End of the Year

Tonight marks the end of the agricultural year. Some call it Hallows Eve, or Halloween, or Día de Muertos, some even call it Samhain. No matter the name, tomorrow will be a whole new year of farming to experience and learn from.

We have lived on this new land in a new town for seven months now and still when I look outside, it looks wild to me. The front two acres have been very easy to force into a civil landscape. Trevor mowed the wild grasses and weeds in the spring and the summer heat kept most of it from growing very tall. The goats have nibbled down every blade of grass in their pen and have kindly trimmed the low tree branches in the “front yard”.

**An awesome photo goes here, but dial-up hates me. Will add later.**

No matter what the goats do in the back half-acre of grass, it looks like a dry, lonely meadow. The tall stalks of wild grasses stop where the seasonal creek winds through our acreage. On the other side of the narrow and rocky path that will soon fill up with water, is a slight grade filled with rocks and brush. Next to our narrow, rectangle-shaped property is a vacant lot that gives us a buffer between the house and the main road.

We have recently spotted deer and bobcats hiding among the various oaks and pines growing there. The brush is so tall both on our back two acres and around the side in the vacant lot that it is easy for coyotes to mill around unnoticed. When the fire truck from the station a few blocks over runs it’s siren, you can hear dozens of coyotes sing in the hills surrounding us. At first I thought it was a little creepy, but now I wait to hear their voices and find it comforting.

Our wild dirt and hills have not tamed since we moved here. I think it is more that we have carved out a few spots of our own. If we are lucky, this new agricultural year will bless us with three more turkey dinners; a successful breeding of the goats, the first goat kids born here on the farm, and the milk that comes along with all that; a few apple trees planted in the spring; perhaps even some new garden beds; and a thriving pumpkin patch by the next year’s end.

Tonight we will celebrate the end of an awkward year with a homeraised chicken, some homemade bread rolls, and a couple organic market acorn squash. We may even get some rain this afternoon! What better way to start anew than a good autumn storm cloud overhead.

Stroopwafel

Of course as soon as I decide my blog-break is over, Trevor’s laptop and only connection to dial-up internet, craps out. Erg. So here I am– literally six miles down the road with my car wedged between Mountain Ranch’s lone store and the realty office utilizing the free wifi. Pretty sad that the itsy bitsy town of Mountain Ranch is more technologically advanced than my house.

In any case, I had to get more eggs after using everything in the fridge making these puppies:

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Stroopwafel is the best thing to happen to the world since indoor plumbing. That might not be the best example, but stroopwafel is a major accomplishment for mankind.

I don’t remember where I had my first stroopwafel, but I’m sure it had something to do with going to work one day with my mom in Oakland. For some reason I spent a lot of days at work with my mom. I know she never let me skip school so we must have had many school holidays then. Oakland has a high crime-rate, a football team, and really great food. Only one of which I care about. And as a kid, nothing perks up a day sitting in a big office building with your mom like going out for lunch and snacks.

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Stroopwafel tastes like a… well, a waffle-cookie with a brown sugar syrup in sandwiched between the two layers that has a bit of maple and molasses taste. You know you have the perfect stroopwafel when it is thin and crisp when cool and the syrup inside melts a bit when warmed on the top of a mug of tea.

Hello Again

So it turns out I needed a little blog break. I would have normally just scheduled some posts or found a guest blogger, but that was the exact work I felt I needed a break from. The last few weeks allowed me a much needed rest from blogging several times a week (sometimes I even posted six times a week!) and some time with family and friends.

So, yes, I am alive, I am fine, and I am appreciative of all your concerned emails and messages.

I escaped the farm for a whole day to visit a friend from school and had a great time snickering and plotting and generally catching up on the Bay Area I left behind. I have also been doing a lot of painting to get ready for my solo art show in Mountain Ranch in January.

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My fiddle playing has improved. I took gold, silver, and black sharpie marker to my fiddle and made it look somewhat like a cute, decorated Norwegian piece. I am convinced the new floral pattern is what makes me play better. I have “mastered” Ida Red, Gospel Plow, and Shortnin’ Bread. Home On The Range and House Of The Rising Sun are less squeaky, but not quite there yet. My own rule when learning to play the guitar was that if you can play House Of The Rising Sun on an instrument, you ain’t half-bad.

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Since gobbling up our last turkey –pun intended, we have been licking our chops every time we pass by the remaining three in the pen. I can’t guarantee that all three will make it Thanksgiving, but I do have to make sure the biggest tom is saved for the holiday table. It is pretty hard to resist the idea of homemade turkey and gravy. Gravy especially.

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I also had a rabbit come back to me from one of Khaleesi and Toblerone’s litters. His owner felt like she couldn’t keep up with the grooming and decided to bring him back. I really do appreciate responsible owners like this; you have to give credit to people who recognize their own limits and give primary concern to the animal’s future well-being and happiness. In any case, you all can help me rename home tomorrow. He is a nice big guy with nice body type and a promising coat… I think I’ll keep him for breeding since I am down to one herd buck. He has had a chunk missing out of his ear since he was a kit (over zealous cleaning by mom I think) and so he isn’t of show quality. Super sweet fluff ball though!

Our property no longer resembles Mars or a lunar surface. We have had a couple decent rain storms this month do some greenery is reappearing. It isn’t much just yet, but I think we may have something close to a lawn by next month. The green color popping up has been making me feel more motivated to get things done outside. The goats appreciate the weeds that have come up as well.

I finally found someone who has Nigerian Dwarf bucks to breed my two ladies to. It will be about a 30 or 45-minute trip, but well worth it. The owner of the bucks just wants to take the focus off of her one and only doe who does not want to breed. So it works out well for both of us. I am hoping to get that all arranged for sometime in the first week of November.

Phew! Now you’re all caught up. I think my next blog-break will be due after another four years of writing. ;)

Farmercise

I don’t like anything even resembling exercise. Hate is such a strong word, but possibly appropriate here. I hate exercise. That said, I do seem to get quite the work out here on our little farm… against my will.

I was thinking about it all this morning as I literally wrestled goats. All four goats are locked into what I lovingly refer to as “the goat shack” every night because of the predators we have here: coyotes, mountain lions, bears, bobcats, stray dogs and the smaller evils– skunks, racoons, children. Locking the goats in at night also means that come morning, I have to let them out. Unchecked, this would be a stampede.

I have a brilliantly McGyver’ed leash (two tied together) that allows me to take two goats out at a time. Lately I have been anchoring them to trees around the immediate front and back yards to eat the weeds down. This wouldn’t be so bad except that the two Nigerian Dwarf goats are like wild boars. They push, the shove, they eat everything in sight, and worst of all– they have a very low center of gravity.

So here I am, trying to follow Goat Ediquette and let Freyja, the herd queen, out first along with Heidrun (her adopted kid who is now higher on the totem pole than the Nigerians). Then scuffles insue because the Nigerians want out first. They start pushing me out of the doorway and saying some nonsense about equal rights among goats. I push back so that I can grab the taller goats in the doorway long enough to clip the leashes onto their collars and then I shove the little ones back far enough to get the first two goats out.

That right there is my endurance and arm strenghening exercises. There might also be an exercise or two in swearing like a sailor.

Next are my squats and bicep work. This is acheived by trying to keep traction and my feet on the ground while the goats do their best to pull me to where the juiciest acorns drop under the oak trees. I pull and guide them as well as any human could, but they put up quite the resistance when food is involved. By the time I head back to the goat shack, I am usually huffing and puffing like a chain-smoker.

The Nigerian Dwarf goats make round two an even bigger challenge. I have to block the doorway with my whole body (just legs don’t cut it) and keep my balance while Bridgit tries to suck in her belly and squeeze past me. Luna is an angel though, and never head butts me to get me out of the way. Thanks Luna. Once the little ones are out, they are on the run. These ladies could pull a car! My new trick to lessen the brutality of my “morning exercise” is to make them weave instead of run straight forward. My arm curls and squats aren’t quite as hard if I just keep their leash weaving back and forth, left to right.

That is, until we get out of the pen. Then I look like I am training for the World’s Strongest Man competition where they pull the huge semi-truck using a cable or rope or something. It’s those acorns! No goat can resist them.

Once the goats are hooked up to their chain leads, then I have to carry over two 5-gallon buckets of water while avoiding stepping on chicken feet in my big work boots. For some reason the chickens insist on stalking me while I do chores. I keep telling them that I do not have chicken scratch in my pockets. I think the lack of exterior ears helps them to better ignore my claims.

After all my morning chores are done, I go inside and complain about it to the internet.

Twenty Dollars Rich

We lead a fairly simple life I think. Trevor works a day-job and I work the farm. He works for a company that treats him well and pays him enough to cover our mortgage, utilities, and food and gas. Even so, some weeks we need to splurge on one thing or another. This week we needed to buy a Girl Scouts uniform which, admittedly, could probably have waited– so we have a measly twenty dollars to our name for the next week. It is no big deal really because we have food in the pantry, the animal feed is stocked up, and all the bills are paid. The twenty bucks could go to gas and that would be okay. Thursday will be here soon enough and we’ve made it through just fine before with the only complaint being that we couldn’t drop ten dollars at the donut shop on a Saturday morning.

Even with holes in our pockets we are living like kings this week!

I have calculated that we have about $1,600 in livestock on the farm. It sounds really crazy until you think about all the animals we have here currently: 7 angora rabbits, 4 dairy goats, 8 chickens, 1 beehive, and 4 turkeys. Really, that is quite the larder in itself! That means that at any given time we most likely have milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, meat, and honey. Um.. yeah, it’s awesome.

Friday afternoon, Trevor called me and asked what we wanted for dinner. I told him he might as well pick up a bag of chicken thighs at the market. He came up with the idea of doing a “test run” on butchering one of the smaller turkey hens. Brilliant! Duh! We have meat sitting right out there in the yard. Why didn’t I think of that! And unlike rabbit, poultry only needs to rest for 24 hours before baking. Sorry supermarket chickens, you’ll have to move aside for some home-raised bird.

Trevor starts work early in the morning and so he also gets home early in the afternoon. By 2:30 we were out at the turkey pen scouting out our weekend meal. We had two Bronze hens, one Bronze tom, and the one White tom that we are saving for our family Thanksgiving meal in November. Trevor picked out what seemed to be the smallest hen (they were pretty close in size) and I zip-tied her feet together. I have a friend who recommended using zip ties to keep their feet together instead of just rope after her own first experience butchering turkeys. Something about it literally running off down the drive without a head.

The turkey hen was surprisingly calm during the capture, zip, and walk over to the “processing station”, but her three friends turned bright red and purple as we walked off with an upside-down turkey. Worry worts.

I reminded Cami that when we started, she may not like it and that I was happy to go inside with her while Trevor worked. She insisted on staying to watch and so I let my little farm girl stay. One quick whack with my awesomely sharp cleaver and the turkey flailed for a few minutes in the big bin we had ready nearby (less mess). Cami was calm and curious even after admitting to a little shock that the turkey flapped so much even without a head. Two things I am always thankful for is the moment I have to say “thank you” to my animal for its sacrifice and that it is always a quick death. Those two things always bring me peace with home-raised meat.

Trevor cleaned up our turkey while I prepared the ice bath and brine. Turkey Lurkey sat in a nice cold ice bath for four hours and then made her way to the refrigerator to “rest” in her sea salt brine for 24-hours. I was sure to weigh her for you all too. Our smallest turkey weighed in at……….

11 pounds!!!

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Our gorgeous first turkey was baked with garden basil, farm onions, butter, and pepper. This photo may be a bit deceiving because the turkey was bigger than my head! Huge! She had to go on the second to last rack setting. By the time Thanksgiving does roll around and it is that white tom’s turn, he will definitely be a bottom rack-er. We also decided to skin the turkey because let’s face it– who likes to pluck poultry?

It turned out to be DELICIOUS! Super moist, perfectly cooked, flaked off the bone, yummy. Trevor wants to raise turkeys year-round now.

So even in the poor house, we still have a turkey feast complete with farm green beans and gravy in the fridge, home baked bread on the counter, and from-scratch cinnamon rolls with hand picked and dried raisins hot from the oven. Twenty dollars rich indeed.

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Farming with the Tao :: cleansing

The Tao Te Ching is a philosophical and often spiritual text of meditative verses. The Tao Te Ching is a book of ancient Chinese wisdom written sometime around 500 B.C.E by the sage, Lao Tzu. The book has endured thousands of years because it has timeless understanding of life. Second only to the Bible, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world.

In this series, we are going to approach the Tao Te Ching from a farmer’s point of view. Let all of us– backyard farmers, market farmers, chicken raisers, and “wannabe” farmers alike– take on these poetic truths together.

Farming with the Tao series
Cleansing

Early autumn rain cleanses away smeared heat.
A grateful traveler takes in crystal skies and crisp air.
Distant mountains seem more vast and blue,
And the sound of the waterfall grows more loud.

This morning during my chores I was delighted to see dark clouds above. Some days it is a blessing to be without the sun’s rays. You know how when you’re outdoors before it rains and you can smell the moisture? That’s what it is like in Mountain Ranch right now. I can smell the wet air all around and when the clouds do decide to release the rain, the air will have a crispness to it, as if it succeeded.

Autumn days are my favorite. The ravens come by in the cooler air to say hello, harvests and the work they entail are ending, life is beginning to mellow after a busy and hot summer.

The beauty of nature is in it’s cycles. Winter is a time of stillness and reflection. Spring brings renewal of life. Summer has seemingly endless bounty and warmth. Autumn is a time of cleansing and preparation.

We are cleansing ourselves of the heat and fires of summer. Autumn is for taking stock of our harvests in the garden, in the home, and of our family. Fall rains are a chance for us to cleanse our spirits and to give our gardens a last drink before bringing in the harvest.

A change in season is what we all need sometimes to get back into the joy of farming.
Knowing that summer is at an end now and cooler weather is approaching gives me some peace. Freyja can be dried off, goats can be bred, rabbit kits may be on their way, and the impending rain season will allow holes to be dug for spring fruit trees. Life feels better on a cloudy day.

*Tao Te Ching translations by Ming-Dao Deng. Unsightly opinions by Sarah.