Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A frantic pace

This is the time of year where priorities are tested. There just isn't enough time or energy or willingness to do all of it. There are seedlings to nurture in the basement, there are seeds to sow and weeds to hoe in the garden, there are trees to plant and yards to mow, there are chicks to care for and coops to clean, there are goats to shear and kids (goat kind) to birth, there are kids (humankind) to love and watch over and drive places and play with, there are meals to cook and a house to clean, there are community meetings to go to and oh yeah, there is that silly other thing people call a JOB. You know, that thing that brings home the paycheck?

It's at this time of year that I wonder what the heck I was thinking. Last year I had a post devoted to this particular desperation. It usually lasts only a few weeks, after which I learn to live with a few weeds, a few failed crops, a few shaggy goats, a few missed meetings and a very messy house.

Here are a few of my seedlings. They are De Cicco broccoli I started from seed in my basement. They would normally be outside sunning themselves on the deck, except that we have 40 mph winds (the kind I mentioned in my last post) today and although they might survive the onslaught they wouldn't be very happy about it.

Here is one of the five apple trees we have in our yard. I think this one is a Fireside. And here is Number Three Son, who ran at the last minute to be included in the photo. I put these posts and fencing around the trees last fall to protect them from the deer. It seems to have worked marvelously. Yesterday I went around with a brush and rag to get rid of a few tent caterpillar webs that I found on the branches. Tent caterpillars will eat every leaf off a fruit tree if left to their own devices.

And here is one of the new fruit trees we have, a Evans Bali cherry. We planted four new trees: two cherry, one Luscious pear and one Summercrisp pear. I'll have to fence the cherries off from the deer as well. The pears are planted inside the chicken run which already has a fence. Apparently Benjamin is trying out his Marilyn Monroe pose for the camera.

Our little munchkins are growing quickly. It's hard to believe they are just less than a month old.

If you look closely at the top of this little buckling's head you can see tiny horns starting to grow.

Several years ago I received a lovely gift from a wonderful woman who lives in Maine, who has written a book and created a forum for family cow owners. Comfrey roots! I planted them in several spots in the yard (not the garden, as I was told that they spread easily) and have managed to keep them alive despite all my neglect. Yesterday I pulled bunches of grass away to encourage them to grow. I've heard lots of good things about Comfrey.

And lastly, we had a visitor to our house yesterday morning -- a wood duck, perched about thirty feet up in an aging ash tree. Obviously looking for a good place to nest. I doubt he will stay, since we have no lakes or ponds immediately near our house. But it was fun to have him stopping by.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Planting potatoes

Here is a picture of our garden. I love the way it looks this time of year, all rich and brown and full of promise. And not full of weeds. As I've said before, my garden isn't pretty. It's fenced all the way around to keep out the bunnies and deer and cats and raccoons and ostriches. The metal sheets are the pathways inbetween beds. The cement pavers are to hold down the sheets when the wind gusts up to 40 mph (which it does on a frequent basis). There are also old 4x4s and tomato cages scattered about, just waiting to be used to hold down row covers and hold up tomato plants.

My garlic is looking very good. I love garlic. It's so easy to grow.

Last Wednesday we planted potatoes. The local superstition for potato planting is to get it done by Good Friday. My neighbor looked at me askance when I told her I did it this week. No problem, I'm used to askance. Hubby dug the trenches while I sliced and planted seed potatoes. Benjamin helped a lot too, by drinking most of the lemonade.

And by playing in the dirt.

And by finding worms.

Oh, and by throwing dirt on the potatoes.

Now we have three 4x12 beds of potatoes. I planted some store-bought kennebecs in the two middle plots shown above. I also planted some potatoes I saved from last year's garden, in a plot some distance from these two. I am experimenting, to see if my saved potatoes carry any residual late blight bacteria. Last year I chopped down my stalks relatively quickly after I saw the blight, in the hopes that the bacteria wouldn't travel down to the spuds themselves. I'll monitor the plants closely this summer for any signs of the disease.

It was such a lovely morning. Basking in a gloriously sunny sky, digging in the cool fertile earth, sharing this experience with my youngest son. Knowing that these memories would stay with him, my still-innocent child, memories of gardening with his mother. I was filled with contentment. What a perfect way to spend a day.

And then, just when we had finished planting, just as I was relishing the idyll of the moment, my child picks up a unused tree tube, mounts it on his shoulder and announces, "Look! I found a bazooka!"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring tidings

The baby goats are doing well. At first Eve was very protective of her little black buckling and wouldn't let the other kids get near him. But she has loosened up a bit now and the little kids are able to romp and play together. The two bucklings have started to play the head-butt game, where they push against each other head-to-head. The have no horns yet, but it is fun to see their instincts kicking in this early.

They also like to play 'king of the cinder block'. There is a cinder block in their field and they take turns jumping on top of it and pushing each other off. It is funny to watch. I really need to get the goats more things to jump around on. They love climbing on stuff.

I replanted my spinach and chard in the garden a few days ago, seeing no evidence of sprouts from my previous attempt. But the snap peas I planted are starting to poke through the soil. Hurray! Perhaps I will get an extra week or two of peas before they begin to falter late in June.

I am putting my onion seedlings out on the deck now, even though they are not nearly big enough to plant. I have snipped them off several times and they are starting to grow their third 'leaves.' Their growth is slower than I anticipated and I wonder if they will grow large enough to make all this work worthwhile. Especially when a container of starter sets is less than $2 at the nursery.

My peppers have sprouted and been repotted. I am growing long red cayenne, Czech black, alma paprika and Italian pepperoncini. The alma paprika and pepperoncini have sprouted with near 100% germ rates. The cayenne and Czech black are closer to 10%. So I may end up buying some cayenne seedlings at the nursery as well. I will have to check to see which seed company I bought these faulty seeds from. I suspect it is Fedco.

My tomato seeds have sprouted as well. I am growing San Marzano, Valencia, golden peach and an unnamed lovely red/yellow fleshy variety I got in my CSA box last year. I also started some basil, spearmint, lemongrass, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli seeds in the basement a few days ago. The basil and broccoli are already beginning to show themselves above the soil.

I really wish I had a green house to put all of these seedlings in. I may have to design a greenhouse-like contraption out of scraps we have laying around the farm. We have some old windows and plenty of extra 2x4s from our barn building. Add a bit of heavy clear plastic and we could be in business.

The Easter Bunny visited our house this weekend. We don't worry about the actual date we celebrate holidays, as long as the whole family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) can all be together.

He hid eggs all over the yard, in with the chickens, in with the goats.

The bunny also left a few gifts. Here my youngest has found a Toy Story DVD. He was most pleased.

We also flew kites. It was perfect kite weather. As you can see the alfalfa is greening up. Today we hit 73 degrees. It's hard to believe it is still April. But I will take the warmth, as long as we get a bit of rain to go along with it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Plus one, minus three

Our census count needs another adjustment. Late this morning hubby and I were preparing to finally butcher some of our roosters. The butchering number was down to three -- I gave two of my Americauna roos to my new friends at Humble Roots Heritage Farm just last week. Their own roosters had been killed by a fox. So, we had brought out the table, knives, hose, buckets and pots and were setting everything up by the firering at the end of the yard. I was heading back to the house to get some rope when I heard the familiar bleating. I turned and headed for the barn.

Eve decided to have her babe outside, behind the barn. A healthy, beautiful black buckling. Like I thought, Eve was just carrying the one. I fixed her and her new babe up in the kidding pen and sat down with them for an hour or so. Eve is a new mother, and is naturally more skittish than Dawn. She didn't like me touching her udder at all. But I was persistent and she settled down after awhile.

The little one is very cute, of course. A little bigger than the twins born three days ago. Eve was bred to a black buck, and since she carries some color under her white she gave birth to a black kid. White is dominant, so a white goat can carry some recessive color. The color genetics for angora goats are complicated, and I don't pretend to understand it all.

Later in the afternoon hubby and I found time to butcher the roosters. These roosters are the first animals that we have raised and butchered ourselves, on our farm. We made some newbie mistakes: too small a pot for dunking, causing the hot water to overflow into the fire; knives that were sharp but not sharp enough; not putting a tarp underneath the plucking station. And my eviscerating skills were a little rusty. But we got it done, and now we have three fresh chickens in our freezer. And our hens are lot happier with three less roosters to cause them grief.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Altogether different bleat

Today's mail brought our census forms. We answered all the questions, checked all the appropriate boxes. Five humans, sixteen chickens, six cats (indoor and out) and two goats. Well, maybe we didn't put all of that down. But I wanted to.

Late this afternoon I walked outside with a bucket of kitchen scraps for the chickens. I was halfway to the coop when I heard Eve bleating at me from the barn. I bleated back. Then I heard another bleat. An altogether different bleat -- high-pitched and squeaky, like a goat had suddenly sucked in air from a helium balloon. I stopped dead in my tracks, frozen to a standstill, holding my breath. I heard it again, that altogether different bleat, and I knew what it meant.

It meant that one of my goats had just given birth.

I drop the bucket and run to the door of the barn. Hoping, hoping, hoping to see a healthy goat and a healthy kid inside. I look through the doorway and see Dawn, mucus trailing from her backside, and a teeny tiny dark brown body next to her.

He was unsteady on his legs, but he was definite standing. And bleating loudly. Dawn was licking licking licking his wet fur, cleaning off her babe. A huge wave of relief comes over me. It seems the birth had been an easy one for both mom and kid.

Then I hear another bleat. Smaller, and somewhat muffled. And coming from a pile of hay.

I walk in and drop down on my knees. I crawl forward, carefully moving hay, hoping hoping hoping. Soon I uncover another tiny brown wet body. Wet and slimy, still covered from the goo of birth. I reach in and pull her out. I place her in front of her mother, hoping hoping hoping Dawn will recognize her as her own. She does, quickly nudging her babe and licking licking licking. The kid stands, wobbly. Another wave of relief.

After a few moments of wondrous watching, I pop into frantic mode. This is the first live birth on our farm (not counting kittens), the first new generation of livestock we have been witness to. I am unprepared. Yes, I know what I should be doing, I have all of the necessities, but I still feel frantic. I run back to the house and walk right into the family room still wearing my muck boots. The boys are scattered about, playing with games and toys. My husband looks up at me from the chair. I wave my hands and mouth, 'baby goats!'

We all rush outside. I run an electric cord to the kidding pen where Dawn and her babes will spend the next two days, bonding and gaining strength. I set up a lamp to help keep the babes warm. I fill the buckets in the pen with water and grain. I spread extra hay on the floor for a thicker bedding. I go out into the goat pen and carefully scoop the two new lives up and carry them into the pen. Then I go gather Dawn and lead her inside.

I make a spot for myself in a corner. I ask hubby to give me a cup and the iodine, and I dip the babe's umbilical cords. I ask hubby to make a couple bottles of colostrum replacer, just in case. I work at stripping the first few squirts of milk from Dawn, and trying to get the kids to nurse. After a few minutes the milk begins to drip out. I try to show the kids the teats, but they will have none of it. I decide to let them figure it out for themselves, but I resolve not to leave until I have seen them both nursing.

The little doeling figures it out first, and gets a good feed in while her brother is still bumbling about. Ten minutes later he catches on. They nurse vigorously. I see the doeling pass meconium. They both urinate. Another wave of relief passes through me.

Dawn is eating and drinking well. Her ears are warm and her eyes are clear. She passes the afterbirth easily. It may be my imagination, but she seems pleased by my presence. She is a good mother, licking licking licking, stepping carefully and raising her leg when they wish to nurse at an odd angle. After a long while I decide to leave her alone with her babes.

I go inside the house and see the time -- 8 :15 pm. More than three hours have passed since I first heard that altogether different bleat.

I go back out at 11 pm, and everything is fine. Dawn licks my hand when I reach in to pat her neck. The doeling is sleeping in the hay and the buckling is exploring the walls of the kidding pen. Outside, Eve bleats a question and Dawn answers her.

Now it is after midnight and I am tired. The initial shock, the initial frantic has started to wear off. My body is tired but my brain is still rolling, running with thoughts and hope and wonder. Two new lives have just been born. Two completely, utterly new lives. On our farm. I am able to say 'our farm' now, without that pang of doubt. I have always wondered, what makes a farm? Now I know. This makes a farm.

We must change our census forms: five humans, sixteen chickens, six cats (indoor and out), and FOUR GOATS!


A quick picture of Benjimouse feeding apple treats to the goats. This was taken a few days ago, back when we only had two goats!!