very easy to revert this space to a normal bathroom.
After sanitizing all the surfaces I painted the walls with scrubbable paint--bright alfalfa sprout green with white wainscoating.
The biggest expense for this project was the  sink.  I was delighted to find a stainless steel double sink that fit perfectly in the oddly-shaped shower stall, but it cost $350. We needed a way to support the sink, and  serendipitously, we had two stainless steel racks that that worked perfectly  to suspend the sink at the right height.
All I need now is a small work surface for spinning out the spouts and a radio to keep me company  during the rinsing hours.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Team Milkshake

This morning we biked to Pine Island, a little town along the Douglas Bike trail about 10 miles away, for breakfast.  When we got to the Douglas Trail we saw a slew of bikers, many  with crazy  bike helmet decor, but they rode on the parallel highway so the trail was clear sailing for us more leisurely riders.
We dined at a little coffeehouse and while we were there, a bunch of the bikers from the ride came in to fuel up a bit. There were 5 intrepid women in crazy mohawk helmets  and they allowed me to photograph them.
The biking event was the Red Ribbon Ride, an annual 4-day ride from Minneapolis to Rochester and back that raises money for HIV-Aids service organizations. The women are  known as  "Team Milkshake" and this is their 6th year participating.  This year they raised $13,400 in pledges. They also raise money by organizing an art auction in the Twin Cities. Over the 6 years they have raised over $120,000 for this cause!

Today is an incredibly  steamy day - I wish them cooling tail-winds.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Guardin' the Garden

The farm has a new character--Gourdetta, who stands patiently in the middle of the veggie garden with the mission of keeping the birds away from the  raspberries and tomatoes.
Gourdetta's head came from  Margot at the Farmer's Market, who raises fabulous decorative gourds. I loved the  nose on this one. Gourdetta's ensemble came from Salvation Army.  When I showed Cadence her attire, she said "She looks like you."
Gourdetta is much too skinny to be mistaken for me, however. Perhaps I should stuff her a bit to give her a more womanly figure.
Gourdetta greets the morning.
She keeps the birds away, the turkeys help keep the bugs at bay.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stormy Weather

It was such an oppressively hot, sultry day yesterday that sweat ran down your body even when you were sitting still doing nothing.  The temperature was upper 90's but it was extremely humid; the heat index was 115 degrees F.  It sure felt like tornado weather, and there was a tornado watch called for all of southeastern Minnesota.

Cooler air finally breezed in that evening and clashed with the steamy air, resulting in a fierce storm.  The sky turned greenish,  then yellow, then  orange,  and finally deep reddish brown with massive dark, churning clouds.  The tree tops whipped sideways in the wind and the windmill whirred frantically. Unfortunately, I had left my camera in the barn and did not want to venture out into a potential tornado to get it, so my photos were taken after the storm had subsided significantly.
At the peak of the storm it was dark as night, but as the  clouds broke up, the sky lightened, with a hint of a sunset peeking through on the western horizon.
Clouds zipped past the windmill.
We lost a few branches, including a huge limb off the big silver maple next to the barn, but it managed to fall without causing damage to roof, fence or livestock. Although it was still raining hard and windy, the cows bounded over to munch on the leaves. They love maple leaves.

This is our week for taking off from the Farmers Market -- happily, we will have time to clean up the fallen tree branches.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Turkey Tragedy

Last night as we closed up the chicken coop and barn for the night, Cadence noted with a bit of concern that the turkeys had elected to sleep on the pile of brush in the bonfire circle by the big trees in the back yard. Last year we lost 25  chickens to a family of great horned owls, many of them nabbed in this exact spot.  But, we haven't seen or heard any owls this summer and the turkeys were all settled in for the night so we didn't make them move.

Terrible mistake.  This morning we discovered three of the nine turkeys beheaded and one totally missing, presumed eaten.  Cadence was especially upset - she adores the turkeys and they  follow her everywhere.  She was most outraged that the  owls are so wasteful, only eating the heads and leaving the bodies. One turkey they killed but didn't eat any of it.
Sadly, Cadence  buried the turkeys under her grapevines where at least they will provide a bit of fertilizer. We will have to start herding the turkeys into the barn at night, at least until they are considerably bigger.

The five remaining turkeys seemed pretty calm for having just survived a night of carnage.  Above,  one of them is doing what I call "Turkey Tai Chi"in the morning sun. The turkey balances on one leg and very slowly and gracefully stretches the other into an arabesque.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gardening Like Crazy

There's nothing like an impending garden club tour of your farm to inspire a flurry of weeding, mulching, staking, thinning, planting, mowing, chicken-coop-cleaning and patio-powerwashing. That's how we spent yesterday. This morning before 7 a.m.  I weeded the new asparagus rows planted this year (celery growing between.)  I didn't take a "before" photo, but trust me, you would have had a difficult time recognizing it as an asparagus bed. Tonight I will mulch.
Yesterday, I finally wove some supports through the sprawling tomatoes and created navigable paths. This should have been done long ago -I couldn't avoid breaking off a few heavy vines.
Although we planted them in the same deep-mulching method as last year's successful crop, for some reason our potatoes did not sprout, so a few weeks ago we gave up on them and transplanted winter squashes in that  spot. Since then,  potatoes have emerged!  Unplanned companion planting.
We have a lot of companion planting going on this year. Cadence planted lettuce amongst the onions and zucchinis between the pea and bean trellises. The onion-lettuce bed has a nice texture.
Fennel is ready to start harvesting -but it's so pretty I hate to pick it.
Raspberries are almost done, but we are still getting a few of the precious morsels. The plants are from 75 canes we planted last fall into three rows. The  bushes were kind of scrawny this first year, but bore a pretty good crop.
I planted a beautiful pink and yellow honeysuckle vine to climb up the windmill where a clematis refused to grow.
After I spoke at the garden club last year with Kari about the Farmers Market, they asked if they could tour the farm this year. I said sure, thinking I would have some of my flower gardening projects accomplished by now, such as the formal raised perennial beds where this scraggly birdbath flower patch is.  Such good intentions!   But life (and a milk cow) intervened.
Some of my plants seem to be cooperating, though. The little brugmansia plant (angel's trumpet) I purchased at the garden club plant sale last spring  is loaded with huge, trumpet-shaped blossoms.
The pavement roses are  also covered in blooms. That's the unlovely name on the tag; I got them because they reminded me of a rambly rosebush we had in our  back yard growing up - my mom hated that prickly rose but the blossoms smelled wonderful.
The other cool thing about this rose is that it produces huge rosehips.

The yard, patio and garden are looking pretty presentable.  Tonight I tackle the chicken coop and barn...