Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Few Things Keeping Me Awake at Night

A few of the books stacked beside my side of the bed right now.
I have always loved books.  As a kid I would forsake sleeping and read late into the night, often devouring an entire book in one all-night session, typically reading ten books a week.  As an adult, however, I have grown to appreciate sleep more, and generally read only a couple chapters before turning off the light.

One exception is the book I just finished, The Dirty Life: On Farming Food and Love, by Kristin Kimball. I heard Kristin interviewed on public radio while driving, and when I got home I immediately went online and ordered her book.  Kimball is a former NewYork City journalist who was smitten by a farmer while interviewing him for a story.  As a result, she dived into raising pigs, milking cows, making cheese, haying, and living a very intense, exhausting and unavoidably dirty life. Their upstate New York farm has the most audacious goal of raising ALL the food required by 100 people each year- including meat,  dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains, and sugars (in the form of maple syrup), and accomplishing this farming with draft horses. I don't know how she ever found the time to also write a book, but it is a great read and I finished it in two nights. (I am getting too old to read books until 3 a.m.!)

I rarely buy books new - I find plenty of wonderful books at the Salvation Army thrift store for a dollar or two, sometimes even valuable resources on organic gardening or raising livestock. Although I enjoy fiction, usually I am drawn to nonfiction.  I want to learn, learn, learn as much as I can about everything and anyway, real life is so amazing, who needs fiction?  For instance, in Swimming to Antarctica, I followed Lynne Cox, an incredible woman who broke the world record swimming the English Chanel as a teen, then went onto ever more astonishing feats, even swimming across the Bering Strait (it may be close enough for Sarah Palin to see Russia, but there are strong currents and the water is frigid!) and through icebergs to Antarctica.  If this story was fiction it wouldn't be believable.

Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon, is not the genre I usually choose, but Rog and I have had three fantastic backpacking treks in the Grand Canyon, so I was drawn to this fascinating adventure book.  The authors, Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers, documented all the deaths recorded in the Grand Canyon in every conceivable manner from dying of thirst to drowning, from falling from the rim to having rocks fall on you, accidents to idiocy to murders. A good book to require your risk-taking children to read before embarking on a backpacking adventure.

I read a lot about  farming.  Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon has given me new appreciation for poop and inspired me to deal with manure in some new ways. Only Gene Logsdon could write about manure so engagingly. All of his books are wonderful. He is my farming hero.  A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil  has some clever insights about how suburban  developments could raise food sustainably (but given a choice, read Michael Pollan first).

The books I am now immersed in are: Creative Inc: The Ultimate Gide for  Starting a Freelance Business (in preparation for leaving my job to focus on making art!),  Joel Salatin's passionate, irreverent new book The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer,  The Rodale Book of Composting (more manure) and Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats (just in case goats are in my future...)

You can't learn everything you need to know about farming from books, but you sure can learn a lot!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey for Two

We planned to have a a small family Thanksgiving with my parents visiting, but due to a snowstorm up north,  my parents decided to stay put. So, Rog and I had a romantic Thanksgiving dinner for two. We scaled back the menu to the bare feast essentials (turkey, dressing, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie) and spent all day cooking together at a leisurely pace.
We roasted the smallest of our turkeys - 16 pounds.  Rog was in charge of the turkey, and it was delectable! (Thank you , dear turkey.)
A four-day weekend is such a treat!  We putzed around the farm, filled bird feeders, organized stuff in the barn, installed a heater in the summer kitchen, and we took a walk around the big loop to burn off some of that turkey dinner.
While Rog played with fire, burning a big pile of buckthorn and brush, I painted.
On Saturday night, The Nodding Wild Onions were featured performers at the River Sing and Poetry slam I helped organize for the Women and Water Rights exhibition. Rog plays in this crossover blues band. They  learned an amazing repertoire of river songs for this event.
Thanksgiving Day may have been over, but the cooking continued all weekend. Rog made a batch of pretty  (and yummy!) multi-grain sourdough breads.
I simmered turkey stock for most of two days. Tonight, most of that stock and leftover turkey went into savory turkey pot pies, chock full of veggies and herbs, which are now in the freezer.  The next blizzardy winter night, I'll bake them in the oven while we shovel out. We'll come in, snow-covered and icy cold, to a warm kitchen and the heavenly aroma of this most comforting of comfort foods.  Almost makes me wish for a snowstorm!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanks for a Bounty of People

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people.
For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers keep reminding us that we've had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, 
and the others, as plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions.
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, 
and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks.

-- Max Coots
(Thanks to my friend Dave for sending this lovely poem in the Good Food Store Co-op newsletter.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mighty Hunter

We keep several garbage cans just inside the barn door for storing bags of cracked corn. Today, as I was restacking a load of hay, I could hear scratching noises inside one of the  cans - Nutmeg could hear it too.
She grabbed the bag
and pulled...
 I know it's  in there.
Mighty Mouse Hunter.
Who needs cats?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

First Taste of Snow this Winter

We were almost ready for the snow that came this weekend. Most of the hoses and lawn furniture were stored away.  Most of the spring bulbs were planted.  Most of the fence repairs were completed. Most of the yard was swept clear of  the deep layer of leaves. I guess we'll never be 100% ready - this may be as good as it gets.
It was very wet snow. We only got  an inch or two that  stuck to the ground; nothing like the Twin Cities  an hour and half north-- they got  a foot of snow.

The cows hung out at the  entrance to the loafing shed and seemed to be dismayed that winter was starting in earnest. It's not their favorite time of year.

The chickens, the younger batch,  have been ranging further into the woods each morning. They must be still finding goodies under the deeper leaf litter where the ground is not so cold yet.

Snow whitewashed the west side of the tree trunks. Any leaves that are still green this time of year belong to invasive buckthorn.  I hope we get a chance to pull some this week, when the ground is wet and it stands out so obviously.
During the heaviest snow, the utility company showed up to replace the  dying bulb in our yard light.  We have  debated whether to even have a yard light or not. We like the dark and having a clear view of the stars,  but this time of year when the days are so short it is pretty nice to have light to do morning and evening chores by, not to mention and late night and early morning shoveling.
I wonder if we could have persuaded him to grease our mournful windmill while he was up there?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Squeezing out a little paint and...in a little painting

A few more of my paintings have sold recently at Crossings (hooray!) and more works have been requested.  I didn't have anything that wasn't either hanging on my wall, not ready to part with, or not satisfactory, so I was forced (twist my arm) to do a bit of painting.

Finding both time and a place to paint is a challenge right now.  Now that it is freezing at night and days are dark, I had to move my "summer studio" out of the unheated, un-electrified granary. I ended up setting  an easel and  table up in my crowded office a couple days ago, with a drop cloth on the floor.  Despite the chaos in my office, having a canvas right there, staring at me, with paint ready to  swish a few brush strokes at any time, has been a pretty good strategy.  I completed a little (12-inch square) chicken painting, "Banty with a Blueberry"

and reworked a 16 x 20  piece from a year or so ago that I never was happy with.  I am pleased with it at this moment.  It's called "Pet Me."

I must be the luckiest person in the world -- I am living my dream come true learning to be a farmer and have had a job I really love, working with great people, for a cause I care about deeply (clean energy). The only  down side is that the farm and the job leave very little, if any, time for making art, my other passion. So, after much agonizing, I am leaving my job at the end of the year to be a full-time farmer and artist!  The other reason I am the luckiest person in the world is that my sweet spouse actually supports me in this risky endeavor. What a guy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Evening Approaching

I Am A Community Clucker!

Hey! I was invited to be a Community Clucker, a regular contributor to a chicken-raising blog produced by Mother Earth News. I have to admit a bit of stage-fright: the other bloggers are great writers, most have much more chicken expertise than I do, and the site gets thousands of visitors a day.
Deep breath.   You can read my first post, about our vintage chicken coop, here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Farm Beginnings and Fall Endings

We cannot express how grateful we are for the gentle fall weather lingering on so long this year.

Saturday was glorious but we were inside all day, at the first session of the year-long Farm Beginnings course sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project. The class was great, and it was wonderful to meet a roomful of aspiring beginner farmers like us (some were even middle-aged novices like us) but we did have a few pangs, thinking we should be home getting our winter prep done.

We are taking the Farm Beginnings class to help us focus in on a plan for Squash Blossom Farm.  We have been mulling over a list of about twenty brainstorm ideas for a little farm-based enterprise ever since we moved here, everything from making artisan cheese, to opening a pizza farm or a  meadery, or growing flowers. We hope that this class will help us evaluate whether we have what it takes for success with one of these ventures.

Lucky for us, Sunday was also a perfect day and we  accomplished most of the items on our To Do list:
- Get a load of hay and straw
- Spread new straw bedding in loafing shed for cows
- Spread new straw bedding in chicken coop
- Set up heaters for chicken waterers
- Clean out north end of barn - including power-washing the trailer. upon which the guineas have been roosting and making a mess
- Devise a new roost for the guineas
- Organize potting shed gear in north end of barn (last week I moved the potting shed out of the coop and gave the entire building back to the chickens
- Clean out garage so both vehicles can fit inside
- Wash the rest of the windows and put on plastic (Rog got half of them done last weekend)
- Power wash patio
- Take canopy off gazebo
- Spread composted animal bedding on garden
- De-hull, rinse and spin sprouts for  delivery Monday

Whew! We worked hard! And then Rog made some  yummy potato-leek soup for a late supper.

Still have a few things left on our fall To Do list:
- Plant garlic
- Plant the remaining bulbs and wildflowers
- Plant the rosebushes and bittersweet vine
- Store patio furniture and fountain
- Burn brush pile
- Leaf removal in back yard
- Insulate cow water tank
- Fire up the snowblower

We are promised a few more nice days yet, so I am optimistic we will get everything crossed off our list before it snows.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rude Awakening

The past few days I have been sick with the flu, but I still managed to  do the morning chores, albeit a bit groggily. Yesterday I went to let the dogs out into the yard and to feed the chickens and I  didn't even notice there was a big raccoon right there, chowing down on the chicken feed, until I  opened the gate and Nutmeg went totally berserk.

I know raccoons can be very fierce and was worried Nutmeg was going to be  seriously hurt; she was repeatedly dodging and charging and snapping at the the raccoon, which would then charge Nutmeg, snarling. Cocoa was keeping her distance, barking like a cheerleader. I yelled for Rog. He came outside, grabbed a big leaf rake and tried to separate Nut from the coon at a rake's-length distance. What a commotion -  yelling and snarling and hissing and barking and clucking. Not to mention mooing-the cows were getting in on it too, or just wanted breakfast.
Rog finally got Nutmeg away from the raccoon enough that it lumbered to  the big maple tree, scampered up, and crawled way out on a scrawny branch at the top where it hung out all day.  The raccoon looked so innocent and cute when up in the tree.  I didn't see it climb down, but later in the afternoon when I went out to check the mail, it was gone.

We checked Nutmeg over carefully and didn't find a scratch, although the raccoon had a bit of blood on its face.  I hope it is okay, but that Nutmeg gave it enough of a fright that it decides not to venture into our farmyard again. I have heard many horror stories about raccoons ruthlessly killing chickens -dozens of chickens.  From now on I will refrain from feeding the chickens just before roosting time so there is not a pan of leftovers to lure in raccoons.