Category Archives: nature

On ba(aaa)d births

Welcome, Ms Sabine

To have milk, you need to have babies.  It’s an unavoidable fact.  And this milk year, because I was unable to get our doeling pregnant (our daughter was in the hospital during Ivy’s last heat of the year) we ended up buying a pregnant doeling from a local dairy.  Willow, the pregnant goat, has been an adorable addition to our herd.  It’s too bad the other goats don’t feel the way about Willow that we do, however!

Because Willow is tiny AND bullied, we’ve been having her sleep elsewhere.  Goats hate being separated; they’re herd animals, after all, and in Willow’s mind, she’d much rather be head-butted than be alone, even just at night.  Poor thing.  I took heart in the fact that she could deliver soon, and she’d at least have her kids for company.

Problem was, we didn’t know when she would kid.  Unlike my other does who have driveway dates to get pregnant (thus I hang my hat on a solid due date 155 days after their visit) I just had to wait and watch with Willow.  “Watching” basically means I felt her up and hung over her, daily…and “waiting” means I have been doing it since mid-March.  But on Saturday, all signs pointed to a Cinco de Mayo baby goat or two.

Not two baby kids, though; one kid.  Sabine made her way into the world only with our help. She’s huge; she’s nearly a quarter the size of her mother in length and height but not weight.  And her cramped quarters weren’t helpful; she was born with a badly twisted leg and foot…a splint is helping those flexible young bones to straighten out and develop normally.

The bonus, of course, is that she’s a girl, and she’s a lusty eater.  But poor Willow!

On greenhouse #3

These are the steps taken thusfar to have a third greenhouse (hoop house, polytunnel, etc.) on this property:

  • Stake site for the final location and size with husband; argue a lot but eventually get your way confirm that a 16’x32′ model is the best size for the space
  • Order greenhouse
  • Order wood and buy hardware for the base frame, end walls, door, and raised beds from the local lumber yard
  • Mow
  • Till
  • Erect base frame.

A rainy weekend got in the way of accomplishing the last three steps (clay soil should not be tilled wet or you will forever have concrete-hard earth clods).  So we went foraging instead.  (If you want to understand the process of erecting a greenhouse, I did a play-by-play of putting up my mom’s small one here.)

About two miles directly north of us, our friends purchased 10 acres of duneland.  For whatever reason, the trees were never cleared on this or any adjacent property…there are some lovely old-growth monsters (poplar, cherry, white pine, oak) and quite a range of microenvironments (bog, creek, pine warren, dune) so it is a great place to see what one can see.

Small people love small frogs


But our search for the elusive morel was futile.  These came from a friend’s search.

On dogwood season

And it’s North Carolina’s state flower

If you squint, the forests around us trick you into thinking it’s fall and not spring.  The new leaves and buds and pollen anthers and blossoms are all quite colorful (and even if the color is green there are so many different gradients).  It’s the dogwoods that stand out now:  usually they’re understory trees and quite often they’re found at the edge of a stretch of trees.  I like seeing their pillows of white.

It’s spring, though, because my eyes are itchy.

A previous forage

My friends have found plenty of morels, but so far I have come up empty.  Wild asparagus is easily had, and we’re not tired of it yet.

It’s quite a nice time of year to go out for a walk, and even nicer to take a long bike ride (no bugs in the teeth).  Of course I need to make the time to do both, but…riding to go forage fits the bill.  As long as I remember to take my allergy medication first, that is.

(Next up:  Greenhouse #3!)

On something from (almost) nothing

It must be Monday because my muscles are sore

Ah, Spring!  Newness everywhere:  new buds, new shoots, new babies, new sprouts.  It must be time to crack the spine of…an old book?  Indeed.  Late winter and early spring find the bedside table crowded with well-thumbed gardening books.  This year is no exception, and I have dug up (pun intended) one of my favorites.  It’s called Life in the Soil by James B. Nardi.

Seeds plus light, water, soil equals a July tomato

Every page is a revelation.  I highly recommend it.

Seeds plus compost and a trellis equals a June pea or three

IN the food web of life, I of course find most fascinating the producers:  those organisms that produce their own nutrients from only air, water, minerals and energy…the everyday wonder that is a lettuce seed, say, spouting and heading up for my eventual enjoyment on just the soil, rain and sun that falls upon it?  Awe, inspiring.

On plenitude’s upsides

Little leeklets

Whenever I make a post, I tend to walk a line between showing what I am doing and showing you what you might want to do.  It’s only fair, right?  I hope I can, you know, teach something…if by bad example at the very least.

An oddity of this way of life is that I never (and I do mean never) have produce in the refrigerator.  It’s all fresh-picked and home-grown with the exception of lemons, my one nonlocal shame.  The only things that do go into storage now are garlic, onions, shallots and potatoes….and apples.  Everything else is readily gotten out of the greenhouses or garden year-round:  it’s a great way to be, just grabbing a bowl and walking outside for dinner’s celery and carrots, parsley and green onions.  Greens like cabbage, collards, kale, mustards and turnips are available for most of the year.  And salad, all other root veg and all manner of herbs are here year-round.

It’s late winter now, burgeoning spring…thanks to the mild winter, spring is appearing terribly early this year, and who cares what the groundhog and the Farmers’ Almanac have to say.

Migratory birds are my first clue that the season has changed.  I should say “the migratory birds’ effect on my yard birds,” because the turkey vultures, redwing black birds and even the dang Canada geese are freaking out the chickens who understandably think every bird shadow is a hawk on the wing.  The vultures, who fly in family units, haven’t established themselves yet; it takes a bit of time for them to hone in on their territory, though I know they’re around.  The redwings though are very keen to plant their flags on some waterway or another, and the melodious male is back in the yard again…even though our frog pond is embarrassingly tiny.  The frogs (also out and croaking) don’t agree that it’s tiny, though.

I also know it’s late winter because it’s mid-spring in the greenhouses and we’re in a panic to eat everything.  I got a sunburn Saturday (and even took my shirt off, because, really, who can see?) while I was doing work in there.  What’s fine for the plants is actually a bit too hot for its human caretaker.  It did feel nice, being sweaty…considering the maple sap is still dripping and all.

But it is true:  I am in a bit of a panic.  The potatoes will soon sprout, the onions already have, and even the softneck garlic is looking a little green.  Ir is time to transition.  The arugula, mache, mizuna and claytonia (winter’s favorite salad greens) are all madly going to seed and tasting nasty as they do.  My seeds are sprouting well in the greenhouse beds, but so are the weeds.

Of course I wish that every last one of you had chicken coops and greenhouses in your yards.  But I warn you.  Remember that crazy period in summer when you just can’t possibly eat another zucchini, and what are you going to do with all those cucumbers and tomatoes?  Get a greenhouse and this will happen to you four times a year…maybe five.

But if you do you’ll never have produce in your fridge and you can suntan in your underwear in March!

There will be blood

There has to be a Murphy’s Law to animal husbandry, though I do not know what it is called.  I may not know its name, but I certainly know what it is.

Let me give you some recent examples.

By this law, one’s first and favorite goat (and best milker) will confound you.  On returning her to her pen this snowy Friday evening–after a day spent away from the farm–you notice that yes, indeed, she is limping.  She is limping because she’s somehow badly gashed her leg (and a quick survey in the gloaming shows a goatshed and yard quite pink with bloody snow) and she’s not telling you how she’s done it.

By this law, the call to your housecall-making vet will come up empty.  By this law, your second call to another vet will land you with an early morning appointment…35 miles south of your own farm, at his office, because he does not make housecalls.  By this law, you know your travels to and from said vet will be during the one and only blizzard of this winter season, and, by a second law called Lake Effect Snow, you will leave from and return to your sunshine-bathed house, where barely a flake has fallen.

It’s no fun milking a three-legged goat, incidentally, especially since we can’t drink her antibiotic-laced milk.  She’s fine, no stitches, lots of treats.

Another example of this law:  After tirelessly monitoring the state of your doeling’s estrus, she will fall into heat (the last heat of the season) on the same day your daughter goes to the hospital for a week.  Therefore, you do not get the doeling bred and she remains the fat if cute hayburner that she was before.

Who’re you calling fat?  Ivy and her mama Cricket (who hopefully is pregnant)

Here’s another:  Only when you have a surfeit of some one animal is the time when said group of animals remains unbothered by either disease or predation.  So when people ask if I have problems with hawks or coyotes eating my free-ranging chickens, I say “no, unfortunately.”

Poor Penny:  green really is not her color

And yet another:  Despite the notches on her belt collar, our fearless farmdog Penny finally met a raccoon who could indeed bite her back.  (The Rodenator as she’s otherwise known has killed at least a dozen raccoons and even more opossums in her years as self-appointed farm protector.   Mice and voles are uncountable.  She’s quite valuable.)  You realize it is thanks to her that you have so many chickens.  She does her job admirably well.

If any of you were to follow me down this path of farm-animal ownership (as many are), my only word of wisdom is to expect that you will not be exempt from this law.  One must simply accept it with a tired smile, and a backup plan.

Oh, and having on hand a full first-aid kit–as well as many vets’ phone numbers–won’t hurt you.

Pauline the coop door bouncer has the last word

On the teeth of time

The title of this post is a knockoff of a chapter title of a wonderful book I read last year.  2011 was, if nothing else, a great year for books.

I appear to be blocked!  My last whine about 2011 pertains to the kitchen sink plumbing.  Ask any architect and she’ll tell you that in her house 5% goes un-built, unfinished; in my case, it’s the sorry state of the kitchen (and its illegal drainage system).  So yes, left to right, draining dishes, nasty sink, draining sprouts and overflowing compost bucket…a normal day here.  2012 means the sink is now draining.

Ah, a new year, a blank slate; a new year, new plans.  The last year stunk on so many levels that I cringe on remembering.  Too much death, too much illness, too cold in the gardens for much bounty.  We even bookended the year with another week-long trip in the hospital with our daughter (she’s okay now; I thanked her, though, for getting ill before the new year’s high health deductible kicked in).

Flowering rosemary in the snow-covered greenhouse makes me happy

I am not one for resolutions and never have been.  Too much road-to-wellville; too much revisionism:  I suppose I am either entirely too pleased with myself as a package to change anything, or else I am too aware of the futility of such an effort…I leave you to judge which is closer to the truth.  However.  There appears to be one lingua franca, one currency, habitually common to women of my age, social status and education, and that is bitching about things, especially one’s life.  I understand the reason behind it:  sharing one’s gripes forms a (bizarre) kind of community.  How tiresome this is.  It’s wearying on so many levels I cannot begin to list them all.  Even if I am reluctant to make personal resolutions, I will resolve to not join in the whinge daisy chain.  How bad do we really have it?  Not bad at all, not bad at all.

Can’t we flip it and share what we’re happy about?

Fuzzy goats likewise make me happy

I am happy, frankly, that we’ll be putting in a new greenhouse this year.  I am on the fence about upping the CSA membership from six members to eight; we’ll see how it goes (membership typically starts in May, with all the new garden goodies), but I am so pleased to be sharing my food with people I care deeply about.  I am so glad to have my job and to have chosen a profession that I love and that is so very rarely boring.

And, of course, I am so happy to share our garden virtually with so many of you.  Happy 2012, all.