Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Off Work.

Posted on | April 22, 2016 | 1 Comment

Many people think the hardest part of my job is the desperate call for help, the disturbing images of injury and death.  And that probably bothers some people in EMS.  But what keeps me awake at night is when someone calls for a piece of food stuck between his teeth or the sight of a 3 year old toddling around the scene drinking Mountain Dew in a baby bottle.  But it isn’t healthy to spend my days off wondering, “What kind of person calls 911 for a piece of food stuck in his teeth???  What kind of parent gives their 3 year old Mountain Dew???  And why is that kid still using a baby bottle???  IS THIS THE WORLD THAT I AM LEAVING TO MY CHILDREN???!!!!”  Luckily, I have a farm and a garden.

Because it was finally (finally!) time to transplant the overgrown plants in the greenhouse into the garden.  Figuring out my crop rotation plan and deciphering my scribbles on the garden chart was way too mentally consuming to leave room for rumination on the state of the world.  It got even more complicated when I tried to place the companion plants to prevent pests—-better to put marigolds or nasturtiums by the squash plants?  Catnip by the eggplant or green beans?

There was lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth when I found potato sprouts in the raised bed I set aside for tomatoes.  Potatoes and tomatoes are bad for each other because they share the same diseases.  It has been 3 years since I raised potatoes in that spot and I put a solid 12″ of compost down, but I still dug up several healthy, full-sized potatoes while digging holes for my tomato starts.

Which was shocking considering this year’s potato bed didn’t grow anything except grass.

Once I had all the plants in the right place, I had to choose the number and varieties that I wanted to keep.  More zucchini, less squash because the children only eat squash if it’s hidden in the recipe.  More big tomatoes and less of the medium-sized ones because we love the large slicing type for sandwiches and a plethora of medium-sized tomatoes means I have to feel bad about not canning.  Although with 47 tomato plants giving it their all, I will still feel bad about not canning.

All the eggplant because only 8 plants germinated in the greenhouse and even they were weenie this year so a lot of them will probably get eaten by flea beetles.

I also decided to keep all the peppers.  All 75 of them.  Hard to say if it was because I had the extra space in the garden by rotating the peppers to a long raised bed in front instead of a shorter row in the back.  Or because I grew a bunch of hot peppers for the first time and wanted to try them all.  Or if I just get so tired of giving my extra plants to people who say they want them but never bother to come pick them up before they wither away in their plastic pots.  Or people who pick them up but never plant them and tell me later, with a laugh, how the plants died on their decks or garages before they had time to get them in the ground.  Or paying customers who gripe about paying $1 for a plant that I’ve been caring for since January that would cost them $4 at the local garden store.  I did put aside one unlabeled pack of pepper plants.  A Surprise Pack—I have no idea whether they are sweet peppers or spicy but they are up for grabs if you’re feeling adventurous.

Once the thinking was done, it was time for physical labor to start.  Everything got trucked down to the garden with my little wagon.  Wheelbarrows of compost were brought down to snuggle around the roots, manure from the barn piled between plants to act as fertilizer and mulch, trellises strung and stakes pounded into place.  For days I trekked the worn path between the greenhouse, the barn, and the garden; rolled up and down the driveway with my wagon.  There was no room left in my mind for worrying and wondering and the only images I carried around with me were the ones I encountered as I worked.

The salvia set off so nicely by the buttercups I never got around to weeding out of the perennial beds.

The frog eggs laid in a pot of water lilies in the koi pond.

This year’s strawberry crop.  Wild strawberries being the only strawberries that I grow.

The grass spiders or funnel weavers that have set up all over the pasture.

And tucked themselves into crannies of the garden.

The broccoli ready for harvest….

and the blueberries getting ready for a banner year.

The Silkie trailing a trio of chicks in the barnyard, despite brooding in plain sight right in middle of the buck barn.

The comfrey just big enough to cut and lay among the newly planted beds for a burst of nutrients.

The lamb’s ear that jumped outside its bed so I’ll have some to share and some to transplant to the front perennial garden.

Max the duck, who was fighting a leg injury, all recovered and resuming his place on the deck.  Where the ducks are not allowed.

Everywhere the brilliant hues of spring competing for attention.

As an added bonus on my second day of garden chores, I was in the kitchen getting a drink when the first hummingbird arrived.

And on my last day off I just finished putting in green bean and okra seeds when the rain started.  That was it.  Done.  All the veggies in the ground and ready for a wonderful forecast of showers on and off for the next 12 hours.  I had a clear head and a full garden.  Plus, since it was only early afternoon, enough time for a pedicure and a nap before the first kid got off the school bus.  Hey.  First responders have to take care of their mental health.  And gardeners who garden in flip flops need professional help for their feet.  Even if it requires a little Wine Down For What?

Wine Down for What?

I have no idea what will happen in my next 24 hour shift.  Doesn’t matter.  Whatever happens I won’t have time to stress about it afterwards.  Because as soon as I’m off I need to mulch the asparagus, clear the last of the honeysuckle in order to put the gourd plants along the fence line, replace the temporary plant labels with something more permanent, and shear the sheep and move them to the pasture under the power lines.  Plus it will be Dogwood Festival.  So I will have to eat funnel cake.  There’s nothing funnel cake can’t fix, people.  Nothing.

C’mon Already!

Posted on | April 12, 2016 | No Comments

April 15th is the last frost date for my area.

But I don’t think we can wait for warm temperatures any longer.

The squash is blooming in the greenhouse.

If it gets any bigger before being moved to the garden, it will suffer a lot of  transplant shock. Read more

Spring Science.

Posted on | March 25, 2016 | 2 Comments

I thoguht it was the Vitamin D.  After all, spring might bring a lot of chores, but it brings a lot of sunshine, too.  Perfectly warm sunshine with cooling breezes and enough shades of green to dazzle and awaken even the most bleary winter mind.  So even though the the first row of peas was being choked out by chickweed….

and the second row didn’t germinate at all….

I wasn’t too upset.   Especially since Pretty is taking Horticulture at school and weeding and resowing seeds counts as a completed homework assignment for her.  Gotta love it!

Read more

Of Course!

Posted on | February 26, 2016 | 1 Comment

I totally forgot.  Didn’t even think about it.  Not once.  Until I got home from AAA with a bag full of TripTiks and travel books and the phone rang.  My friend had a doe whose labor was not progressing.  What did I suggest?

That’s when I remembered.  Of course!  It’s kidding season!  There I was with a handful of travel plans and not a single pregnant goat in my barn and it’s kidding season for rest of my tribe!

I listened to the details:  Active labor for a little over an hour.  No stringy mucous or vaginal discharge.  Doe not in extreme distress–still comfortable and cudding between contractions.  No previous history of difficult births.  I shrugged to myself and advised my friend to wait it out.  She has as much or more experience than I have in kidding goats.  But, of course, the temptation to intervene is strong when it’s your goat struggling through labor right in front of you.  When it’s your own goat, it seems like you’ve waited 10.3 hours for a kid to be born when it’s really only been 10.3 minutes since you last peered anxiously at the doe’s nether regions.  An important responsibility during kidding season is to talk each other down from unnecessary interference.  I remembered my responsibility and I talked her down.

I told her to call me back around dinnertime if the doe had not progressed.  I made that suggestion based on the scientific medical reasoning that it is better to assist kidding when dinner is done and out of the way but before you just want to go to bed already.  I remembered how miserable it is to be hungry and tired in the midst of a kidding crisis.  Of course, veterinary medicine advises contacting the vet if kidding has not progressed after an hour of active labor, but really, what do vets know?

By 6pm the doe was still laboring with no evidence of imminent kidding—still not even any mucous.  So Pretty and I went over to have a look.  When we arrived the sun was down and the temperature was dropping fast with a chilly breeze.  Of course.  I remembered how goats love to kid on frigid February nights, always bypassing the balmy 60 degree days that are scattered throughout the month.   Although Brownie got bonus points for settling for a cold night instead of in the midst of tornados that swept through the area the day before.  We all pulled our coats tighter and nestled into the straw out of the wind. Read more

A Cold Start.

Posted on | February 21, 2016 | 1 Comment

Heavy snow and ice in February have been common the last couple years.  So last year’s garden went in later than usual to avoid a last minute freeze.  I didn’t even plant in the greenhouse until mid-March.  But I  have high hopes for this year.  I intend to take back the spring garden by force or fertilizer or flower pot heaters.  Whatever it takes.

So I started with spray paint.  The blue 55 gallon drums that I use in the greenhouse got a coat of black paint.  Since the drums were already filled with water I had to paint them in place and spend several days airing out the fumes.  I also painted the piece of scrap wood I use as potting table and considered painting all the shelves.  But I was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous from painting in an enclosed space so I decided to save that for another year.  Nothing makes you appreciate freezing 20 degree February air like staggering out of a warm cozy greenhouse filled with hazardous airborne chemicals.  Just so you know, the cheapest black spray paint found at WallyWorld is not low-VOC.  Not at all.

In any case, I think the black barrels will absorb heat better during the day and then emit it slowly during the cold nighttime hours.  And any bit of heat after the sun goes down makes a difference.

Read more

Oh, really?

Posted on | January 24, 2016 | No Comments

There was football today?  Really?  I didn’t notice at first.

Because I took advantage of the snow day to dig out my owl box.  I’ve been collecting recycling and metal odds and ends for a long time  because I wanted to make some of these owls for the garden.

I spread out all the supplies I’ve been saving and got started. Read more

Not To Scale.

Posted on | January 22, 2016 | 12 Comments

Not too long ago I sat in a continuing education class about drug addiction.  The speaker, a recovering addict, told us that on a happiness scale most people live at about a 5 or 6 out of 10 on a daily basis.  He mentioned that we generally only experience a 10 out of 10 for very special occasions—-like our wedding day or the birth of a child.  I find these to be typical examples for a man because men get to just show up at a wedding while a woman spends an entire year planning the darn thing.  And childbirth is a wondrous occasion—it’s just the 9 months of pregnancy and 6 week 8 week 12 week cesarean recovery time for the woman that drags childbirth down on the scale.  The speaker went on to say that when a drug user gets high, he gets to experience a 15 out of 10 on the happiness scale.  Pretty much euphoria.  And letting go of that 15 out of 10 in order to live at a 5 or 6 is really, really hard to do.

I checked my classmates’ expressions in my peripheral but no one seemed particularly surprised by the speaker’s happiness scale.  On break I mentioned to a co-worker that I didn’t think we all really lived at a 5 or 6 and that just reading a good book could be a 10 out of 10.  He looked at me like I was crazy and said drolly, “I’d like to read that book.”  (He can pull off droll.  He’s English.)

I was shocked.  Who has never read a book that was so good that it made you laugh out loud, cheer for the characters’ triumphs, and weep over their disappointments?!  A book so good that you couldn’t put it down but never wanted it to end?!  Isn’t that a 10?  Isn’t it? Read more

This Is Why We Clean.

Posted on | January 13, 2016 | 1 Comment

I spend a lot of mornings around the kitchen sink.  It’s where I wash the breakfast dishes, where I cut and rinse fruit and veggies for lunchboxes, where I stand and watch the birds on the feeder while waiting for coffee to brew.  Above the sink I have a row of plants on the windowsill to keep me company.  It includes a peace lily, some aloe, a Christmas cactus, and my lucky bamboo.

Tuesdays are the day set aside for bleaching the kitchen counters, table, and sink, plus wiping down all the cabinet surfaces, and cleaning out the fridge and farm fridge.  I always do the bleaching because my family sets everything on the kitchen counters and they wash their filthy hands in the kitchen sink.  Even though those are actually food prep areas—not places to put your disgusting backpack or wash your disgusting hands.  I always clean the fridges because the chickens feast on the old, crusty leftovers that I find and so I save on chicken feed.  I usually wipe down the cabinet surfaces because otherwise the attached range hood gets so dirty I have to avert my eyes when stirring pots on the stove.  But I don’t always get to bleaching and wiping the windowsill and dusting the plant leaves by spritzing them with the water sprayer.  It’s just not that dirty or that important.  A lot of times I just make sure the plants have sufficient water and then move on. Read more

Winter Duck.

Posted on | January 9, 2016 | 1 Comment

There are lots of ways to know when winter has finally arrived.  We don’t use snow or ice as an indicator around here because that is usually a surprise attack that occurs just as the season is on its way out.  And cold temperatures aren’t enough because we are lucky enough to have 70 degree days sprinkled liberally throughout November, December, and January.  For me there are 3 main signs that winter is here and the chores need to be adjusted accordingly.

First, all the leaves are finally off the trees in the winter.  During fall I spend every free afternoon attacking the leaves falling in the front and back yard.  I can’t wait until all the leaves are down to rake because the grass will get smothered long before that time.  This, of course, raises the question of why I planted grass in the woods, but I try not to think about that while I work.  Years ago I insisted The Other Half spend a lot of time and money taking down huge established hardwoods so that I could grow grass.  And I’ve been planting trees and bushes and making perennial beds to cover the grassy space ever since I discovered that grass has to raked, mowed, and seeded every year.  Luckily, the fall leaves are helpful for mulching those trees, bushes, and  perennial beds.

Now you might think that as soon as the last leaf is piled into the perennial beds I can put the rake away until next year.  Not so.  Raking the grass is a fall chore.  Raking the perennial beds is a winter chore.  Because once winter sets in, the foraging for the chickens gets a little thin and they head to the mulched trees, bushes, and perennial beds to dig up yummy worms and bugs.  So each day, as I go to the barn for feeding, I am greeted by happy, healthy free range chickens and the nicely raked mulch scattered all over the grass.  It’s hard to say if re-raking the leaves is as annoying as feeding chickens that are barely laying eggs.  It’s kind of like the grass thing.  I try not to think about it too much.

The second way I know it is winter is when I cannot put off the garden housekeeping anymore.  As night temperatures get too cold for some of the crops and as it gets so wet and rainy that the slugs advance into the crops covered by row covers, I gradually abandon the garden.  Lettuce, spinach and chard will limp along but pickings are slim and the ground really needs a rest before early spring crops go in by February.  So in winter it’s finally time to take down the remains of the summer garden and start covering the rows to smother the chickweed and henbit that want to take over.  This year I chose a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 40’s.  Which was cold enough for gloves for my fingers but warm enough for flip flops for my toes.  Perfect. Read more

Day Two.

Posted on | January 2, 2016 | 4 Comments

It’s the time of year for resolutions.  So I resolved to finish planning our trip out west this summer.  By “finish”  I mean get started and get finished.  All in one fell swoop.  Apparently the National Park rangers like to be notified that you’re coming at least 6 months in advance or they won’t hold a cabin for you.  The only problem is that if you live on the east coast and you are visiting a national park on the west coast, it’s hard to know when you might actually arrive at that National Park.   But with the Frommer’s and Fodor’s I’ve been collecting from the $1 used book store, the help of TripAdvisor, and a lot of Google maps, I made a plan.

Unfortunately, I’m starting out the New Year as a liar.  I originally told the kids that on the first summer we’d drive 1/2 way across the country, see the sights, and then come home.  Then on our second summer of travel, we’d fly to the midway point (Kansas?  Nebraska?), rent an RV to drive the rest of the way to the Pacific ocean seeing sights, and then fly home.  I’m not sure how much I thought 6 plane tickets across the country and 3 weeks of RV rental cost, but I obviously underestimated it.  By about 5 or 6 (maybe even 10) thousand dollars.  Bummer.  I hate it when I forget that I’m not rich. Read more

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