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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

A toast to everyone for the New Year - Wishing all of you prosperity, abundance and good health for the year ahead.  From all of us at Wandering Moose Farms!

What to make for dinner?

Post was written on 12/30/17 & posted the following day:
I have made several attempts at meal planning and I am successful for a month or so at a time and then I fail miserably.  This weekend is no exception to the latter.  Most of my day was spent off the farm and while exceptionally productive, not much got done here.  Once I returned, Little man and I spent an hour crossing one item off my ever growing to-do list and then he came over and said, "Mom, what's for dinner?"

"I don't know, buddy, but I will figure it out?"  

Fortunately we have a wonderful problem - the freezers are full with both freshly frozen and leftover frozen meals, components, vegetables and other assorted combinations of the above.  I manage to stock the basics - onions, potatoes, spices, celery - most of the time, this week was of course an exception.  I had two potatoes, three onions - one of which I could use the tops for a salad, six mushrooms, and about three stalks of barely salvageable celery.  

I opened the freezer and stared at various packages of un-identifiable frozen proteins.  While I am pretty good at marking whatever I put in there, Little man's father isn't so diligent.  He was playing cards with Little man at the kitchen table so a pop quiz ensued while five packages of unknown proteins (I am pretty sure they were proteins) were placed on the table in front of him.  From those packages, a three ounce leftover grilled steak and a six ounce portion of roast beef were identified and placed in warm water to defrost.

The mushrooms, celery, and one onion were sliced and added to a pan with some butter.  Minced garlic from the refrigerator and the two potatoes, diced were added.  A 2-cup bag of stock was removed from the back freezer and added to another pan to return to liquid form.  A little salt, pepper and some dried oregano were added to the simmering veggies.  The beef, still semi-frozen, diced easily and was set aside.  In the meantime I threw together a pie-crust, and after five minutes of looking for my rolling pin because I didn't put it back where it belonged, I lined the pie plate that my mother gave me when I moved into my first apartment now almost 25 years ago.  The chicken stock, beef, a few ounces of mixed, frozen vegetables and some cornstarch were added to the mix.  About that time, Little man's father came into the kitchen and asked me what smelled so good - I must have been doing something right.

From a combination of sad looking ingredients I managed to pull a beef pot pie out of the oven with some filling left over to go over bread or biscuits for lunch tomorrow.  I could have called the pizza place twelve miles away, I could have gone to the store the same twelve miles away and gotten some ingredients for dinner, but a little ingenuity and some sharp knives yielded a pretty yummy dinner for no added expense.

We are working on organizing, cleaning out and pairing down for 2018.  One of the items we have unearthed is a bottle of Dom Perignon that we were given for our wedding ten years ago.  Tonight's dinner cost less than $5.00.  Tomorrow night's adult beverages will be worth significantly more.  Sharing both this meal and tomorrow night's beverages with a happy, healthy family - priceless!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bath Time for the New Ducks

We rescued eight juvenile ducks earlier this week.  They will get a new coop up by the ponds in the next couple of weeks.  Little man is having a great time watching them grow.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Weed control, landscape cloth

I have tried all manner of weed control on the farm - tilling, mowing, rotation, mulch, spraying, and last year it was landscape cloth.  A section of old pasture was tilled in and the landscape cloth was carefully rolled out.  When performing this task, be sure to choose a day with little to no wind - much easier that way!  Rocks were collected from various piles put on top of the cloth at the end and on each seam.  It wasn't until later in the year that I was walking through the hardware store and I found out they make 'staples' to secure this stuff to the ground - I bought those for this season.

When we finally got the cloth down, it was a little late in the season and my transplants were getting root bound so not as much care was taken with the rocks to ensure that everything stayed where it should have.  The wind got underneath one section during the summer and over the winter, it took up two more sections and wrapped them around neighboring trees.  Where the cloth stayed down, the weeds are pretty much gone, although there is still some stubborn grass.  Areas without cloth are definitely covered with weeds.

The cost of this stuff can be pricey when you start talking about acres, but I am thinking that I might run each section of new field through a season or two with the cloth to help eradicate a lot of the weeds.  Long season or set it and forget it crops might get landscape cloth all the time.  It worked really well for our squash patch last year.

This section will get tilled this week and the old landscape cloth re-applied.  Some people say that you shouldn't bother rolling it up but the cash flow is meager at the moment so I will re-use and recycle it for another season.  Now I have to find the seeder that has the big holes for the squash seeds.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ear scratches

Little one loves her some scratches behind the ears!

She isn't so little any more with a weight measurement of just under 250 lbs.  I will be watching this weekend for signs of heat from her and Sally.  Late last month Zeb appeared to be on his game so I am hoping...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Seedlings ready for transplant

I have been watching the weather with an obsession for the past two weeks; that was the day that the seedlings moved from inside the house to the greenhouse.  After being carefully protected while inside, watered carefully, turned so they received even sunlight, these tomatoes had grown up enough to move into their own pots.  Like a mom whose kids were moving from their crib to their toddler or big kid bed, I was a little sad to see them go outside.

The greenhouse is not heated, it is more like a giant cold frame with some heat retention characteristics built in.  There are bricks in the floor by the door, there is a large raised bed with dark boards to help hold any heat collected by the sun throughout the day and there is the compost experiment in the corner.  But it was late March/early April in Northern Vermont, the risk of frost remains very real for another month and a half.

For the first night, the transplants were fine.  The following day was cool, rainy and snowy.  At only 224 sq. ft., it doesn't take much to keep the temperature above freezing, but it does require action on my part.  Into the garage to find the small propane tank and the little buddy heater.   Little man's father got it all set up while the temperature inside was well in the fifties, no need to waste the propane.  I went out later to turn on the valve and light the heater - NO HEAT!  Moving over 750 transplants back into the house was not going to be a fun experience, especially with it snowing.  I closed the valve, took the heater off the tank and looked inside to fine one ticked off spider.  I grabbed a pencil and evicted her then put the assembly back together, turned on the valve, and poof - HEAT!

We have used just over 20 lbs of propane (a standard grill sized tank) over five nights.  This coming weekend is forecast to have some upper 20 degree nights.  I will watch carefully and decide whether supplemental heat will be needed.

During the day, the temperatures inside the greenhouse have to be watched as well.  If I leave the house in the morning with outside temperatures in the upper 30's and overcast skies, I would consider leaving the door closed.  If the sun were to come out and shine in earnest for the better part of the day, the poor little transplants could cook before someone else arrives to open the door.

Spring brings renewed life and a longer to-do list to this small farm.  It is hard to be off the farm when the sun is shining and temperatures are above 40 degrees.  Soon enough this farmer will be able to be on the farm full-time.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Prepping pigs for piles of snow

Snow, and lots of it.  That is what Mother Nature has in store for the farm for the next 12 - 24 hours.  Being prepared for storms is essential in all walks of life, but a little more so for folks who have livestock depending on them for their well-being.  Fortunately my off-farm job let us leave early as the road conditions deteriorated.  My 23 mile ride back to the farm took almost 45 minutes instead of the usual 25.  Just over two inches were on the ground when I arrived so I changed and went directly outside to complete chores, thankful that I could get them done before the worst of the storm arrived.  

Each pig hut received extra hay.  The pigs immediately set to work rearranging it, piles were moved to the front of each hut to ward off the snow which normally blows in from the North, but today is blowing in all directions.  Both houses have enough hay for the pigs to completely bury themselves with extra to spare.  I took a couple of flakes and tucked them into the north facing corners to ward off the worst of the forecasted wind.   

Back across the pen to their water bowls (sawed off bottoms of 55 gallon plastic barrels), the snow is falling harder and I am reminded why I bought a good pair of bibs when I moved back to Vermont, now if only I had put them on!  I attempted to turn each bowl over only to find them frozen to the ground.  I headed back across the yard to get some hot water only to forget the splitting maul.  The hot water works on Zeb's dish, but not on the girls'.  Back over to the garage, the hood of my jacket is little match for the blowing snow.  Splitting maul and one bucket of food in hand, I head back over to the pen.  Several whacks with the maul and a little more hot water and the girls' dish is emptied.  The rest of the hot water added to their dish and before I can rinse it out - they dive in.

Across the dooryard one last time for five more gallons of water and the second bucket of food for Zeb.  I notice my face turning pretty red and that my worn out jeans are no match for this weather.  Inside the heat washes over me as I fill the water bucket.  Once upon a time this girl might have said to heck with it and left the rest of the chores for later to enjoy being warm.  Back outside I went, pigs watered and fed, then back into the garage with my empty buckets and maul then onto the chickens.  Eggs were collected, more water was thawed and re-filled and their feed dish topped off.  I also let them out of their coop - if chickens could talk I would have gotten some choice words as the girls headed for the open garage door only to turn quickly and head back in the other direction.

Returning to the warm house, I was well aware that my choice of clothing did not protect me well from the weather.  When I moved back to Vermont ten years ago, I purchased a good quality jacket, some warm bibs (ski-pants), great boots and a good pair of gloves.  The gloves have since met their demise and the jacket has survived longer than any garment that has seen as much as it has, should.  I do not have a pair of farm/rain boots so my older shoes act as a non-waterproof version of farm shoes.  Each chore on the farm requires an appropriate tool or set of supplies and I have learned to be better prepared to complete those projects before they are even started.  The other thing that this farmer needs to learn is that she isn't going to be very successful in getting anything done if she is appropriately attired for the weather.  Good rain/muck boots have been added to the to-buy list for spring and a new jacket has been added to the list for fall.

For now all the animals, including the two-legged ones, are tucked in and nice and warm.  Snow totals are forecast between 14 and 24 inches.  Everyone will be checked twice more before we settle in for the evening and tomorrow morning will come earlier than normal as fences are checked, feed and water containers are dug out, the driveway is cleared and the storm heads out.  Little man is pretty excited to be able to go sledding again and mom will certainly join him!   

Friday, March 10, 2017

Storing potatoes & easy recipe

This picture almost makes them look green,
they were perfectly fine.
Last weekend I used up the last of the potatoes that were stored for winter use.  We put up just under 100 lbs for the off season and they lasted through the end of February.  150 lbs will have to be the number for this year so that we can make it most of the way until the next harvest.  

Three factors will ensure successful storage of your potatoes:

  • A good cure right after harvest
  • That the potatoes aren't washed - you can brush off a lot of the dirt being careful not to harm the cured peel - but don't wash them
  • Store them in the dark - if they aren't in the dark, they will turn green - if you eat too many green potatoes, you could become very ill.  

A burlap bag inside of a cardboard box proved very effective this year in the mudroom.  Temperatures didn't stay below zero for too long so that room was fine.  Had they stayed below zero for any length of time, that room would have gotten too cold.  Potatoes like it just above freezing.

There are three of us in the house, we don't have company for meals very often but we both take leftovers for lunches for our off farm jobs.  Potatoes stretch or fill out chicken & biscuits, stews, soups, top shepherd's pie, stand alone, are spiced up for side dishes, put in foil packets with onions and cheese on the grill; they are used in a pile of my cooking.  One of my favorite potato recipe is so simple that it is hardly worth writing down and probably is somewhere on the interweb, but it is so good, that even if I cut up two potatoes for each of us, there aren't any leftovers.

Herb roasted potatoes 
3T olive oil
2T minced garlic
1T each of oregano & thyme
Salt to taste
Paprika for color
3-5 medium potatoes - cut up into 1 - 1 1/2 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400 or 425 degrees.
In a large bowl mix the first five ingredients until blended.
Add potatoes and toss until evenly coated.
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper - spread potatoes evenly.
Bake for 25 - 35 minutes until potatoes are crisp and tender.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Upset tummy again!

In an effort to save money, we get a lot of our pig food from the cheese factory in the next town over.  Most often pelleted pig food is supplemented by cheese, vegetable pieces, whey and food scraps from a local organic foods market.  If Little man's father and I don't communicate well, the pigs might get too much in scraps one week and not enough grain.  Last week that was apparently the case as Zeb had an upset tummy again.  

I wasn't sure if it was the wormer I gave him or if he was getting too many scraps from the cheese factory.  It looks like it was probably the latter.  Combine the rich food with the fluctuating temperatures from highs in the 60's to highs in the teens, anyone's system would go a little whacky.  He was put on pig pellets alone, given some extra hay and a scratch behind the ears.  Monday afternoon he looked much better and by Tuesday things seemed to have returned to normal.  He is the first pig I have had where we had to watch what he eats.

The timing of his ailment was unfortunate though as both Sally and Little One came into heat over the weekend.  Last time Sally was in heat, Zeb had also been under the weather. The calendar has been marked and in addition to checking the girls, we will relegate him to pellets and vegetables for the week before they are scheduled to go into heat again.

We will have piglets on the farm this summer, albeit behind schedule.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The tomatoes are started - finally!

I spent the day with Little man dividing up between farm chores and play.  I made the decision that I didn't care if my floor had muddy dog prints on it or if the kitchen table still had lunch crumbs on it.  I was going to spend the day with my son, on the farm.  

It was a good trial of what is in store if I was on the farm full time with Little man in tow.  I will not always have fun chores to do like planting seeds, but I am certain that I can make weeding entertaining, at least for the next year or two.  Part-time farming and part-time off-farm work is something that I tried a few years ago.  At that time Little man was an infant and my first child.  There wasn't any way that I was going to make it work then.  After the successful day yesterday, it might be time to try it again.

The rain came in spits and spats so Little man put on his ski pants if only for protection from the mud.  We went out the greenhouse and he helped me dig out and level an area by the door where we then put down an old feed bag for weed control and bricks procured at a yard sale.  Now, we didn't have any sand or nor did we 'frame in' the bricks so they are a little wobbly, but the muddy spot that was developing by the door is no longer.

A plastic garbage barrel from a free pile on the side of the road had holes drilled into the sides, bottom and top for circulation and became the compost bucket.  Little man quickly lost interest in shoveling the heavy materials in various stages of decomposition.  We were able to squeeze the whole pile into the barrel and then watered it thoroughly.  Worms, who were brave enough to come into the warm greenhouse were also added to the bucket to see if we could speed the process along.  Underneath the pile was some beautiful, black compost.  I scraped that off the floor and added it to the raised bed inside the greenhouse being careful not to bury the tractor and the car-hauler that Little man had working hard in there.

Those two tidying up chores completed, I headed under the benches for a couple of flats to start the seeds.  My seed starting mix was soaked with water and we both got dirty after that.  Stirring water into dehydrated peat, vermiculite and soil is pretty messy - but a lot more fun with a five-year-old's help.  The mix was added to the flats, seeds sprinkled, covered and gently patted.  Each flat was carefully labeled, with a popsicle stick of course!  Out of a thawed water source, we brought the flats inside and carefully watered them.  Once back inside Little man's attention was drawn to his toys.

I went out to the garage and grabbed a set of salvaged shelves, dusted them off, brought them inside and covered them with leftover plastic from my greenhouse project.  The plastic will not only keep them a bit warmer inside my cool kitchen but will also deter the cats from digging in the flats.  If Mother Nature cooperates then I will be able to move them out to the greenhouse to their transplant pots in two to three weeks.  If it remains too cool then I will be rigging some shelving for a half-a-thousand transplants in my kitchen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Weights and measures

In high school I hated Geometry - just despised it.  Worse even was trigonometry: sine and cosine and tangent.  Experiencing such a strong emotion for this discipline must have helped me retain something.  Each time I put a new roof onto a shed, coop or hut, I manage to figure out what angle the chop saw needs to be set at to accommodate my roof rafters.  It may not be perfectly square when I am done, but since I am not building any houses (yet), I am managing just fine.

Along with angles, weights also play an important role on the farm.  For example, it was time to worm Zeb this week.  This medicine is dosed by weight.  Last time I checked, a six to seven foot long pig doesn't fit on my bathroom scale.  There is also little chance that I would get him into a sling to measure him from a hanging scale.  Thankfully they make a formula (darn that algebra coming into play in adult life)!  Measuring squirming pigs isn't easy so I am certain that my weights came out a little heavy but they were close enough to ensure Zeb got enough medicine to combat any parasites.

Zeb - 750 lbs
Sally - 700 lbs
Little One - 250 lbs
Chicken - 6 - 15 lbs

Chickens you can put in a milk crate from a hanging scale - they are easy to weigh.  You can also step on a scale without a chicken in your arms and then back onto the scale with the chicken and the difference between the two is the weight of the chicken.  

Sunday I was pretty thankful that my girls are a little well-endowed.  The boys (two-legged ones) had settled in to watch the race and I went to write this blog post after my driver wrecked.  As I logged in, the squawking and crowing from the front yard immediately drew my attention.  I couldn't see what the rooster was upset about so I stepped out in my stocking feet.  (It is mud season here.)  At the corner of the house, the hawk had one of my newest layers pinned.  He wasn't the least bit deterred by my presence or my hollering.  I went back in to grab my shoes and the camera of course.  The second time the door opened he knew I meant business and flew away before I could even aim the camera.  I scooped up the bird, brought her inside, checked her all over and gave her a couple of treats for her ordeal.  She had lost a couple of feathers but otherwise wasn't much worse for wear.

Whether you choose to home school, un-school or go the traditional route - make sure you find some good old-fashioned math for your bag of tricks. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Beautiful day and spring on the way

Mother Nature has blessed us the past couple of days with some early spring temperatures.  Gorgeous weather combined with a wonderful visit from family didn't do anything for my productivity.  As the length of daylight seems to grow so does the to-do list.  Sometimes you have to stop and enjoy family and playtime lest that piece of paper makes you its slave.  

Ignoring the mountain of items to do and while playing king/queen of the snow pile, you can't help but notice the air thick with the smell of boiling sap.  Two days of sunshine and warm temperatures have the sap running full bore.  There will be no boiling on this farm again this year.  An inexpensive, used and in-need-of-repair hobby rig and salvaged wood shed is in the plans for next year if only to supply us and our baked goods for market with that sweet gold.

Little man and his Pop (my father) played in the snow; I am not sure which one of them is more tired!  Pop also took a look at my oven/electrical problem.  Farmers market is looking a lot more promising now that the oven appears to be working again.  I have learned how to fix and build a lot in my years, but one thing I don't monkey with is electricity.  Replacing a light fixture or an outlet are not out of the question; changing out breakers in the main circuit panel - not by these two hands.  Thankfully Pop has more than my lifetime's worth of experience in that area.

With a couple of days away from the off-farm job, this weekend's list is especially ambitious.  After family departs tomorrow, there is hope that the kitchen wall project will finally come to conclusion.  Tomato starts, which are already a couple of weeks late, will finally see their place in pots, albeit inside the house for now.  Minor vehicle maintenance and perhaps some jams and jellies from that which was frozen at the peak of freshness will also be crossed off the list.  The incubator will be double checked, cleaned and fired up before weeks end.  Three or four dozen eggs into the incubator means three or four less in my refrigerator.

Warmer weather and melting snow have encouraged the chickens to venture further than the garage and across the dooryard.   Spring is fast approaching, this farm will be amazing this year and this woman is ready to make it happen!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

No March piglets

Friday night, as I returned to the farm after my off-farm job I noticed some flirting across the fence line between Sally and Zeb.  I parked the car, put my bag and my groceries down and started across the driveway.  "Hey piggles!"  Sally turned straight towards me and bee-lined for the new gate that Little man's father completed earlier in the week.  Zeb followed intently, nose pressed as close to the fence as possible.  Stepping over the electric fence I was almost knocked over by a sow who wanted nothing more then through that gate.  One check around her back side and I knew that the farrowing hut could be knocked down a rung or two on the priority list - she was in heat.

By the time I had said hi to Sally and Little One and checked them over for anything out of the ordinary, Zeb had decided it was late and he retreated to his hut.  Concerned, I headed over to look closer.  He had a little loose stool, probably from the rich food scraps that he had been consuming during the past week.  I would watch him.  I left them separated overnight and checked on them in the morning.  Sally jumped right up out of her hut and waited for me at the gate again.  I checked on Zeb - he wasn't warm so I took the risk and let Sally into Zeb's pen.  He was still pretty cozy in his hut and didn't pay her any mind for the first 5 minutes.  When Sally decided she wanted to snuggle, Zeb perked up and realized that she was over for a visit.  I left them to their business and ran some errands.  When I got home she was in his hut and he was doing anything he could think of to get her to come out and play.  She had enough and as I got out of the car, she met me at the gate to go back with Little One.

Sunday was a little bit chilly and forecast to snow pretty heavily.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to leave Sally with Zeb all day long or not.  Little man's father had fed and watered the pigs and they didn't even stir.  Their huts and all that hay was pretty warm.  An hour or so later I went outside and Zeb was waiting on his side of the gate.  "Hey piggles!"  Sally jumped right up and was ready for another day with her buddy.  I opened the gate and she went right over to Zeb.  For three or four minutes she stood and I waited to witness the actual sealing of the deal.  I guess Zeb had some performance anxiety so I left them alone.  While I went about my chores I would intermittently check out the window and across the dooryard; I never did witness a 'completed' breeding this weekend.  

By the time it started snowing in earnest early Sunday afternoon, Sally had taken up residence in Zeb's hut and he was standing out in the weather.  It took a few minutes but Little man's father and I got her back to her side with Little One.  Zeb came out a few more times Sunday night in the white-out conditions looking for her, but retreated back to the warmth of his hut pretty quickly.  Monday morning I checked Sally before I left for my off-farm job.  It didn't look like she was in heat any more.  

I will note the calendar for 21 days from this past Thursday and see if she comes into heat again.  Little One is almost due for her second heat this week as well.  If she is on schedule then I will probably try and get her and Zeb together in March.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Chickens & Eggs

As February passes the halfway mark I am thinking about firing up the incubator.  I have been incubating chickens on the farm for several years.  Unfortunately in 2015 I didn't add any new hens and the girls that were here were upwards of three years old.  The incubated eggs from last spring did not do well and we had less than 40% hatch/survival rate.  In order to increase that rate this spring, thirty one new birds were purchased from the feed store and added to our flock last fall.  One rooster was purchased to freshen up my breeding stock and the remainder of the birds were allegedly pullets.  Amazingly I now have seven roosters in my flock when I went into winter with only three.  So far the extra boys haven't been too much trouble.  As the weather gets warmer, they will start to fight over the top roost in the coop.  In addition to my seven boys there are 53 girls.  

Before the new birds were added to the general population, most of the older hens got three days solitary confinement in the brooder box to see who was laying and who wasn't.  Each of the girls who gifted us with an egg got a blue band.  Those that didn't lay an egg gifted us with a good meal.  This year, depending on my hatch rate, between 12 and 25 birds will be ordered from the feed store.  I will choose a different breed of heavy layer, this time by color alone.  Last year it was golden comets and silver-laced wyandottes, each of them got a yellow band.  I will probably go all white or all black for a stark difference.  All seven boys are completely un-related to the girls so my hatching success should be much better.  The choice of band color will be left up to Little man.  Anyone who doesn't have a this years color band or a yellow band will go into the freezer at the end of the 2017 season.  Birds that are given to us or traded to us will get yellow bands if they were last years birds or blue bands if they were the year before that or older.

In addition to keeping better track with a physical identifier, I have been much better at keeping track of numbers.  Little man's father collects the eggs most days and he and Little man count them as they are put in the refrigerator.  That number is entered onto the calendar and once a week they get entered into a spreadsheet.  Unfortunately for some of the girls, the number of eggs being produced (20-22 on average) is far less than the number of birds (53 laying hens) in the coop.  It will be time again to start segregating birds.  The brooder box will be solitary confinement until a few days before the eggs are scheduled to hatch then it will be cleaned and made ready for babies.  Since we have been pretty good at eating down last years stores, there is room in the freezer for chicken n' biscuit or chicken soup chicken.

I've thought about getting rid of all but a few of my chickens for personal consumption but many of the summer visitors to our small town enjoy bringing their grandchildren down to visit the birds as they run all over the farm.  Next winter, however, I will need to do a better job about lining up customers so that I am not carrying 50 - 60 dozen at any one time in my refrigerator.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My lists and lists and lists

After realizing that my to-do list didn't hold me accountable to times of year or weather, I went to visit the library and found a good guide to help me focus my plans to ensure that the mulch got added before it snowed and that the fruit trees didn't get pruned until after it had snowed.  This whole farm planning approach brought to light several things that we weren't getting accomplished that really should have taken a much higher priority.  It also showed me that I was focused too much on the little things and not making enough time for bigger things that would increase efficiency and save time in the long run.

Revisiting my whole farm lists at the turn of the calendar also helps me ask hard questions like - why should I keep the chickens if they aren't paying for themselves and is it a better business/lifestyle decision to breed piglets here on the farm or source feeder piglets each spring and perhaps take the winters off from swine related tasks.  Maple syrup has not been on our to-do list for the past couple of years as a direct result of this annual review.  My time in the spring has a much better return on investment if it is spent on vegetables and spring building tasks then it is watching sap boil.  It might be more fun to hang around the arch and visit while the sweet maple steam wafts out of the pan, but if I am going to achieve my goal of being home when Little man gets off the school bus, some things have to take a back seat.

Now I keep lists of many things: how many eggs the chickens lay each day, dates when the pigs come into heat, groceries needed, projects, stuff that we need for the farm, stuff that I need when I can find some extra cash, dates of birth for both pigs and poultry, expenses, seed inventories, projected harvest dates, etc.  I also compile a weekly list - well, actually it is three lists.  Little man's father cringes as the pen and papers are set next to my cup of coffee on Saturday morning. 

First is the grocery/errand list - we need to eat and so do the animals.  Groceries, feed, and supplies that I need to complete weekly chores go onto this list.

Second is the meal planning list - sometimes I am lucky enough to start this before Saturday.  The plan is to use up some of the oldest things in the refrigerator and freezer first, then supplement with groceries.  This time of year the freezer inventory is dwindling and shopping sales is more important than ever.  By completely emptying one of the freezers, I can consolidate, shut it down and clean it out before the first spring produce and broilers are harvested.  Many an argument has also been prevented with this list as neither one of us can say we didn't know what to make for supper or that we didn't have the ingredients to make it.

Third is the weekly to-do list.  I make a big list of everything that needs to get done during the coming week and include a project or three from the farm planning list.  Then each day I add two or four tasks to my daily planner that are related to the bigger list.  Some days I get two done, other days I get five or six done.  By the following Saturday the goal is to have better than two thirds of the previous weeks tasks crossed off.  This particular list also helps to ensure that my house is presentable when people stop by.

It turns out that my list making process is actually proven effective and written about by bloggers much more important than I.  This past weekend the fruit trees were pruned before we got 12 plus inches of snow on the farm.  Unfortunately, somewhere under that snow are the new supports for the greenhouse roof.  Maybe I should be planning a little more than one week out...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Making waffles, saving squash, greenhouse update, and almost getting fired

I was pretty excited when I got home last night, the temperature outside was 14 degrees and the temperature inside the greenhouse was 36 degrees.  My compost pile, combined with a partly sunny day had kept the temperature above freezing.  The bubble burst this morning as the thermometer read 13 degrees inside the greenhouse; the outside temperature was just above zero.  My little eight cubic foot compost pile will not be sufficient as the only source of heat for my 250 sq. ft. greenhouse.  A girl can dream.  

January is still too early to be planting seeds outside of a controlled temperature environment.  The free piles on the side of the road will be perused and craigslist, facebook, the local newspaper, and local bulletin boards will be carefully watched for items that will help make our farm projects better.  Who knows, somebody might discard a portable wood stove or some other heater that could keep my little glass house warm.

Free piles and tag sales have been pretty good to this house over the past couple of years.  One of Little Man's favorite breakfasts is waffles.  Tag sale left overs yielded this slightly ancient waffle iron.  It makes the perfect size waffles to be reheated in the toaster. (A huge bonus since the oven died right before Christmas.)  The waffle iron cannot be left unattended as it is powered by the old fashioned fabric wrapped electrical cord.  It has absolutely no safety features like automatic shut off, a temperature light or a timer.  Trial and error lead to five-minutes for the perfect waffle once the temperature gauge on the top reaches bake.  Eggo waffles were on sale this week at the grocery store, but the list of ingredients was longer than my arm.  Good food is worth the time to make homemade waffles.

Saving seeds and freezing squash also helps save some money.  With a 700+ lb yield of squash from the garden this year, I baked and froze squash in two cup bags.  One bag is enough to make a rich pumpkin pie or one dinner of butternut, blue hubbard or mama mia squash.  The seeds are dried and put up for spring planting.  Most years, the squash is true to its breed, however, every once in a while we will get a cross breed that is a little unusual.  They all still taste really good.

Although I still have to have an off-farm job, my heart is still 23 miles northeast next to the lake.  While at that off-farm job today, I was told (albeit jokingly) that I was fired.  Standing in the middle of the hallway, I didn't think about where my next paycheck was going to come from or if my resume was up-to-date; I was actually pretty happy thinking about all the projects I could get done on the farm.   As I headed back to my desk, I was actually sad that I didn't get fired.  Hmm, maybe it's time to try again working on the farm more and off the farm less.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Greenhouse heated by compost - amateur experiment

I have had a compost pile on the farm or in my backyard since I was old enough to know better.  My grandfather, an avid gardener and phenomenal green thumb, had a compost pile in the corner of the garden where we would deposit our cat litter, onion trimmings, banana peels and more.  Every spring he would turn the pile over and arduously spread it across his garden and then turn it in - all by hand - with no mechanical intervention.  He did this in our backyard in Greenwich, Connecticut, of all places.  It never smelled, it was always the warmest spot in the garden and I can't ever remember it having snow on it.  He also had a greenhouse.  It was heated with propane, to my grandmother's dismay.  He spent hours out there every day in his retirement.  His goal - to have tomatoes on the 4th of July.  I think he missed one year by three days between my 8th birthday and when he passed just after my 22nd.

Next to the garden, I have a huge compost pile.  It accepts almost all of the shavings and manure from the chicken coop, the remnants of the garden after it is cleaned out in the fall and any other large deposits of vegetation, grass, leaves and weeds that are collected here on the farm.  This year, I also started a compost pile in the greenhouse.  I had read one of the many articles on free heat for a greenhouse.  There are some pretty impressive systems out there where you run pipes through and around your pile and then run water through those pipes to heat the greenhouse.  My system is much more low tech.  In the greenhouse, I built a compost pile (meaning I took a corner of the greenhouse and started piling up organic material).  Recently, I renewed my efforts, to collect coffee grounds and food stuffs unfit for the chickens and pigs so that they be added to my pile in the greenhouse.

I can report some moderate success.  The outside temperature today did not exceed 32 degrees and it was 45 degrees inside the greenhouse.  The true test this week will be to see if the pile can keep the inside temperature over 32 degrees as the outside temperatures are forecast to remain in the low teens for highs and close to zero for overnight lows.  If I can maintain a temperature close to freezing, then it will be time to start some early spring crops like spinach, greens and radishes for personal consumption.

Later this year I hope to add some radiational heat retention with bricks found on craigslist for a new floor and perhaps a water barrel painted black.  Always a work in progress.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


This farm has two female pigs, a gilt and a sow.  Little One came to us shortly after Labor Day as a nine week old piglet.  Sally joined us the week after Thanksgiving as a three year old sow.  Our goal is to breed both of them for the next couple of years to put pork in our freezer, trade for beef and lamb, and sell a few of the piglets to cover feed, bedding, housing etc.

Two weeks after Sally arrived, and reportedly one week before she was supposed to go into heat again; Sally lifted the wooden fence separating her and our boar Zeb.  They did not have any rules about waiting until the third date, sealing the deal at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of their first date.  This early encounter would result in March piglets; a little to early for my liking, but if Sally got pregnant from that first date then that is what I will be looking at.

In the weeks since, I have been diligently watching for Sally to come back into heat.  I didn't notice any in December so I figured, yep, March piglets it is!  Then New Year's weekend Sally was definitely in heat again.  Unfortunately, even though she stood for Zeb, he didn't seal the deal.  She should have come into heat again this past weekend and although she was extra social on Friday, she showed no other signs that she was ready for another date with Zeb.  

Little One - at just over six months old - came into her first heat yesterday.  Thankfully a lot of reinforcement was done on the fence after Sally broke through.  The calendar has been marked and I will watch again next month for a good heat.  If she starts to have a regular cycle I may get Little One and Zeb together in March for late June or even piglets on her birthday - the 4th of July!
Two and a half years ago, after an attempted artificial insemination on a five year old sow, I went searching the interweb for a tell-tale sign that a sow/gilt was pregnant.  Sally's hind end doesn't look like this.  Again, I may be forced to go the high tech route to see if Zeb and Sally are proud parents to be.  Little man's father seems to see something different than I and thinks that the pregnancy 'indicator' is positive.  Ever pessimistic, I will wait and watch for the next 21 days and if there is no sign of heat and no significant, noticeable change in her weight, then I will resort to the high tech route.

In the meantime I will start gathering materials for a corral and sourcing a better farrowing hut on higher ground so that if Sally is pregnant, the pasture is ready for the little ones in early March.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January thaw

Mother Nature usually teases me in January.  She will give me a day or two of rain and warm temperatures just long enough for my brain to turn to incubators, seeds, soil, and spring farm projects.  This winter we have been hovering in the upper 30s for daytime highs and dipping not too far below freezing at night for almost two solid weeks now.  This past weekend it was warm enough for sap to run and a few sugar makers I know have put up over 20 gallons of Fancy.  (It’s called something different now like Grade A fluffy delicate, the VT Maple Sugar Makers Association will help you with the official grade names).

Usually it doesn’t take more than two or three days and we are back in the deep freeze.  Not this time – Mother Nature is being especially cruel.  While my mind knows that it is only January and starting tomatoes in my unheated greenhouse is not too smart, the weather and my heart are thinking it is more like March than January.

The pigs have been feeling their oats with the warmer weather.  They have been talking and nudging the fence in their version of courting.  The last time this happened was New Year's Weekend.  Sally and Zeb were pretty excited for their midnight kiss.  Alas, I didn't notice the heat until Sunday morning and missed our opportunity.  This weekend and early this week I will be keeping watch for signs of another heat in hopes of having mid-April piglets.

Ten-day forecasts are predicting more seasonable temperatures for the coming weekend with daytime highs in the upper teens and low 20’s.  Seed starting will take place on a limited basis inside the house this weekend for the longest season veggies.  A recycled heater could be coming soon for my ramshackle greenhouse.  That would allow me to start everything a little earlier and perhaps add a second farmers market to calendar this summer.  I would be in heaven if I could bring a low tunnel onto the farm this year, but baby steps!

Until then I will enjoy a little less humming from the circulating pumps as the thermostats don’t demand as much heat in the warmer temperatures.  Inside projects will continue, like finally painting the wall that we tore down three years ago.  Spring projects will come soon enough.  In the meantime I will use the cooler temperatures this weekend to prune the fruit trees while the sap isn’t running!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Remodeling on the coldest day of the year

My horoscope for the beginning of 2017 says that the stars are aligned for successful home remodels, general home repairs and making my bedroom and oasis for better sleep.  Well, neither of my pigs are Libra's so I am not quite certain why they picked the coldest week of the season so far to remodel theirs.
It only took them two days and they managed to do enough damage that I might as well have put them in the middle of the ice-covered front lawn with a bed sheet and they would have been just as warm.  Saturday (almost the coldest day of the season so far), they decided to knock out the back wall removing four or five of the boards.  Not terrible since the back wall faces primarily west and is up against a hill, but still far enough away that they lost the wind break from that direction.  It was late, there was very little wind and they were buried deep in the hay so I knew they would be fine for the night.  

Sunday morning, with temperatures hovering around zero and a steadily increasing wind, I went out to find that they had taken boards out of and the tarp off the north wall.  Almost all of our weather comes from the north and west.  They had now removed about all of their protection from the elements.  If you have livestock, or want to have livestock, you will learn that it doesn't matter if the wind chill is 15 below and dropping; when your animals need attention, you take care of it.

At those temperatures the battery operated circular saw and drill wanted nothing to do with me.  The drill went inside to warm up.  I went out to the hut to take measurements albeit at the displeasure of the girls who had to move from their warm pile of hay so I could measure the back wall.  Back to the garage and the OSB (composite plywood) was cut to size.

Over the past couple of weeks we have had up and down temperatures with snow one day and rain the next.  Anyone who lives on a dirt road or has a dirt driveway in Northwestern Vermont has honed their ice walking skills this winter.  When you also take almost the same path each morning and evening over to feed and water the pigs, it gets pretty slick as well.  42 x 90 sheets of OSB make great sails against a steady wind - oh the you tube video might have gone viral if there had been a camera.

We climbed back inside the hut, unseating the girls, again!  The pieces slid in with only a little chopping of frozen hay and some nudging where it was too thick to be chopped away without bigger tools.  A bale of fresh hay to the girls and one to Zeb to top them off against the extra chill and it was over to the garage to clean up my mess.  

One thing that seems (knock on wood) to be working in my favor this year over last is that pre-planning, thinking it through, and triple checking that the materials and tools needed are on hand or procured before the first cut is made, has exponentially decreased the amount of time spent on farm projects.  Proper maintenance or checking that proper maintenance was completed before enlisting a particular tool to a task has also decreased the time that these projects are taking.

Perhaps, I am finally learning!