30

Todays my birthday. I’m thirty. Funny, I don’t feel any different then I did yesterday. I was so sure that the day I turned thirty I would feel different, have an epiphany, know all the answers. At twenty I had a very different idea of what me, at thirty, was going to look like. I was apparently like every other twenty year old, a fool who thought they knew everything. Go figure.

I was never going to be thirty. I was going to relive twenty-nine over and over again. Twenty-nine on the 29th. You have to admit, it has a certain ring to it. And it would be no problem to get others to play along because, for a while, I could probably pull it off, thanks to good genes and my Mediterranean skin (oily might be a bitch in your teens but wrinkles will be a long ways off .) Once I did hit the inevitable time where things sagged, and I was obviously no longer in my prime, people would probably be too scared of the “Old, crazy lady” to refute my claim. Perfect, I could linger forever in my delusion.

Truth is I didn’t plan on this present, back when it was my future. I was supposed to be wearing high heels, not Muck Boots and designer jeans, not Carharts. I wasn’t supposed to be learning how to milk a cow, how to rid pigs of lice using nothing more the canola oil, or trying to calculate how much hay to buy for the winter, striking that balance of not spending money on more than we will use, while at the same time, not purchasing to little and inadvertently starving the sheep, seven of which should also be pregnant. (Note to self, you really, really need to make a decision on a ram , like yesterday!)

I wasn’t supposed to be trying to make all of our food from scratch. Hell, at one time, I had said that I wouldn’t even have time to make my (someday in the distance future) kids cookies, I would find a good bakery for that, since I would probably be much too busy working my über important job, all while being quite fabulous and going to quite fabulous places. Now, spending a Friday night with Kevin, making butter, trying out a new cheese recipe, or baking up some seasonal delight is my idea of fabulous.

Ten years ago I didn’t knit or spin. No reason to own sheep back then. I didn’t garden. I had only just begun to eat organically, and my locavore tendencies wouldn’t surface till about 5 years later. People who knew me ten years ago, probably wouldn’t recognize me now. I have been married to the love of my life, for almost 5 years (sorry Hun, but you weren’t even my type when I was twenty.) I have two littles, whom we parent so far outside the mainstream, and in a way that wasn’t even on my radar back then, that the weird looks and the “do you really want to do that” comments don’t even register any longer. We are living a life that I didn’t even know existed when I was twenty.

It took me thirty years to stumble upon the real me, the one that I created (finally embraced?) and come to find out, the twenty year old Laura was wrong, about almost everything. Thank goodness for that!

Welcome thirty. Let’s see how wrong we can be by the time forty rolls around.

The thing Sir Isaac Newton and I have in common

There are times when it seems like we do nothing but bumble our way through this farm life. Even though I grew up in the country and spent time around horses, all the things we are doing are fairly foreign to me. Kevin, has farmers in his family, but never owned a pet, outside of goldfish, before meeting me and only spent time in a garden when visiting his grandparents. By all rights, the last place we belong is here, not to mention, trying to figure a way of making a living (quite a modest living in comparison to the standards of most) from doing it.

There are harsh realities to living this life. Lots of mistakes get made. Money gets washed down the drain, both literally, as in, when one forgets to turn off the hydrant in the barn. And figuratively, like when buying a piece of equipment, for what seems to be a decent price, only to have it not work when needed and then costing a couple hundred dollars in parts and hours in Kevin’s labor. Death becomes an everyday reality living with these animals of ours. It’s no longer something that happens once in a great while, that can be pushed to the back of your mind until many years from now when it, unfortunately, happens again. Sometimes it’s our fault, something we neglected to watch out for or take into consideration which is followed by days of analyzing and reconfiguring to ensure that is doesn’t happen again. This I can deal with, it keeps my mind busy and the effort to make a change takes the sting out of the loss. What’s hard are the other times, when there are no reasons why, at least ones that we are privy to, nothing to be done, no changes to be made. Only the harsh reality of an absence remain. On days like those, there is a part of me that wants to run back to our old life in suburbia, in which, we were blissfully ignorant of where our meals originated from.

Some times Mother Nature plays cruel jokes, like giving us 70 degree weather for most of March, which allowed us to start planting almost a month early but then slammed us with a frost that killed the majority of the (prematurely open) blossoms on our lone apple tree. She brought cucumber beetles that wipeout all 30 of our cucumber plants, leaving us pickleless for the following winter. Then just to keep us on our toes, she throws in flea beetles, tomato hornworms, squash beetles and some sort of worm, that takes up residence in my dill seeds and renders them unusable. Which, considering our lack of cucumbers, means Mother Nature has one wicked sense of humor.

Then there are days spent cleaning up a huge mess the previous owner left, one that encompassed that apple tree. While Kevin, my dad and my nephew cleared stuff from the spot my mom and I talked of a stone-walled flower garden that we hope to put in there next year. We also discussed how sad the apple tree looked, void of any of its usual offerings. As they were clearing, my nephew found one small apple sitting on the ground under the tree, it looked perfect and they think they must have knocked it off while running the tractor through the spot. We took the apple and split it seven ways, each of us getting a taste. It was crisp, surprisingly sharp, but very juicy. The peel was so tart that it some how made the inside taste even sweeter. What struck me was that it seemed to taste the way an apple looks, what your brain imagines it tasting like before it hits your tongue. How rare, something in this life actually living up to expectations. Finishing, PJ impatiently asked for more, echoing how we all seemed to feel.

Huh? And here I thought the only thing an apple falling could teach us was the existence of gravity!

My ode to the tomato

Until I started growing my own, I had no idea there was such a thing as heirloom tomatoes, nor the huge spectrum of colors they came in!

Ok, in the name of full disclosure, I need to tell you all something. There is a good chance that a large percentage of this month’s posts will contain tomatoes, in one form or another, for a myriad of reasons. First there is the simple fact, that here, it is officially tomato season. We tomato freaks lovers planted seeds indoors, in March, tended the tiny seedlings that sprouted, until they were strong enough to head outdoors, where we then protected them, supported them and worried over them for months. (Honestly, my tomato seedlings took a beating this year, so we saved what we could and supplemented with seedlings from our local, organic greenhouse.)  I personally have a hard time waiting for the first ripe tomato. Whenever I head out to the garden, the tomato patch is the first place I go, to both check in on everyone and see what offerings are waiting for us. Second, we can grow awesome tomato plants. I don’t mean to toot our own horn…well at least not too loud…oh what the hell, toot-toot. We have been known to grow 8 foot tall paste tomato plants and the only tomato failure that Kevin and I have suffered, occurred during our absence and was due to my father’s overzealous watering (we were in the middle of a drought and he thought giving them all the water they could take would insure their survival) which caused Blossom End Rot on all but the cherry tomatoes. Lastly, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the taste of a freshly picked homegrown tomato. One bought at a grocery store, may look and feel like a tomato but they, most decidedly, will not smell or taste like one. 

The first heirloom of the season, this one is a Cherokee Purple.

I love tomatoes and I love eating them, in any form. Whether they are sliced up in a salad, slapped between two pieces of bread with a little mayo, salt and pepper, as a quick, just pop in your mouth, afternoon snack, sun-dried on homemade pizza, tossed in olive oil and served with fresh-cut basil and mozzarella or made into my great-grandmothers yummy tomato sauce, I just can’t get enough.

Just as pretty on the inside.

I think part of my tomato prowess, and borderline obsession, is due to my genetics. My family is almost completely Sicilian and Italian. After wine, garlic and macaroni (yes, they always called it macaroni, never pasta) tomatoes are the most important sustenance in our lives. To further prove my point, PJ, ever since he first had solids as a baby, has gobbled up tomatoes in any form. It’s the Sicilian in him, I’m sure of it.

Diced and ready to go.

So, to honor tomato season, I wanted to share my salsa recipe. I know, I know, it’s not an Italian tomato recipe, but right now, in our garden, all of the ingredients are ripe so, this is the one you get! Plus, it’s not really salsa, I think it would be considered more of a Pico de Gallo, but it’s what we eat as salsa because I, personally, don’t like the taste or texture of the conventional stuff. I have also been experimenting with canning it. If I am happy with the results, I will share that process next season, after I am sure that it truly has a shelf-life of a year, and a decent flavor when finally cracked open.

You can’t make salsa with out these little hotties!

Homegrown Pico de Gallo

3 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, with seeds removed, and diced. (I sometimes throw in cherry tomatoes too, to add different colors.)

1 small to medium yellow onion, diced.

6-8 cloves of garlic, minced. (Yes, I know my Sicilian is showing through, and this is what makes the whole house (and us) stink when I whip up a batch, but it just doesn’t taste the same with less.

1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds removed, diced.

1 handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped. (I usually add more because I’m a cilantro junkie, but a handful should do.)

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

1 tablespoon of lime juice.

Salt and pepper to taste.

If Kevin is around when I make it, he tends to walk by and throw in some Frank’s Red Hot and a half a shot of tequila. This, right here people, is the only downside to being married to a cook. I think it is delicious and fresh tasting without these additions.

If I’m not canning it, I store it in a container, with a tight-fitting lid, in the fridge. (The bit about the lid is very important, otherwise your entire fridge is gonna stink.) It doesn’t usually hang around for more than a night anyway, so this is rarely ever a problem. We enjoy eating it on chips, as a snack, or over some chicken, rice and black beans, as dinner. I also like to take two fresh avocados, mash them up, and throw in 2 -3 tablespoons of the finished salsa. Voilà, we have instant guacamole! I bet it would also be delicious, over some eggs, in the morning. Ha! There! You can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, as my grandmother used to say, “go, eat…manga, manga!”

If you try it, let me know what you think. Do you have any special ways you like to prepare your tomatoes?

The weekend

This weekend was a good one! We worked in the garden, tended the animals, went to our local arts festival, and spent time with, much missed, family. We put a dent in the list but, as usual, there is just more to be added. Ah, the life of wanna-be-farmers. Here are  some extra beautiful moments, from the past few days, that I wanted to share with you.

Kevin spotted them and I snapped the picture, just before they flew away.

The large egg in the front is our first full-sized egg from our girls.

…and when I broke it open for breakfast, out popped two yolks!

“Wow, when will I be that tall?”

Who knew it was this pretty close up?

This girl loves all of her animals.

Marigolds, a gift from our neighbor, whose daughter planted the original seeds when she was 3. She’s in her 30’s now!

In the garden at dusk. Great way to end a great weekend!

I’m working out a tomato recipe to share with you on Wednesday, so stop back and check it out. Hope everyone had a beautiful and relaxing weekend!

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.  

Friday confessions

This Friday’s confession is brought to you by our garden, and my apparent lack of creativity, as of late…

This isn’t even the whole lot. I processed a basket full two days ago and gave another basket full away to some neighbors.

I’m beginning to resent my tomato plants, they are producing too much, to quickly and I can’t keep up. So, maybe I actually resent my lack of ability to stay on top of all my to dos. Where did the girl go who could keep up with everything? Oh yeah, that’s right, she had two kids, gave up sleeping at night, vowed to live without certain conveniences (ones that might make things faster but were harmful to both her loved ones and the earth) and took on running a homestead.  I am officially out of creative ways to prepare and preserve these pretty little gems. Actually, I lost some because I let them sit too long while I contemplated what to make with them. Not to worry though, the chickens enjoyed them as an afternoon snack the other day. So I guess we will be eating them one way or another. Eggs anyone?

So if you have any suggestions please send them my way. And hurry! Two days from now the amount of tomatoes will have double. Kevin’s, not so helpful, advice was to have a tomato throwing fight. I said that was wasteful. He said “not if we do it near the chicken coop or in the pigs’ pasture.” His reasoning here is, unfortunately, sound. I really don’t want to participate in his plan, so if you would like to save me from this embarrassment, send me your ideas. As added incentive, next week I promise to share a very tasty recipe in return. 😉

Happy Weekend!

The joy in just getting by

There won’t be much in the way of a blog post today. Shaelyn decided that it was party time, instead of bedtime, two nights ago and proceeded to rock it out until 6 am. Yes, 6…in the morning! You know, the usual time that farmers are already out and making the rounds, well that was the time that she was just laying her cute little head down to sleep (cute is, indeed, what keeps us laughing rather than crying during these moments.) I give the kid credit, she was all smiles and giggles the whole time, which took the edge off the sleep deprivation that was in progress and which was better than her brother ever did on one of his all night benders. Kevin and I have both been running on fumes and massive amounts of coffee, just hoping to make it through. I gotta say though, this does not seem like a promising start to our week, or to checking things off our list, a list that this blog quickly got shoved to the bottom of.

We pushed through the day, a day filled with a few mental breakdowns and many short tempers, which one might expect in a house full of strong personalities and with some of those personalities going on no sleep (ahem, yes I may be referring to myself here.) The decision was made to do all the evening chores a few hours early, in the hope of getting the kids, and ourselves, off to bed at a decent hour. When we went out, to tuck the sheep in for the night, Kevin and I found ourselves alone, for the first time that day, and decided to sit down in the pasture to watch the sheep and just be.

 

It was completely spur of the moment and unplanned. We sat talking, first about the sheep, then about grass, then about various future farm plans. Different sheep would come over to one of us, visit for a moment, and then move off to nibble on some clover or grab a drink of water. Luna, our little white lamb, always stayed close, nudging for a quick pat, just as she always does when we walk into the pasture. I’m not sure if it was the shifting evening light, or the meditative state that often accompanies sitting quietly with animals, but that list disappeared and it was just us, talking about the future. Something our more rested selves had done, almost four years ago, as our baby boy laid sleeping. Now, four years, two children, and one farm later, we are here, living our dream everyday and planning new adventures. If I have to endure a few sleepless nights, spent with my smiling daughter, and followed by a day in a caffeine infused fog as payment for these blessings, so be it.

Thank you dear sheep (and Universe) for the gentle reminder.

The weekend

The storm rolling in.

Is there really ever a weekend when you live on a farm? Certainly not in the sense of two days off at the end of your work week, but on the other hand, we never suffer from a case of the “Mondays”, so there’s that! The past two days here have been low on productivity with Saturdays highs reaching the mid 90’s and the heat index reaching well into the 100’s (not feasible with two babes that must follow us everywhere.) Sunday brought a, much needed, downpour that chased us all inside. 

The view out of our kitchen window.

We did manage to move the mobile chicken coop to a new swath of pasture, which ended up taking two extra people and two extra hours and ended in us darting for the house before the sky opened up. Because really, who wants to be handling electronet fencing in a thunderstorm? It is all quite hilarious looking back on it now, possibly even post worthy. I also harvested some produce, the most notable being 2 pounds of beans destined for pickling and was able to put up 8 jars of pesto. Outside of those accomplishments, and the usual daily chores, nothing else got done.

Waiting for a trim and pickling.

It has also been hard getting back into the swing of things after being away for 4 days. Upon arriving home, it seemed as if, the only thing that had grown were the weeds and I think we are both struggling with being extremely overwhelmed by how far behind we feel. So in that vein, and to please my Type A personality, here is our “To Do” list for the upcoming week:

  1. Make and can Dilly Beans.
  2. Weed herb garden.
  3. Harvest some lemon balm, parsley, basil, cilantro, sage, thyme, tarragon, and marjoram.
  4. Dry, freeze or otherwise process said herbs.
  5. Weed, weed, and more weeding of vegetable garden. Problem here is, by the time we get done weeding the entire garden the weeds are growing back in where we started.
  6. Create some kind of support for the sweet corn.
  7. Tend slicing and cherry tomatoes – prune, snip, re-tie/support.
  8. Come up with a way to trellis paste tomatoes. These have gotten quite out of hand and we are at a loss for a good way to support them that also allows us to easily harvest the ripe fruit.
  9. Try to train pole beans back onto their respective poles. I have never had a problem with this in the past but this year they just seem to have a mind of their own.
  10. Pick and trim swiss chard.
  11. Freeze what chard we do not use this week.
  12. Pick lettuce, beets, eggplant, peppers, squash, possibly fingerling potatoes.
  13. Weed sweet potatoes.
  14. Plant fall crops. We are kind of late with this but I would like to throw, at least, some peas and spinach in.
  15. Weed asparagus and rhubarb bed.
  16. Fence in pine trees in front pasture and move sheep into said pasture.
  17. Move Lilac out of front pasture, break-up middle pasture and move her into first section.
  18. Move pigs to other end of, what will become, the garlic patch.
  19. Lay down manure to “bake” in sun on the section pigs just rooted.
  20. Muck out chicken coop and lay down new litter for “deep bed method.”
  21. Muck out stalls and big section of barn.
  22. Pick up peaches from local orchard.
  23. Jam, can and freeze peaches.
  24. Pick rest of boysenberries off bush by barn and process.
  25. Name lambs and send in registration for all sheep.
  26. Find a Ram that fits all of our criteria and set up a plan for getting him here by October 1st, to use for breeding in November.
  27. Order hive and have beekeeper relocate the bees that have taken up residence in barn wall.
  28. Place grass-fed beef order for winter. Hopefully this will be the last time and next year we will be running our own steers.
  29. Go over budget and accounting for farm books.
  30. Work out plan for winter food storage.

Well, what do you think? Can we get it all done by next Sunday night? What is on your “To Do” list this week?

Confessions of farmer girl…and farmer boy

The keets on their first day here.

Okay I have a confession…I hate our guinea fowl. I am not alone in this, most of us dislike them, some of us with a passion, and in truth, I’m fairly certain that Kevin hates them the most of all! After all, he is the one who has to clean up the mess when a bird decides to escape its nighttime enclosure right into the path of,  what I am sure is, a fox, waiting for its midnight snack to just walk right by. That must be the laziest and fattest fox in three counties or maybe just the smartest?

Sure, they look fuzzy and cute now.

We had originally purchased these infuriating, avian bastards in the hopes that they would keep the bug and snake population, around the house, to a minimum. Our original batch of 16 keets (what they call baby guinea fowl) were the first farm animals to arrive, along with the ducks, and our first foray into keeping any kind of poultry or game birds. So, looking back now, I would say that we had become overly attached. I had heard stories about guineas taking up residence on people’s decks, porches and roofs, leaving a trail of poop behind. It didn’t deter me. I definitely dislike being chewed on by ticks and surprised by snakes more than having to deal with poop. Seriously, ever since becoming a mother of two and dog owner of one, most of my day is spent in the never-ending cycle of having to clean up someone’s poop anyway, why not add a few more butts to the rotation?

Yep, cute and not too messy…yet.

We cared and fed these little ones until they had clearly outgrown the indoor brooder, all the while, training them to come when called. We would call them, every night a dusk (the time we wanted them to come in to their enclosure once we turned them out to free range) and as we called we would feed them white millet, which, after watching them consume the first few times, I renamed “guinea crack.” Every night was a feeding frenzy! They would bite us and crawl all over each other in their need to get their fix. You can imagine how proud we felt that we were obviously going to have the best behaved guinea fowl in the neighborhood. Sure, all the old timers told us we were crazy and that the second they had the chance they would either, up and leave or just take residence on our roof and never do their intended job. Convinced that we had started training them early enough, we moved them out to an old chicken coop and kept them inside for a couple of weeks, so that they would know it was the home that they should come back to everynight.

Still cute, and still addicted to their “guinea crack.”

One afternoon, after running errands, we came home to loose guinea fowl running about the barnyard. How they got out, we will never know because upon me questioning everyone who had been near the house that day, each insist that they were either, sure to check that the door was latched and locked, or that they had been nowhere near them. Ah, but no need to panic because we had our trusty white millet to lure them back in with. I was convinced that this would just be an early test, one that would, undoubtably, prove our success in training what everyone else had deemed, an untrainable bird. Yeah, it quickly became evident that we were suffering from the disease that often afflicts those who are naive and unusually optimistic, delusionsofgranderitis! They could have cared less about us shaking that damn millet and excitedly yelling, “here birdie-birdie.” Having quickly gotten our fill of looking like, what I am sure closely resembled, acid-tripping fools who were happily talking to nonexistent birds (because, of course, they were hiding in tall weeds which made them invisible to anyone except those of us standing right next to them) and wishing to not have the neighbors, or for that matter, any inhabitants of the cars passing by the barn driveway, to think we had lost what little marbles we had left, we gave up. Kevin resorted to catching what he could, using his ever graceful technique of, “let me run full tilt at this skittish bird and at just the right moment leap through the air grabbing it without falling on it and breaking its or my neck,” while I maned the door, and placed them back in their house. We recaptured all but five, three of which took up residence in a line of pine trees, located in a near by pasture. We figured they would be smart enough to roost up in the trees at night, we were wrong! The next morning there were no guineas in the yard, only the tell-tale signs of a scuffle, one that the guineas had obviously lost.

Once we take the crazy farm kid out, what’s not to love about this bird mansion?

Having seen the fate of those we had not captured, we were understandably reluctant to release the ones who remained. Plan B became moving them in to a large and movable outdoor dog run that would protect them but also allow us to move them about. Sounds great right? Well, it is most decidedly not! They have continued to find ways to escape. Each morning begins with the question, “what’s the guinea count?” and more often than not, it is one less than the previous day. They had even started to lay eggs (baby keets you say? Maybe we could replenish the flock?) Well, being the dumbest birds we have come across, they laid them in a nest, at the very corner of the run, where something proceeded to dig and take one egg out per day. Being the kind flock-keeper that he is, Kevin moved them all into the center and those fools moved them all back to the corner. They have all disappeared now and only 5 birds, as of this mornings count, remain.

The remaining five…not quite as cute now, for numerous reasons.

I think it’s official, our first farm failure is confirmed! I think the hardest thing is our conflicting feelings. Both of us simultaneously feel, angry at their lack of senses to stay in the safe place we provided for them and their lack of survival skills to…well survive and guilty that we were unable to keep them safe. That will teach us to disregard the advice of old timers, won’t it? I have to say, and Kevin agrees, we feel better after confessing this sin. Maybe this should become a weekly post? Yes, I think that will be both cleansing for us and entertaining for you. Check back next week for: Confession Fridays-atonement of farmer girl and farmer boy.

Does anyone else have anything they would like to get of their chest this week, no judgment guaranteed! And please, do the same for us and be kind.