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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Plans for Spring erosion control

Predictions of a dusting up to two inches yesterday turned into yet another winter weather advisory and actual accumulations neared eight inches this morning.  As daylight waned, the quiet of the falling snow was broken only by the hum of neighbors and friends playing outside on their snow machines. 

While watching them travel past the front of the house I noticed that the inches of accumulating snow had only barely covered the extra foundation that had become exposed after years of neglect.  My grandfather fell ill in the late nineties and passed in 2000.  In his years of declining health, the regular maintenance which he had always so diligently attended to, fell by the wayside.  We are guests here and have inherited the long overdue chores required to maintain a 200 year old family farm house.

Built on a slowly sloping hill, behind the house the land raises up to a ridge line which runs south from the Canadian border and Minister Hill continuing past the farm and into the next town beyond.  Gradually leveling out in natural terraces at the ponds behind the house, down more to the relatively flat area where the house and retired dairy barn reside, then gently sloping further down past the garden and across the corn piece until it is met by the water of the spring fed lake. 

Years of erosion have steepened the hill in front of the house and torn between six and ten inches of soil from the yard.  Over the past few years raised beds have been added to the hill in front of the house to supplement the main garden space.  Each is level with the hill at the back of the bed and a three-sided retaining wall  (some stone, some cedar logs) in the front frames each into the hill.  Incorporating the beds have had an added benefit of curtailing the erosion from the yard behind them.  Noticeable erosion continues on either side of them.

As plans for 2013 include additional vegetable and flower crops I am looking into incorporate erosion control into the planning of more growing locations.  Although I have a cousin and other extended family who are skilled in masonry work, cement or stacked block retaining walls are well outside of this fledgling farm's budget.  Perusing the Internet I have found several configurations which include more natural components, although will not last generations like stacked stone would. 

One of the options which looks most promising is something like that pictured above.  It will take a winter of preparation including rehabilitating my abused back and spinal musculature and the procurement of an additional chain or two for the chainsaw.  My chainsaw skills are sufficient to cut up a down tree or clean up some dead branches, but I usually end up with a dull chain or two in the process.  A project like this will require a little saw re-education so that I don't burn out the unit in the process.  And since the terracing will occur on a hill and the resulting spaces will probably be too narrow to hold the tractor, much of the hauling and placing of the trees will occur by hand.  Soil moved to install the trees will need to be back filled and soil amendments (compost, etc.) will be added by hand.

This morning the snow continues falling.  Later, we will head back out into the cold and the snow to clean up the driveway, clean out the chickens and the rabbits, and hopefully take Little Man for his first ride in the sled that Santa brought him for Christmas.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Funny how snowy weather breeds plans for the next season!

As the snow accumulates in our corner of northwestern Vermont, I am teased by the glossy photos and attractive paintings in the twenty or more seed catalogs we have received in the mail.  My garden is inaccessible today less you are wrapped from head to toe in attire fit for the hard core winter sports enthusiast.  The compost pile, which normally is one of the few spots too warm for snow to rest, is completely covered by the eight or so inches that has fallen so far.  I had to leave the farm this morning for off-farm employment, but the local employees of VTrans did a great job keeping up with the weather in the early morning hours.  Little man is home with his father watching the snow blow around the house and perhaps if it lightens up and the wind settles, may even get a ride on the tractor while a pass is made up the driveway.  If my uncle and cousin are working today, after dinner one of us will go out and make the main driveway passable until this weekend when clean up will occur in earnest.

The garden plans are grand again this year, although the budget is much smaller.  Leaving full-time employment to spend more time on the farm has taken its financial toll.  Many, much needed, repairs are set aside to ensure that Little Man is fed and warm - this sacrifice I make gladly.  In designing our limited budget for 2013, I am torn between making much needed repairs to the greenhouse so that we can start our own seedlings or purchasing transplants from a local supplier so that we can get a jump on the season.  Having a greenhouse, albeit a small one, will enable us to extend either end of the season and provide a bountiful market table both in early May as well as late into October.  The hoop-style greenhouse that we built last year sustained heavy wind damage as we did not have the appropriate plastic to go over the the frame.  It was built without supplemental heat, however, there is room to put some in, even if it is only enough to keep the frost at bay.

Some of the other goals for 2013 include:
  • Clean up of the three Christmas tree fields so that the trees can be properly fertilized.
  • Addition of several winter storage crops on top of our usual summer fare so that we might participate in some indoor winter markets for 2013. 
  • Improving the rabbit housing - no, the roof never got finished to the rabbit shed.
  • Working on a more efficient butchering and packaging area for the rabbit meat.
  • Adding some seasonal cut flowers for sale, or to beautify our market table.
  • Revising and expanding the chicken coop to include more efficient cleaning and resolve the roof leaks.
  • Improvements to pig pasture fencing as well as possibly rehabbing pasture that was long ago used for cows to house a calf or some sheep.
  • Building a structure to over winter pigs, a calf, or both next winter.
  • Revisions to our sugaring pan/evaporator to allow us to be more efficient and perhaps have syrup for sale at the market this year.
Additionally, I will be investing some time in the management of our farmers market.  While it might seem like yet another distraction from the to-do list on the farm; it is actually very selfish.  The more successful the market, the more successful my booth at the market.  The more money I make from the farm means less time working off the farm which means more time at home with Little Man.

The plans are grand.
The desire and drive to make a success of this farm oozes out of me.
Little man got a John Deere for his birthday.

I am excited for the new year!

What steps have you taken towards your farm/homestead? 
What are your goals for 2013?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unexpected gitfs

Christmas this year was, as we had planned it, full of the little things that make life grand.  My mother and grandmother were up from Connecticut to share in Little Man's first real Christmas.  At 12 months old there isn't much that is more exciting then tearing paper from the gifts found under the Christmas tree.  The contents of each package were of little interest, but the paper was both delicious and fun to tear to shreds.

The unexpected was at play this weekend as well.  Predictions for a dusting to an inch of snowfall resulted in over eight inches.  Our driveway is long and contains a hill flanked by two ponds on either side at the top.  Generally it doesn't become perilous until later in the winter when the ice takes hold with meaning and any thawing make runners a requirement in lieu of tires.  A newer vehicle with a fancy traction control option proved trying for those of us used to driving nothing newer than 15 years old.  Finally a shut-off option located in conjunction with a freshly plowed driveway allowed my family to return to their hotel.  It isn't that I am not accommodating to house guests, but all of my extra beds are upstairs which can prove difficult to someone in their 80s.

Returning to the farm after working on Christmas Eve I discovered a wrapped package outside the garage door.  'Santa' had visited before midnight to leave it.  I hadn't noticed any reindeer prints in the snow nor any sleigh marks in the driveway.  I collected the package and headed inside, made sure all the animals had food and water and nestled myself into bed hoping for visions of sugar plums.  Christmas morning arrived with Little Man more interested in quality time with mom than the brightly colored packages under the tree. 

After family had arrived, the mystery package was opened.  It contained several items for Little Man either without a tag or noting it was from Santa.  We are especially thankful to 'Santa' for the wonderful and unexpected package of holiday gifts. 

After an eventful year and with recent events weighing heavy on hearts we were truly blessed with generosity, no visits to the hospital this year, good food, good company and much laughter.  Here's hoping the coming year is full of the same.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The importance of the simple things this holiday season

Little man has been teething which is accompanied by a low grade fever and restless nights.  Mom makes those restless nights that much harder on herself as she sits bolt upright at the littlest sniffle or sigh that comes through the baby monitor.  Working extra hours off the farm in an effort to catch up on some bills accompanied by poor driving conditions the past couple of days have kept the comfort and rest of sleep at bay.

Lying awake watching moonlit shadows play across the newly fallen snow, my thoughts turn to holiday preparations.  That holiday tablecloth was not where I expected it to be the other day, perhaps it is in the attic.  Company will be coming, beds need to be prepared and a vacuum run upstairs.  Furniture needs to be re-arranged in the living room to accomodate the Christmas tree which will again be far too large for the space - but I like them that way.  Where did we put those pine cones?

Celebrating the all important first birthday and Christmas will carry so much more importance than they have for the past couple of years for us.  Little man's first Christmas was interrupted by mom's sudden departure for and admission to intensive care unit at the hospital a mere ten days after his arrival into this world.  My mother and grandmother were on the farm when I fell ill.  I can't express how thankful I was to have my mom both at my side in the hospital and to support my husband while I spent the next several days in the intensive care unit.  As Christmas comes back around I am thankful for a full recovery and hopeful for an uneventful holiday here at the farm.  It will not be a commercial series of events for us.  The simpler side of the holiday will include handmade ornaments and stockings from a family friend who has long since passed.  Popcorn strings on and handmade presents under the Christmas tree.  We will make pine cone feeders for the birds and squirrels.  Gifts will not be exchanged between adults this year as none of us needs to throw our hard earned cash into something that doesn't fit, isn't the right color or will end up stuffed on a shelf in the basement somewhere.  Spending quality time with family will be the order of business this holiday season.

Little man will be showered with all the goodness he deserves.  Good food, most of which was raised right here on this farm, will be shared.  Perhaps a bottle or two of hard cider or home brew will be lifted.  The house will be warm, tummies will be full and another set of moonlit shadows will play on a different layer of freshly fallen snow.

How will you be spending your Christmas?

Photo courtesy of: http://www.rarespecies.org/garden.html

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Frozen water bottles

Chores take a little bit longer these days as thawing is added to the regular task of filling water bottles.  Last night after everyone was fed and watered I watched a thick fog roll across and off the farm.  Blues and greys sparkled off of what remained of our light snowfall the other day and then it was quiet.  That eerie kind of quiet, the calm before the storm, the peacefulness which made me wonder what I was in for next.  Usually there are critters scurrying or munching in the Christmas trees or the corn piece in front of the house.  But the only sounds were of my breathing and the tick of the aluminum ball in the nozzle of the water bottles as the rabbits drank their fill. 

I know I worry too much; such is the curse of a Libra.  Perhaps I should have just enjoyed the quiet for what it was.

Today is another day and the last of my days off for a spell - the list is long but the woman is mighty.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cheddar Broccoli Pasta

Part of our goal of sustainability means using the most basic ingredients to create delicious meals.  Eventually we will be able to grow or barter for all of the ingredients we need to sustain our family.  In the meantime we only purchase basic supplies from the grocery store.  It is a rare occasion when we buy anything labeled 'Just Add Water' or 'Heat & Eat.'  One can only eat so many vegetables and potatoes without needing a little something to spice them up. 

Eating well is more than just a hobby or a means to an end to satisfy nutritional requirements, it is a passion; often one I don't have much of an opportunity to engage in.  Ensuring Little Man is fed is goal number one and sometimes at the end of the day that means throwing together a protein, vegetable and a starch and feeding him whilst doing dishes, sweeping the floor, switching the laundry, or running his bath.  Once in a great while I am inspired to dirty every sauce pan, frying pan, soup pot, baking dish, serving spoon, mixing spoon, whisk, mixer and spatula in the kitchen to make a masterpiece.  Sometimes you just come up with a simple fix for a starch and vegetable that is whipped up with ingredients already in the house.   Such was the case the other night.

How about cheddar broccoli pasta?  An envelope from the store which requires only the addition of water, butter and milk is available for a mere 99 cents, but that includes all name and number of preservatives and ingredients I couldn't pronounce if I had a degree in chemistry.  I started with a basic white sauce:

White Sauce
1 TBS butter
1 TBS flour
3/4 cup milk
dash pepper

Melt butter in saucepan, add flour, combine.
Add milk and stir over medium heat until sauce is thick and bubbly.

I added 3/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese for our meal but any manner of cheese that you have in the house is fine.  Cheddar by itself can make the sauce a little grainy, but I used what we had on hand.

While making the sauce, in another pan bring some water to a boil, add pasta of your choice and frozen or fresh vegetable - cook until done.  Drain, add cheese sauce and voila, Cheddar Cheese Broccoli Pasta.

Not too bad for a quick side to venison steaks for dinner.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The weather is starting to turn

Meteorologists are threatening, several days in advance so I am not sure how much is actual predictions or more hype/hope, our first winter storm.  Preparations for a cold, snowy winter continue as we put away chicken tractors, stack pallets collected free from the road sides, pull the last of the weeds from beds long unattended, collect radish seed pods, and check on the sugar beets that will be over wintered for Spring piglets. 

These next couple days will include the last push to ensure that the important tasks are attended to before the possibility of our first real snow -  the lawn tractor will go in the barn, perhaps some of the floor boards can be moved around so a couple of the tractor attachments can go in there as well; if not, I will be scavenging old tarps to cover them where they lay.  Items stored in the barn are lost to us for the winter season as snow from most of the front of the old dairy barn falls in front of the door; what doesn't fall there naturally is deposited there to allow regular access the area of the barn that my uncle and cousin use as their workshop. 

Discussions of where to store currently empty rabbit cages included the feasibility of getting the cages up the inside stairs or risk having to chop ice from the exterior entrance to the basement should we need more room for growing bunnies.  The last of the plastic will be removed from the hoop-style greenhouse to allow for quick excavation of snow later this winter and easy application of new plastic for early garden starts.  We had hoped to have the plastic on before the snow arrived, but heating fuel and electricity take precedence when you have an 11-month old.

Avenues where snow is typically piled will be weed whacked, dried hydrangea stems and overgrown grass removed along with any other possible hang-ups for the plow.  A lonely perennial shrub will be carefully protected from falling ice off the roof and brushes with the plow by an A-frame of plywood.  I do not own a plow rig and my small Kubota, while it could clear the entire 1/3 mile driveway, would not do well with repeated abuse of that type all winter long.  My cousin and my uncle, who are also my closest neighbors, do most of the plowing with my husband and I to clean up immediately around the house.  When there is some extra cash on hand, a plow rig is on the wish list and perhaps I can repay some of that favor; until then I am extremely thankful for all that they do here.

One more immediate task is to eradicate the family of mice/rats who have decided that snuggling in with the rabbits for the winter is a good idea.  They have started collecting hay and hair from around the cages and are making a nest somewhere underneath the shelves at the back of the garage.  We can hear them scratching and packing when we open the door to the garage.  Traps will be set and if those don't work then I may resort to chemical warfare.  Feed costs are high enough right now, I don't need to be feeding those destructive little critters.

In between there will be the regular chores of cleaning out the rabbit cages, scooping the litter box, burning the few remaining piles of brush (now that there is a light coating of snow on the ground), cleaning out the chicken coop, vacuuming, dishes, etc.  Perhaps there will even be time to add some more products to the website.

Last night I made a great quick side dish of cheddar broccoli macaroni, I will post the recipe tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wild winged ones, a couple crustaceans and a lazy feline


Being surrounded by nature's beauty is just one of the wonderful things about living on the farm.  Every day bears witness to Mother Nature's amazing creations.  Some pass through without a second thought allowing us only the briefest glimpses of their splendor.  Others come back regularly often taunting us with gobbles only fifteen minutes after legal hunting hours have concluded.

This Cooper's Hawk is a regular in the dooryard.  Captured here with the aid of a spotting scope she is perched a top the barn at the far side of the yard eyeing the chickens.  Most days she will will leave them alone, but every once in a great while she will go after the smallest or slowest, looking for a quick treat. 


Too slow to escape the clutches of a couple of 12 year olds this summer, these crawfish were guests of a recycled pickle jar on the kitchen table.  On beautiful summer days I cannot see spending the day in front of the video game console or television set.  The kids grumbled a bit at first but had a great time capturing all sorts critters in the yard, from the lake and the ponds.


After an unsually warm winter and fairly dry summer, several varieties of winged insects gathered around the house.  This interestingly colored moth measured about four inches across its wingspan and rested on the front sliding glass door for a couple of hours before heading out for its evening meal.




Monarch butterflies were paticularly abundant this year; my stepdaughter captured this great picture of one on the geraniums in the front flower bed.
Next year we will raise turkeys for our table.  These birds continue to taunt my husband by disappearing during hunting season only to loiter in the front yard less than a week after the season ended. 
Some of the more recent arrivals to the lake and the farm include a family of bald eagles.  I am not sure if this is an immature bald eagle or if it is a golden eagle.  It was at the far end of the corn piece amongst the young corn seedlings this spring.  They came within view of the house at least once a week throughout the summer.

Being city cats originally, our fearless felines are much more comfortable snuggled into a blanket in the living room, safe from where the wild things are.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Working with yarn

My grandmother attempted to teach me to knit when I was about nine years old.  At that age my interests lay not in the tangles of yarn and uneven sheath which she hoped would turn into a scarf.  Instead they rested in the mysteries of the cemetary behind the house, the bugs that lived under the front porch, and how far the skateboard would carry me before I fell off and broke my arm again or momentum ceased and I lay in the middle of the street waiting for the commuters to come chase me away as they returned from the concrete jungle called New York City.


Too many years had passed when I finally picked up my knitting needles again sitting on the couch in a rented mobile home two towns away trying to decide whether I was going to survive in Vermont or if returning to Connecticut was in my fate.   A red and white chenile scarf poured off the needles and spent the rest of that winter keeping the brisk breezes at bay while I was out walking the dog.  Since then many a gift have been knit and crocheted for people I love, others who simply ask and as gifts for friends of loved ones.  This fall necessities for Little Man in the form of a hat and mittens were completed along with a birthday gift and one for a baby shower that I never got to go attend.


My days off this week will include the addition of some newly knit and crocheted items to the website to help raise a couple of dollars for the tax man and the electric company, more rows on Christmas presents for family and perhaps some time to get the roof on the rabbit shed - after all December is only a week away!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sausage


As home butchers we end up with little extras - small pieces of loin that just didn't make it into the original roast, edges of hams, and parts that probably should have been bacon or a rolled roast but got cut too small when we put our pork into the freezer.  Not ones to let much go to waste the decision was made to try and make sausage this year.

I remembered my grandmother grinding up meat for her meatloaf when I was younger and I knew somewhere in the house - her house for which I am now the caretaker - I had seen that grinder.  Retrieved from the far reaches of the baking cabinet and given a bath, I attempted to put it back together and secure it to the table.  Some 30 years ago now I sat beside her watching the juices drip from the grinder onto the paper towels she had placed on the floor.  An old book was wedged in between the table and the grinder to either protect the table or provide a more stable surface for the grinder.  Assembly and mounting complete, so began the journey into sausage making.

Ground pork: Insert meat into top of grinder and turn handle.  Not as easy as it looks.  The pieces of pork don't stay in the grinder very well.  It is a delicate balance of inserting meat pieces and not loosing a finger whilst turning the meat out through the blades on the front of the grinder.

Onions: They go right the grinder too.  Each one sent onion juice pouring out of the back and down the handle onto the paper towels on the floor.

Garlic: Check.

Spices: What ratio?  What spices?  On to the internet, recipes galore.  We settled on a sage sausage recipe, not realizing until after we were done that it was a turkey based recipe and the spices were a little too heavy, beating out the subtle deliciousness of the fresh pork.

Anything else?  Salt.

We use a lot of sausage in everything from spaghetti to stuffed mushrooms to breakfast and meatloaf.  It turned out OK but I will certainly be looking out for some new ones.  There are thousands of recipes on the internet for sausage so I will not recreate the wheel here.  Making our own will not only save some money but allow us to try some unique flavors.  I am thinking Apple Sage might taste pretty good.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The chores will still be there tomorrow


Fall has almost come to a conclusion here on the farm and as I look around I must be careful not to become too disappointed with myself when it comes to all of the projects and chores that didn't get finished.  This has been a common theme for me this year.
 
"How do you find time to do ALL THAT with a 10-month old?"
 
I am asked this question repeatedly after discussing gardening, baking, rabbits, pigs, chickens, knitting, crocheting, website development, working more than 1/2 time off the farm, blogging, keeping house, cats, dog, and the like.  The time is carved from essential things like sleep, eating, and my general health to ensure that the dream of living and making a healthy living from the farm stays alive.  Too much doesn't get done that NEEDS to get done in order to fulfill the goal of sustainability, but I manage to find the time that I need to at least keep the dream alive. 
 
Then there are days like today when I wonder what I have managed to get done.  Today I was a good mom.   That one always makes it pretty high on the list unless I have worked off the farm all day; Little Man is taken care of but I feel terrible not seeing him all day.  He has been lucky so far to spend his days home with his father, but soon we will enlist the assistance of a child care provider.  Working off the farm remains a necessity since my parents raised me wrong - they instilled far too much of a work ethic in me so I can't sit home and expect someone else to pay my bills for me.  Days when I have to have the same conversation as the week before with the health insurance folks or the power company ensuring them that they will get paid just not on their timeline often makes me want to throw my hands up in the air.  But we persist.
 
A trip to the processor this week with over 120 lbs of rabbits, a freezer recently filled with pork, and a few extra hours at the second off farm job have allowed me to take a little bit of a breath.  Tomorrow will include butchering the last of this summers' roosters, cleaning the rabbits, breeding some rabbits, preparing a couple of pies to be baked on Wednesday for Thanksgiving, continuing to work on crocheting of Christmas presents for family and spending some quality time with Little Man.  Maybe if I am lucky, all the chores can get done before 1:00 p.m. and I can spend the afternoon loafing on the couch watching football...
 
At least I have big dreams!
 



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cold, wet, rainy and loose pigs

We all have those days when you know you should just go back to bed.  Lately I feel like I am having one of those days every day.  Yesterday, for the first time in a while I felt like I was getting something accomplished.  Paperwork was getting done, the house wasn’t in a total state of disrepair, all the animals had been fed and were dry if not warm, Little Man was just waking up from his afternoon snooze and I was just finishing up balancing my checkbook.  I thought it had been a pretty good day.

As I was downloading the bank statement from the bank and making faces at little man, a flash of black fur went past the front window.  I thought to myself, ‘WOW, Raven (my 13 year old black lab) actually got off the porch in the pouring rain.’  Then as I looked back at Little Man, I saw her sleeping on the ottoman in the kitchen.
<Insert expletive here>
I jumped up from my chair to confirm what I actually saw in the front yard was one of the piggles.  I couldn’t see the other one but knew that she had to be out there somewhere.  Shoes and jacket adorned, a couple of apples stuffed into the pockets out the door into the cold, driving rain I went.

“PPPPEEEEEEGGGGGLLLEES, Come here pig, pig, pig!”

Armed with the grey bucket little pig came running.  Every night they get their dinner in the grey bucket so whenever you are carrying it, you are their favorite person.  I made my way and turned off the electric fence and dropped the gate, little pig sauntered inside interested in only the contents of the bucket.  Big pig was nowhere to be found.

DH came outside with Little Man, bundled head to toe against the weather.  Big pig was down in front of the house, well into the corn field and increasing her distance from the pen every second.  After a few minutes of hollering, she finally made her way around behind the barn and back toward the pen.  Both pigs inside, we secured the gate.  It has been wet and rainy here since the big storm that left lower New England in tatters came through last weekend.  Our pig pen fence is powered by a solar-fence-charger.  Even when it is cloudy, it receives some power; but with several days of cloudy weather, the batteries were in a weakened state.  Our sneaky girls used this to their advantage to find a weak spot in the fence and decided that a cold, wet, miserable day was the perfect day to go for a walk. 

Forty-five minutes later the fence was repaired, I had removed the muddy wet hay from their house and put in fresh, DH had repaired the front wall, and Little Man was pretty unhappy being relegated to the car out of the rain to watch us while we worked.  He finally had enough and decided that watching us wasn’t nearly as much fun as helping.

Soaking wet and covered up to my knees in mud, I took the car back to the house dropped my jacket, and pants in the entry way, then picked up Little Man and headed inside for dry clothes.  DH fed them some extra grain in hopes that they would stay inside their pen at least for the evening.  Perhaps the freezer will be filled sooner this fall rather than earlier this winter.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Whats in the bucket?

DH came into the house the other day with a lidded five gallon bucket.  Buckets coming into the kitchen generally mean collecting the scraps to feed the pigs or items headed for the compost pile, rarely do they have a cover.  He set the bucket under the counter to the baking cabinet and sat down to help me, I had just started processing two bushels of tomatoes for sauce.  Outside of walking around the bucket several times on my way to and from the sink, I hadn't given it too much thought.

Lately I have been trying very hard not to start another project without finishing the first.  Several crochet and knitting projects are scattered around the house in various states of completion from when I was pregnant - little man is now 9 1/2 months old.  Magazine filing, scanning, and other information gathering projects are in piles on top of filing cabinets and bookshelves around the kitchen and living room.  Various crafting projects; a Christmas stocking, a feather fan, a couple of fleece blankets, occupy shelves in the back shop.  And this doesn't include any number of projects from the to-do list for outside the house.

As the stock pot was nearing capacity and all the tomatoes had been seeded and were waiting their fate in the food processor, my attention turned to the bucket.  He told me where he was going before he left the house, but I hadn't had the required 16 ounces of caffeine infused liquid required before the brain captures and retains information presented to me; for the life of me I couldn't think what was in the bucket.  Little man was fed, changed and playing in his walker.   I headed for the bucket.  "You are going to need some saved containers, probably a milk jug and a ladle."

DH had brought back five gallons of raw milk!

I carefully removed the lid revealing the most lovely light tan liquid.  Anyone not familiar with raw milk might be thinking - TAN, are you sure something isn't wrong with your milk????  Heavy cream had risen to the surface.  Carefully I scooped off almost two inches of the thick, sweet liquid into my bowl.  Some was stored in the refrigerator, some was mixed with for half and half, and the rest was stored in the freezer.  The lid was placed back on the bucket while I finished the tomatoes and went in search of containers large enough to store my treasure.  All the possibilities raced through my head - yogurt, mozzarella cheese, perhaps my first attempt at ricotta cheese, oh I think I might have been drooling.  DH thought that ice cream would be a good idea - maybe if he wants to do the cranking.

For now the milk is stored in gallons in the refrigerator and I am hoping to carve out some time for yogurt today.  Whatever doesn't get processed today will go in the freezer until my days off next week.  In time I am hoping to improve my cheese making skills even further, set aside some space to act as a cheese cave and start aging some cheddar and maybe even provolone.  Until then, I am thrilled for fresh delicious raw milk.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cocktail party at 6:30 a.m.?

Little man awoke just after six a.m., therefore so did I.  Our normal morning routine involves a snuggle, a clean diaper, then we sit or lay him back in his crib with a bottle while coffee is made, clothing adorned, teeth brushed, etc.  As I prepared his bottle I heard a lot of noise coming from the south end of the lake, but my focus was on the task at hand. 

I stepped out onto the porch with my coffee just as the sun was breaking the horizon, the first tendrils of light turning the fall colors neon orange and day-glow yellow.  The lake was calm giving little hint as to the origins of what sounded like a cocktail party going on down by the lake shore.

As the sun crested the trees on the hill at the east side of the lake, the noise level peaked and the party broke up.  The sound of thumping, like that of the party guests running out on their host seemed to join the conversation.  Ripples and waves replaced the once calm lake surface and the thumping by splashing as a few hundred Canadian geese took flight.

A mob arose from between the trees surrounding the lake, then one by one the geese fell into an orderly V and continued southward, their cocktail party settling into a quiet conversation.  Just as the warmth of the sun crept around the corner of the house to the porch I was sitting on, the last of the geese passed out of my view.

I guess every once in a while you don't mind a cocktail party at 6:30 a.m.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Woolly bear caterpillars

Fall seems to have arrived while I wasn't looking this week.  As I rushed out the door this morning, late for my off-farm job, I was taken aback by the feeling of the farm.  Piggles had not come out to greet me, teenage chickens were not eagerly chirping at the removal of their protective tarp, rabbits were huddled in cage corners and barely moved as I ushered them a hurried greeting and headed out the door, and the leaves on the big maple behind the piggle pen have gone a blush in just a few short days.  The air has been crisp this week, but not so much that I stopped to notice as I feed rabbits and open up chicken enclosures.

This morning, was different. 

I thought to myself as I threw my lunch cooler in the passenger seat, that the dew was really heavy.  I jammed the key into the ignition, tore on my seat belt, hit the defroster button, and turned on the windshield wipers.  As I pulled the gear shift down into drive, I heard the unmistakable crunch as the wipers pushed a layer of frost off the side of the SUV. 

My heart skipped a beat.

In my rush to accomplish end of summer harvests, beginning of fall preparations, worries about finances, and a smidgen of house cleaning, I had missed a frost warning.  Maybe the woolly bear caterpillars who I have seen in the last few weeks without a speck of black on them were right, winter will be here before we know it and it is going to be a doozy.

The geraniums that have been on this farm for generations were still in the flower beds.
Herbs that I want to overwinter were in their various summer homes.
Tomatoes and eggplant remain in the garden waiting to be harvested.

I backed out of my parking spot and headed up the hill, the piggles poked their heads from inside their house just enough to acknowledge my presence, but I was far from important enough to leave that warm spot.  My 30 minute ride to work allowed me time to reassure myself that all was not lost. 

Only half the flower bed has been weeded so the overgrown weeds have probably protected the geraniums from the worst of the frost damage.  The garden hasn't been weeded in weeks so the tomatoes and eggplant were certainly nestled in.  My herb garden has been much better tended so I might lose some of them, but herb seeds can be started indoors anytime. And on my way back into the house this evening, I was greeted by this little creature.  He shows a nice long fall and a bit of a winter, but far from all orange - I think he is my new best friend!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What should I work on next?

Daylight hours seem to be in incredibly short supply around here lately. As I look around at all that remains to be done when I return to the farm, I can wear myself out just thinking about it if I am not careful. It has been a busy summer with plans to begin part-time employment delayed well into the latter part of June and a brief interlude in August of full-time training for my new part-time job.
 
I continue to look ahead and do my best to keep the sense of
 
How the <insert expletive here> am I going to get in front of this?
 
from entering my mind every time I look away from whatever task is at hand.
 
I manage to get through it, but I have to remind myself to take it one project or job at a time and maintain a separate a running list of that which I hope to accomplish before the snow flies.  A guest in my head might hear a dialogue something like this -

If I am going to be able to park my car in the garage this winter, I need to get the rabbit shed finished - but the rabbits can be moved even when there is snow on the ground - mowing the Christmas trees has to be done before it snows.

Mowing the Christmas trees requires fuel for the lawn tractor and the big tractor but the big tractor has a broken hose which also requires cash. I have enough fuel for the big tractor if I can get the hose fixed, at least a quick pass with the brush hog before snow is better than nothing at all and we might be able to shear once we can find the trees - add that to the list for this week.

The darn chickens have pooped on the back porch again.

Produce that is slated for preservation sits on the table in our mudroom waiting for canning jars or freezer space, roosters that are almost four months old wait for time when little man is snoozing so that they can be butchered, two rabbits who are no longer producing need to be culled so that there is more cage space for growing litters.  All of these require me to defrost the freezer so that there is room to store some of this food for the winter - add that to the list for this week.

I should clean the litter box.

Because the plastic wasn’t installed properly on the greenhouse, repairs are required if I want to grow greens for the winter and hope to get a head start on spring plants- that needs a cash outlay for new plastic - that one will have to wait another week.

Another darned spider web, didn’t I just clean one out of here this morning?

I should get a load of laundry started, reminder to self to check to see if the well has refilled enough to switch from our back-up water supply.
 
It is no wonder I am exhausted!
 
As I sit in my rocking chair with little man at the end of the day, the dialogue calms to a dull roar and I reassure myself that everything will work out.  Little man smiles up at me with those big, blue, sleepy eyes and I know that my callused feet, aching back, extra yawns from lack of sleep, tripping over baby toys as I fly through the kitchen, extra flies, chicken poop on the porch, never ending to-do list, and even a dry well are all worth it.
 
Wandering Moose Farms Scorecard
Pigs – 2
Layers – 13
Pullets – 23
Roosters – 8
Rabbits – 72
Cats – 5
Dog – 1
Humans – 3

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Living in fear of a kitchen appliance

"Hello, My name is Jennifer and I am afraid of my pressure canner."

I stand in front of you and admit my fear.  Now I need to face it head on and hope I don't blow up the house or send fragments of metal across my kitchen.  I actually have two, one that was my grandmother's for which I have purchased a new rubber seal and an instruction manual.  The other is tiny, meant for quick cooking single servings of meals and such.

We have been blessed with an abundance of green and wax beans this summer.  Later tonight or tomorrow we will be pulling all the plants and harvesting the beans.  DH has frozen several batches already and with designs to use what remains of my freezer space, I have to seek other options for items that cannot be canned using a water bath.  I made this mistake with carrots a few years back - DO NOT open a jar of carrots after four months that has been water bath canned. 

Yesterday I was talking with a colleague who uses her pressure canner all the time and she assures me that it is extremely easy to use.  They can green beans every year and she does it herself now when all canning used to be done in the company and under the tutelage of her mother.

Sometime between baking apple pies, berry pies, squash pies, whoopie pies, breads, and a couple more dessert items  for farmers market; I will be attempting to use my pressure canner for the first time.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Honey, you had better come look at little pig..."

Particular concern was noted in the tone and manner in which those words were uttered by DH.  Followed quickly by, "She isn't looking very good."

Our pigs are not our pets.  We do talk to them, play with them, pat them behind the ears and scratch their backs; but the pork they yield is a staple in our diets throughout much of the year.  Losing one or both of them would be not only a huge waste of money, but of the loss of most of a season's growth.

Across the driveway and into the pasture I went, neither of the pigs were to be found.  Listening carefully I heard their muffled grunts and snorts from the high grass on the newly opened side of the pasture.  Big pig was standing over little pig, nudging her and trying to get her to play.  Little pig lay there, staring absently into nowhere and breathing heavily.  My mind began racing.

"I am not a vet!"
"What the heck?  You were fine this morning!"
"Why did you choose eight thirty at night to get sick when no one is still open?!?!"
"OK, I can handle this.  Signs, Symptoms, Pain, Eating, Onset, Provocation."

My step-daughter at my side, I began to evaluate little pig with the skills I had garnered as a first responder.  These skills apply specifically to humans, but I figured it couldn't hurt.  Hot to the touch - possible fever.  Runny nose - possible respiratory issue.  DH mentioned something about her limping - leg or hip injury.  Nothing in the ears or around...

"Jen, is she going to make it?"  The concern in my step-daughter's question was palpable.  I had absolutely no idea but sometimes kid gloves are necessary with a twelve year old girl who has only recently been integrated into the realities of farming. 

"I don't know, but I am going to do what I can and we will help her through this."  I sent her inside to get a blanket and a thermometer while I continued my cursory evaluation and thought to myself,

"Would you mind telling me what exactly
is wrong so I can fix you, PLEASE????"

Fever confirmed, I went inside with my findings and left my step-daughter consoling the pig under a blanket in the middle of the tall grass.  It would have been a great picture if I had been thinking like a mom and not like a fledgling farmer trying to save their livestock.  A phone call to a friend (who wasn't home), an internet search for pig illness and treatment, a furious search through the garage and the house for the antibiotics I knew I bought prophylactically in case of something like this, then back outside to the hollering of a twelve year old. 

Damn, I knew it - too late.

Mixing antibiotic as I ran across the yard; I managed to drop both the treats I had brought to entice the pig back into its house and the syringe (sans needle) to get the medicine into the pig.  Zapping myself on the fence as I entered, I made it back to my step-daughter assured that I was going to find a dead pig and bracing myself for what I was going to tell her about the cycle of life.

"We should bring her inside and I can sleep with her in the living room until she feels better."  Laughter is the best medicine and that was exactly what I needed at that moment in the falling darkness, at the bottom of the hill, in the tall grass, standing next to a sick pig, swaddled in a blanket.  I calmly told her that inside was no place for a pig, we would get her into their house with big pig and they would keep each other warm for the night and we would see how things were in the morning.  Disappointed, she made a half-hearted attempt to get little pig up and into her house.  We call her little pig because she is smaller than the other pig but she is in no way little weighing in over 100 lbs at only three months old.  DH came outside and applied a much firmer hand successfully getting her inside their house with big pig.  I did not ignore the advice of several of the websites which told me that they should be isolated from one another, lest the other pig get sick too.  I just don't have quarantine facilities big enough, or safe enough to house either pig.

Morning came to find big pig pushing at the door to the house and little pig lying listless in the corner, alive, but not looking good.  I fed her some treats and left DH with instructions to administer another dose of antibiotic during the day while I was working.  Two days later, she was up and around.  I started to get excited that we had stumbled our way through this emergency and come out on top - then big pig started limping.

While we are not certain as the exact cause of this mystery illness, we have isolated it to two possibilities - some older ricotta cheese which may have been past the ability of their digestive tracts to handle and a frog found half chewed in the area of their water bucket.  It took about two weeks for both pigs to be return to their normal activities.  We stopped the antibiotics as soon as both were up and walking around again with only a slight limp.  The fevers have not returned and both pigs have resumed greeting us each night at the pasture gate when we bring them their dinner.

Knowing that we made it through one realtively major emergency with only some lost sleep to show for it is very encouraging to me.  I am not sure what I was more worried about; how a twelve year old was going to handle the possible death of the pig or how I was going to financially manage having to add 300 lbs worth of protein back into my now meager grocery budget.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Take some time to relax

It doesn’t take too long to become overwhelmed when you are trying to take care of an infant, keep up family commitments, run a fledgling farm, working off the farm, volunteering for your local first responders, catch up on overdue required trainings for the first responder certification, become more involved in the farmers market, etc.  Such was the case for the past couple of weeks, hence the absence of blog posts.

While I share many of the trials and tribulations of the happenings on the farm, there is so much more that goes on in our lives that I don’t share.  All of us have family politics, money issues, relationship problems, and other general happenings of life which no one needs to know about.  Life managed to get the best of me over the past couple of weeks.  In between a family visit to CT and trying to keep up with all that goes on here, I landed myself in the hospital.  My body didn’t do so well carrying little man and I have yet to fully recover.  Pushing myself too hard for too long without sufficient sleep elicited a bout of stomach upset, chest pain, difficulty breathing and lightheadedness.  Thankfully it was just an exacerbation of my normal; there was nothing new wrong with me.

Barely recovered, I traveled the six hours back north with little man, appreciating every single degree drop in dew point and temperature, as the farm grew ever closer.  We took a week off from farmers market as DH and I discussed our abilities to continue developing the farm and my working only part time.  That was one of the smartest things we have done all summer.  The stresses of ensuring there was food on the table and diapers for the little man had taken its toll.  I was moving through the day in a robotic fashion completing the required tasks; I wasn’t living or experiencing all the beauty around me, relishing in the bounty of the garden or enjoying the lightning bugs anymore. 

Taking the week off from the market and spending a full, uninterrupted day at the farm was what the doctor ordered.  The three-hour nap on Saturday helped too.  Evening found us at the lake; DH, little man, my stepdaughter and I played together in the water then visited for a while with my aunt and uncle.  Sunday was spent at the local agricultural fair, which included my stepdaughter winning the pedal powered tractor pull in her age group.  Sick pigs, sick rabbits, household pets who have fleas, vehicle and equipment failures have all been weighing heavy on my mind.  What this weekend reminded me was that it will still be there when I get back – remember to take some time for you.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Update

Lest someone think that the absence of blog posts the past week means lack of work or progress, rest assured it hasn't been all swimming in the lake and reading the latest Nora Roberts novel.

The heat has taken its toll on our rabbit venture.  We lost nine in total from loose stools associated with the richness of their diet accompanied by the heat.  I have finally learned how to intervene and have managed to successfully save two pregnant does and one small rabbit who had started to get sick.  Quick intervention and one week later are still with us and back on solid food again.  Procurement and installation of an industrial strength farm fan has drastically improved air circulation; I am not looking forward to the electric bill.  Fly controls have been installed, although they are not nearly strong enough to control our rising fly population.  We remove all of the pine shavings and waste once a week with removal of piles of manure occurring each day - they remain a problem and research is being done on other control measures. 

Across the driveway the piggles are thriving in their 1/2 acre divided pasture.  Since arriving in May they have only worked on clearing/tilling only half of their pasture.  Before August 1st we will open the second side of their space and allow them to start on fresh grass and roots along with a notoriously wet section of ground.  If August proves to be as hot or hotter than July, they will be very happy improving the soggy section into a full fledged swail.  They continue to eat like queens with most of the scraps from farmers market production going their way.  This week that included the leftover filling from both strawberry and peanut butter whoopie pies, hulls from the strawberries, cannoli filling and a bunch of lettuce that we couldn't consume before it started to get soggy.  Commercial feed continues to be a staple in their diet since the summer has been so dry, the beets/mangles  and corn that we are growing for them are coming very slow.

Chickens have been a popular product here on the farm.  We sold most of the pullets that we incubated for our own production and had to order some pullets from a commercial hatchery.  They arrived around the first of July and will soon be ready to go out to the small chicken tractor while the roosters who remain in the large tractor finish off to roaster weight.  Our layers have decided, right in the middle of our highest egg demand, to slow down on their production.  Five or six eggs per day is sufficient for the baking I do for farmers market, but our garbage men are a little disappointed that we have not been able to consistently supply them with their regular demand.

The riding lawnmower has broken and the replacement part is outside of our budget at this time.  I am getting some great exercise push mowing the four acres of lawns here on the farm and have lost eight pounds since leaving full-time employment.  Perhaps before the snow flies we will have found the Christmas trees amongst the weeds which have taken over in all three of the fields.  The lilac bush which I have been hoping to prune for the past three years was finally pruned and while farmers market continues to occupy a lot of my time, it has proven a successful venture.  We are planning on our first trip to the processor in over six weeks and have three more does scheduled to kindle this week.  Now I just need to spend some more time in the garden.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Transitioning

It is taking a little getting used to, but the transition to full time farmer and part time employee is going fairly well.  Balancing the to-do list with the everyday chores, let alone blog posting will require commitment to a schedule which I have not yet been able to achieve.  It also happens to be summer vacation from school and my step-children are a welcome addition to the farm for a short while.  I figure that I will get the schedule completely figured out right about the time that my step-daughter returns to her mother's for the beginning of the school year.

DH and I are learning to communicate better and at night will discuss a task or two that we wish to get accomplished the following day.  I will plan on working on my task first thing in the morning and separately DH will do the same.  Little man wakes up, we take our turns getting up with him for his early morning bottle, and then when the other spouse wakes up, we each start out to work on our appointed task for the day.  Both of us are out the door when we look at each other, then back into the house and say something to the effect of, "I thought you were watching him while I did..."  Eventually we work it out and the day goes on.

As often happens here, one task turns into five.  Cleaning out the rabbits will inevitably include repairs to the waste deflectors, cleaning up the work bench with  left over tools from yesterday's project, cleaning up the chicken coop, moving the chicken tractor, weeding a flower bed, putting up screening to keep the chickens out of the garage while still allowing air flow for the rabbits, etc.  The original task of cleaning out the rabbits (a 45 minute task without interruption) has taken three hours and the second item from the to-do list was either not started or stopped mid-way through.  Kids at the farm requires happily scheduling time in our day to go down to the lake for swimming or fishing or perhaps a trip down to the library.  Scheduling sufficient family play time has fallen by the wayside; when we actually get to the lake, we are there for far longer then planned.  Dinner then comes late and by the time kids are showered and in bed, blog posts don't get written.  My household paperwork has fallen desperately behind and I think I have only made it down to the garden once in the past week.  Not great for someone who is planning on making part of her living from the yield of that 1/2 acre.

During times of quiet, like this fifteen minutes stolen while little man and DH sleep (we were up until 1:30 a.m. baking for farmers market and then back at it around 6:00 a.m. to get the cannoli shells made) and the bigger kids are drawing and making paper airplanes; I often wonder if I am going to be able to make this farm work.  Organization seems nearly impossible and focus on any project is difficult with little man going through a separation anxiety phase.  As the bank account dwindles from regular bills - electric, phone, fuel -animal feed and an expensive brake repair on the car, the tension mounts and I wonder if I made the right decision. 

While sitting on the front porch with my bottle of homebrew, after everyone has gone to bed at night, bellies full with meat and vegetable grown on this very farm; I worry, but I am filled with contentment knowing all that this ex-corporate ladder climbing girl has managed to accomplish in just five short years.  Bring on the next five!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Deciding to add more livestock

For the past couple of years we discuss off an on whether or not to add additional livestock to our farm venture.  Christmas trees, vegetables and chickens - that is what we were working on and I decided that we wouldn't add anything new until we were able to successfully grow these things.  The better part of last year was spent carefully growing little man and very little got accomplished on the farm.  But we knew if we didn't take the next step progress would halt and the farm would remain Christmas trees, chickens for personal use and a large home garden.

Pigs were an intermediary and DH assured me that they would be here for a few months and feed us for the entire winter; that they have done.  We are still eating pork from those two and the freezer still holds hams and bacons waiting to be cured.  Swine have returned to the farm in a pasture situation, supplemented with commercial feed.  Perhaps soon I will know enough about grass-fed pigs to try it completely without commercial supplement.  They have been the easiest animal to raise so far.  Increased fly populations this year do not appear to be adversely affecting them and I have been watching them carefully for all other sorts of afflictions like worms or respiratory problems, which thankfully there have been none of.

I finally decided that we could try rabbits so I joined the ARBA and got the Storey book on rabbits, borrowed several others from the library, devoured Internet postings, joined message boards and learned what I thought was almost next to nothing about raising rabbits.  In another post I describe how we actually came into having rabbits at the farm.  Their shed remains only half constructed and perhaps sometime before winter they will be out of the garage.  Diarrhea has struck again - it is taking a toll on the rabbits with three passing away so far this week.  It is with trepidation that I even consider adding another type of livestock to the farm. 

Changing my work situation means that I am on the farm more and can take the time needed to make the garden successful, maintain the Christmas trees, make repairs to the chicken coop, etc.  However, there always seems to be something that gets in the way - whether little man refuses to sit in his play pen for 60 seconds or the lawn tractor breaking this week or the brakes going in the car - something tries its level best to distract us.  Research is being done on sheep.  The pasture is already here on the farm with a significant amount of fence that can be recycled.  Although reading voraciously about ailments and care of these animals and problems with the lambing process, I am concerned that I will not be prepared or able to handle that with which I will be faced.  They are an ideal animal for the farm in that their value added products number three: wool, meat and milk.  I know for certain I do not have the fencing for goats so they are not an option at this time and should they escape my other crop, Christmas trees, may not survive.

Dairy requirements of the farm and market may not be met with the milk production of a few milking ewes.  Market cannolis use more than 96 ounces of ricotta cheese per week and at a grocery store cost of almost $4.00 for a third that much cheese, my bottom line is taking a pounding.  This does not include other milk and cheese requirements for quiches, cookies, cream pies, etc.  I know next to nothing about raising cows, but perhaps it may be time to learn.

That pasture once held heifers and should easily be re-used to hold milking cows with an appropriately sized solar fence charger.  Milk from one cow will be sufficient for both her calf and for the milk needs of the farm.  Housing for a cow can be constructed using salvaged materials and other lumber can be harvested from the farm.  More resources are available in my immediate area on raising a milking cow, Franklin County is the dairy capital of Vermont.  Beef from the calves or dry cows can be processed for farm use.  I will have to look into either grass-fed options or the cost of feed for a cow, especially over the winter, and their access to water will have to be modified as the one pond in the pasture has since been pretty much overtaken with cattails and silt.  Perhaps it is time to get a cow.  Oh, Miss Librarian...