Sunday, September 30, 2012

away to maine

Last week, we left our farm in the care of a friend and drove to Maine.

We stayed by the sea.

We walked on the shore.

I marveled at my children, at how quickly they dig in to explore and learn a place that is so very different from home.

And I spent some time sitting, just staring out at the sea, and the gulls, and the clouds ever changing overhead.

We had a reason for driving the long hours to Maine that had nothing to do with the shore, but I could not possibly travel all that way and not see the sea. Once a year. Just once a year. I love my landlocked home with all of my heart and I am more than content to call our farm my forever place on this Earth, but once a year I need this. To stand on the shore and remember how vast the spaces of this world are. How Sea and Land and Sea and Land stretch out away from all points, and back again.

It's somehow enough, this just once a year.

Monday, September 10, 2012

filling the freezer

It all started here, at the Amenia Farmers' Market, this past Friday.

I walked down to Nancy's tent to give her the two slabs of bacon we bartered for the week before but which were left in my cooler at the end of the day. I didn't even make it to her table before I spotted these cases of tomatoes, forty pounds heavy, for - get this - $16 each. Knowing full well I had no business taking home a forty pound case of tomatoes, I oogled them and promptly shared a photo of them on facebook in the hopes that someone else would take them (all of them, please!) home for the weekend. But, the trouble with being a vendor at a farmers' market is that once you see something, once it's on your mind, you can't shake it because you're there and it's there. You see where I'm going with this? That top case of plum tomatoes? Yup. It came home with me.

Given that my experience with canning is limited at best, and that improperly canned tomatoes promise to poison every member of the family, I opted for freezing. And given that today, early in September, I really have no idea how I'd like to use these tomatoes in, say, the depths of December, I opted to keep things simple. Just a quick dunk in boiling water to slip off the skins, then I ran about half through the presser and left the other half whole. I filled quart containers with the whole tomatoes and then topped them off with puree. Finally, into the freezer they went.

Forty pounds of Summer's goodness, processed into 18 quarts and saved for the coming dark days of Winter.

Why, you might wonder, did I not put up my own tomatoes? Two words (and some heartbreak): late blight.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

weaving and winding

This year I'm weaving my tomatoes (basket, not Florida, except for the plants that got away from me and are far too unruly to basket, they're Florida-ed). I'm doing this instead of giving each plant its own stake. I would have run out of stakes pretty fast. I planted, for some reason as yet unknown to me, 47 tomato plants in my four raised beds. Yes, other things, too, but 47 tomato plants. 47 taller-by-the-minute plants requiring support. I had no intention of going out to buy 47 anythings to trellis these babies. So, I am making do with the stakes I had from meager gardens past and, because on this farm it is everywhere you look until you need it, I'm doing the weaving bit with baling twine.

I think you're supposed to have two or at the maximum three plants between stakes. Hmm. In my quest to be thrifty I have six plants between stakes in some spots, four in others. And my spacing is too tight, I know this already. But these plants of mine are covered in flowers and clusters and ripening fruits as I write, so I'm wondering where all these rules came from in the first place. Anyhow, I have three stakes per row in my raised beds, one for each end and one in the middle (we're only talking about eight foot long beds, mind you). The end posts are anchored to the end boards with nails and, yes, more baling twine. So I tie a piece of twine to the end post, weave around the plants, wrap it a few times around the middle post pulling the tension quite tight in the process, carry on to the other end's post, wrap a few times and then weave back to the middle post from there, alternating the weave from the first weave so each plant is well and truly snugged in with twine. Back to the end, tie off the twine; admire the neatly trellised tomatoes.

The pros use purpose-made center-pull balls of twine for this task that comes in neat little hip-carried boxes. I said pooh-pooh with all that, I'll just string my twine along behind me as I go. All well enough until said twine tangles hopelessly in the many leaves and branches already sprouting off my tomato plants in all directions. But I will not be made to buy tomato-twine-in-a-box. Oh no, not I.

Chick-Chick says, "Just buy the darn twine, will ya? I'm sick of looking at this mess." Indeed, Chick-Chick. Indeed, I will not. I will gather up this twine, and I will tame it. By gosh and by golly, I will tame this twine. I will make my own tomato-twine-in-a-box. 

Out to the picnic table comes the swift.

And the winder.

And the assistant, too.

All go for Project Twine Ball!

Take that, Chick-Chick. 

Works like a charm.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the orphans, an update

I realized recently that I introduced my little orphan piglets but never mentioned them again. Good news: they made it, every single one. Not only did they survive the ordeal of losing their Mama Sow at just five days old, but they flourished. They learned in the first day of foster care to drink up every ounce of milk I dumped in their dish and then, after a few weeks, learned to gobble down the softened hog feed I soaked for hours and added to their milk. Gradually, I upped the feed and cut back on the milk. Woe is me! The spoiled little piggies would drink up their slowly diminishing ration and cry! cry! cry! A dish full of feed and nine crying babies, begging for more of the good stuff... With a bit of tough love and a great deal of piglet protest, they were weaned off the milk altogether. With a bit more tough love (and a general agreement amongst the human inhabitants of our house and yard - pigs poop, a lot) we decided to move the no-longer-so-small piglets out to the hog area, and there they live now, a little less like pets, a lot more like what they are - quickly growing hogs.

So, if anyone ever tells you it's impossible to raise orphaned piglets (I have been told this, more than once) you can tell them that's a big old load of hog shit. And remember to smile sweetly.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


On the morning of July 4th, I found fireworks blooming right outside my front door.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, June 29, 2012

drops in the bucket

After several tons of feed, untold hundreds of gallons of water and four months of growing, the pullets have started to lay.

These tiny eggs are, appropriately, known as pullet eggs. Some say the first eggs a hen lays are the best she'll ever lay. 

I'm not so sure if that is true (I think they're all pretty darn delicious) but these are certainly the sweetest eggs to find. It's something that never gets old - finding the very first eggs laid by a new batch of hens. Of course, these two eggs are just the hint of the flood to come. Two one day, perhaps none the next, two the third day, eight the fourth, seventeen the fifth, and before I'm ready (of course) we'll be collecting somewhere in the range of 175 eggs daily from these girls. And away we go!

Monday, June 25, 2012

lifelong learning

Oh goodness. An entire week has somehow run away from me and here I am to tell you that my fourth and final post is up today over at Rhythm of the Home. If you have a moment, take a look. And if you're so inclined, try making my Solstice Sun Popsicles and let me know what you think. Thanks!

(Giving Thatcher his first photography lesson, Summer Solstice 2012.)

Now, I have something fun to share with you here, in my own space. Here where everything or nothing can be about farming. This has nothing to do with farming, but it does have a lot to do with this blog. Today, because I am a total nerd and nothing makes me happier than a little summertime learning, I begin my first ever e-course. I can't remember at this point the twisting trail of blogs and websites that led me to discover Erin's Eyes Open Creative Photography E-course, but I'm thrilled that lead me there they did (plus, Erin's blog is a beauty). For the next six weeks, I'll be working on my photography skills along with 30+ other people hailing from locations all around the globe and back. West Coast, East Coast, Canada, Japan, Australia (just to list a few). I'm hoping to improve my photography both technically and creatively. I plan to shoot mostly digital images, but I have two rolls of black & white film ready for the occasion. Now, if I can just figure out where to get my film developed... Anyhow, I hope to share some of the work that I do for Eyes Open with you here, and feel free to leave a critique (constructive criticism, please).

What will you be working on this summer?

Monday, June 18, 2012

second story

A day ahead of schedule, I'm back over at Rhythm of the Home today with a tour of yesterday's chores and a bit of a reflection on the dynamics of farming alongside my children.

Here on the farm, after an entirely rainless April and a May-through-early-June in which I swear it rained every single day, we've been having a stretch of the most perfectly glorious weather imaginable. Craig was beginning to plan for a year in which we would make no hay at all, and I was beginning to think my bees - especially the new bees - would be drowned and washed away with all the rains. So in this recent stretch of Nature showing us the very best she has to offer, we've been mowing and raking and baling like crazy, and I made a trip out to the bee yard to check on the girls. (This photo has nothing to do with hay or bees at all, it's here simply for the way it shows just how beautiful the weather has been. Everything is technicolor blue and green, and the cows and chickens you can see in the distance are thoroughly enjoying every moment of it. OK, so you can't actually see a single chicken, but you can see the mobile coop, and spread out all around it, hidden by the grass, are 200+ young hens. And they are happy, frolicking in the warm sun! Just take my word for it.)

The main objective of my visit to the new bees is to see how they're settling in. Are the queens still present and laying? Are the workers drawing out the foundations quickly? Are they raising brood, and bringing home pollen, and making honey? All five hives are queen-right and looking great, doing just what they should be doing. In three out of the five new hives, I was greeted with bees spilling out from the hive onto the inner cover. A very good sign! Well, a good sign that the bees are thriving, but also a sign that they need more room to grow, pronto.

Here is the view under the inner cover. Yup, this is a strong hive, ready for a second hive body. A second story addition to their previously single story home.

Excellent work ladies! By the middle of this week, I'll be adding a second hive body to the other two hives, lagging just a bit behind the strongest three. 

And I came away with the first product from these hives - a big ball of beeswax! This wax was built up as burr comb between the top of the hive bodies and the underside of the inner covers - another good sign of a strong and growing colony. It is common practice to scrape this away, and it is very bad practice to leave such scrapings littering the bee yard. I press any wax I remove from the hives into a ball as I work, helping me to keep the wax in one place and helping to keep the yard tidy. 

And now, I'm heading back outside. How's the weather where you are?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

the return of the daisies

Today, you can find me over at Rhythm of the Home with the second of my weekly posts for the month of June. Meanwhile, here on the farm, the wild daisies are back in bloom! Along the side of our dirt road, growing in the scrubbiest patches of sandy soil they can find, scattered amidst the pallets of stone and rusty old farm implements, the daisies are pushing their merry way up toward the Sun. I find it hard to walk by this patch without getting sidetracked. Nothing wrong with a little sidetrack every now and again...

What's blooming around your home?