Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Farmin’ (it happens so fast)

Summer is going by incredibly fast on the farmlet. Whereas last year we were still settling in in July, this year things are in full swing. Of course, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our setbacks. You’ll recall that we recently lost 7 baby chicks and a mother hen to a predator attack, and that was after losing 7 laying hens a few months earlier. In both cases, it was user (or, sigh, technological) error that caused the problems, and we hope we can keep our girls safer in the months to come. Still, we couldn’t help but imagine our Rhode Island Red - suspiciously the lone survivor of the multiple massacres - trying to scare the new chicks as they come home from the feed store. “You know where you are my little chickies? You’re not in your safe little cage anymore my friends… YOU’RE IN HELL! You know what happens to pretty little chickies like you on this farm? [makes slitting motion across lower waddle with primary flight feathers on wing]

With only a “farm team” of egg producers - the new chicks won’t start laying for another 4 months at least – we’re only getting one egg every other day or so from Red and have been forced to resort to (GASP!) store bought eggs. Check out how Red’s whoppers compare to some Grade AA X-Large from Whole Foods.


The youngest of the chicks, two Delawares, had been living in a box in the downstairs shower until they traded their downy fluff for real feathers that would keep them warm through the night out in the coop. We took advantage of the time to try to get them a little more comfortable with us.



Each morning, we would bring these two outside to the coop to spend the day. While at first, we could carry them both out in one hand, we had to adapt as they grew. Here Ann uses the “poop towel on the shoulder” technique to walk them outside…


…while I opt to multi-task while taking the baby out for a stroll.


Wynne loves all the animals. She makes this inhaling squeal when she sees a new one. Now the sheep know the sound and when we walk outside with her in the carrier, they know they’re going to get fed and come stampeding.


Of course, her favorite animal of all is Gorilla. As long as she can see Gorilla, she’s happy. Lesser parents would take this as an opportunity to park her in an exersaucer ( sometimes referred to as “The Neglect-i-nator”) in front of the dog and just get a few things done while she squeals happily.


Uh… yeah.

Now at just about 6 months, Wynne’s falling into some definite nap schedules which, when coupled with weekly visits from Grandma, have allowed us to spend a lot more time in the garden. In addition to harvesting some carrots and potatoes from the winter/spring garden, we’ve now got twelve of the 4x8 mushroom boxes planted with tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, bell peppers, chili peppers, cucumbers (for raw and pickling), strawberries, blueberries, beets, onions, garlic, cilantro, basil, Italian parsley, asparagus, artichokes, snap peas and a few different kinds of summer squash that Ann wants to use to make baby food.


These potato plants came from spuds that sprouted in our pantry before we could eat them. We basically just buried them in a planting box and waited for a big green leafy plant to emerge. The leaves starting to go brown is the sign that the plant has transferred its energy into the root. Time to start diggin’ and viola, potatoes!


Pretty much the same thing with garlic.


We haven’t quite gotten the hang of thinning carrots so most of these are pretty deformed and intertwined. But they taste like carrots…


Putting the sheep (and llama) into this paddock beside the garden makes weeding a lot more fun. They stay close to the fence waiting for treats.


Below is an artichoke blossom. We planted these Voilet de Provence artichoke plants last Fall as tiny starters and they’ve gotten HUGE (like 6 feet tall). Unfortunately, the buds bloomed before they got very big. It’s possible that the plant needs a couple cycles before it will produce edible ‘chokes. For now, the blooms, while razor sharp, are a beautiful purple color and smell a little like jasmine. The bees love ‘em.


Of course, Wynne sometimes comes out to the garden to help.


And as always, Gorilla is on gopher patrol.


One unexpected crop we discovered was a hops plant growing on one of the fence posts in the sun garden. This vine had been cut down to the ground in the Fall but had regrown back up to the top of the 8 foot post by early Spring. Now, we’re seeing – and smelling – the first hop flowers.


And our friends Kevin and Linsey have given us a new motivation to figure out exactly which variety we have growing; A few weekends after moving to town, Kevin invited me over to brew up a batch of IPA based on the recipe for our local favorite from the Lagunitas Brewing Company.


Honest, this is hops.


This summer, Ann’s hooked up with some of the other mom’s from the Petaluma Mother’s Club for play dates and such. I did a quick Google search on “petaluma dad’s club” and came across a Yahoo Group for something called the “Petaluma Dad’s Club & Brewer’s Guild.” Of course, I immediately joined the group only to find that it only had two members and the last activity was from 2009. I eagerly sent my clubmates a message to inquire as to the next meeting but got no response. So it is with great pleasure that I announce to you the re-birth of the PDC & BG Mach II, and introduce it’s only two members, me and Kevin. Yes, my eyes are closed in this picture, but in my defense, we’d been “meeting” all afternoon.


And after a few strong beers, it’s time for some hearty food. I’ve been baking a lot of bread lately from a book Ann got me called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” In addition really only taking about 5 minutes to make the dough, the results are amazing. For a while I was perfectly happy just making the first recipe in the book over and over.


But I soon realized that there was a rabid fanbase out there for this book. I started finding forums where people discussed tweaks to recipes in “ABin5” (that’s what the kewl kidz call it) and I got a little more adventurous. Here’s the deli-style rye loaf from the book with a few mods from the forums.  


The meal below is about as close as we’ve come to coming completely from the farm. From the garden, butter lettuce and potatoes roasted in rosemary (bush outside the kitchen window). Eggs from Red, our lone producer. Ham from the Bacon Brothers, may they rest in pieces in our freezer. Salad dressing with parsley and garlic from the garden (oil and champagne vinegar were “outsourced”). Deli-style rye made here but not the ingredients. And Lagunitas Maximus from just up the road but as you just read, might be replaced with homebrew next time. Not bad.


This Chimichurri sauce is our favorite on pork chops. Italian parsley, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, cumin and salt. 


Elsewhere, fruit is forming on the branches and vines. Many of the trees hadn’t been well pruned in a few years so, after being cleaned up and thinned over the winter, are now bearing fruit again.




Of course, the most important thing we’re growing here on the farmlet is a tiny human we can vicariously live through and manipulate to achieve the goals we fell short of in our lives. So far, she’s off to kind of a slow start…


This is the preferred sleeping posture. For a while, we were putting her to sleep in the reassuring embrace of a tight swaddle, but after finding that she’d rolled over one night, decided that tying her arms by her sides was not exactly conducive to righting herself should she decide it was easier to access air while on her back. We set her free from the wrap and ever since, she’s slept face down in positions that force us to check her on a second-to-second basis.


A favorite pastime has become taking screen shots from our iPhone baby monitor of her sleeping in the most awkward positions possible.





Light as a feather, stiff as a board.


But she always wakes up happy and is developing new skills by the day.



Like working out in the fields…


… and helping out in the kitchen.


 IMG_3268 IMG_3269


But she still finds to relax and cut loose a little. Uh… yeah. I turned my back for like 2 minutes…


With things starting to feel somewhat under control in the pastures and the garden, we’ve been able to spend a little time on some projects around the house. Below, Ann’s priming some large feeders we found in one of the chicken houses at the back of the property. I cut some half moons out of the sides, and we top coated with some bright colors before planting.


We think they turned out pretty good and Tanuki, the sake drinking racoon-dog we brought home from Japan, seems to agree.



I’d made this “Z” as a practice piece during a welding class a couple years ago and decided to hang it above the hay loft with an antique wooden pulley block and some hemp rope. I think of it as a commentary on a return to rural values in an age dominated by the intangibility of technology. Plus, it looks pretty cool with this Sepia effect I found on my iPhone.


I’ve also been pruning the tall oaks and buckeye at the front of the house to allow a little more light into the front yard, and we took down two fences that sectioned up this area. The good news is that got to ride the ATV into the yard and was able to justify the purchase of a DR Chipper. Win win.


Oh, and Wynne? She checks up on me every time she hears the chipper bog down.


That’s it for the latest (way too many) details from a summer on the farmlet.