Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Patience and Hope.

Posted on | September 11, 2015 | No Comments

Several years ago we bought some pathetic root-bound peach and pear trees from a nursery closing down for the approaching winter.  They were only $5 each and came without any guarantees.  Which was fine because we lacked any open sunny places to plant them.  $5 was all we wanted to spend for trees that we were going to plant in a section of ground that received only filtered sunlight until about 1pm and then scorching heat until sundown.  Since the area also bordered the road, the trees would have to survive exhaust, the reckless mowing of DOT crews in the right-of-way, and the onslaught of any deer that happened to amble by.  The only encouraging sign that a tree might survive under those conditions was that grass grew fairly well in that location.

The peaches folded in the first season.  We cleared around their desolate corpses, brown sticks wrapped with flagging tape, for 3 years.  Because patience and hope are free and, sometimes, surprisingly effective on a farm.  But last summer I finally lifted the dry stalks out of the ground and tossed them into the surrounding woods.  I figured it was a lost cause and, besides, the pear trees were finally warranting some attention.

Both trees leafed out in the first year, but were brutally eaten back by the deer.  The smaller tree still sports angled branches from where the deer snapped them in their feast.

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Throw Back Thursday: Wedding Blues.

Posted on | September 10, 2015 | 2 Comments

Most of my writing-time was replaced with kid-time over the summer.  Also, weeding-the-garden-time.  And the always enjoyable mowing-the-yard-again-time.  But I did take some pictures and I did have some thoughts.  They were random thoughts then and are mostly irrelevant thoughts now, but isn’t the entire point of a blog to force other people to read your random, irrelevant thoughts??  Suckers.

Assume this random irrelevant-ness happened sometime over the summer.  And I just didn’t have time to write about it while doing otherwise important tasks like screaming at the kids to feed the dogs, empty the dishwasher, and go the heck outside already.

Wedding Blues

While checking the fence line for breaks, I discovered a profusion of wildflowers tangled in and around the chicken wire.  I wasn’t surprised that they were flourishing in a spot where the lawn mower and the ruminants couldn’t reach them.  But it did seem noteworthy that so many of them were shades of blue and purple.

Oh, there were these guys, of course.

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Appreciation Days.

Posted on | September 6, 2015 | 2 Comments

This is how we are, people.  It’s true.  We want, but we don’t appreciate.  We waste, and then act surprised when it’s gone.   The first squash of the season was a delectable thrill.  The blinding yellow of the crookneck and sunburst, the pure white scallop, the endless shades of green and grey.  The first taste of summer’s upcoming bounty.

We started with sautés and then moved into our tried and true favorites—grilled and drizzled with olive oil, roasted with butter and garlic, zucchini bread, squash casserole, fritters.  We fought valiantly with squash bugs and picked early and often to ensure a prolific crop.  When the harvest was sufficiently established, we began to share with friends and family.  When it was abundant, we carried the extra to neighbors and co-workers.  When it became overwhelming, no one was allowed to leave the property without an armload of squash.

Eventually we were simply picking squash for the goats, pigs, and chickens.  Because no one else would eat it.  We stopped spraying for pests and considered the plants to be a trap crop—-keeping squash bugs safely away from the rest of the burgeoning garden produce.  When the plants withered and died in the middle of July it was like a reprieve.

Until it wasn’t. Read more

Pictures? Really?

Posted on | August 24, 2015 | 3 Comments

I was going to make a post about how I am still alive.  Because people have been asking.  But the kids were out of school, which meant I spent my time alternating between dragging kids off their laptops, iPads, and Kindles and forcing them outside and driving them to their jobs, activities, and friends’ houses.  Whenever I put my foot down and demanded a day of “rest” (meaning a day spent working in the barn or garden), the punks would call up their friends, shamelessly invite themselves over, and trick some other poor parent into picking them up.  I’m not exactly sure if that skill translates into politics or pharmaceutical sales in their future, but it was alarming.

Occasionally a child would be carried off to my parents’ house to “help out” (meaning short bursts of chore-like activity interspersed with lunch and shopping) which meant we were at least down a player or two.  And Little often disappeared on sleepovers that lasted 2 or 3 days.  I’m sure the parents wondered why I never called to see when he was coming home.  But, honestly, I often forgot when a kid was somewhere else and when he or she was just hiding somewhere out of sight to play on electronics.  Plus, sometimes the noise level around here made me think they were all at home anyway. Read more

Field Day.

Posted on | July 20, 2015 | 3 Comments

For years we’ve had a “pasture” that ran under the telephone lines and beside the driveway.  It was only loosely called a pasture because it didn’t grow any grass.  Mostly it was leaf debris, weeds, scrub, and large bare patches.

But it was useful in a pinch as a breeding pen or quarantine area for new animals.  And because it had a fence around it we didn’t have to mow it or landscape the area.  The fence made it a “pasture.”  You don’t landscape a pasture, people.  That’s craziness.

Of course, every year the brush eventually grew to intolerable heights and, worse, vines started growing on the fence line.  Since the entire point of the pasture was to make it a low maintenance space, we just put the goats on it and they always munched it back into submission.  But this year, The Other Half was determined to convert the land into a real pasture.  With grass.  Grass to cut the feed bills for the sheep and the fat pony.  I was all for this development.  Until he started it in May. Read more

Two-fer Garden.

Posted on | July 17, 2015 | No Comments

Everybody loves a two-for-one deal.  Sometimes it’s uses are questionable…..

but it’s perfect for the garden chores.  With summer in full swing, the garden takes up the bulk of my outside time.  And whenever I can knock out two jobs with the effort of only one, it makes me happy.  The whole process starts with the watering hose.  The tomatoes have to be watered at the base of the plants so I dig the nozzle into the mulch by the stem of the plant and let it sit for 45 seconds to a minute before I move it to the next plant.  While the hose slowly saturates the soil a minute at a time, I spend the wait staking the plants and pruning away spare leaves.

This lets me stay on top of the pruning, leaving the base of the plants clear to the ground and the clumps of green tomatoes sheltered under upper branches.  See, two for one.

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You Need Some Of These.

Posted on | June 10, 2015 | 3 Comments

Onion rings get a bad rap.  Something about fat, grease, blah, blah, blah.  I think that’s forgetting the important fact that onions are vegetables, people, vegetables.  Regardless, once you’ve received a large pallet of free onions for the pigs, there’s nothing to do except make onion rings.  Pigs don’t really eat onions.  Neither do goats, sheep, chickens, or ducks.  Not even the fat pony.

Now before you get all excited about that fatty greasy vegetable goodness, realize that onion rings take a lot of work.  There’s batter to mix.  Plus a separate bowl of flour for dipping.  And pot of oil to heat, which only hold 4 or 5 onion rings at a time.  Never mind all that turning of the onions rings.  And waiting for each side to finish.  Before putting 4 or 5 more in the pan.  Consider that you have 6 people to feed (that’s a lot of onion rings) and that’s a lot of steps.  And a lot of waiting.  Too much work, right?


Because while you’re waiting for each ring to develop to fatty greasy crunchy vegetable perfection, you can accomplish an entire To Do list without breaking a sweat.  Now I realize the brain scientists have proven there is no such thing as multitasking.  Apparently your brain is simply quickly switching activities, not really handling more than one at a time.  Sure.  Fine.  I won’t mention that while the brain scientists were busy at work proving there’s no such thing as multitasking, their spouses were at home vacuuming up the toddler’s cheerios while rocking a colicky baby under their arm while using their foot to wipe up dog vomit with a paper towel.  Oh, wait.  I did mention it.  Whoops.


Thanks to all that research, the proper scientific term now for “getting a lot of sh*t done at once” is  serial tasking. Which makes it sound like you’re going after the To Do list with an axe and this face:

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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

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