Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

It’s What’s For Dinner.

Posted on | June 5, 2015 | No Comments

You know when you’re weeding in the garden and you start thinking to yourself, “What am I making for dinner?”

And then the kids come down from the backyard and ask, “What’s for dinner?”

And you stroll through the garden rows and find this:

So you carry it up to the house and ask Google, “What can I make for dinner with fresh zucchini, squash, onions, and chives?”

And Google says, ” You can make zucchini hash, of course.”

Zucchini Hash

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Posted on | June 3, 2015 | 1 Comment

Gardening is all about the long run.  The last 2 years we’ve had the best gardens we’ve ever had.  Which is not surprising.  10 years of building the soil plus 10 years of experience along the way eventually starts to pay off.  We finally realized it takes an entire row of snap peas to produce enough peas for a family of 6.  This is the first year we’ve had enough peas to share instead of the kids gobbling up the entire crop in one handful.  It’s only the second year we’ve produced straight carrots, thanks to finally growing them in containers instead of in the ground.  The third year we’ve grown everything for the summer garden from the greenhouse. (Well, almost everything.  Stupid eggplants.)  The fourth year we’ve successfully grown potatoes in straw, both spring and fall.  The fifth year we’ve had crops all year long using row covers and frost cloth.  But sometimes it’s the little accomplishments that are the most enjoyable.

For years I’ve planted cleome in empty tires at the edge of the raised veggie beds.  I spotted a large bed of these flowers when visiting Old Sturbridge one summer and I was trying to recreate the effect.  But every year the flowers struggled.  They had a poor germination rate and the plants that did grow were weak and spindly and only threw up a few flower heads in early fall.  It didn’t make any sense.  How was it warm enough in a colonial village in Massachsuetts but not the right temperature here?  I also had to hunt down the seeds in the store every spring because mine never self-sowed while most gardeners considered them almost invasive.

And then it happened.  Inexplicably, little cleome sprouts were evident in the tires by early May.  There were actually little patches all over the garden.

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The Horror.

Posted on | May 29, 2015 | 2 Comments

It was a scary day in the garden.  After a couple days of heat and thunderstorms I knew some of the tomatoes would need more support stakes.  The wind and sideways rain were sure to have toppled the spindly ones.  While I was down there I decided to put in the last of the squash and cucumbers.  By staggering the planting and placing them in a different section of the garden I hoped to throw off the squash bugs that were beginning to arrive.  I also removed the straw covering the raised bed adjacent to the bean trellis and sowed a fresh crop of lettuce and spinach seeds.  I hoped the quickly growing green beans would provide enough shade to keep them cool.  I put more mulch on the onions, weeded the asparagus, and picked a basket full of snap peas for the third day in a row.  All of that was normal.  No problems.

But the storm also caused the winter kale to keel over.  I left it to bolt—-serving as a trap crop for cabbage worms and also providing some flowers for early pollinators.  Now the blossoms on their lanky stalks were all knocked down into the rows, sprawled onto the potatoes and peppers.  Since the spring kale was already established I knew it was time for the old stuff to be ripped up.  Which is when I ran into trouble.  I had a sinking feeling when I spotted some fluff on the greens.

No, you didn’t, I thought.  No.  You.  Didn’t. Read more


Posted on | May 28, 2015 | 2 Comments

There were some things I never thought I’d see.  Oh, I knew other people had them.  I just figured they weren’t for regular ol’ me.  When we finally got one of those fridges with water and ice in the door I was thrilled.  It was a used fridge and by that time everyone else had moved on to fancy water filters right on their taps, but still.  It was high end for those of us used to hand-me-down appliances, furniture, and clothing.  And it freed up the ice cube trays for making and freezing pesto.   Because, back then, pesto was the new pizza sauce for fancy people with fancy fridges.  Also, you know, this Basil Monster in the garden:

However, when we were packing for our Mother’s Day trip to the beach this year and discovered the hot water heater was broken (Yeah! Happy Mother’s Day!  Cold showers for everyone!), I figured we’d settle for hauling it out and replacing it with more of the same.  I thought I could angle for turning up the temperature a bit or maybe a tank that held a few more gallons.  But I was still resigned to at least 5 more years of laying exhausted and dirty on the couch at night, waiting for the hot water to recover after the bathing of 4 children before I could scrub off my own barn grime.  Which sucked but didn’t suck as bad as when I got in the shower and had to turn the water on and off between soaking, soaping, and rinsing in order to preserve the little bit of warmth remaining in the pipes.  I’m not fancy enough for Misogi, people.  Not even close. Read more

When A Friday Stroll Becomes A Monday Workout.

Posted on | May 22, 2015 | 1 Comment

The garden needed to be mowed and weeded.  The tomatoes needed to be pruned and staked.  The peas needed to be harvested.  But after heavy thunderstorms yesterday, everything needed to dry out.  So I leashed up the dogs to enjoy a stroll with morning temperatures in the 60’s.

“Isn’t a beautiful day?”  I asked the dogs as we cruised, windows down, to the mountain trail.

“So nice and cool!”  I exclaimed to them as we meandered through the deserted first loop of the trail, rolling Piedmont forest and gentle slopes.

We passed a lone fisherman at the pond.  He smiled and touched his cap.

“Sure is a shame everyone else’s gotta work, huh?”  he smirked.

“I know, right,” I grinned.

The dogs and I rounded the corner and headed up the backside of the mountain.  That’s when it happened.

Right on the steep part of the trail. Read more

Work Zone.

Posted on | May 14, 2015 | 1 Comment

The honeymoon stage in the garden was short-lived this year.  Usually the cool weather keeps the spring crops enjoyably free of bug bites.  But the slugs appeared in the lettuce and radish as soon the plants began to flourish.  And, since I planted late this year, the summer crops were already under attack.  I put my greenhouse transplants into the ground the first week of May.  So far weeding and watering were my only concerns.  But this week I dragged my arsenal of supplies out of the shed and started the real work of the season.

I noticed ants in 2 of the garden beds when I first put in the watermelons and the tomatoes.  The red ants announced themselves to my ankles immediately upon my turning the soil with the trowel.  Their tunnels were obvious and, not surprisingly, located close to the empty tires I use for sunflowers and zinnias.  The black ants appeared as singletons as I planted, no signs of frantic retreat, attack, or egg carrying.  I hoped cultivating the soil was enough to cause the red ants to relocate and that the paucity of the black ants meant they weren’t firmly established.  Hah!  The watermelon plants were nibbled to bits by black ants in the first week and caging the tomatoes was only accomplished in spurts between slapping red ants off my feet and calves.

So that end of the garden got a nice dusting of DE.  Will these melons survive after being eaten from vigorous transplants into just a few leaves with a withered stem?

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The Mathematics of Pigs.

Posted on | May 11, 2015 | 4 Comments

Some things defy the general rules of mathematics.  Two plus two doesn’t always equal four.  Takes pigs, for example.  Pigs are evidence that some things are not linear but, instead, add up exponentially.  When we had one pig, Papa Noel, he was just one more animal added to the barn yard.  He hung out with the other animals, inside the same fencing, and shared the automatic waterer.  He made one wallow, we bought one hog feeder and picked up one extra bag of grain while we were buying the rest of our farm feed, and we went about our business.  We were as happy as he was.

The following year we got two pigs, Penny and Pushy.  It quickly became clear that two pigs were too many to run around loose in the barnyard.  They outgrew the kidding barn where we kept Papa as a piglet within just a couple weeks and needed to go to the garden to turn over the grass and root out the wild blackberry while we set up some other fencing.  I used to scoop Papa up under one arm and carry him from place to place as a piglet.  Which I couldn’t do with two pigs.  I also used the feed bucket to tempt Papa in the direction I wanted him to go so I figured I’d do that to move Penny and Pushy.  Which was when I discovered that two pigs were more than twice the work of one.  Just because one pig is following the feed bucket doesn’t mean the other one isn’t dashing around the woods, rooting under fallen logs and scarfing up acorns.  In addition, it’s impossible to keep one pig corralled while simultaneously chasing down the other one.  Moving two pigs out of the barn yard, down the driveway, and into the garden wasn’t a smooth operation.  That’s all I care to remember about that.

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Posted on | May 4, 2015 | 4 Comments

I am a full time mother first.  I know this because if I should wake up in the middle of the night, I immediately lay there quietly, listening intently, trying to figure out if it was a sound from a child’s room that woke me up.  Is there a kid in the bathroom, is he throwing up and, most important, did he make it to the toilet before he threw up? Is that a kid crying or just laughing with his brother long after he should be asleep?  Is that the hall light someone left on or the glow of a laptop screen and is she working on homework or still up texting?  Once I have determined it is just one of the dogs roaming around (it’s always those dogs!), I think to myself, “Is it a school day?”  And then my mind spirals off wondering what to pack for lunches, if anyone has an orthodontist appointment, is there a sports game (requiring a clean uniform) or just a practice, and can I get away with pancakes for dinner (breakfast-for-dinner is everyone’s favorite) or do I need to plan something with vegetables.  This is what mothers wonder about in the middle of the night.

Being a wife, a daughter, the maid, and having a “real” job can only be pondered once I’ve determined whether everybody can ride the bus home or someone needs to be picked up after school from chorus, where I put the field trip permission slip that a kid asked me to sign and return, and whether each kid has shoes that fit.  With the soles still intact, not peeling away from the uppers. Read more


Posted on | April 15, 2015 | 1 Comment

Occasionally, taking care of the farm is like walking hand in hand with a friend.  The connection is strong and comfortable and its overwhelming power is inexplicable.

Despite my worries over the late start of the greenhouse, the seedlings are flourishing.  They won’t all be ready to go in the garden by the last frost date in our area, which is today (which is also the tax date in case you need to stop reading this and go to the post office to postmark something).  But even the smallest ones should be big enough to put out the first week of May.  Which is fine since the smallest ones are the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs and they prefer warmer May temperatures anyway.  A couple weeks of temperatures in the 70’s-80 during the day and 60’s at night gave the seeds a jump start and even allowed me to just leave the greenhouse door open most of the time.  So the annoying task of opening the door or vents during warm daytime hours and closing them for chilly nights was limited to just a few days.  Apparently, a late start was exactly what was called for this year.

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Wait for it. Wait for it….

Posted on | March 18, 2015 | No Comments

I can’t wait any longer.  I really can’t.  Even though the 15 day forecast (Hah! Like they can predict the weather 15 days in advance!) is still calling for nights in the 30’s.  Even worse, a lot of the days are predicted to be cloudy or overcast.  Which means the passive solar heat in my greenhouse will be more passive and less heat.  But it’s the end of March!  End of March!  The summer transplants need 6 weeks of growing before they are set out in the garden.  Around here I can usually plant tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, and squash seeds in the greenhouse in mid-February and put my plants in the garden at the end of March with a floating row cover to protect against a light frost.  But it’s already end of March!!  Did I mention end of March?!

None of the preferred lunar calendar planting days in March match up with planting weather.  The Farmers Almanac calls for continued cool and rain throughout March.  I should wait for April.  I cannot wait for April.  I cannot.

I tried to satisfy my planting urges by pruning the collards and the brussels sprouts.  I should pull up the brussels sprouts because the remaining sprouts have gotten moldy or leafy and conventional wisdom says the plants won’t regrow fresh sprouts if trimmed back to the main stem.  However, many of the plants became top heavy, leaned onto their sides, and wherever the sprouts touched the ground, they grew roots, and appear to be growing new plants.  Who am I to mess with a plant trying to defy conventional wisdom?

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