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Monday, November 21, 2011

'Must Have' Technology, Handmade, Recycled...

For the past 20 weeks I have been on bed rest growing the next generation of northern Vermont farmer, I hope!  Since I do not sit still well, I have spent much of my time crafting, knitting, crocheting, and planning next year’s farming projects including pigs, expanding the greenhouse, vegetable garden, etc.  Before I turned the computer on this afternoon I was working on a sweater which I hope will be a well received holiday gift.  Last week I finished one for my sister-in-law and I have also been working on a couple of items which will keep my son cozy and warm this winter.
As I lie here knitting with the television on in the background, I am amazed by the onslaught of marketing messages for ‘Black Friday’ deals and Thanksgiving sales.  Perhaps I have always been working or I hardly ever have the television on so I have never noticed the insanity with which the advertisements come flying out at you.  Knitting the next row, I laughed out loud at the woman in the hideous red jogging suit training for the ‘Black Friday’ madness.  The morning news show I was watching while I ate my breakfast was discussing the ‘must have’ technology items for this holiday season.  There was a time when I couldn’t leave the house without my car keys, my wallet and my cell phone.  Today, I don’t own a functioning cell phone.
The other day we received a package via traditional, non-express, non-overnight delivery from the U.S. Postal Service.  Hard to believe, I know!  Inside that package was something for the baby; however, it didn’t come from any store.  Inside was one of the most useful of handmade gifts – bibs.  These were no ordinary bibs; however, they were made from boring, inexpensive, white washcloths.  One corner was removed and a tie was sewn on using multi-colored bias tape.  The bib protects from spills, wet the washcloth and clean up baby boy and his high chair, then throw the whole thing into the laundry.  The usefulness of this simple gift which took some time and a little sewing ability was worth far more that that ‘must-have’ technology item from the store with the whacko woman who has been training for over a month now.  Many of the clothes that we have received for the baby have been recycled either directly from family or at a tag sale.  One of my favorite gifts is a plain, off-white blanket embellished with baby patches and appliqu├ęs, not available at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning in any chain store.
This year's holiday gifts are all either handmade or recycled; knitted sweaters, homemade jams, jellies and pickles, and if the baby is late - homemade cookies are an annal favorite.  Yarn for a crocheted scarf and a cookie jar, which are wrapped and waiting for the holidays, came from box lots at local auctions this summer.  Maybe after 'Black Friday' that woman spilling frosting all over the floor will realize that holidays are for being thankful and spending time with family and friends.  Giving gifts is not saved only for holidays; being thankful for all that we are blessed with and sharing it with others should happen each and everyday!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Irreplaceable baking tool

My paternal grandmother was not a great cook; she had several basic meals that she prepared which I thought were delicious, and since have learned differently.  While they were not going to win any awards for flavor or presentation, they were good, hearty, stick to your ribs meals which would keep you going throughout the day’s hard work until time for the next meal.  The one thing that she did make which I could never get enough of, were her incredible dinner rolls.
As soon as I was tall enough to reach the counter of the antique baking cabinet (which I rushed into by using an old milking stool), I was allowed to sink my hands into the warm, silky soft, floured dough and help shape the rolls for their last rise on special occasions such as a holiday meal or my grandfather’s birthday dinner.  She used two pieces of baking equipment which I consider irreplaceable in the baking process, a stoneware bowl and an old fashioned baking cabinet.
When I moved back to the family farm, the baking cabinet remained in the kitchen.  I don’t know that I ever remember my grandmother keeping flour and sugar in the sifters, but I remember rolling out lots of dough on the enamelware surface.  Today, the flour sifter is full and used almost daily for bread, pie crusts, cakes, gravies, or any other recipe which requires the white fluffy powder.  The sugar sifter remains unused as I think it stays fresher when stored in a sealable container.  Summers keep the enamelware counter full of freshly baked pies or breads bound for farmers market.  Dough for the loaves of bread rolled onto that counter came from one of the several stoneware bowls which I have acquired over the years at various yard sales and antique stores.
I have scoured antinque stores, online auctions, yard sales, and some very obscure little stores in the middle of rurality looking for my own baking cabinet only to discover that several hundred pie sales will be required before I am able to make that acquisition.  In the meantime, I will cherish the memories of four-year-old Jen, perched on a wobbly milking stool, shaping dinner rolls with my grandmother each time I roll out another pie crust or knead another loaf of bread. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Piggles

The farm started looking more like an actual farm becoming home to its first livestock in more than 40 years this fall.  Bacon and Pork Chop arrived on the farm from a dog crate in the back of a minivan.  So began the journey into swine.
It started with a facebook posting from a friend who said he would have piglets soon.  Salvaged fence posts, chicken wire, roofing paper, pallets, an old tarp, and some insulating plastic were collected and assembled into a pig pen and shelter in a fairly dry spot across the driveway.  A washtub for a feed bucket and the bottom of a chicken feeder for a water dish, we were ready for our swine right after the last powwow.
The pen worked great for the first few weeks until the piglets got bigger, more curious and apparently that much hungrier.  Under the side of the fence and through the tar paper, they came across the driveway, behind the garage, and took up residence underneath the back porch of the house.  Two hours later with a little elbow grease, some persistence, some more cunning and then a lot of squealing the two pigs were securely back in their pen.
Then there was the rain and a lot of it.  Our fairly dry spot was filling up with water and each day was a losing battle to reinforce the sides of the pen against the rooting swine.  Not that I blame them, I wouldn’t want to sleep with my head in a pile of wet muddy hay either.  We tried several quick fixes and none of them drained the water from inside the pen; it was looking like this was going to be some expensive pork if we had to start over or purchase a shed to house them for the remainder of fall.  Finally, a relative break in the weather combined with a visit from my stepdaughter.  The three of us together with the tractor, backhoe, some PVC pipe, shovels and two loads of muddy laundry; the drainage problem in the pen was solved with no escapees.

Now approaching 125 lbs each, the piggles are getting bored in their pen and are starting to look for a way out again.  Bacon and Pork Chop are freezer bound around the first of the year at about 160 lbs each.  While it is the perfect size for starting pigs, our salvaged materials pig pen will not be sufficient to house two full size sows or a sow and boar.  We have already started salvaging additional materials to build a larger enclosure, with better fencing, for the spring pigs.  We learn something new everyday on this farm, in the meantime we wait patiently for cooler weather and a freezer full of our own farm raised pork.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Slow-Cooker Success

I am a huge fan of the slow-cooker – dump in a pile of ingredients the night before, remove it from the refrigerator in the morning, set the cooker on low for 10 hours and when you get home from work, not only does the house smell delightful, but you have a delicious, wonderful and often nutritious meal waiting. 

This was not always the case.  For years I thought that the only thing that could come out of a slow-cooker was a grayish-looking, meat-like substance which once resembled chicken or beef – Forgive me, Mom.  She cannot be blamed for the shortcomings of her early slow-cooker meals.  The slow-cooker, or Crock-Pot® as many of us know it, was introduced to America in the early 1970’s.  It was a gift from the heavens to those working and single mothers who came home tired from working all day only then to have to cook a meal for their eagerly awaiting children.  When it was introduced, however, I don’t think sufficient re-education was provided.  Slow cookers retain much of the moisture which is present in the item being cooked; it is rarely necessary to add additional water or broth.  This was contrary to how many generations had been taught to cook.

Much of my cooking instruction came from my mother, including how to use my Crock-Pot®.  I don’t remember exactly when I was taught or read that additional liquid didn’t have to be added to my culinary creation in order for it not to burn; but today, unless I am making beans, soup or chili, I rarely add any additional liquid.  The meat simmers in its own juices rendering even the toughest cut of chuck into a delectable slow roasted delight.

I need to thank Jenna over at Cold Antler Farm for reminding me that I can use my Crock-Pot® to slow cook my tough old laying hens.  For several years I have been boiling them in order to de-rubberize the meat so that it could be used in a casserole or chicken and biscuits.  Recently Jenna posted about slow roasting her old hens, de-boning the meat and using it in a pot-pie.  The light bulb went on and I thought to myself, especially since it is fall and we are culling our non-layers to make room in the coop for winter, duh – I could be doing that too.

Two days later, out came the slow-cooker and in went one of the old frozen hens marked for stewing.  That afternoon the de-boned meat went into a chicken, cheddar and rice casserole.  Dinner was met with rave reviews and – “Wow, you can actually chew the chicken this time!”

Thanks again, Jenna!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

So many projects, so little time

Do you ever get the feeling that when you start one project that you end up doing six others before you start the project you had planned on doing first?  That seems to happen all the time here at the farm.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Farm is Still Here!

Spring flooding and torrential rains haven’t washed us away.  A drier than usual summer hasn’t managed to blow us away.  Even hurricane Irene didn’t manage to budge this small farm from its foundation.  So, then why haven’t we heard from Jen?

April was progressing really well, even though mechanical troubles with the van and tractor slowed our progress.  Several projects had at least gotten started and we managed to hatch 17 of 33 eggs in the incubator.  Even my passion for cooking was alive and well.  All that, however, changed during the third week of April.  Perhaps it was a spring cold, perhaps it was a stomach virus, perhaps I was just plain over tired…

NOPE!!!



Several expletives later I emerged from the bathroom with a thorough understanding of the causation of my recent medical issues.  Doctors appointments were made, ultrasounds completed and all the while the spring projects continued at the farm – and then Jen slept.

Christmas trees arrived – DH dug holes and planted several hundred trees a day.  Jen planted 100 then went and slept.

In mid-May the brooder box for the new baby chickens was built – then Jen slept.  DH moved the babies into their new home and subsequently out to their chicken tractor.  In September they joined our regular flock of layers in the chicken coop.

All of the transplants were ready in the greenhouse in early June – Jen didn’t even try to plant them in the garden; she came home from her regular job and slept.  DH started the garden and did his best throughout the summer to keep it producing. 

They say the second trimester is always better – something to look forward to! 

The fourth week into the second trimester Jen went to the emergency room - thankfully nothing was wrong with the baby!  Jen, on the other hand, was relegated to bed rest just 16 weeks into the pregnancy.

DH has been doing everything he can to keep up with the farm while taking care of me.  I can help with small household tasks like laundry and dishes but the lion’s share of the chores have fallen on his shoulders.  The baby is doing well despite its mother’s difficulty and the farm continues to produce despite the lack of attention.

Thanks for hanging around for this first year of blogging – it should get much more interesting with the new addition to the family!!!  So far he is scheduled to arrive just before Christmas.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grilled Tomatoes

The weather has hinted at being a little bit warmer lately and my thoughts are turning to fresh garden vegetables.  In their absence, I must resort to that which comes from the grocery store.  DH and I use our grill all winter long, but the fresh steak and grilled tomatoes from the grill last week was just delicious.

Grilled Tomato Ingredients
Vine Ripe or Plum Tomatoes - or whatever is fresh out of the garden later this summer
Mozzarella, Parmesan, Cheddar, Pecorino (or other favorite) Cheese
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
Garlic

Preheat grill, spray rack with cooking spray
(be careful it will flare).
Slice tomatoes in half, season with salt and pepper - grill on both sides till almost tender.

Place sheet of aluminum foil on other half of grill - or if you have one of those vegetable holders for the grill that will work too - add some olive oil and garlic. 





Place tomatoes skin side down onto foil/holder.



















Top with shredded cheese - close grill cover, cook for 1 - 3 minutes until cheese is melted.












I suggest tongs to remove tomatoes, it also helps them hold their shape so they don't fall apart.





Depending on the thickness of your steak, you can use 1/2 of the grill to cook the tomatoes and the other half to cook your steak.  Of course these go great with pretty much anything or even sandwiched between two slices of crusty italian bread by themselves.



Steak, haricots verts and grilled tomatoes - not bad for a healthy meal!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weather woes, project delays

Spring in Vermont is full of unpredictable weather.  In 2010, it snowed on Mother’s Day, almost 10 inches.  In 2007 it snowed on Easter and in 2006 it was over 60 degrees they day after Valentines Day.  17 of the first 22 days in April have had temperatures below normal and 14 of the first 22 have had precipitation.  It has put a damper on the spring projects around here.  I have managed to get seeds started and while slow to sprout with the below normal temperatures, they are finally poking through – definitely need to include some supplemental heat in the plans for expansion later this summer or next spring.

Several of my projects include repair and painting.  My grandparents had two beautiful wood and iron benches.  I don’t know the story behind them, but they are heavy, solid (save for a couple of missing bolts) and both of them unique in the ornate details.  One has been in the garage since before we moved in, in 2006.  As we were cleaning out a spot for the chicken brooder (which I still haven’t started) I decided that I would start with this one.  I started out gung-ho in the latter days of March as temperatures finally rose to the mid-forties; removed all the wood from the iron frame, sanded it all down and applied the first coat of stain.  I have tried once since then to apply polyurethane to the wood portions of the bench only to have it bubble and then dry unevenly.  This project remains in the garage waiting for two or three days of forecasted good weather.

Another project DH has tried to complete remains in pieces.  This is a garden cart we picked up as part of a package deal, final cost of about ten dollars.  It needs some support, some metal patching, a new tire, a good sanding and some fresh paint.  This may seem like a lot of work, but it is a very useful tool.  New tires were ordered, which didn’t fit.  The search is on for a piece of pipe to replace the current axle so that the new tires will fit.  If we are not successful this week, the tires will be returned and new tires purchased from a store a mere 50 miles away.  Weather has also hampered DH’s work on the cart as paint and epoxy sealer do not dry on wet rainy days.

We did purchase an incubator and added the eggs on Wednesday.  Now I have to get the chicken brooder done otherwise I will have no place to put baby chickens in eighteen days.  The chickens are scheduled to arrive at about the same time as this year’s Christmas tree transplants.  Weather permitting, we might have the old pasture prepared in time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Farm equipment - today success, tomorrow...

Lawn equipment, tractors, backhoe’s, splitters, chainsaws, etc. are all valuable pieces of equipment for the small farmer.  They are loud, they often smell a little, they require yearly or more frequent maintenance; and they make our lives that much easier.  Making efficient use of the time I spend around the farm is essential.  Working off the farm to make ends meet means less time on the farm working toward that self-sufficient lifestyle I yearn for.  To be able to stay home and work hard for myself and my family is the end goal of this adventure.  My equipment allows me to keep the grass in check between the Christmas trees, clean up errant dead wood for boiling maple syrup, cut some cedars to make raised beds, trim and prune fruit trees, carry soiled hay to the compost pile and so much more.  Without these machines, I would not be able to get nearly as much done in four hours per day.

Having these machines to make our lives easier sometimes comes with a price!  The tractor just returned from having its hydraulic system repaired (they still haven’t sent me the bill – it must be REALLY bad!) and the other equipment is migrating across the dooryard to the garage for spring maintenance.  Change oil in push mower, drain old gas, add fresh gas, check spark plug and air filter – done.  Pull cord – VROOM.  A battery is required to keep the riding lawn mower running so we will grab that in our travels this week.  The chainsaw will need a new chain soon, but appears to be running well.  The weed whacker runs, but needs something, we will have to look into that as the grass gets taller.  Things were going really well…

Somewhere in my educational process, my father, grandfathers, uncles or someone, taught me how to read schematics (blueprints); for that skill, I will be forever grateful.  We took the push mower out to trim the lower field of Christmas trees – pull cord – sputter, die.  OK, prime it a little, pull cord – sputter, die.  OK check the spark plug – no spark – it is brand new – GRRR.  It could be the coil (DH suggestion), maybe it isn’t getting enough air or too much gas, maybe it is the carburetor (my suggestion).  We are over thinking this.  Inside to get the manual which I cannot find anywhere.  Thank you Internet!  Download and save manual in two places.  Try all the trouble shooting options – check spark plug, fresh gas, air filter – yep already done that.  Head back out to the lawnmower and notice a frayed cable.  Back inside to the manual, follow schematics down to switch which controls fuel to engine.  Back outside to lawnmower – DH holds switch manually while I pull cord – VROOM.  Jerry/Jimmy Rig fix so that lawnmower will run – head back to the Internet to order replacement cable.

“Hun, while we are ordering parts, can we look at the hand held brush hog?  I think it needs a new throttle cable…”

Even though the parts come with a price, it is so much more efficient than cutting four acres of lawn and in between 5 more acres of Christmas trees with a scythe.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

First Ever Maple Syrup!

Thirty six and change years into this life, I joined a long tradition of Vermont farmers and made my first ever maple syrup.  There was a little trial and error in the process, but it is all part of the learning process.

We tapped a wise old Rock Maple in the middle of what used to be the cow pasture and what will this year be a Christmas tree field as well possibly a firewood landing (this one isn’t my project, thankfully).  A few drops fell pitifully into the buckets and after three days of perfect sugaring weather we had an amber colored twelve ounces of sap.  Anyone who knows anything about maple sap (which of course I didn’t) knows that maple sap must be clear and slightly sweet.  The bitter amber colored liquid was discarded.  DH and I discussed the neighbor’s daily yield of over 400 gallons; it was time to consider relocating the taps or giving up on this project.

Five of the six taps were relocated to another, slightly younger, although still well over a century old, Rock Maple and its companions a little further into the pasture.  We watched in amazement as the beautiful, clear liquid poured from the tap hole before the drill bit was even removed.  Three hours later we emptied half full buckets of sap.  Back to the house with 40+ pound buckets of what would soon be liquid gold; the sap was filtered through a strainer and stored in gallon jugs until the fire was ready for the boil.  Each day of good weather yielded just over five gallons of sap from the six taps. 

Sap should be boiled as soon as possible after collection to produce the best quality syrup.  Time and off farm work schedules provided me with one day per week to boil.  With only five taps producing sap, it doesn’t take too long to run out of gallon size storage containers.  Out to the barn we went, in search of something big enough and with enough surface area to evaporate the water from the sap.  No evaporator was found lurking in amongst the years of stored treasures; a ten or fifteen gallon washtub would have to suffice.  Washed and scrubbed clean of the years of collected dust, the washtub was placed over the maple fire on a metal grate.  In elementary school I learned that water weighs over eight and a half pounds per gallon.  I knew that the salvaged grate would need a little help holding up over 100 pounds of maple sap.  Back to the barn again, we found a couple of pieces of rebar which we placed across the fire pit to support the weight of boiling liquid.  Sap was strained through cheesecloth into the washtub and set atop the fire pit.

The first day we boiled, it was windy and cold, but standing next to the warm, delightful smelling liquid for six hours was not at all un-enjoyable.  On the second boiling day, the sun shown brightly, DH started the fire early and the boil began.  While boiling I was able to get a little yard work done and cleaned up some more stones which were deposited from the driveway onto the lawn during snow removal this winter.  Ten hours later and facing imminent darkness, the so-close to syrup liquid was removed from the fire, strained through more cheesecloth and into a 16 quart saucepan.  Inside to the stove top for finishing.


All-in-all this first-ever attempt at making maple syrup was a success.  Ten quarts of varying grades of syrup have been sealed into glass jars and stored in the cool basement awaiting a gift giving occasion or simply to be added to the Maple-Oat-Wheat Bread which we make every other week or so.  The first batch yielded what I would guess would be a medium A grade amber syrup.  The second batch was much darker, although I think tastes even better, and is a solid grade B.

A hobby sized evaporator will be in the plans before next spring and while a pipeline is not in our immediate future, we will be looking into expanding our sugar production a little each year.  Someday I might even have my own sugar shack.  This weekend; however, I will be having pancakes with fresh – HOMEMADE – maple syrup!

Stuffed Chicken Breast - Prosciutto & Provolone

This recipe has become another go to recipe here on the farm.  Eventually I would like to say that all of the ingredients came directly from the farm, but it will be a few years before we build a cave for aging our own meats and cheeses.  Until then, the chicken and basil comes from the farm and the cheeses from the grocery store.

Ingredients
Chicken breast - pounded flat
Sliced prosciutto - from the deli department
Provolone cheese - available in chunks in the cheese department or sliced from the deli
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh Basil or dried chopped basil
Salt & pepper
Toothpicks


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place cast iron or other oven safe skillet on stove top and turn on to low/medium heat.  Add olive oil and garlic.




Season chicken breast with salt and pepper 














Layer one slice of prosciutto, one slice of provolone and one large or a couple small fresh basil leaves on the chicken breast.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.  (I was out of fresh basil so I substituted dried instead).











Roll up and hold closed with a toothpick.







Place in heated skillet with olive oil and fresh garlic (optional).  Brown all sides until rolled breast holds its shape. 
When browned on all four sides, place skillet in the oven for 10-15 minutes until chicken is no longer pink.



These chicken breasts are great served with garlic and herb pasta or a fresh garden salad.

Perhaps this one will be come a favorite at your house.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Content


Walking up the hill my shoes squish in the layer of mud which was once my driveway.  The rain/snow mix falls gently from the sky ‘ticking’ off my jacket.  Passing the pond I startle the mallard duck pair who was hiding in the cattail reeds.  Off they fly across the driveway to the other pond looking back at me as if to say, “You have some nerve lady!”  Closer still to the maple trees and the woodchuck hiding behind the old spring snickers at me and lumbers away; somehow knowing that I have no interest in bothering him.  Puddles hiding underneath last year’s grass suck in my foot as I cross the field to the maple trees.
Walking ever closer to the trees, I wonder how much sap awaits inside the glimmering silver buckets.  I set down my collection container, remove the top and voila – ½ bucket full of beautiful clear maple sap.  Four more buckets await, actually five, but one of them is almost always empty; we probably should have moved the tap, but we figured the damage has already been done.  No need to injure another tree so that we may benefit from its sugary sap; she can keep it this year.  Three buckets emptied and my five gallon collection container is dangerously full.  Final bucket – filled right to the tippy top, the sap rippling gently at the rim in the light breeze – just in time!  The final sap bucket emptied, it will be a slow walk back to the house because I didn’t bring the lid to the collection bucket.
Before lifting the 40+ pound bucket and walking back to the house, I pause looking down the hill over the farm.  The rain/snow now dripping from the hood of my jacket, the sap spilled on my jeans getting that much colder, and the moisture seeping through my worn out winter gloves; I stare contently back toward the lake.  Even from the top of the hill I can hear the rooster crowing from the open door of the coop, almost complaining about the precipitation which is keeping him inside today.  Brush from the recently trimmed apple trees rests beside them awaiting the return of the tractor to be picked up and either added to the campfire wood pile or chipped for mulch around the garden and flower beds.  The brook has risen today with the weather and cruises at a dull rumble through the pond and down towards the lake.  Although the ice is almost gone from both ponds, that which remains on the lake is holding on till the very last minute.  The dog stares out at me from the bedroom window as if to say, “You are NUTS for going out in that weather.”  Freshly sprouted pepper plants shiver slightly in the greenhouse, wondering if I am going to turn on the small heater to chase away the chill of this Vermont spring day.
Standing at the top of the hill, moisture permeating all of my outerwear, long walk back to the house with a heavy bucket; there is no where I would rather be.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It may be over

She may once have looked as nice as this one, but today she sits in a mud puddle in the dooryard with a broken water pump.  For five years she has transported us to powwows; hauled Christmas trees large and small; taken produce, tents, tables, preserves and fresh baked goods to farmer’s market; been shelter from down pours; and even hauled stuck tractors and UPS drivers out of ditches here on the farm.  Twenty one years old, somewhere near 200,000 miles, rusting body, some other minor electrical problems; DH and I are faced with the dilemma of keeping the shaggin’ wagon on the road or retiring her and looking into another vehicle.  The decision to purchase a new vehicle or even new to us vehicle is a major one.  Going into debt for a farm vehicle is not an option. 

My trusty Ford Taurus is also getting up there in years and mileage.  In its lifetime, it has hauled picnic tables and 10 x 20 portable garages on its roof, moved my apartment in almost its entirety twice, plowed through 12+ inches of snow on my road and 6+ inches on may way home from work countless times this winter, carried gravel in the trunk, and been rear-ended three times.  Her trunk leaks from the rear end damage, she is starting to rust, she needs a new EGR sensor, new tires, and after these spring roads, she will probably need some front end work.

Starting a farm can be trying even on the healthiest and wealthiest among us.  I am blessed with a loving husband, my health, a relatively structurally sound body, some great animals, a roof over my head, and food on the table.  We are thrifty, making our own detergents and not spending on new threads, dinners out, new electronics, etc.  A towing bill, gas for the borrowed Jeep, time spent trying to change tires while lying in a mud puddle, fighting with dead batteries and finicky battery chargers, and more postponed farm projects have taken their toll on me this week. 

The search will begin for a trusty farm rig (a.k.a. an actual pickup truck) and a new travel vehicle.  Something that will tow two to three thousand pounds plus its cargo, four-wheel drive to haul wood, rocks, Christmas trees, produce, and equipment around the farm, and maybe has a plow mounted to it for our beautiful but snowy Vermont winters.  A removable cap would be good for farmer’s market days, but also so it can haul a refrigerator, or be loaded with gravel, manure, hay, etc.  She needn’t be pretty, but she must be solid and prepared to work only maybe half as hard as DH and I do around the farm.  We will also be keeping our eye out for a replacement over the road vehicle.  Something that will make the trips to see family in Maine and Connecticut four or five times a year and the 60 mile round trip commute to work five days a week.

Today, I hope to clean up from the messes of muddy shoes, pants, jackets, gloves, etc. and do all the household chores that didn’t get done after two days of mechanical mishaps.  Then I am going to catch up on some much needed sleep before I go back to work tonight.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mechanical woes, chicken nesters & spring cleaning

Check Engine flashed on the dashboard at about the same time as an unearthly squeal starting coming from underneath the hood and bonnet of the old, but reliable conversion van.  Rack the mechanical brain: alternator belt, alternator, tensioning pulley, water pump, engine belt, other pulleys, fan, air conditioning system.  Headlights dimming, battery gauge fluctuating; yup, I am going with alternator.  DH is traveling; I am working overtime at my ‘real’ job.  Perhaps the mechanic fairy will come to visit.  In the absence of his/her visit, I will be calling the shop in the morning hopefully their schedule will allow it to be fixed before I head home.  I am a fairly handy person and a half way decent backyard mechanic.  Attempting that kind of repair after working 12 or 14 hours will not be good for me or the van.  Sometimes it is worth scrounging together the cash to have someone else fix it for you.

Two days, two vehicles.  The little orange tractor was taken away yesterday to repair a problem with the hydraulic system, the correction of which was beyond my realm of mechanical ability.  I am certain given enough hydraulic fluid, a heated garage, some pneumatic air tools and a manual; I might have been able to figure it out.  But there is also that little issue of time.  That is one of those commodities I don’t have right now.  We are shorthanded at work and all of us have been working overtime.  The field where the new Christmas trees will be planted will not prepare itself.  Hand-digging the hill in front of the house for the new retaining wall would probably put both DH and I in the hospital.  Moving gravel and topsoil with a shovel and a wheel barrel, while great exercise would be much more efficient with the tractor.  Someday I will have enough time and not need the money so that I could enjoy the workout of hand-digging the next level of the retaining wall or carrying rocks across the field in the wheel barrel.

Mechanical problems aside, we are making progress towards spring.  Two new nesters were installed in the chicken coop in hopes of allowing our broody hens to become mommas, there were six eggs in one of them this morning.  The outdoor chicken pen has received its repairs after a hard, snowy winter, although since the snow hasn’t all melted no one wants to go outside.  The extra roosters have been removed so that the girls can get a little rest.  Cleaning out of the garage has begun to get a little more organized and to make room for the brooder box in the corner.  Last year I had the babies inside the house – what a dusty mess their mash makes.  This year, they will be outside! 

The salvaged, insulated pool cover was trimmed down to size and fitted over the greenhouse today.  I will be a week late in starting my seeds, but with even the slightest bit of sun the greenhouse is heating to at least 50 degrees and with the new cover it was still almost 60 in there when I left for work tonight at 10:30 p.m.  If all goes well with the repairs to the van, I will be stopping at the local supply store on my way home from work to pick up seed starting mix.  I combine ½ seed starting mix with ½ compost and our starts seem to do really well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Great Book Source

This journey into farming has been an exciting adventure; one which I hope to experience for several years to come.  Each day I learn something new (this morning - don't try to drive through a four foot snowbank and expect to get traction on a half-thawed dirt driveway).  Much of my learning this winter has come through books.  I recently posted a review on a great book by Gene Logsdon and now am here to report that I have found a great publishing company.

It didn't occur to me at first, I was simply looking for books, websites, blogs, etc. which would help me learn to do all the things I want to do to facilitate a more self-sufficient lifestyle.  If I can make a life a little easier by selling some of the excesses, that would be great too.  I came across a used copy of Making Your Small Farm Profitable by Ron Macher not too long after I moved back to Vermont and was renting about two acres in a neighboring town.  Next came a country wisdom bulletin on chickens.  Then it was Building with Stone by Charles McRaven.  Most recently it was a book from the library Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits.

WHAAAACK!! - Like a smack on the back of the head from Gibbs in NCIS it came to me - the publishing company on every one of these books is Storey Publishing.  If you are looking for research on country living - I would suggest these guys as a great place to start!

Monday, March 7, 2011

They promised snow

and we got some snow.

This is a standard size sliding glass door.
That is about 25 inches and as you can see, it is still snowing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thoughts of Spring - then More Snow!

Friday morning was spent planning for spring and the garden.  With the 'growing guide,' a calendar and the trusty Old Farmer's Almanac by our side we sat down with the seed inventory and scheduled the planting dates for the vegetables, flowers and herbs we are going to start in the greenhouse and the seeds that get set directly into the garden.  The basic outline established, we discussed the arrival of this years Christmas trees, the average date of last frost in the region, the cash flow for the repairs that have to be done on the tractor, the fencing that needs to go up around the garden and the prospect of including some sort of initial retaining walls for the expansion of our garden up the sloped hill in front of the house.  We re-arranged a few of the dates in the schedule and then I entered all the information into our farming spreadsheet.

Discussions moved to sap and syrup which has been negligible since the weather turned cold again.  But forecasts of temperatures in the low 40's for Saturday and Sunday kept us hoping for the best.  Sugaring will wait until the grand old maples we placed our six buckets on decided to wake from their winter slumber. 


The calendar lay on the table between us open to the month of April and we discussed the broody hens, when we should allow them to start keeping their own nests and the brooder that needs to be built before any new babies arrive.  As we wrapped up our disucssion on several projects we discussed DH's upcoming trip to Maine for the End of Winter Gathering in Newport and the various vehicle repairs which need to be completed before he leaves.  Finally, we checked the most recent forecast to see when in the next ten days would be good for accomplishing even a few of the tasks we covered this morning.  UGH - more snow! 

This morning as we were finally able to see the Christmas trees again, we are getting more snow.  Old time Vermonters call this Sugarin' Snow.  I call it another drive slow drive to work.  The turkeys don't seem to mind it as they peck at the grass which was relinquished from its long winters slumber under the snow only to be covered again today.  So the pots will remain in the greenhouse enjoying the warmer days when the sun graces us with its presence, raising the temperature in the greenhouse to a balmy 50 degrees.  It will too soon be 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity, and we will long for the last remaining, calm days of winter before the flurry of activity on the farm takes the shape of projects instead of frozen precipitation.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Refrigerator (clean-out) Meatloaf

I have been asked a lot recently about the meatloaf that has become a staple in our household.  It all started with cleaning out the refrigerator.  Recently I had a little bit of everything in the refrigerator but not enough of anything to make an entire meal.  A little bit of sausage, a little bit of hamburger, two tomatoes that were getting soft, some mushrooms, shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 can of sliced mushrooms, 1/2 pkg of fresh spinach, three slices of bacon, half of an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, and of course plenty of eggs.  I could have made an omlette, but I wasn't in the mood for eggs.

Refrigerator Meatloaf was born.

In a large bowl I combined the sausage, ground beef, tomatoes (chopped), onion (chopped), mushrooms, bacon (chopped), cheddar cheese, one egg, some breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan, and 1/3 cup of quick cooking oats.  Italian seasonings are a favorite for DH and I, we add a little oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, salt, pepper - whatever your tastes are.

In a skillet, the spinach was wilted in some olive oil and sauteed garlic cloves.  Add the cooked spinach to the meat mixture.  Combine thoroughly, shape into a loaf and place in 8 x 5 x 4 or 9 x 6 x 2 baking dish.  Cook for 30 - 45 minutes at 375 degrees until the meat is no longer pink.

Serve with fresh baked italian bread - delicious!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One Down...

I spent two and a half hours this morning while it was snowing and finally finished the scanning project.  Anything that was paper that could be saved electronically has been.  It is such a great feeling to finally cross a BIG project off the to-do-list.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Soon, until then...

The farm is hibernating, waiting for some sustained warmer weather to burst forth with new growth.  Two year old Christmas tree tops just peek out from their cozy white blanket, teasing the deer with the bounty they hold inside their buds.  Keeping the snow machines out of the tree fields has proven slightly more difficult than keeping out the deer so fencing may be in order this year for both human and animal alike. 

We have been making progress on a few pre-spring projects; getting organized two weeks ago has certainly helped in that direction.  Like many people this time of year, our thoughts have turned towards spring and summer.  I completed revisions to fliers and contracts for an August pow-wow we help with in Dummer, NH.  The seeds have been added to the inventory.  Crop planning and tracking is the next step; right now I don’t know which crops are doing really well for us and which ones we should stop working on altogether.

Educational opportunities abound and are pretty the underlying theme for project planning.  I have learned either weed killing spray or mulch is required as we do not have enough time keep the grass in check in the Christmas tree fields and weed the gardens.  Our attempts at remaining as organic as possible will probably dictate mulch in the garden over herbicide in the trees.  Changes will be required over the summer as water from melting snow which drips slowly off the garage roof has managed to infiltrate the chicken coop.  Fencing is also in the planning stages as we lost some of our squash, corn and other vegetables to wayward chickens not to mention to resolve the deer and snowmobile problem.  Lists of tools, supplies, fertilizers, nails, staples, sealers, etc. that have been scribbled on scraps of paper are starting to come together into project outlines.

I am beginning to ‘see the light at the end of the tunnel’ with the scanning project.  As I sat at the computer this morning, DH snapped a couple of pictures of the wildlife which has ventured out from the woods.  Whether they are running out of food in the woods or they were just happy with the momentary availability of the lawn poking through the snow, it is neat to see them just a few feet from the house.  The cats don’t quite know what to make of these big birds on the lawn.  Two of them watch, perched on half of their favorite chair which only now can be enjoyed as so much of that paper has been scanned and recycled.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The taps are in

With temperatures below zero this morning, the thought of tapping the maple trees was a little ominous.  DH spoke with our neighbor yesterday and he already has over 400 gallons of sap from the little bit of warm weather we had this past weekend.  Northern Vermont is predicted to have temperatures in the 40s and maybe even 50 over the next couple of days.  So out we went this morning, trudging through the feet of snow that have accumulated this winter and tapped our trees.  This particular task was not as daunting as it sounds as we are only tapping six buckets.  Our first venture into syrup has begun.  Boiling will take place over the outside fire pit on my days off.  If we are successful at making even a syrup-like substance then we will look at obtaining more buckets and taps for next year.  An old barrel woodstove is stored in the basement and I have found plans for making a homemade evaporator for this exact type of stove.  I will keep everyone updated on our sweet sticky journey.
These two buckets are on two different trees, one behind the other

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Great Read & Time for Sugaring?

One of the blogs I follow is that of a determined young woman in Jackson, NY just over the Vermont line.  She is becoming a sheep farmer.  27 yrs old, single, a graphic artist and author, away from family, but surrounded by friends; she is a farmer.  She purchased a small farmstead this year.  She tells of her wins and her losses learning experiences, appreciation of the little things and of each new adventure she has taken.  Jenna writes of an inspiring book which my sister gave me for Christmas this year.  Gene Logsdon’s The Contrary Farmer.  His writing is delightful and his common sense, practical, albeit ‘contrary’ approach to small farms is refreshing.  He reminds us that there was a time when farming was done by hand and by hoof.  There was no need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on equipment when a little people power and a little time was all it took to get the job done.  Highly Recommended!

Jenna and Gene remind me that it is the little steps that get us to where we want to be.  Every step in the journey has learning experiences and more importantly moments which require savoring.  It has been four and one half years since I have been back on the family farm.  There have been trials and tribulations, but in the end I can say that I am content.  Some days it is difficult to get motivated and there are days when the wind is howling and the snow is blowing that I want to stay cuddled warm within the covers, but the chickens, cats, dog, husband and I all need feeding.  Today teased us and started out nice and warm with southern breezes tipping the thermometer to just over 40 degrees this morning.  As I got ready for bed this afternoon, the winds has increased and the rains were falling.  I thought about the sap buckets and taps which DH had washed earlier this week which were still not on the side of the trees.  Tonight as I was leaving for work, the temperature had fallen below 20, the winds and snow were blowing and the weatherman forecast tomorrow’s high at 13 degrees.  The end of the week is predicted to be perfect weather for sugarin’, daytime temps into the 40s and nights below freezing.  Those taps will be in tomorrow or the next morning early!  If we can make maple syrup for all of our household needs this year, next year we will plan on cleaning up some older sugar bush and building a small evaporator for farmers market syrup in 2012.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Deadlines

The seeds have arrived, nestled snuggly in their box on the pile of mail, and are waiting patiently for me to go through them and add them to the garden plan for the spring.  A purple flag blinks at me each time I open my inbox warning me that the download of my tax software still has not taken place.  A maturing rooster calls forth from the chicken coop each day, his song now fully formed and while not robust, at least finally sounds like a rooster and not a teenager whose cracking voice resembled a dying bird instead of the beginning of a new day.   He reminds me that the brooder for the spring pullets remains only doodles on paper and hasn’t yet progressed to lumber in the garage.  Patches and Dylan eye me with disdain as the scanning project still occupies their favorite kitchen chair, not that they are hindered from lounging in the sun on top of the wealth of gardening, cooking and farming information stored within those pages.

The evidence of looming or missed deadlines becomes none more obvious than the RAT in the garage this week indicating that we didn’t get everything picked up or cleaned out this fall and the critter controls usually instituted when the weather starts to turn cool were missed completely.  I have forgotten my lists and been flying by the seat of my sizeable pants.  My organization plan has fallen by the wayside with a trip to CT, a planned trip to Maine that was hampered by weather, chickens with some sort of foot infection, looking for a tool which turned into a three day shop cleaning expedition, a not-so-well-thought-out decision to start college classes again, and lots more overtime at work.

I am determined, after a brief trip out of town tomorrow morning, I am going to take my days off this week and get re-organized, see what I can add to my to-do list, and make some marked progress on those looming deadlines.  I was also thinking it might be time to fashion a plow for my Taurus.