Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | December 9, 2015 | 1 Comment

When I was growing up, you actually had to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to explore Middle-earth.  I mean, the entire 1,000,000 pages.  There were no movies and no online discussion forums.  Now that I am in my forties I realize I could have skipped all the novels and just waited until I had kids in elementary school, middle school, and high school all at the same time to experience that bizarre and fantastical area stuck between two worlds.  A place of shifting alliances, constantly passing between light and darkness, where the unexpected is always around the corner.  An epic journey that leaves everyone older, wiser, and, hopefully, appreciative of the hobbit-hole called home.

During the past week I took Big, Pretty, and Middle to their first rock concert.  And I do mean, rock concert.  While my first concert was sitting across the arena from my parents at a Neil Diamond show, my kids enjoyed The Struts, New Politics, Bastille, Awolnation, and Fall Out Boy together at an event just outside Washington, D.C.

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Southern Problems.

Posted on | November 28, 2015 | 1 Comment

I know some of you already had snow.  And I feel for you.  I really do.

But today, after ignoring my garden for weeks (months?), I decided to stop by and pay it a visit.  Because after gorging ourselves on holiday food I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a few low-cal garden-fresh meals.

So I headed down there with a plan to pick a pail of  snaps peas to send in with the kids’ lunches this week.  Also to gather a bunch of lettuce to make a nice dinner salad.  Plus to dig up a few potatoes to have with parsley and chives from the herb bed.  And broccoli for a simple steamed side dish.  Voila!  An easy and healthy dinner.

We’ve had a few night time temperatures just below 30 degrees.  But the sensitive lettuces were under row covers.  The herb bed is in a sheltered spot that lets it thrive later than most other areas.  And even though the tops of the potatoes died off, the spuds themselves can stay in the ground all winter and just be harvested as needed.  The rest of the fall crops enjoy crisp temperatures and are sometimes even sweeter after a frost.

But frost wasn’t actually the problem.

Turns out the warm sunny days were too warm to counter the cooler nighttime temperatures.  And several bunches of broccoli had already gone to flower.

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Posted on | October 28, 2015 | 3 Comments

Have you heard about this?  Trigger warnings are all the rage.  Or not. Apparently, trigger etiquette is up for grabs.  I used to find the whole concept very confusing.  After all, my life might be interesting enough for an occasional blog post, but not interesting enough to result in trauma.  Or at least not the kind of trauma that can’t be fixed by meeting a friend for a hike.  Or a chocolate bar library.

Which isn’t to say I don’t have any experience with triggering events.  To me, a trigger represents the event that clearly sets another event in motion.  Sometimes, like Newton said, it is an equal and opposite reaction.  Sometimes it’s more like Karma.  Which is this:

Image result for karma

Either way, it leaves you looking back and thinking, “Uh-oh.”

For example, the kids all had well visits with their pediatrician this past summer.  I made the appointments because I am a concerned and caring parent that stays on top of her kids’ medical health.  Also, because I signed up for accident and critical illness insurance at work.  Which is usually a waste of insurance premiums.  Except, in this case, the accident and critical illness insurance provider pays out $50 for an annual well visit for each covered member.  For my family of 6 that translates into a $300 payout.  Since the accident and critical illness insurance only costs a $294.17 a year, our coverage turns to be free.  As long as we get our well visits.  Which are covered for free under our regular health insurance.  That proves there is an advantage to having 4 kids.  I’ll try not to spend my $5.83 all in one place. Read more


Posted on | October 21, 2015 | 2 Comments

Despite being the smaller and skinnier German Shepherd, Luna is the fierce one. Don’t be fooled.

She stands on the front door, nails scrabbling madly on the window sill, barking at new arrivals.  Which serves in place of a doorbell for us.  She cannot be trusted around small livestock—she salivates through the fence at goat kids, leaves a swath of dead chickens in her path, and feels free to rid the barn of barn cats.  She cannot even be left unsupervised with my mom’s rat terriers because I’m not sure she really believes that they are dogs.  Although, in her defense, none of us are really sure about that.

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Old Friend.

Posted on | October 19, 2015 | 1 Comment

This is how it happens.  Every year.  I watch the weather reports, I pay attention to the chill as soon as the sun slips below the horizon, I note the heavy dew in the mornings.  But the first frost is not as predictable as the forecasters like to believe.  I planned for Sunday night.  Just like the meteorologist told me as I sipped my morning coffee.  So, in preparation, I set up heat lamps in the kidding barn.  Even though the babies insisted on laying everywhere except under the warmth and light.

I brought in the aloe plants.  Which had flourished so much over the summer…..

….that there were tons of aloe babies to share.

And then I figured the rest of the work could wait until Sunday.  But by Saturday afternoon the temperature was dropping even quicker than the sun.  And by the time dinner was over, I knew it was time to recheck the weather channel.  Which was calling for frost.  By Saturday night, not Sunday night.

So The Other Half and I made our annual, last minute, frantic trek in the darkness—-down to the garden, around the barn, into the woodshed.  Impossible to say how many years Jack Frost has watched us rushing through the dark, shivering in summer clothes, gathering what can’t be protected, covering what we hope to save.  The Other Half emptied the plastic waterers that risked a rupture if they froze and expanded.   I started laying row covers over the lettuce, unscrewed the hose, picked tomatoes and eggplants.  We met by the peppers and I lifted branches and plucked the last of the summer’s crop while The Other Half held the flashlight in one hand and folded hot peppers into his shirt with the other. Read more

A Good Day.

Posted on | October 11, 2015 | 4 Comments

There are days when it all seems worth it.  Days when the hard work starts to pay off.  Days when it all goes as planned.  Those days are good days.

On a cool sunny afternoon this week, the pigs were loaded up and taken to market.  We’ve butchered our pigs ourselves in the past.   But 2 pigs takes up an entire day and I couldn’t face the time and effort put into butchering 4 pigs.  Plus 4 pigs was 3 pigs too many for our freezer and taking the pigs to a state inspected butcher enabled us to feel comfortable selling the extra meat as well as getting custom cuts for which we don’t have the proper equipment.  So with the help of a borrowed livestock trailer, a piece of ply wood for a ramp, a few cattle panels to encourage them down the right path, and, of course, a pail of milk and grain, we let the pigs off their pasture and tried heading for the truck.

They were good pigs that day.  They were actually good pigs the entire time they were here.  It’s doubtful that our field fencing could have resisted an assault from 4 pigs, even before they reached 250 lb pigs.  Even if the fence was strong enough, the fact that it didn’t reach the ground in a whole lot of places made a determined attempt unnecessary.  A simple snout push would have been enough to set them free.  But they didn’t really have it in them.

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Truth in Tomatoes.

Posted on | October 9, 2015 | No Comments

The various tomato seeds I bought in February in a fit of winter doldrums (well played, seed catalog, well played) have shown themselves.  This summer the tomatoes exploded and, in an amazing triumph, the plant labels were still intact.  So I actually knew which variety was which and how it performed.  Oh, there were struggles in the beginning.  When the fruit first set, I found an assortment of the usual problems—-bacterial speck, blossom end rot, and early blight.

I even had some leaf roll in the newest tomato bed which I attribute to the manure being too hot or too much nitrogen from the shredded leaf debris that made up the base of the bed.

But I pruned the plants heavily this year.  Very heavily—all the stems were pinched off below the first blossoms, leaving the bottoms bare, and the foliage was trimmed so sunlight came through easily.

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Winner! Winner! Peppers for Dinner!

Posted on | October 6, 2015 | No Comments

The peppers were getting out of hand.  We had to switch from roasting them over the burner to putting entire cookie sheets of peppers under the broiler.

After they were scorched on top, we sealed them up in the tin foil and let them steam for 10-15 minutes until we could easily peel off the skins.  Some of them went into the freezer. But we made a lovely batch of roasted jalapeno guacamole that I served with grilled eggplant and zucchini, as well as salsa from the garden, all tucked together on hamburger buns with a slice of provolone cheese.  I called these “veggie burgers,” for which I received a lot of kickback.  Pretty explained that veggies burgers were vegetables all smushed together on a bun.  I glanced at the cut up eggplant and zucchini smushed onto a bun and covered with salsa, guacamole, and cheese.  Um,…OK, not a veggie burger?  At least the guac didn’t receive any complaint.  And veggies always go down good wrapped in bread.  With cheese.

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Peppers for Dummies.

Posted on | October 3, 2015 | No Comments

The peppers got a new raised bed this year and it didn’t go well.  About 1/3 of the bell pepper plants got green and glossy and then wilted.

Generally, wilted peppers are a sign of fungal disease.  But since my peppers started out as lush plants, I suspected excessive nitrogen.  The raised bed was layers of manure and mulched leaf debris and it only sat for about 4 months before planting.  Which might not have been enough time for everything to break down and balance out.  At least I hoped it was a nitrogen problem.  The excessive nitrogen will fix itself over time.  The fungus will require crop rotations or new soil.  Of course, this was going on, too.

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Throw Back Thursday: Wings.

Posted on | September 16, 2015 | 7 Comments

I tasted it for the first time last summer.  It had been a long time since I traveled up north with the kids.  The last time I loaded them up in the car and drove them to see my aunts and uncles and their great-grandmother, we all looked like this:

You might notice that 1 of the kids wasn’t even born yet.  Little is missing from that picture.  But driving that far with 3 kids was enough to convince me that I never, ever, ever wanted to do it with 4.  Until last summer. Read more

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