Saturday, April 30, 2011

3 Cool Things

It has been raining, raining, raining for days, but finally this evening the sun came out.  I  walked down the squishy path to the big rock at the edge of the meadow to check on the status of  the wildflowers. The bloodroot I planted last fall is blooming!  It is one of the very earliest wildflowers to bloom. I love how the leaves curl around, embracing the stem. If you pluck a leaf, the juice at the base of the leaf near the ground oozes out red - hence the name.  I hope this little cluster will expand our into the woods.
Last fall I planted one marsh marigold root, thinking it might be wet enough in the spring for it to survive. Well, this year it may be the only thing I planted there to survive - that spot is standing water this year. I expect to find tadpoles soon!
The third cool thing I found by the big rock was an owl pellet!  I have always been on the lookout for  an owl pellet, but this is the first one I have ever found. OK, if you think about it in a certain way, it is essentially like a hairball a cat coughs up, except that it is amazing because it came from an owl. You can see fur, fragments of bone, what looks like a beetle shell, and a claw in this pellet. Maybe I will dissect it. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Ahhh, Spring! Buds & Mud

One Day Old

It rained constantly today. The barnyard and pasture became extremely mucky, especially after our little earth-moving project yesterday,  and the cows hung out inside the loafing shed.  Lariat's new calf (we still haven't settled on a name) was frisky and curious. Lariat is a good, attentive mom, but  her udder is very full and uncomfortable. When I went out to do evening chores, the calf was running laps around the shed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This is Frank, our neighbor, a retired farmer who still has plenty of farm toys. He repairs lawn mowers, snowblowers, chainsaws - and other stuff with engines - a very convenient neighbor for newbie farmers who are not mechanically gifted.

I asked Frank if he might rent us one of his little yard tractors with a blade to clean up the old bedding, manure, and sodden wasted hay around our loafing shed. He offered to  do it himself with his impeccable, shiny Kubota front end loader.  (Truth be told, I think he was itching to have an excuse to use that machine! )
His loader just barely fit through the gate and  between our loafing shed and barn- kind of puts our little farm in scale.
Every morning and night after chores I had been forking a bunch of this stuff into a pile but never could get ahead.   I had no concept the pile would end up to be this big! (Actually, this is about half of the final pile) It would have taken me forever to move all that -and I would have needed several professional massages!  For lack of a better spot, I had Frank pile it next to the loafing shed where it will compost and eventually get spread on the gardens. This was obviously the manure pile site before we moved here and I recall wondering why they put it there. Now I know: sheer convenience. Any other spot would have required many trips with the loader.
I herded Lariat and her newborn calf to a quiet spot at the the far end of the pasture while Frank worked. LaFonda was very curious and  kept getting in the way, so I gave her a pile of hay out in the pasture to keep her distracted.

Now the small middle pasture is bare and flat.  It's also quite muddy with today's rain, but at least now the ground will have a chance to dry out.  This yard ends up being the sacrifice area while the main pastures revive, but I plan to spread a mixture of pasture grass seed on it. Hopefully the grass in the large pastures will be tall enough soon that I can move the cows into them and let the new seed take hold.
Thanks, Frank!  

Monday, April 25, 2011

Introducing the Newest Member of the Herd!

I was worried I was going to have to write about  some of the other projects going on at Squash Blossom Farm, but, hooray! Lariat finally had her calf today and I get to write about that!

Meet  the newest member of our herd.
Lariat's official due date was last Wednesday.  She was getting huge and I was getting stressed.   I checked on her every hour or so. Yesterday she was so uncomfortable-looking, I was sure it was going to be the big day. But no.

This morning I just knew it was the day because when I went out to feed all the critters, LaFonda was waiting for breakfast as usual, but Lariat was not. She is not a cow to ever miss breakfast. Even when she saw me carry out the fresh hay and a bit of grain, she stayed in the far corner of the pasture.

I videotaped most of her labor, but will spare you because it is kind of slow and boring and also rather graphic. After a few hours, she was at the point where the bag of amniotic fluid was visible, as well as the hooves on the calves' feet. Happily, they were right side up, which meant the calf was in the proper position for an easy birth. However, the feet were huge - much bigger than I expected. And it seemed to be taking a long time.  I was worried the calf might be too big.  After almost an hour with no further progress, I decided to zip across the road to the dairy farm and get an experienced opinion. Mark and Lynn assured me everything was probably ok, but said that they would come in half an hour when they finished milking and bring chains in case they needed to pull the calf. I rushed back home, only to discover a wet, lumpy black puddle next to Lariat - her calf had  been born in those 5 minutes while I was across the road. It  is a heifer!
Within the hour,  she  was able to  get wobbily to her feet.
Soon she even figured out how to get breakfast:

Although she is black, both her parents are red, so perhaps her color will become more red.  We haven't  decided upon a name yet - suggestions welcome!

Our other cow, LaFonda, is officially due in 2 weeks. However, when Mark came to check on Lariat after milking and saw LaFonda, he remarked that she is pretty close; he bets it will be sooner  than 2 weeks.  The thrills continue!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bird of Prey and a Calf, We Pray

One of the hens caught a mouse today. She had a good head start before any of the other chickens noticed - I think she may have successfully kept it for herself.

Lariat was officially due to have her calf yesterday, but so far, no baby.  She is looking pretty uncomfortable and didn't eat much tonight, so maybe tomorrow. I  check on her at least every hour during my waking hours and have been giving both cows lots of extra TLC.  It's a bit nerve-wracking, being a cow-doula.

Wordless Thursday: Found on the Ground

(Sorry - couldn't get to Wordless Wednesday until now...)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another Snow Day

The view out the upstairs bathroom window this morning, as the snow begins. We could have done without another snowstorm, in my opinion!   We are under a winter storm warning until tomorrow morning, forecast to get up to 8 inches.  The ground has warmed up enough that I am hoping most of it will melt as it lands.
Turning from the window, this is my more spring-like view. Last fall I transformed the south-facing guest bathroom into a temporary winter solarium, filling the bathtub with pots of bourgainvillea, angels trumpet, and mandevillea from the patio. They have survived the winter quite well.  A couple weeks ago, I added shelving and fluorescent shop lights for seed starts. The tomatoes have their first true leaves now.
We also have a miniature citrus grove up there. When the home improvement store clearanced little citrus fruit trees last fall for 99 cents each, I purchased an orange, a lemon and a lime.  I am not expecting to get oranges on these 1-foot-tall trees for several years, so I was surprised to find flower buds on the orange this week.  Being from Minnesota, I have zero experience with citrus trees, but I have heard that orange blossoms are extremely fragrant- I can't wait for them to open so I can get a whiff.
Last Saturday was the annual garage sale at Sargent's Nursery, where I used to work. It was a very windy, blustery day, but I braved the cold because there are such great deals for gardeners.  I purchased a bunch of perennials at 70% off - including two  spectacular clematis vines, loaded with buds.  I am keeping them indoors until spring arrives.  This variety is Josephine--it will have  layered  pink and lavender striped petals, like a pompom. The other is Barbara Harris, bearing a large, single purplish-red flower with yellow anthers. Maybe I will have clematis blooming for Easter.
My plan was to plant peas and  greens out in the garden today, but since it is a better day for indoor projects, I  am working up the oomph to tackle sewing a new canopy for the gazebo on the patio (see structure on lower left corner of this photo). The original canopy was pretty old and fragile, and was ripped to shreds in a fierce storm last fall.  The gazebo is  10 x10 feet, with corner panels and mosquito net curtains.  That's going to be a big pile o' fabric to handle --wish me luck!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

If April Showers Bring May Flowers, What Does April Snow Bring?

Last weekend, I was feeling a bit panicky because it was 80 degrees and I felt so far behind.

Never mind.  This morning we had freezing rain and  a bit of snow on the ground (up north in Bemidji, our home town, they got 8 inches!)
Raindrops had frozen on all the shrubs and trees, making the branches look like crystal pussywillows.
The violas resembled the sugared violets  Sara made last year.

Silver maple tree flowers encased in ice - on the tree that provided us with sap for our maple syrup.

The tulips and daffodils bowed over unhappily (I felt the same way), but by this afternoon they perked up. 

Tender Tangle

Tonight is the public reception for the Poet-Artist Collaborative X at Crossings in Zumbrota.  Poems were selected by a jury, then artists were juried in. Each artist got to select a poem to inspire a piece for the show, but did not know who their poet was.

This is my collaborative painting, Tender Tangle.  And this was the poem that inspired it:

Early Morning

hands. Runner's thighs.
Fresh trimmed beard. Curled around
me - dreaming in two languages. Mon
It turned out that I do know the poet-  my friend Julie Hathaway!  I should have suspected--her husband Rick is French.

You are invited to attend the reception tonight--it is always great fun to hear the poets read their poems and the artists talk about their collaborative pieces. The food and wine is great, too! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Few Spring Peeps

It has been almost a week since I last wrote, and in that time the farm has had a miraculous transformation from bare and brown with a few leftover piles of snow, to vivid green with choruses of birds singing their hearts out.  Spring has sprung!

My new camera is a dream but I have some sort of glitch downloading photos to my computer.  So, this post will contain a few assorted photos that did successfully download.

The errant daffodils in the vegetable garden are  just starting to open up.  They are beautiful, but I am determined to move them out of the asparagus bed this year after they bloom.

The weather has been sort of crazy - near 80 degrees the past couple days--and it feels like I am so far behind. I planted onions today. They can  tolerate light frost --a good thing because   possible snow is forecast later this week.
My beehive from last year is now  cleaned out, ready for  a new package of bees.  It was a really tough winter for honey bees. I have talked to four beekeepers who lost all their hives this year. The new bees are shipped from from California, where apparently they are having a  rainy spring, tough for honeybees. The bees have been delayed twice and won't get here until May 7th.  That's actually better for me...
because I have two new beehives to paint and get ready.  The new hives are Warre beehives. They are smaller and easier to handle. I also think they are much more aesthetically pleasing than the Langstroth hives.  I hired my retired friend Ron, a carpenter by avocation, to build the hives for me.  Ron built the hives over a weekend--it would have taken me at least a month and they wouldn't have looked nearly this good! He also found some nice recycled lumber that greatly reduced the cost--the savings paid for his labor.
Our Dexter cow Lariat's official due date  is a week from tomorrow.  She is so round! I have been brushing her  a lot, and occasionally leading her around on a halter so she is comfortable being handled. She is very friendly and gentle, but I have been warned that cows are unpredictable when they have their calves. If I find her in labor, I want to move her into the stall inside the barn, so today I cleaned out the stall and put a deep layer of fresh straw in there.  There is a pretty good  chance I will just go out to do chores and discover her with a newborn calf.  I want to be there when  the calf is born, but above all, I just hope all goes smoothly and there are no complications.
Speaking of cows, I created this udderly ridiculous bra, inspired by our milk cow LaFonda,  for Bra-Chester, a  breast cancer awareness event for  which artists are making artful bras.
Yes, I have cows on the brain.