Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Throwback Thursday: Kick Off.

Posted on | October 30, 2014 | No Comments

With frost in the forecast for this weekend, I headed down to the garden for some clean-up of the summer veggies and to put down floating row covers for the fall crops.  Sheets would be used to cover the most prolific tomato plants as well as some of the eggplant and peppers.  Plus, I was hoping to save the only 2 vines that survived in the pumpkin patch, especially this snake gourd.

Imagine my surprise when I found my asparagus plants flourishing among the Johnson grass and honeysuckle on the garden fence.

I carefully pulled out the riffraff to expose the plants.  Weeding asparagus is fairly easy because they have a unique fern-like foliage….

and distinctive roots.  Although the roots should actually be underneath the soil instead of exposed on the surface like mine.

I planted my asparagus crowns too shallowly last spring.  And I failed to “properly prepare the bed” by ensuring it was free of weed seeds or other roots.  None of which I knew I was supposed to do because I put in the asparagus before the farming kick off in April.

Around here, kick off is the annual Farm Tour in April.  On Saturday of the tour, the kids and I volunteer at a friend’s farm, signing in guests, directing traffic, and hauling Simon and Isaac (the Shetland sheep) along for petting.  In return for our volunteer work, we get to tour as many other participating farms as we want for free on Sunday.

That’s when I pick up tons of handy gardening tips for me and nifty farm construction projects for The Other Half.  I covet my neighbor’s livestock (oooh, alapcas and donkeys and mini-Zebus!) and chuckle quietly at the mistakes some are making that I’ve already survived (no, chicken wire does not keep out predators).  I commiserate with those who are repairing old barns and making do with fences that were already in place for 10 years when they bought the place and try to smile politely at the people with barns full of hot water, bleachable concrete slabs, and mechanized gates on timers because they “decided to build it right the first time.”

Too bad some of those farm tour tips came a little too late.  Like the planting instructions I picked up for asparagus.

I managed to salvage the asparagus bed.  Some careful weeding and a side dressing of compost fixed it right up.

But it might have been easier if I’d planted them correctly  from the start.  If the kick off had come just a little bit earlier….

The Kick Off.

Farmers tend to live freestyle.  We’re used to thinking outside of the box because the box is never big enough or strong enough to hold all the chicks, goats, lambs, tomato slips, seed potatoes, or blueberry bushes that we have planned for the farm in a particular year.  Around here the annual Farm Tour is the best place to find out what local farmers are doing to break new ground, explore new ideas, and push the limits of their boxes.  In suitable fashion, we arrived to volunteer at our friend’s farm with a truck bed full of kids and sheep in a portable pen created out of spare cattle panels and bungee cords.

I’m not actually sure if it’s legal to travel this way on the roads.  You’d think with all those car seat requirements, the law wouldn’t approve of children traveling in the back of a truck bed assigned to keep the sheep from jumping out.  But I’m not about to ask at the local DMV.  Better just to keep to the backroads.

The kids were in charge of sign-in and hand sanitizing instructions (because kids who didn’t grow up dropping their pacifiers in the barn and then putting it back in their mouth can actually get sick from petting farm animals), while Simon and Isaac greeted the visitors.

In slow moments during the tour, I eyeballed the fiber goodies on the deck….

while recommitting myself to my spinning endeavors.  As soon as the temperatures warm up, I find myself putting down the carders and the knitting needles in lieu of other activities.  Once the evenings are chilly and the mornings are frigid I start thinking of all the wool in the craft closet.  And all the knitted gifts I wanted to make for Christmas.  Except now I have just a few months to wash it, card it, spin it, and knit it.  Why do I do that?  Why???

While I pondered the existential dilemmas of fleece, the kids kept themselves busy with other activities.

Masking tape bowling.  With Little acting as goal in place of pins.

Bows and arrows.

And, um,…this….

When the tour finished for the day, we checked out the baby bunnies for ourselves….

petted the Angora goat kids….

and rounded up some lambs that got separated from their moms in the all the hoopla.  By “separated” I mean the lambs could see the pasture that their moms were in and could easily fit through the field fence to reach them.  After all, they got “separated” by squeezing out through that same fence.  But for several hours the lambs had been running around frantically and bawling desperately because they couldn’t figure out how to get back in.  Because they’re lambs.  Which means they are sheep.  Which means they do “cute” a whole lot better than “smart.”

The next day we met up with a friend and her kids to tour some of the other farms.  Driving from farm to farm can be tedious as they can be located a good distance apart.  Letting the kids have friends along keeps the whining to a minimum.  Or at least gives me my own friend to whine to about the kids’ whining.  Which seems fair.

The usual suspects were all present and accounted for at local farms.



chickens and goats…..


and cows.

There was the norm (like escaping goat kids)….

and the novel (like sitting pigs).

Big found a tree you could climb inside….

I found a blacksmith shop where The Other Half could learn to make things for the farm….

and even my friend and I got in on the fun.

It’s easy to be happy in April.  When the chickens are laying again, it’s still too early for squash bugs in the garden, and the kids aren’t out of school yet.

At the last farm we toured they were growing herbs for tea.  There, among the chamomile and mint, was a bed of asparagus that looked just like this:

Since I had just planted some asparagus crowns in March, I asked how their harvest was going.

The farmer shrugged.

“Well, they’re only a few years old and we didn’t pretreat the bed for weed seeds so that’s why the plants are getting crowded out by weeds.  But we trenched them a good 8″ down and planted them 2′ apart to leave room for the roots to expand.  So as long as we stay on top of the weeds we’ll continue to get a better crop each year.”


My friend and I looked at each other.  She had planted asparagus earlier that spring, too.

“Did you dig a trench for your asparagus?”  I asked.

She shook her head.

“How about pretreat for weeds?”

She shook her head again.

“Leave room for expansion?”

To that she replied with a question of her own.

“Did you even know they needed room to expand their roots?”  she asked me.

“No,” I said sadly.  “I kind of just turned over the soil with a shovel, planted all those crowns right next to each, and then put the soil back on top”

“Me, too,”  she agreed.

Which is why we’re friends.

And why the Farm Tour should be in March instead of April.  To keep some of us from getting off to a bad start and kicking off ahead of time.  Sorry, asparagus.  Better luck next year.

Not Ebola.

Posted on | October 17, 2014 | 2 Comments

So it was Super Double Coupons at Harris Teeter.  Which is about the only time I step foot into the Teeter.  ‘Cause the Food Lion is more my economic style.  But when Teeter is willing to double coupons up to $2.00 face value, it catches my attention.  We don’t have a Teeter in my town so sometimes the savings isn’t worth the gas money.  As fate would have it, though, we had dentist appointments across the street from the Teeter on the same day that the Super Doubles started.  Of course, I knew the freebies would be picked over by the time we arrived in the late afternoon.  Apparently, people are waiting at the doors on the morning of the sale to clean out the Super Doubles freebies.  But by arriving at 4:30pm I would get some free items as well as a free afternoon snack for all the kids.  The Teeter leaves out free samples of cheese, fruit, luncheon meat, and cookies everyday.  Suckers.

I was happy with the savings.  We spent $31.23 and saved $84.24 in coupons.  It was the usual assortment of items we would never buy unless they were free or under $.50.  Like the Hormel Corned Beef Hash which Big loves for breakfast but leaves the house smelling like wet cat food at 6:30am.  The GoGoSqueeze apple strawberry applesauce that has already been rejected in 3 out of 4 lunchboxes.  The OIKOS Chocolate on Top Raspberry Truffle Greek yogurt which does not, disappointingly, taste like a chocolate bar.  As well as some useful items like Lance Variety packs of snack crackers, Pepperidge Farm frozen garlic bread, McCormick cinnamon, McCormick parsley flakes, and Mueller’s pasta. Read more


Posted on | October 15, 2014 | 3 Comments

Hey.  Who ordered pizza?

Wait a minute.  That’s not pizza.

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Posted on | October 10, 2014 | No Comments

We had a lovely vacation.  And I was mentally prepared for whatever was waiting at home.  After all, everything likes to get sick and die as soon as I step foot off the property.  That’s how powerful I am.  My presence alone keeps everything flourishing.  Either that or my system of farming is so complicated and haphazard that no one stands a chance of keeping it all together while I’m gone.  Let’s just say it’s the former, not the latter.

In any case, I only lost 2 chickens (the crested Polish, of course) and 1 of the goats was reportedly a royal beeyatch on the milkstand.  All tolerable.  Especially as a trade off for a week of this:

I was nervous about the garden, though.  Most of the fall plants were seedlings or delicate transplants when we left.  I had no idea whether there had been insufficient rainfall or a drenching strong enough to drown them while we were gone.  The plants could have withered and died in extreme heat or been choked out by henbit or chickweed in pleasant, moderate temperatures.  So imagine my surprise when I came around the corner in the garden and found this:

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Throwback Thursday I:Biodynamics.

Posted on | September 18, 2014 | No Comments

Because I am incredibly hip, I have decided to join the Throwback Thursday trend on social media.  No, I’m not going to get twitter or instagram and I promise I will never hashtag anything.  Mostly because the # symbol means “number” to me.  It has already been hijacked to mean “pound” on occasion. I think it makes life way too complicated to also have it represent “hashtag.”  Besides, it seems unfair.  Why so much attention for # ??  What do the people on social media have against ^ or {  ?  Those guys are totally underutilized.

I am also going to spare you any pictures of me in my 80’s hairstyle.  Primarily because I still wear my hair the way I did in the 80’s so you people get to see that every day.  Enjoy.

I also won’t bother to post any pictures of the kids when they were little because it’s too hard to resist the embarrassing photos.  The ones I am hoarding to display at the kids’ weddings.  Like this one of Middle playing princess and “breastfeeding” his baby.  In all his finery.  Because real princesses breastfeed, people.

Oh, wait,  I said I wasn’t going to do that.  Whoops.  Sorry, Middle. Read more

Work Out.

Posted on | September 15, 2014 | 2 Comments

I see what you’re doing there.  Posting your daily workout so you can keep track of your progress, make everyone else feel fat and lazy, and encourage and inspire the rest of us.

That’s sweet.  I appreciate it.

Thank you.

I’d like to participate in this new fitness trend but my daily workout usually consists of walking on the treadmill at the gym in order to get a glimpse of satellite television for 30 minutes.   I don’t have a “leg day” or “chest & back day” as much as I have “Celebrity News on E! day” and “Alaska: The Last Frontier day.”  Which is more entertaining and doesn’t have all the horrible side effects.

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Head of Household.

Posted on | September 10, 2014 | 3 Comments

The yellow jackets have lost their minds.  With the insects and nectar that they usually feed upon beginning to dwindle, they are hungry and irritable.  In addition, their colonies have had the entire summer to expand into huge hives hidden underground or in leaf debris.  Although the worker bees may not realize only the inseminated queen will survive the winter, they sure act as if their days are numbered and they are going to take as many humans down with them that they can.

I hit the first nest with the lawnmower in the front yard.  Luckily, I was casually pushing the mower, ran over the nest, and kept going.  Clueless.  It was only when I finished that row of grass and turned to start the next row that I looked back and saw a huge swarm of yellow jackets, angrily buzzing in my wake.  Either I ran directly over the nest or close enough to it that I had triggered the attack.  But since I moved away slowly (mowing the lawn in full sun and high humidity is not a game of speed), the yellow jackets seemed confused about my role in the drama.  Swift movements attract yellow jackets exiting the nest in defense because even bees know that only guilty people run.  Being a slow-moving, nonchalant, blob about 20 feet away was less suspicious.  Which goes to show that ignorance is a defense on occasion.

The second nest was a bit more problematic.

I staggered out of bed after night shift to find Pretty and her friend rushing inside, slamming cabinet doors, and babbling excitedly.  I wasn’t going to ask what happened before I had a cup of tea, but they quickly told me that they had run into a bunch of yellow jackets and been stung multiple times.

“How many times?”  I asked.

“Oh, like 10, no 13, maybe more!”

Now I was awake.

“What?  Where?”  Then, “Oh, jeez, you’re not allergic to bee stings, right?”  I asked Pretty’s friend.

She assured me that she wasn’t and the girls went on to tell me that they had been up on the barn roof.  They started kicking off the piles of leaf debris from last fall.  Of course, they hit a yellow jacket nest and were swarmed by the bees.  Pretty managed to climb back down the ladder off the roof and fled into the woods.  Her friend just jumped off the roof and ran through the back yard.  Apparently they spent some time tearing off pieces of clothing and shaking out their hair to free trapped bees before stumbling into the house looking for anti-itch cream.  Sure enough, their hands and arms, legs and knees, necks and faces were covered with angry red blotches. Read more

The Cost of Carrots.

Posted on | September 1, 2014 | 6 Comments

This was the first year that I grew carrots in containers.  I did it because this guy told me to.  I found his instructive video by typing “growing carrots, lazy” into the search engine.  The best gardening tip I can give you is to always add a comma and “lazy” when searching the internet for garden plans.  I used to add the word “easy,” but obviously “easy” means different things to different people.  “Easy” method suggestions included digging garden beds down to 18″ deep and making your own seed tape with flour, water, scissors, toilet paper, ruler, paintbrush, blah, blah, horribly not-easy-at-all blah.  In fairness, I consider myself more “time-crunched” than “lazy.”  But the internet gets too confused if you search for “growing carrots, time-crunched.”  Everybody’s pretty much on the same page for “lazy.”

As it turned out, planting carrots in containers was a wonderful idea.  My parents left a bunch of empty patio containers here last year.  I carried them to the garden.  Filled them up with wheelbarrows of compost from the chicken pasture.  Sprinkled the carrot seeds in rows that I dug with my index finger.  Covered the rows back over with soil using the palm of my hand.  Easy.  Lazy.  Whatevs.

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The Do Over.

Posted on | August 31, 2014 | 6 Comments

Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t get a do over in life.  Because you do.  Happens all the time.  Especially around here.  Around here we rarely get anything right on the first try.  So we have a lot of empathy for anyone or anything that needs a second chance.

Orphans and strays are our specialty. Making use of others’ scraps and discards is our forte.  If it can be rehabbed or recycled, then we’re up for the job.

Oh, I know what people say.  A penny wise and a pound foolish.  Save now, pay later.  But cheap or free isn’t just too tempting for us to resist.  This farm was built on things that other people just didn’t need any more.

The picnic table that we got from a neighbor that became the center of the barnyard.

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That Friday Feelin’.

Posted on | August 29, 2014 | No Comments

You know that Friday feelin’?

When you’re well rested, the first kids get on the bus at 6:30am, the last one gets on at 8:15am, and the whole day stretches out before you.

When The Other Half left the kitchen spotless and there are clean milk jars in the dishwasher.

When the trail of feathers in the barnyard makes you think Bella ate the guinea last night but she appears at the feed trough after all—-alive and gobbling breakfast (just covered in slobber and missing all her tail feathers).

When you’ve whittled down your To Do list all week long so all that’s left is “Schedule Dentist Appts” which you don’t have to do because there isn’t a dentist office anywhere that is open on Fridays.

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