Search This Blog

Friday, December 27, 2013

Eggs


The winter solstice has come and gone and along with it our egg production.  Even in the coldest of days we were getting 10 - 12 eggs per day.  Over the past two weeks our production has halved giving us between five and six eggs daily.  We couldn't put our fingers on the cause.  Examining every possibility from water and feed consumption to length of day provided by the electric light and cleanliness of the coop, we couldn't narrow it down.

For the past week we have been closely watching every change we have made in the coop.  New bedding and clean nesters were the first test.  Our flock has doubled in size from last year so the coop isn't staying as clean as it could be.  Focusing on cleanliness, new bedding was added and nesters cleaned as soon as any accumulation of droppings were noted - no change in production.  Water has been carefully checked twice a day since temperatures have fallen and remained below zero.  We noted that the floor in the coop has shifted with the ice outside so the water container was leaking on the floor of the coop - no wonder it won't stay clean.  Balanced platform and steady water supply - no change in production.

Feed has been supplied twice per day since the chickens arrived on the farm seven years ago.  As the number of chickens increased, the amount of feed has increased.  Last night I stayed in the coop and watched the birds eat.  Three and one half pounds of feed were scattered on the floor of the coop to allow all the birds to eat without stomping on one another.  Watching them consume that 3 1/2 lbs in less than two minutes, I realized, they were hungry.  All the birds are still exhibiting good body condition, full breasts and good skin condition, most with large, moist vents.  Feed was the last thing we needed to try. Off to the good old search engine as the reference materials I have did not state how much feed an average laying hen consumes daily.  My search determined that an average laying bird consumes approximately 1/3 lb of feed daily.

To make sense of this, you need to know that we are up to 45 birds in the coop.  Four roosters and 41 hens.
Divide 45 by 3 - 1/3 lb per bird per day - and you get 15.
Divide 15 by 2 - feeding them twice daily - and you get 7.5 lbs of feed.

We were feeding them half of what they needed per day of feed.  They were maintaining their weight, but not getting enough nutrition to lay eggs.  I doubled their feed ration last night and they left some on the floor indicating that they were full.  This morning Little man's father fed them eight pounds of feed. 

If we get seven or more eggs today then we will have solved that problem.  I will let you know what we collect today.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2014 Planning

This is the time of the year when the planning for the farm begins/continues in earnest.  As we close December I look out at all the things that didn't get done.  The roof never made it back onto the greenhouse this fall; many tools and flower pots now sit under three to five inches of snow, two inches of ice and today's predicted two to four inches of new snow.  The same holds true for the lawn tractor, some tractor attachments and so much more.  Too many good tools and equipment now sit under snow and ice because we did not make the time to get them under cover.  Clean up projects remain on the list which should have been completed this fall but will now wait until Spring.  Attempts and efforts were made at the end of November and earlier this month, but too much remains outside.  Returning to full-time, off-farm employment in September brought fall preparations to a complete halt.  With high temperatures next week forecast to be below zero, it is looking like reclaiming these items might be a ways off. 

I could sit here and lament about all the things that weren't accomplished or I could pull up my big girl panties and take steps to ensure that it doesn't happen again.  Choosing the latter, I reached out to my local library for a book by Cynthia Bombach.  The Complete Homestead Planner takes all of the tasks and chores from around her homestead and breaks them up into a month-by-month to-do list.  An electronic version of this book is readily down loadable on line but I am an ink on paper kind of girl.  In New England ice storms like the one this past week I don't need to worry about a battery dying.  At the very least I hoped it might be a starting point.

What it did do was make me think about the whole farm.  This past year I have been putting out fires which I started for myself by taking on too many projects and not having a firm grasp on the time each would take especially with Little man in tow.  Laying things out over the span of a year and incorporating tasks into a monthly to-do list has allowed me to see, on paper or computer screen, the big picture.  Looking at some months, I can see that there aren't enough hours in the month to accomplish all that is listed there.  Some of those jobs will need to be reallocated.  This book was also written with heartiness zone 5-6 in mind.  Northwestern Vermont is located in zone 3-4 requiring a few changes in planting dates, seed starting dates, winter tire change-over dates, etc.

I could have done what Bombach did in her book all on my own and for that reason I would not recommend purchasing this book.  A trip to or request from your local library would be sufficient to get an grasp on what you need to look at for your farm or homestead.  There is also a lot of repetition in here as some chores you need to tackle monthly if not more frequently.  And, this is definitely not a how-to manual, it is exactly what it says, a planner.  A handy guide for beginners, those thinking about jumping into homesteading or farming from their perches in the city or someone like me who has let too many years of grand ideas get the best of her; this is certainly not for the established farm or homestead where things are running smoothly.

Over the next month I will refine the list for our scaled down farming ventures, incorporate some projects that require immediate attention and delete some that are not feasible given my time and budget.  As I look over my 2014 plan I realize that if I had sat down and created a business plan before planting thousands of Christmas trees or increasing the number of chickens in my flock, I probably wouldn't now be stepping back, reeling in and starting over. 

Lesson learned!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Roof! - Almost.

This weekend tested my mechanical and general contracting skills, let alone stretched and worked muscles that I had forgotten I possessed.  My mother and grandmother recently bought a house in the next town over.  It has great bones but needs a few things to bring it into the 21st century.  This weekend I took out some baseboard heating in order to install a door directly from the garage into the main house.  Thanks to the invention of something called a Shark-Bite fitting, the average, everyday homeowner can get themselves into or out of some serious plumbing issues without the use of a torch and solder.  I was able to remove the base board and close the heating loop, and put water back through the system.  Unfortunately the spray of water from a pinhole leak stopped that project in it its tracks.  Thankfully this particular baseboard is on its own zone and in an extra room so it wasn't any big problem to leave the whole zone shut down until I can get back over there with another fitting.

I am lucky to have several generations of experienced contractors in my family, not the least of which is my father.  His knowledge base is extensive and I will often pick his brain for little things like, well anything wrong with the house or any huge project which I have decided I can tackle without the help of a professional and then realize I shouldn't have.  He is also great in assuring me that there are many things that I am perfectly capable of handling/fixing/repairing even though they scare me.  He introduced me to the Shark-Bite fitting and with them I was able to replace and repair several corroded copper pipes in my basement on the first try with no leaks.  Had that repair not worked there wouldn't have been any water at all in the house. 

A contractor has, however, been enlisted to install the new garage door since I have never attempted nor will I ever attempt to work with that huge spring which is under an enormous amount of pressure.  Electrical work which involves working in the circuit panel itself is also something that I will not attempt unless I receive additional instruction.  The very simple reason - electricity bites. 

Building projects around the farm have become old hat now.  I over-build just about everything and rarely I actually manage to get a completely level, square corner, but the projects are functional and almost always weather tight.  The roof is finally getting put on the rabbit shed.  I did not install the rafters and I am working with a lot of salvaged wood but it will be weather tight and will keep both the rabbits and the pig out of the weather this winter.  Next weekend we will finish sheathing the roof and square it up so it will be ready for metal roofing.  The forecast, budget and whether or not Little man's father gets his deer will determine whether the tar paper and metal roof will go on during the following week or wait until Thanksgiving weekend.

I might actually get my garage back before snow flies!


Friday, November 1, 2013

Meal planning Friday

I love to cook!  I would spend all day in my kitchen dirtying every bowl, dish, piece of cutlery, pot, pan, baking sheet, etc. in the quest to make the perfect meal (I might have said this once or twice before).  Unfortunately when you are working full-time and still want to spend time with your children after you get home from work, the perfect meal is not attainable every night.  Often dinner would be the last thing on my mind, neither Little man's father nor I would remember to take something out of the freezer in the morning, and then neither one of us would feel like cooking - dinner turned into yet another point of contention between the two of us.  After 30 minutes or more of thinking about what to make I would come up with something, head to the refrigerator looking for an ingredient that I knew we had three days ago, only to find it had been consumed in a snack while waiting for dinner to cook yesterday.

I set to the old, faithful, search engine and typed in 'meal planning' hoping that someone, somewhere would at least point me in the right direction to get started.  Salvation came out of that search - there are women who blog about just this type of thing - I knew there was something I liked about the blogging community.  My clicks landed me at thebettermom.com.  In addition to her strong faith and empowering woman through that faith, she publishes bi-weekly, gluten-free meal plans.  Each meal plan is accompanied by the recipes to cook all the meals therein.  This meal planning thing was going to be easier than I thought!

Needless to say I didn't go home, empty my freezer, cabinets and refrigerator of all my food and start with a monumental grocery list - although that might have been fun.  I went home and discussed it with Little man's father - if I do the planning, will you at least cook something from the weekly menu on your nights to cook dinner?  With a few grumbles and groans, he agreed to give it a shot.  Saturday morning, I inventoried the major food groups finding out what we had in the house and started to list a few basic meals that could be made with those items.  Then I thought about how to use up the left-overs; the roast chicken would make a chicken/cheddar/rice casserole or chicken and biscuits.  I quickly had a list of six meals for the following week.  I made out my grocery list with any items I was missing for those meals and then I added in a seventh - try-something-new recipe and added any missing items to the grocery list.

Getting the shopping done was only half the battle, dinner still had to be prepared each night.  Well, my internet search also yielded some pretty great tips, including some on involving your children in meal prep and clean up.  When I was single, I got tired of spending a fortune on lunch everyday so I used to cook up two family-sized meals on Sunday and parcel them out into individual lunch size containers and put them in the freezer for lunches during the week.  By the third week I had a pretty good selection of meals to take with me to work.  Meal planning involves the same kind of commitment on one of your weekend days, but it is centered around prep for the week, not necessarily cooking a week's worth of meals on Sunday while football is playing the background.

This past weeks menu looked a little bit like this:

Saturday - Pesto Pasta w/Italian Sausage, salad, garlic bread
Sunday - Roast Chicken w/oven roasted vegetables
Monday - London broil, baked potato, vegetable of choice 
Tuesday - Chicken/cheddar/rice casserole, vegetable of choice (made ahead or frozen)
Wednesday - Beef stew w/ herb and cheese biscuits (crockpot meal)
Thursday - Ham/potato/bean skillet
Friday - Parmesan chicken fingers w/ herb and blue cheese quiche, salad
Saturday - Tuna casserole, vegetable of choice (made ahead or frozen)

Sunday I made a double batch of cream of celery soup - 1/2 went into the tuna casserole which I made the same day and put into the freezer and half was put into the refrigerator for the chicken/cheddar/rice casserole.  Beef for the stew was cut up out of the roast that I bought at the grocery store and put in a separate storage bag in the freezer.  Carrots, onions, peppers, and tomatoes were cut up and placed in a covered bowl for Wednesday's stew. 

When meat is brought home from the grocery store, we now try to marinate it right away and freeze them with their sauce.  As the meat thaws it soaks up some great flavor.  Little man's father needed only wash a few potatoes and put them in the oven while finishing up chores or playing with Little man.  The meat and vegetables were started at the same time and in less than 20 minutes, a hearty, delicious and not terribly unhealthy meal was had by all .  While we were eating dinner, the rice was cooked for Tuesday's casserole.

After dinner on Tuesday, the meat for the stew was browned and added to the crockpot with the vegetables and remaining stew ingredients.  Wednesday before leaving for work, the crockpot was started.  The Parmesan chicken fingers were frozen after I made a double batch a couple of Sundays ago so we would have a quick meal option.  Quiche's can be baked ahead of time, frozen and reheated, unfortunately this didn't happen this week so the side dish for tonight's dinner will change on the fly.  Saturday, I try to have a quick and easy meal since I am usually running around trying to accomplish an entire weeks worth of chores in one day.

In the three weeks since we started planning meals for the week,  Little man's father and I haven't argued about dinner once, I have managed to follow the sales, stock up on local produce and meats when possible and have dropped my weekly grocery budget to right around $100.  This includes diapers, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, laundry detergent, etc.  This week's grocery shopping and meal planning has been sidelined by a trip to my mother's to check on an electrical problem, but tomorrow morning I will start anew.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

THE LIST

Photo courtesy of Wildrose Primitives Etsy Shop
I am a list person, always have been and probably always will be.  My lists keep me sane.  When the mind is cruising along at 110 mph when I am trying to fall asleep, I take out a notepad and pen and dump everything onto the piece of paper which often results in a vague self-assurance that these things will get done eventually and I can finally drift off to dreams.

On Saturday morning while Little man eats and I drink my coffee, THE LIST is created, it contains, but is not limited to - every housecleaning item that didn't get done during the week, any financial/book keeping tasks required to keep the lights on and repo man at bay, any orders or replenishment of farmer's market inventory, any animal related jobs which weren't done during the week, at least one or two irregular house cleaning tasks, meal prep for the following week, laundry, dishes and garbage, one or two organizational projects, at least one home maintenance task, and one or seven farm projects. 

By the time breakfast is done, the first load of laundry is ready to be switched, the dishwasher is finishing its rinse cycle and the garbage has been tied and is ready to go out when we feed the animals.  Little man is collected, washed up, changed and out we go to care for all the critters in our charge, water bottles and containers filled, all feeders topped off and the chickens let loose from the night time safety of their coop.  Back inside to wash out buckets for the restaurant who generously donates their food scraps to our pig and then it is off to run any remaining errands.  Grocery shopping is often completed on Friday evenings when I can run quickly through the store collecting the week's supplies.  Errands are complete by 11:30 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. and then it is back to the house or off to Nana's depending on the day.  Lunch, then Little man goes down for his nap and the true work on the THE LIST begins.  Some day I will be able to complete everything on THE LIST by the end of the weekend.  In the meantime, I just keep working on one or two things each night in hopes that there aren't too many carry overs from week to week. 

Maintaining a weekly list and having a weekly meal plan are two goals that I made for myself starting in September.  Both were established in an effort to ensure I had more time to spend with Little man after work and to curtail the amount of waste we were creating.  Last night I was finally able to clean up the rotted OSB from the backyard.  This represented good money wasted because I hadn't made the time to finish the rabbit shed after I had already purchased materials to do so.  While picking up rotted wood I found some good tools which had been forgotten at the end of one project or another, collected them and returned them to the garage.  There is much to be done, but each day at least one thing gets crossed off the THE LIST.

Clean up OSB from backyard - complete
 
Clean, repair, oil/grease hand tools - added

Such is nature of the THE LIST.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taking a step back and restoring focus

This summer on the farm passed in a blur as I tried to balance working off-farm part-time, spending quality time with my Little man, and attempting to secure sufficient income to put fuel in the tank and food on the table for the winter.  Heated arguments ensued - the word 'quit' came up several times in those less than calm, collected, discussions about who didn't do what and why we were 'never' going to be successful.

We agreed on one thing only - Little man comes first no matter whatever we decide to do.

Labor Day brought with it a garden that had all but succumbed to the weeds.  We collected a few wonderful meals worth of fried green tomatoes, but didn't get back out soon enough to put up any green tomato relish.  The club size zucchini went soft as they lay neglected after they were one of the few things that managed to survive the weed pressure.  Onion sets, peppers, spaghetti squash were all lost to rot under the weight of the falling weeds.  The herb garden did well, although the basil crop was severely stunted by lack of attention to weeds therein as well.  Tomatoes that didn't get transplanted out of the green house fell out the sides when the roof was removed and a few precious fruits were harvested, but most went to the chickens and the pig.

Farmers market went well with fresh baked and value added items taking the lead and fresh vegetables and produce from around the farm and that of our neighbor coming in a close second.  Unfortunately by the time I came home from my off-farm job, spent some time with Little man and then set-in to bake for the following day's market, it was well into the morning before I got any sleep.  It felt like weeks passed with my brain in a fog.  I was too tired to play outside with an eager toddler - the decision had to be made soon.  September brought with it hard fought glimmers of hope that we might be able to make this work - Little man, I can only hope would hardly remember this summer of rushed, crazy, pressure.

The following week I got a message from a colleague who told me that she might be moving on to pursue a different career opportunity.  Decision time had dropped out of the sky like an anvil onto the roadrunner.  I was beat-up, over-tired, feeling like I was neglecting my child, knew that I was neglecting myself, and having a difficult time trying to figure out which way was up.  Last year's propane bill hadn't been paid, we were behind in every utility and car payment and I was looking at trying to come up with thousands of dollars for taxes and propane and tires for vehicles before snow flew, let alone any other projects that had to get done before it got too cold.  Through all the sleep deprivation and fear, there remained the faint flicker of hope that all this summer's hard work was finally putting up some concrete numbers.  If we can just improve on those numbers - I might be able to work a little harder or go without another 30 minutes of sleep each night... 

I would love nothing more than to work on the farm and make it a sustainable venture.   Unfortunately heat for the house is a necessity in Northwestern Vermont.  I want to be at the end of the driveway to see my son get off the school bus each day.  It takes a community to raise a child and for the past couple of years we haven't had that community as we strove to build our farm venture.  Debts long ago incurred refused to be neglected.  Little man's father works at the base of the mountain requiring snow tires sooner rather than later and if I don't get my oil changed and tires put on my vehicle soon, then my car won't leave the driveway if the weather turns.

It was one of the most arduous decisions of my adult life,
I went back to work full-time.

I am determined to continue, albeit on a much smaller scale, farming on this piece of land to which I have become a caretaker.  The pig will be bred this fall and rabbits will continue to be a part of the farm.  We are in the process of scaling back to between four and six does which will keep us in rabbit as a good source of protein and have a few extra for family and friends.  Gardens will be relocated to make them easier to tend in closer proximity to the house so when I can carve out five minutes, it can be a productive five minutes.  The green house will be used to start plants again this spring, but I will only be planting enough for personal use plus ten percent for loss.  Focus will be shifted back to the Christmas trees ensuring that they get the appropriate attention this year so we can have some saleable trees next year.  Chickens and eggs will remain a staple product and perhaps I can consider adding one or two value added items to the online farmers market.

We will be shoring up our existing ventures and getting ourselves out of debt.  No more livestock, new projects or new ventures will be added until we have gotten each of the existing enterprises to sustain themselves or each other with no additional inputs required from off farm income.  The search will begin for a sustainable heating option for the house so that our reliance on propane can be limited.  Solar options for electricity and water will be researched and accumulation of free or bartered components will begin for all of the above projects.

It was not an easy decision, but it is the smartest option for us at this time.  We will take the coming year to be better prepared, to hole in and get all of our outstanding debt taken care of and to think through all of my grand ideas and put numbers and time lines to each.  The decision to take up any of the grand ideas will be subject to intense scrutiny and if starting the next project will in any way cause detriment to our existing ventures it will be shelved or tossed completely.  I still hope to someday add a lactating animal or three to the farm along with fiber animals and the value added products associated with them, but not right now.

The blog will continue to share the details of the farm as it continues on its much smaller scale, but will also include things like meal-planning and weatherization.  Our pig is still in search of a boyfriend for the holidays and the rabbit shed has rafters but is still missing a roof.  Little man is better for the time we are spending together as it is certainly better quality then it was quantity.

I hope you will stay with us as we step back, reign in the craziness and start again with some valuable lessons learned under our belts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Colors of the fog

Yesterday, Little man's father woke me shortly after 5:00 a.m. as he prepared to leave for his off-farm job to let me know that he had taken care of the household chores, but the animals still needed tending to.  The air was thick and soupy over the farm this morning and the light was more white than grey as I headed outside. 

Warmth radiates from the meat birds as I reach into their tractor to retrieve their waterer - they need to be moved into a larger tractor this week if we are going to get them to weight before the end of September.  'Teenage' pullets and roosters scatter as I approach the second tractor, they want little to do with humans especially when you aren't carrying a bucket.  Adult birds ready to be migrated into the 'big girl' coop occupy the third tractor, they show mild interest; however, empty hands mean no treats so they return to their scratching and primping as I pass. 

Drawing courtesy of porkfoodservice.org

Sounds of the world start to penetrate the fog - snuffles from the newest member of the farm carry through the grey from across the driveway, water bottles click as rabbits wake from their slumber, the big girls hearing me outside stretch their wings as they exit the coop and wait for me to open the gate to their pen.  Still early, the chickens will have to wait until after the hour of the fox's rounds before being set free to wander the farm for the day.  It is hard to believe that a fox has a schedule, but Little man's father and I see him faithfully each morning between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m.  He is rarely seen at any other time and so far we have been fortunate that our birds do not appear to have been bothered by him.  Our neighbor hasn't been so lucky and has lost seven or eight birds already this summer.  We have good roosters and I am certain that contributes to the health and safety of the flock.

Waterers filled and birds and bunnies appearing satisfied, I set across the yard through the now slightly pink fog as the sun begins its ascent from behind the mountain.  Her pasture is just barely visible from 150 feet away; my footfalls and the crunch of the gravel under my eight plus two 5-gallon pails of water reveal my approach.  Snuffles and snorts rise up from the tall grass on the far side of the pen where she has made her nest for the evening.  I change out her water and replenish ten gallons in her basin.  The desire for fresh food or water must be much less appetizing then the comfort of her spot, she remains nestled as I return to the house.

WMF became home to a rescue pig this week.  She is a four year old Gloucester Old Spot heritage breed pig - the kind of pig I have wanted since I returned to Vermont and considered raising pigs.  She didn't come with papers so we will not be registering her, but I am happy to have her with us just the same.  We are hoping to get at least one, possibly two farrowings from her before she stops breeding to keep the farm in pork and possibly for a little extra income.  Raised primarily on scraps she will not need supplemental grain unless Little man's father leaves his restaurant job and the restaurant who has been feeding her for the past year stops allowing us to collect their food waste.  Before December we will need to line up a boyfriend for her to ensure we have a spring farrowing.

In the garage the baby monitor continues to emit only white noise so I set about refilling water buckets for when we return to the farm later tonight after market and check on the status of feed and scraps for today and tomorrow morning.  Satisfied with the supplies on hand, I double-check for any ailments and head back into the house.  The barn is only now becoming visible across the yard as the grey-pink air seems to change to a muted purple.

My attention turns to the inside critters, water bowls cleaned and refilled, feed dishes filled.  My lunch is prepared and put into my cooler.  Coffee is placed into a thermal mug to keep it warm as the coffee pot's automatic shut off is about the engage and the dark, life-giving liquid will certainly be cold by the time I am ready to leave.  On to a shower to wash off the accumulation of dirt and sweat from morning chores.  Exiting the shower, Little man wakes and begins telling the tales of his dreams and what he plans on having for breakfast.

The last thirty minutes before leaving the farm pass in a blur as I open the chicken pen along the way to the car with cooler, diaper bag, child, coffee and keys in hand.  Heading out of the driveway the headlights reflect a faded yellow against the ever so slowly dissipating fog.  The tops of the Chirstmas trees poke out from among the tall grass, yet one more chore that will need to be done before the snow flies.  Little man waves his cup of cool milk and hollers, 'Bye bye Pig!' as he goes to child care and I head to my off farm job.

And to think - I used to fly out of bed, check my messages while brushing my teeth and showering then run out the door to the big city in a fog of car exhaust.  I am much happier in this morning's kind of fog.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chicken tractors and transplant trauma

More chickens are hatching this week which requires more houses to hold them.  Yesterday Little Man, his father and I tore apart a couple of pallets and together with some leftover fencing, crafted another chicken tractor.

The boards were pulled from the top and bottom of the pallet.  Eight of them were notched at the ends and nailed together lengthwise to create eight-foot long sides.  Three were cut in half to make the upright supports on the corners and the middle of the eight-foot span.  The 2x4 center pieces of the pallet were ripped in half and created the cross-bracing for the ends of the box.  A couple of pieces of scrap plywood and USB were nailed to the top to create a hinged access point and the whole thing was wrapped in hardware cloth.  Finally some tarp material, salvaged from our wind damaged portable garage, was tacked around the sides to both keep the smallest of the birds in and predators out.  A new waterer was assembled from an extra feed dish and a lidded bucket with a hole drilled in the side.

Three laying birds will be added to the flock of 31 who call the chicken coop home.
50 meat birds will go into the older, large chicken tractor tonight after the hens are removed.
19 pullets were moved from the small chicken tractor to the new, larger one.
15 (and counting) new pullets went into the older brooder box.

This afternoon six holds will be added to the twenty four currently in the garage, to house the new litters of growing meat rabbits.

This morning, in between re-housing critters and regular chores, I have been trying to finish planting the garden with Little Man in tow.  He has been extremely helpful.  For each flat of transplants Momma puts in, Little Man follows behind with his new shovel and rake and pulls one or two back out to give to Momma.  I think I will wait to work in the garden until his father gets home.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Making memories

My stepson's first fish of the
weekend in 2007
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer for many people.  Summer homes are opened; campers, tents and RVs are awakened from their winter slumber and brought forth into the state parks and campgrounds all around the country.  Here in northwestern Vermont, this weekend marks our family's unofficial family re-union weekend.  Each year extended family returns to the farm and camps out in and around the family camp on the lakeshore.  No invitations are mailed, no reminder phone calls made, no grocery list or meal plan is set forth.  You show up, bring your own food and choice of adult beverage and have a wonderful time.

The same stories are re-told again about lobster boils with the freshest of catch only eight hours out of the ocean when it reached the farm, and new memories are made as the next generation hooks their first perch or cooks their first s'more at the campfire.  This year even the threat of snow didn't keep the family from returning.  No tents were erected on the soggy lawn and the campfire is struggling against the relentless rain, but the family is here making new memories.

As the years pass we remember the best of times and as family members pass, we remember them fondly and the way they always cooked perfect steak on the fire even in the pouring rain.  The newest members of the family play hard inside of camp out of the weather eating their meals sitting on the stairs like I used to do when I was a child.  Conversations of years past and a better way of life seem to pass across everyone's lips at some point throughout the weekend.  Older folks have given up waking in a chilly camp to stoke the wood stove for the necessary warmth and comfort of a hotel room.  The next generation opted for the hard floor and warmth inside of camp instead of braving the weather outside in a tent which may or may not be filled with water in the morning.

Currently Little man is snoozing through the clatter and squawk of the latest batch of chickens hatching in the incubator.  Once our afternoon/evening chores are done, we will return to camp and gather around the campfire, weather be darned, and tell stories - some new and some classic re-runs, enjoy a couple of adult beverages and check off another year of great memories.

Little man, his father and I continue to farm in northwestern Vermont.  I have been remiss, no downright absent - in sharing the goings on here.  Writing this blog is almost a guilty pleasure for me and with so much that needs to happen during the day, I don't make the time to write.  One of the older members of my family said to me this morning that he enjoys reading the goings on of the farm from his home 300 miles away.  Through my words he remembers making some of the same mistakes, cringes at the thought of us taking on another venture and wondering how we can keep up with it all and manage to raise such a wonderful son. 

I will work on sharing more of the story.  Even without my being here for the past month, you still come to visit.  I don't realize how many people's lives I touched by starting this blog.  It is wonderful to have you here with us.  I am back in the saddle!

Friday, April 12, 2013

When you know you are where you belong

Driving home after ten hours away from the farm I switch off the administrative and dispatcher side of my brain and start thinking about the next seven or eight hours of work on the farm.  Sap from the maple trees around the house has taken occupancy in every barrel, bucket, gallon jug, glass jar and other storage container available to me save for the bath tub.  If we don't boil, we will be wasting precious sap as it dribbles down the sides of the trees.

I arrive at the house to find that Little Man and his father have gotten the fire started and the contents of our wash tub evaporator are just about to a boil.  We visit with my cousin over steam rising from the clear liquid.  After a short time the color deepens and the air takes on a sweet smell just as Little Man's mood turns sour.  Time to go inside, make dinner and begin our evening ritual of bath, brush teeth, story and bed while his father tends to the boil.

At 9:00 p.m. I take the reins of the boiling operation as Little man's father has to get cleaned up and get some sleep so he can leave before sun up for his off farm job.  The evening is cold; winter still has its claws in this night.  The clouds let forth small bursts of flurries every now and again and I am sitting on an overturned plastic bucket in mud at least two inches deep, in front of a roaring wood stove and vat of sweet liquid.

Around 11:30 p.m. the sap has finally come to and stays at the perfect boil.  Every last joint in my body aches from carting wood across the lawn to the wood stove and chopping it by hand.  My feet are soaked through to the bone as I realize I am still wearing the clothes that I wore to my off farm job - certainly not ones made for playing in the mud.  The makeshift door to my boiling rig is burning through and I have scalded my hands too many times to count as I draw off syrup by lantern light.  Shortly before 1:00 a.m. I head inside with my 'blackstrap' maple syrup, steam rolling off the hot bucket melting any snow flakes that dare come near. 

As I pass through the garage (aka rabbit shed), I notice a doe carrying hay in her mouth (a tell-tale sign of ensuing delivery).  She is early and I am out of nest boxes.  Syrup bucket placed inside and out of reach of furry critters, I start to work crafting a nest box out of scrap wood in the garage.  Thankfully the garage is plenty far from Little man's crib lest I wake him during the wee hours of this morning.  Nest box in place, I retreat inside. 

Clothes reeking of campfire smoke, maple syrup and mud are discarded directly into the washing machine.  A quick shower for the purpose of warming the bones and joints and a couple of over-the-counter pain relievers to ensure this beaten body can get moving in the morning.  Exhausted, I fall into bed, the cold seeping out through my pores drives the cats off the bed.  My last thoughts - in less than five hours I am actually looking forward to starting all over again.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cream of celery soup

Celery, onions & chicken broth before flour & cream are added
Good food is something many people take for granted, I am not one of those people.  They say to have loved and lost is better than to have never loved at all - this does not hold true for good food.  I have mentioned before that I lived just outside of New York City for several years.  REALLY good food is available on almost any corner and if an establishment chooses to provide or produce poor quality food, they don't last long.  Having all this available within a 30 minute drive (sans traffic) in any direction was something that I took for granted.  What 'The City' has in great ready-to-eat or prepared food as well as the supply chain to support it, Northern Vermont has in its natural, local, quality ingredients.  A supply chain exists, but it is difficult to get a regular delivery of really fresh seafood to Burlington, let alone out to Newport or Island Pond.

One learns to preserve the fresh whenever possible and then hones the art of making what was once fresh come alive again in uncomplicated, deliciously prepared meals.  For me, one of the great things about being on the farm that much more is the opportunity to craft delicious home cooked meals.

A simple and flavorful cream of celery soup was to become the foundation of homemade chicken and biscuits this week.  Celery from the summer was taken from the freezer along with our neighbors onions which were chopped and frozen at the peak of freshness, and set in the skillet to soften.  Our own chicken broth was added, a touch of salt and pepper, a little flour and some cream from the farmer down the road to make a light, fresh, flavorful soup.  Some people puree carrots in their cream soups to add some additional flavor, but our broth is already packed with flavor from the chicken and the herbs it was cooked with.

To this yummy soup we added some frozen vegetables and left over, farm-raised roast chicken, and a quick batch of fresh biscuits.  It is a stick to your ribs kind of meal that is great for cold and snowy/rainy days.

The recipe I used for the soup:

4 cups chopped celery
1 extra large onion, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup flour
4 cups hot milk
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
     (I omitted this ingredient since I was adding the soup to chicken & biscuits)

Saute celery & onion in some of the chicken broth or a little butter to soften.
Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Whisk together flour, milk, salt & pepper, add to pot with the butter.
Boil for 10 minutes.

You can now either strain out the vegetables or run them through a blender or food processor to make a smoother soup.  Again, since it was going into another dish, I used it just the way it came off the stove.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Laundry soap

I don't know if it is all the spring projects and the seemingly never ending amount of cash that is diverted off the farm to fund them or that new ideas seem to hatch at this time of year in my brain; my thoughts turn to ways to reclaim some of that cash.  Last year at about this time I talked about my attempts at resourcefulness in crafting all manner of homemade items.

Inspired by a post from an online homesteaders magazine, From Scratch Magazine; I decided that $2.00 for five gallons of laundry soap was far better than the $4.69 per gallon I am spending now.  I looked in the cabinet and found I had two bars of Fels Naptha and I always have Borax and Washing Soda around.  So began my attempt at making laundry soap.

While Little man was having his lunch I sat at the kitchen table and began grating the Fels Naptha.  I could have tried the food processor to make faster work of it, but there are the simple pleasures in performing and completing a task by hand especially while entertaining a fourteen month old.  Careful to clean up after myself, as the original post advises the grated Fels Naptha seriously resembles cheddar cheese; the table was wiped down and my bucket of gratings moved to the kitchen counter adjacent my large pot.  The soap is added to warm water until dissolved, the powdered ingredients added along with more water and finally added to hot water in a five gallon bucket and then finally more hot water resulting in just shy of five gallons of viscous yellow liquid.  Finally, the mixture is left to set overnight.

My mistake, and I make several throughout my trial and error education, was carefully placing the bucket out of Little man's reach in the mud room to set overnight.  The temperature in this particular room is only slightly warmer than the outside temperature as it is insulated but there is no heat in there.  This beautiful bucket of soap congealed into a semi-solid, soap-like mass.  Tomorrow I will get out my largest canning pot, add the mixture to re-warm and dissolve the mass and then will carefully place it in the bathroom to set overnight.

I chose not to add any essential oils as the Fels Naptha does not carry with it an offending odor.  Our current bottle of laundry detergent should be about empty on Sunday - this weekend will determine whether I wasted my $2.00 or have found another cost savings thanks to the wonderful homesteading world on the Internet.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Woman on a mission!

One day, every other week, Little man goes to child care, his father goes to work and I don't have to work off the farm.  Two days out of the month, I compile a to-do list in my head which would humble even the best list makers and I set out to accomplish at least twenty-five percent of it.  It has finally stopped snowing in our corner of Northwestern Vermont and the temperature is forecast to be in the low forties.  A few outside projects occupy today's list and there are a few projects which require some good concentration when Jen's brain is fresh. 

Today's list includes:
  • Feed and water all the animals - everyday chore but I add it to every list lest I get side tracked on a new project and forget to do the basics.
  • Cleaning the rabbits
  • Cleaning the chicken coop
  • Putting the plastic on the greenhouse
  • Melt all the snow inside the greenhouse and clean out any uncomposted chicken coop and rabbit pine shavings and move them to the outside compost pile
  • Make laundry detergent
  • Do laundry
  • Vacuum
  • Dishes
  • Burn pile of scrap wood
  • Find lid to third sap storage container, wash out & collect sap
  • Assemble the new exercise bike I got on freecycle
  • Make website edits
  • Write a blog post - one down!
  • Balance the checkbook and pay some bills
  • Build a bookshelf for the cookbooks that have been sitting on the couch in the kitchen since before Christmas
  • Wash the grime off at least two kitchen cabinets - beginning of my true spring cleaning
  • Sort through the seed orders that came in this week and update my seed starting schedule
  • Clean off at least two feet of the work bench in the work shop; it took me 20 minutes to find the drill bit I needed for the greenhouse project, it is time to get better organized around here.
  • Patch leaking water pipe in the basement
  • Check on the new baby rabbits which began arriving last night.  Three of five does have kindled, a fourth is feverishly pulling hair today.  They were due today so I will not worry about number five until this weekend.
  • Clean the litter box, take out the garbage, make dinner, etc.
The list is long but the woman is determined!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bags

When faced with a challenge, the answer used to be - run to [insert name of big box store here] and pick up [insert solution to challenge here].  Nowadays I approach these challenges much differently.  Lack of cash flow has something to do with it; it is more the overwhelming desire to stop accumulating stuff.  This, of course, does not apply to Little man who deserves to be showered with toys.

Little man's stuffed animals no longer fit in the toy box with the other hard plastic or wood toys.  Piled too high on the living room chair, even the weight of Little man on the floor adjacent would cause the pile to shift and tumble about.  He thought this was the greatest - my toys are jumping off the chair to play with me...  It doesn't take Mom too long to get tired of picking up the same toys ten or more times per day.  Instead of running to the store, I looked in the attic and barn for another toy box or other storage solution; to no avail.  I remembered seeing in all those home decorating magazines, stuffed toy hammocks.  A quick search of the Internet yielded several knit and crochet patterns.  Back upstairs to where the yarn is stored and one week later, crocheted in 15 or 20 minutes segments each day, the toy hammock was born.  Salvaged removable plastic hooks unearthed from the storage drawer and stuffed toy storage was born.

The second project was actually contrived two years ago when I was pregnant with Little man and had very little to do while on bed-rest.  Through one of the loads of laundry went an inexpensivecheap recyclable grocery bag.  Unfortunately the 99 cent bag stood little chance against the hot water and spin cycle and what emerged from the machine 40 minutes later barely resembled a fish-net.  I grabbed the yarn and a search of the Internet provided several patterns for reusable bags.  Some I liked, some were far too small, and some were just poorly constructed.  I chose one and set out with my hook and thread.  What emerged was a great bag; it didn't resemble the photo in the pattern at all.  While I use it from time to time, the poor kids at the grocery store have no idea how to pack it, so it is reserved for small trips when I am the one packing the bag.

My most recent sack pattern came from a crochet magazine and the resulting bag is great.  It is big and roomy; it was however meant to be made with thread and not yarn.  The stretch is a little much and any kind of weight puts the contents of the bag at my knee level - I am 5'7".  I will try the bag again with just thread and then perhaps with a combination of yarn and thread.  The search will continue for the perfect replacement for the 99 cent reusable grocery bag; in the meantime, I think I found something that will work nicely.

Ideally I would like to start making something that can be sold at farmers market, but sugaring season has arrived, the incubator has been started, rabbits have been bred, and warmer weather is on the way.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

This week's progress

Our calendar for the Spring, while marked with pre-printed dates of import like President's Day, Ash Wednesday, or even Town Meeting Day; those are not the dates that we are focused on.  Circles and highlights mark our important farm happenings - nest boxes to first four does; first batch of eggs; start group A plants this week, etc.

Last week - the first of the does were bred for an early March delivery.
This week - the incubator has been started for a mid March delivery; the second set of does was bred for a mid March delivery; doubling our taps this year required additional sap buckets, those were ordered Tuesday; orders will be placed for the first batch of meat birds for mid/late March delivery.
Next week - the third set of does will be bred for a late March delivery.

This weekend I will be catching up with my cousin to transfer ownership of a large piece of plastic and the forecast snow storm permitting, the roof will be put onto the greenhouse. Fellow market farmers and friends of ours who use supplement heat in their greenhouse already have tomato plants 3" tall.  I am jealous - but our progress continues.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Forecast for tomorrow - 45 degrees!

I purposely omit the frozen precipitation they so ominously include since at forty-five degrees there is little chance of it hanging around very long.  Unfortunately, Friday will be the last of the warm days anywhere in the extended forecast.  I am eager to use this day to its fullest and get outside and tackle every project on the to-do list including ones which require far more time than I will have available. 

My lofty goals include small projects like putting the roof on the rabbit shed - by myself, while the ground is still frozen and icy, while I am the sole person home to take care of Little Man - and the nearest ambulance is more than fifteen minutes away.  Along comes the common sense fairy with a smack on the back of the head like Gibbs to Dinozzo, 'Pick one, Jen.'  There is only so much one can accomplish with Little man in tow or during the short 90 - 120 minutes that he is snoozing.

While I still have the desire to jump head long into my to-do list weather be damned; I waffle between taking the evaporator pan out of the basement and cleaning it up outside or working on the chicken coop.  Both smaller projects which can, ideally, be almost completely accomplished in less than two hours.  All will depend on how much regular farm maintenance Little man and his father were able to get done today while I was working off the farm. 

The plans for the chicken coop include removing the rotting/damaged floor, removing ill planned chicken nesters and replacing them with roosting poles and installing fewer, new, well-placed nesting boxes.  I like some of the Chicken Chick's idea's in this post and hope to incorporate a few of them into our coop before summer.  A complete overhaul of the coop (a project which has only been over a year in the making) WILL happen before the snow flies this fall.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The conversation turns to sap

With the impending arrival of mud season, the predominant conversation in Northern Vermont involves sugaring.  Temperatures have been flirting with forty degrees.  Days above freezing and nights below are ideal for the clear, sweet liquid to pour forth from the tree.  Traditionally a small hole was drilled in the tree and a metal tap similar to this one is inserted.  Sap is diverted from the tree into the waiting bucket below.  Most small farms and some larger ones still collect sap in this traditional manner.  But there are some who collect it by gravity or even by vacuum pump.

In every industry efficiencies are developed and what used to be accomplished by trekking through the woods with a bucket in hand or accompanied by horse and sleigh, can now be accomplished by electrical or gas powered pumps and plastic pipeline.  A sugar wood can be developed in even the most treacherous terrain, pipeline strung and either gravity fed or vacuum system applied to move the sap from the trees into a waiting collection vessel.  This vessel can be at the roadside or even right in the sugar house.  No longer is the processor required to arduously trek through the woods to collect sap. 

Applying reverse osmosis technology to syrup production now allows the processor to remove upwards of 75% of the water from the syrup before boiling it.  This reduces boiling time significantly and produces finished syrup at much faster rates.  Those using RO often use oil or gas to boil instead of wood, thus making the processing of concentrated sap a financial necessity.  By the time one has invested in an RO unit and an evaporator large enough to process multiple gallons of syrup per minute; the value could easily exceed that of a medium sized house and a new 4 x 4 truck.  While the financial windfall from selling several thousand gallons of syrup at between $40-$50/gallon (depending on the year) is impressive, it must be carefully weighed against the cost of these jumbo evaporation units.  Then, if you have a bad year, the weather doesn't cooperate, the wind blows down trees and limbs onto your pipeline, the price of oil goes through the roof, etc.  Your couple to several hundred thousand dollar investment in sugaring equipment can collect dust and the bank or finance company still expects their payments on time. 

What does vacuuming syrup from the tree do to its longevity?

There comes a time when one has to decide whether they want to work hard or just plain be stubborn.  Sometimes I find a happy medium, other times I can't see the forest through the trees and end up repeatedly rapping my head off the branches until I realize there was a much easier way to do this!  Then there are traditions.  I collect syrup in a traditional manner with metal buckets and taps.  I do; however, take the tractor with my storage buckets out to my maple trees in order to collect it.  If we were farming full time then perhaps we would consider doing away with the tractor and employing horses to do more of the work around the farm.  Until then, the horses would not be worked enough to keep them in shape and their feed would cost more than several years worth of tractor fuel, overhaul and maintenance would cost.  Maybe someday.

In the meantime, Mother Nature has provided us with two days above freezing and the forecast foretells two more.  On my way home from work Monday night I saw my friends and neighbors rushing to get their taps in and get the last fixes to their pipelines completed before the flow of sap which will probably happen this week.  When I got home I took a long look at the longer range forecast and predictions are for temperatures to dip back into the twenties for most of the weekend and next week.  Since we tap our trees with the traditional metal spigots, DH and I were both concerned that any taps we might have installed this week would dry up or freeze up in the colder weather and we would either have to re-tap (hurting the trees) or call the season a bust.  The decision to wait was made.  Tomorrow, Little man and his father will search out the ten taps from last year as well as the additional 25 taps we purchased over the summer.  Buckets will be examined to determine how many can no longer be patched and how many more we need.  Extra egg sales this week have supplemented the farm fund which will be used to purchase those buckets and covers.  The taps, storage barrels and buckets will all be washed on Friday and Saturday and made ready for their seasonal debut, probably at the end of next week.

Finally, the decision will need to be made on whether we will try and make the evaporator pan - which I thought would certainly fit the wood stove in the basement - work with our current stove, purchase fire brick to make an arch for the pan or buy some other kind of food grade pan to fit into the barrel stove.  Perhaps if the weather stays warm enough I might be able to see if the plastic my cousin has will work for the greenhouse.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Spring chickens

Our chickens are currently providing us with a dozen or so eggs each day.  This is ideal since we are soon planning to start the incubator.  We can take half or more each day for hatching and keep the other half or less for sale or consumption.  Nothing fancy, our incubator was purchased at Tractor Supply (I think) and cost around $25.00.  It doesn't have a fan nor an automatic egg turner; however, it has served us well for the past several years.  We started with a plan to hatch about fifteen new laying hens.  33 eggs were placed into the incubator and we diligently turned them morning and night for eighteen days.  The last three days you don't turn the eggs so that the chicks can get their bearings and plan their escape.  About half of the eggs hatched and only one didn't make it due to a genetic anomaly or other such problem.  This first batch was a successful rooster breeding venture and of the fourteen chicks, I think nine were male.  They tasted pretty good.

For the past two years we have run out of eggs during the summer for farmers market sale.  Last year I thought I had planned accordingly and started our incubation early, by my standards, in March.  At the same time as I had planned for extra egg laying birds, we had a lot of interest from friends and neighbors to purchase pullets for their own home flocks.  Three batches of eggs went through the incubator and none of those birds remained on the farm to augment our flock.  Seeing that I wasn't going to have laying hens would still be laying for mid-summer 2013, in July I ordered 25 birds from a hatchery, thirteen hens and twelve straight run (a mix of males and females).  Those were not sold and after predators and one with a broken leg, we ended up with thirteen laying hens.  They are currently producing the majority of our eggs.  I put one last group of eggs through the incubator in mid-September and those birds, nine or ten hens and two or three roosters (one of them is confused I am sure of it) remain in the garage in a makeshift coop.

Chicken eggs take 21 - 23 days to hatch when properly incubated at 99.9 degrees and proper humidity.  Counting back from a March 15th hatch date, as opposed to a March 15th start of incubation date, we will be firing up the incubator over the weekend of the 23rd.  We will plan on running at least four batches through the incubator with our last planned hatch date being June 15th.  Assuming that we plan ahead and if our roosters are doing their jobs properly, we will have enough hens ahead to provide us with some stewing chickens for the freezer.

Our flock started with a mixture of Orpingtons and Rocks.  We had a couple of Leghorns added to the mix and then were blessed with two Red Laced Blue Wyandotte roosters.  These boys have the most wonderful heft, gorgeous coloring and appear to be very effective at doing what they are supposed to do.  The roosters that resulted from their breeding last year were fantastic roasting chickens.   We have only a few Rocks, no Leghorns, and only one Orpington left; the girls I ordered this past summer are Wyandottes making them the primary breed in our flock.  Roosters resulting from our incubation this year will be added to traditional Cornish cross meat birds, which I will have delivered, both for sale and for family consumption.

Plans for a second brooder box and two more chicken tractors have been completed and will be constructed once the snow has melted.  The tractors will travel between the Christmas trees adding not only wonderful nitrogen rich fertilizer but having the added benefit of decreasing the amount of mowing required between the trees.  The forecast for this week predicts an early start to the sugaring season and incubation will start before sugaring is complete.  Spring looks like it will arrive early on the farm this year.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

It's hanging on the wall in the garage

Little man had just gone down for his nap so I headed outside.  While fresh air is excellent for growing children, it is not so advisable when the temperatures struggle to reach the double digits and the wind is blowing steadily above ten miles per hour.  The rabbits and chickens were fed and watered.  Our snow storm had spared us the worst of what New England was hit with, but still the snow measured around eight inches where the wind hadn't blown.   Where it had the snow was drifted to just below my knees.  I thought I would make a quick pass or two with the tractor in hopes of keeping the worst of the drifts at bay.  I went outside to find that neither little man's father nor I had plugged in the oil pan heater.  The weakened battery in the tractor had little chance of firing the glow plugs long enough for the tractor to start with the temperatures this low.  Back inside the garage for an extension cord and then out to the tractor to plug in the heater...

No heater. 

It is a small, black, magnetic box which slowly warms the oil pan, making the fluid more viscous.  Oil and hydraulic fluid become thick when the temperatures are cold, making it harder for the mechanics of the tractor to pump the fluid.  Warming them slightly makes them move that much better and allows the tractor to start with ease.  The heater was not attached to the tractor.

Back inside to look on the work bench, the shelves, the nails in the wall where we hang a lot of the tools - no heater.  Inside the house to the work shop where I checked the work bench, the shelves, and more nails on the wall where we hang various things - no heater.  Into the cellar way, where we keep very little in the way of outside tools or supplies, but I figured I would check there anyway - no heater.  Now more than an hour into Little man's nap, time was fleeting and I still had bread and rolls to make for lunch and dinner.  I called his father, interrupting him at work,

"Honey, where is the pan heater for the tractor?"
"Hanging above the workbench in the garage," he says with the utmost confidence.
"I checked there, and in the shop, and in the cellar way, and I still can't find it - but I will check again"  I said.  "Oh, and can you bring home a gallon of milk please?"  Back out to the garage where I knew I had already looked in hopes of it magically appearing on the wall because Little man's father was assured that was its current location.

No heater.

One of the things I am learning as we travel further into our journey of farming is the need for both organization and communication.  Even the best of marriages can encounter bumps in the road when these two things are present and functioning at optimum levels.  Now add starting and growing a fledgling farm to that mix and the lack of, or at least the very slow progress towards either effective communication or basic organization and it can leave you hoping for a pillow for your seat, new shocks and probably some new leaf springs.  Going on ninety minutes into Little man's snooze, I headed back into the house.  The hood of the tractor was left open in hopes the sun might help to warm the fluids even at the current air temperature.  The driveway would have to wait until the afternoon nap or until after his father gets home. 

As I put my jacket onto its hook and my hat and gloves into the crate that holds such things, I noticed a black electrical cord dangling from the side of the crate.  That is an odd thing to be in with the hats and mittens.   I wish I could say I was surprised to find the pan heater in such an odd place, but such is the story of organization or lack thereof here on this farm.  After I have gotten bread and rolls made and fed Little man his lunch, I will run outside and plug in the heater.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Time flies when you are flying by the seat of your pants

Colleague: "What happened?  Did you give up farming?"
Me: "Heaven's no, why?"
Colleague: "It has been more than a month since you posted anything on your blog.  I miss it!"
Me: "A month - no, it was only a week or so..."  She was right, more than a month has passed and I lost complete track of time.  Days have, passed into weeks, and now over month without my realizing it.

I endeavor not to talk about my perceived misery on this blog.  So, I didn't post when I was in a bad mood, nor did I post when I thought I had nothing positive to say.  What I didn't realize is that there are people out there who are really eager to hear about not only my adventures but the misadventures as well.  So I will be posting much more regularly, they may be short, or they may only have a picture with a short comment, but I will be posting.

The new year arrived and with it an over abundance of rabbits.  Our processor had not been accepting rabbits since the beginning of deer season; they were busy with not only processing venison but also everyone who contracted with them for processing of their fall beef and pork as well.  48 extra rabbits consume copious amounts of feed, especially when they are weeks past their regular processing weight.  Feed costs are high and I was very worried about putting propane in the tank and making sure the bank wasn't going to come after the car in addition to feeding extra rabbits.  Finally, two trips to the processor, cleaned and repaired cages and racks; 72 rabbits had dwindled to a manageable 24.

This one is so much less rusty than the one I have

A sugaring pan was acquired, very inexpensively, on Craigslist.  It is a little bit rusty, but significantly less expensive than purchasing one new.  It is the smaller part of a much larger boiling rig so it will require some valves and caps in order to hold the clear, sweet liquid which will become maple syrup.  For now it rests in the garage waiting for a day near freezing when it can be cleaned and made ready for sugaring.  Ten below zero on the farm last night and a decent snow storm predicted for the weekend give the false impression that spring is still a ways away; I am not so confident.

DH found a full-time job off the farm.  I was worried about mounting expenses and lack of farm raised income.   His off-farm income will help toward heat and feed bills.  It will take a little getting used to as we attempt to divide chores for those rare days we both work off the farm; however, it is nice to have a tiny bit more financial wiggle room.

At least that was until the car went to the mechanic to make the repairs necessary to get it inspected.  'Jen, you can't put this car back on the road,' said the mechanic that my uncle uses for all of his cars and has for almost two decades.  I figured he was being overly cautious.  I took it to a second mechanic who told me that I was nuts to even drive the car home.

That was where all progress slowed.  No, more like halted.  Maybe more like stopped on a dime.  Actually - slammed head-long, 75 mph into a rock ledge.  After fighting for most of the fall just to keep our heads above water, getting hit with yet another - NO YOU CAN'T - was about all I could take.  A couple of bottles of wine and a few bad days of self-pity later, I screwed my head back on straight, dug in my heels and decided, that what was happening in my life was not going to beat me.  

My dream is to live life on the farm and if I didn't decide to make that happen, no one was going to make it happen for me.  For now I am back on track.  I still worry far too much.  We have not received an inheritance nor have we won the Powerball so the money concerns are still there.  Thankfully, little man is healthy.  My body is getting stronger by the day as I carry totes full of frozen water bottles into and out of the house sometimes twice or three times per day; although I still have a long way to go.  With DH out in the working world, a new potential market for farm products is being developed.  The car payment is still late, the current rig still needs repair and both it and the newly acquired used rig need tires, the rabbit shed still doesn't have a roof and we are down to less than 20% in the propane tank - but I am not giving up!