Monday, May 30, 2011

Tanglewood's First Farm Party

The weekend kicked off with an amazing gathering of friends and students out at our homestead/farm. We called it the Tanglewood Detangling Party. Folks showed up with gloves, shears, loppers and serious work ethic. I didn't get a single photograph of the detangling crew in action, but we had no less than ten people working down in the orchard to clear away the invasive vines that have been choking the geriatric apple trees. Before our party, each tree was skirted by 10-20 feet of multiflora rose vines, virginia creeper, grape vines, poison ivy vines, box elder trees and more. The poor trees were literally being drawn and quartered by the various vines!

I can't begin to explain how grateful I am for the wonderful people that came to help, Saturday. There was so much accomplished in such little time! All of the brush and vines removed were dragged to line the fence along the edge of the property. Hopefully this will help deter the deer this fall, especially since the one spot with the most brush is also the spot they cross most commonly into the orchard to nibble on the trees as well as my raspberry patch.

I had daydreamed of having the orchard cleared ever since we moved in, but I never thought we could do it. It's amazing what good friends and the promise of home-made pizza can do!

While the majority of friends and students worked down in the orchard, I had a small ground of younger students (some as young as 8!) that came to help too! Of course I couldn't have them up to their knees in poison ivy and nettles so I found various other jobs for them including planting out over 150 lettuce seedlings! One of the lettuce varieties, Forellenschluss (an Austrian variety) was particularly fun to teach them to pronounce.

It was awesome to see them daintily plucking the seedlings up and planting them. I taught them each how to measure planting distances with their hands and they made very quick work of it. They also planted all of my marigolds and calendula out in the north garden and weeded some of the raised beds.

I think my favorite moment with the younger students was when I told them yes they could go in and see my antique taxidermy/skull collection. I'm not sure any of these kids had ever seen taxidermy in real life before. Their faces were priceless. One little girl in particular has become fascinated by skulls lately and we had a chat about how it's fairly socially unacceptable to go around saying "I like dead things"... hahaha.

The evening came to a close with a fantastic feast of homemade pizza (with asparagus, oyster mushrooms and pesto), fresh rhubarb lemonade (the best ever), salad with maple/balsamic dressing and various other potlucked pasta salads, brownies, cupcakes... it was amazing!

I'll try to post some more about the various foods/recipes soon.

Folks wandered in and out all day, and when the food was ready we all gathered up by the house to eat. The weather held out until most of the people had tapered off in the evening, and then it began to sprinkle. At the very end of the night we were left with my three closest friends, chatting in the living room about horse-related nonsense. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tanglewood Detangled

So it's nearly 2 AM and I need to get to bed, but I wanted to post quickly to show you what we've been up to this weekend. Yesterday we had a whole slew of friends and students come to our homestead/farm to help us pull out the terrible mess of invasive vines and plants that have been choking the antique orchard we live next to. It was a huge success! I'll be posting additionally about this, but I wanted to just put up a few photos really quickly before bed.

The first is a photo from last fall to show you what the orchard used to look like.

The rest are photos of the orchard after yesterday, as well as a quick snapshot of just part of the brush pile that was formed along the edge of the property-line fence. This brush will help keep the deer out as well!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Brighid the Troublemaker

As if I needed a lamb sired by Herb-the-mischievous, mothered by Ingrid-the-skeptical and chaperoned by Gertrude-the-devious.

Brighid is a trouble make through and through. She is often seen kicking up her heels at Gertrude - even going as far as butting heads with her. She tries to climb through fences, loves to sleep on the ant hills and funniest of all she loves to chase the chickens! If they won't run, she'll charge them and baa repeatedly until they flutter away. They have even gone as far as trying to hide from her in the barn but Brighid is too smart for that!

The best thing is that this morning I saw Gertrude call the chickens. She was at the other side of the field and saw them come out of the coop. She let out a mighty baa and the chickens all picked their heads up and raced toward her! I've never seen anything like it. WOW. My sheep have interesting relationships with the poultry, that's for sure!

(Maybe she won't find us here!)

Comeer Cheekins!

Whaaaat? I wasn't doing anything!

(Sorry for the poor quality; I was totally unprepared for this hilarity!)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rain, rain, Go Away!

I was able to finish tilling the North Garden this past week. I was so excited to have a few days to work outside in the sun. I planted all of my beans in this bed - eleven varieties in several rows with various trellises and structures. It was hot, but it was dry enough to till so I really didn't have room to complain, especially considering what was in store...

 The North Garden is flooded and I seriously doubt my beans are going to germinate where I planted them.. This photo was taken around halfway through yesterday's rain. We actually ended up with 4" of rain, and our driveway was impassable. Lucky for us we have access to the neighbor's driveway, or I would've been swimming to the house from the road.

The area that I just planted in fruit trees is under water. Six fruit trees and three hazelnuts, submerged- in some cases with only a couple of inches above the water. I know this photo is terrible, but I was snapping photos with my phone while dodging raindrops.

This last photo is the best example of how intense the flooding was. Within only a couple of hours, the entire Northwest corner of the orchard was completely flooded. At it's deepest it was at least five feet deep. This is the same water that extended across the driveway and out onto the golf course next door. We really need to get a canoe. 

Were you affected by any of the wacky weather that swept the nation this week? How did your gardens hold up?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tea for the Tillerwoman

Ahh. At last I can relax. My darling tiller (who still has no name. I should remedy that!) broke down this week. Of course, there were two days of sun forecasted before literally ten days of rain and rain and rain, and it broke down on Friday leaving me a ticking clock of anxiety. Each hour was an hour I was losing, and the danged North Garden (50'x30) needed to be tilled asap for planting.

So... I opened her up. At first I was super excited because after a quick examination I was able to find the problem. The forward drive belt had slipped off of it's pulley (I have forward and reverse on this baby!) so it wasn't a huge deal. I slipped the drive belt back into place, revved up the engine and got it to till another three feet before it slipped again. Poo.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered the drive belt was split. No problem, right? I thought I'd just be able to head to the store and pick one up. Wrong! This particular model is so adorably ancient and geriatric that it uses an itty bitty non-standard belt. I was able to find one on ebay and ordered it immediately, but unfortunately the store I bought it from is closed on the weekends so it won't ship until Monday. I seriously started panicking. Monday is when the slew of 80% chance of rainy days began.

Then, yesterday morning, in a fit of madness, I started calling local small engine repair shops. My tiller is so old that there isn't even a model number on this guy. I think it's actually the first model of Junior Troy Bilt there was. I described the belt to a few different mechanics and they all said it was too small and they didn't have GW-9095 in stock (the part number). Finally I called a place that ended up being very close to us and the guy said he thought he'd have something that would work. I drove into town and TADA! He had a drive belt!

So yesterday evening was spent alternating between cooking carnitas for some friends and tilling patches of the North Garden. By 7 oclock I had finished not only the best carnitas I'd ever eaten (recipe to follow!) but I'd finished a final pass of the garden and wrapped up my tilling for the night.

Lucky for me, the forecast has shifted and we have sun and 80's today so I get to do another few passes with the tiller before the rain sets in. Thanks Michigan!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spring Clouds

These cloudy days are getting old! If you live anywhere near us, you're probably struggling with the same weather. Rain and cold... and then it warms up and clears just enough to make you feel like you should be outside doing something but sheesh - it still isn't what I'd call pleasant out!

 Brighid is doing well. She's much more independent this week, but every once in a while she will wake up from a nap and not see her mother right away. When that happens, she will leap up, cry out and run around like a little pinball machine until Ingrid utters a little "Nuhh" grunt as if to say "Chill out. I'm right here." Ingrid's bottle jaw has cleared up and her FAMACHA scores are better. She is still right in the middle, so I'll be sending in fecal samples to check for additional parasites this week or next. This will allow me to figure out exactly what worms she has and which wormer to use to target them best.

The currant bushes are enjoying the clouds, and they seem to be flowering more than they ever have before. I'm not sure if this is weather related, stress related or maybe it's just that they've just become established this year.

You know, now that I think about it most of my perennial fruit plants are flowering more than usual. I think it's probably because they're established now that they're mostly enjoying their third year in their new homes. I think my favorite things in my gardens are always the fruit plants: strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, serviceberries... Is that it? Maybe I should grow cranberries too. Hmm...

After setting up my hand-me-down popup green house, I moved my tomato, pepper and melon starts out. My tomatoes were planted two weeks late this year, but I'm hoping they'll catch up by mid-June. They're almost all up at this point, other than the San Marzano which I planted late since I picked up seeds after the ladies at Not Dabbling suggested I try them as a good heirloom paste tomato.

Anyway, here's hoping for a sunny weekend!

How are your gardens growing? Are you enjoying a sunny spring, or has it been as dreary as ours?

Also, be sure to check back soon. I'll be offering my first giveaway as soon as I get shipping figured out with my local post office! It will probably post this weekend. :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chicken Coop 1.0

Until now, our chick(en)s have been living inside a small cage on our enclosed front porch. They spend their nights in there and their days in their run outside and it has worked surprisingly well, but for the clean up. Chickens scratch. Ducks dabble. I guess all poultry have their "thing"... and scratching chickens makes for a very littered porch!


So this week I decided it was time for them to move to the barn. Of course then I got slammed with flumageddon so it didn't happen as soon as I wanted, but today I finally finished the indoor chicken coop, but for the hinges on the door (which are currently in the trunk of our station wagon, a couple of towns over... boo).This will look a lot nicer when (if) I get around to white washing the interior of the barn this summer. Please excuse the mess, as well. I tend to keep my barn tidier than my house, usually... I put the pallet in there for the chickens to roost on for now. I'll be building perches (as well as another little project I intend to reveal in the next couple of weeks) just as soon as I get around to it. That little chicken-sized door is the door that Gertrude (my ~80 pound ewe) leaped straight through the other day. What a weirdo.

This is a shot of what will be the outdoor chicken run. It looks pretty ridiculous right now (and will probably continue to do so, honestly) but it'll work! I'll be putting in a door at the close end, and then screening the whole thing with deer netting and zip ties. These little pvc-pipe enclosures work well, and we've had our one for the ducks for over two years now with little wear. This run will be the more "permanent" run for the meat birds. It'll house the birds that have little interest in hunting/foraging. I have another run that I'll be putting on wheels that I'll move around for the egg ladies.

Do you have any improvised livestock runs or pens? How did you build yours?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Taking it "Easy"

This week has been difficult for me. I've had a really nasty bug and have had no energy or balance all week. Poor Jeremy has had it even worse than I do, and developed a whopper of a cough and sore throat on top of it all. We blame it on some poor unsuspecting nerd at the last comic book convention he visited. Heh.

Anyway, despite being sick in bed for several hours of each day, I can't seem to stay away from work. I can't sleep, for obsessing over what I should be doing outside. I shouldn't be lying there; I should be planting strawberries, planting rhubarb, starting seeds, building a chicken coop, installing new electric fence in the orchard for the sheep, picking violets, weeding everything, hauling hoses, building shelves in the pop-up greenhouse, handling sheep, teaching riding lessons, making cheese... etc. And you know what I did? All of those tasks. I'm sure I'm paying for it by exhausting my body, but come on, man! It's SPRING!

Besides, I was totally taking it easy. I should've spent my week hauling a few yards of compost, mucking the sheep stall, pruning apple trees, tilling and double digging new beds and biking, but I kept myself to the simple, less strenuous jobs. Often I would just let the sheep out on their grass and sit under the apple tree, watching them munch quietly.

If your options were stay in bed and force yourself to sleep, or head outside to see this adorable face, which would you choose? Look at those amazing little face markings! They get more prominent as her coat comes in. I have to get a photo of the back of her ears, too! They have little black eye spots, like a wild animal!

Brighid is definitely growing. She has gone from a waif-y little fuzzball to a thick little spitfire in just the past few days. She's starting to be more independent from Ingrid, but still panics occasionally if she wakes up and mom has gone from her sight. Ingrid is doing well, despite battling with bottlejaw (a condition accompanying anemia from internal parasites). Gertrude is loud and obnoxious as ever, especially now that she thinks she gets to demand to go out on the grass whenever she likes. Yeesh!

The chicks are definitely chickens, and unfortunately they're not all the lady-pullets I was told they would be. I caught my favorite pullet crowing the other morning! Uh Oh. I hate to say this (especially since I know not everyone digs the whole farming chicken thing) but her/his name has become dinner. Bummer. I've accepted it though, and this means that we'll have home-grown, organic chicken several weeks before we anticipated, so that's a bonus. I figured we'd get at least one roo in our first batch, but never thought it would be the one chicken I'd grown attached to! Ah well.

I'm going to try to get some more photos in, here. I have a whole slew that I took while I was wandering around delirious with fever (jk?) earlier this week, but my computer seems to be incapable of opening my editing software this morning. Alas, to own a geriatric Mac is to develop patience for such things. This puppy is going on 5 years old, and computers are supposedly obsolete after just 3! (Can you hear the thick irritation in my voice?) I'll see what I can do. *mutter mutter mutter*

Monday, May 9, 2011

My current view: the pop up mini greenhouse

My mother gave me her old pop up greenhouse a couple of years ago. It has been beaten by the sun over the years and is starting to deteriorate with age but it still lets in the sunlight and holds in the heat so it works!

I moved my as-yet-ungerminated tomato starts out today, as well ad my cukes and melons. The grand tally for melon varieties is 13 for this year, up from five last year. :) What can I say? I dig melons...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Ha Ha Ha. We are carefree and young...
Shit! Is today Mother's Day?
How could you let me forget?!


Happy Mother's Day, Mom! Love from Ben and Emily.

(And yes, I'll email you copies of these photos.)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Local Spotlight: Silver Moon Farm

Meet Gen! She's a fantastic alpine doe from Silver Moon Farm, a local goat dairy where I currently have a goat share. The really interesting thing about Gen is that she only has one fully functional udder. She unfortunately had mastitis as a dry yearling and as a result she has a large clump of scar tissue and a malformed left udder. No problem there, though. She is a very heavy milker, with great milk fat for cheese, and I can't wait to learn to milk her myself!

Renea over at Silver Moon has been very patient with me as I learn a bit about goats. With a goat share, I basically "own" Gen for a day and if I want, I can go out and pet and scratch her or bring her treats, I can watch her bully her way through the farmyard or I can learn to milk and handle her myself. As a bonus, I can ask Renea to milk her for me and thus I receive fresh goat's milk from my goat! Goat shares are very sticky business in some states, but Michigan has been nice to us so far. To be honest, I've been pasteurizing my milk anyway because I use it for cheese.

Anyway, Silver Moon Farm is a wonderful small dairy and as far as I know they still have a couple of shares open! Are you local-ish to Pinckney? Check out Renea's web site!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Singing quick praises (reprises?) for the Mara des Bois

I'm sure I'll get to a longer post soon (hopefully a couple of book reviews!), but my life is currently dominated with the mad scramble that is spring-in-full-swing. I have been pruning and digging and planting and weeding and tilling and amending and hauling and shoveling and... you get the idea, right? That compounded with the mysterious lost blogposts and the fact that my father has been in town this past week and I've been spending time with him has made posting here pretty inconvenient.

I wanted to post quickly to sing praise again for the Mara des Bois strawberry. I wandered out into the yard yesterday to discover my Mara des Bois are already blooming! Not only that, one is already swelling into a small green berry! This berry was the last to produce last year and will be the first this year. Not only that, it was one of the heaviest producers and by far had the tastiest berries of any of the six varieties of garden strawberry that I grow. Mmm...

Have you ever grown Mara des Bois? Did you have luck with them?

Be sure to check out Not Dabbling in Normal today for my post on going shampoo free!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A busy week with little writing to show

Ahem... Err... I haven't forgotten about you, no. I have been having trouble with my computer crashing and losing posts. After losing several posts in a row it's easy to say "Forget this! I'm gonna go dig in the dirt!"

Rest assured I'll be posting regularly again soon. In the meantime you'll have to be satisfied by a photo of my currants and my garlic. Wah Wah. ;)

Monday, May 2, 2011

The News

"I have never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." - Mark Twain