It’s 11 July! Have you started your winter garden?

It’s always Dog Days around here

We’re getting our first sweet corn here (boiled exactly 2 minutes, enfolded in butter and eaten) and tomatoes, and we’re deep into blueberries and cherries, yet my thoughts are turning to the winter harvest crops.

It’s quite a disconnect if you haven’t done one before:  just when you see the vegetables visibly growing, practically leaping toward the sun, it’s now that you need to be planting your winter garden.  In my part of the world, I can harvest plenty of stuff out of the outdoor gardens all winter long.  My leg up of course are the greenhouses but really, I am talking about outdoor winter harvesting:  root crops, leeks and collards are easily grown with nothing on them but all that snow.  With the minimal protection provided by row covers of agricultural cloth, I can add winterbor kale, escarole and radicchio.

Even if you’re looking forward to a garden-free winter, an autumn harvest is well within your grasp.  Around the first week of July is when I am seeding fennel, kohlrabi, rapini and broccoli for the first crops of each for the year (Sept-Oct harvest).  I find the warm summer days and cooling evenings of summer to be more favorable for these vegetables:  they respond better, are more tender, and aren’t pithy or bitter…all their fates if they’re spring-sown.  Favas, peas, second plantings of cucumbers are all going in now, as well as a second batch of summer squash.  I am also seeding for a baby leek harvest in February.  Succession-planting of beets, carrots and lettuce continues.  In other words, it doesn’t end.

Territorial Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds produce catalogs just for the winter-harvest market.  Check them out.

On chemical warfare in the garden

Slippery slope time:  I have a gardening secret, one whose use still causes me some great shame.  Like all secret shames, though, there’s a sweet upside to it.

My secret?  Bt.  Bacillus thuringiensis, technically.  This naturally-occurring soil bacterium has a sharp, crystalline structure that when ingested by caterpillars is quite lethal.  My aim is one particular caterpillar: those of the dreaded cabbage moth.  Those bloody things make any and all of my brassicas poop-covered, leafless stems if I gave them a chance.  Hah!  No chance, no quarter.

Yes, kitchen tools in the garden too!  I am shaking the powder upon pre-wetted red cabbage and Russian kale:  somehow, a butterfly got in there under the rowcover and laid her eggs.

You must understand that using this stuff is an absolute last stop with me.  All other insect and bug pests get squished between my fingers during my twice-daily trips to the garden.  With the exception of tomato hornworms (too big to squish and too valuable as chicken food) the swarms of Colorado potato beetles, squash bugs and bean beetles all meet the wrath of my finger and thumb.  It’s no wonder I always wear garden gloves, and even then that’s not a guarantee I won’t get grossed out…should I describe the arc that potato nymph guts will take?  Toward one’s eye, always.  Perhaps a face mask is recommended.

Anyway, back to the powder.  I go to great lengths otherwise to avoid the cabbage moth butterfly.  All (and I do mean all) of my cabbage family crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnip, and the zany Asian voodoo mashup veg of which I am so fond) grow under row covers in the warm months and are behind butterfly-proof screen within the greenhouses during the cold months.  This means about a third of my outdoor garden beds are covered with white cloth…not exactly pretty or natural, but, hey, I’ve gone on about the barrier method before.

The folks at the Fruit Exchange laughed at me, though, when I put the bag on the counter.  They know I grow organic.  And they know that I think this bag of stuff is really straddling a fence…it’s natural, but it’s far from its natural form.  “Things that bad, eh?” said the big guy in the overalls who always helps me.  “You know, I’ve got stronger stuff if you need it,” pointing to the odoriferous poison aisle.  (This is the same guy who, the last time I saw him, said “How many bales can you get in that thing,” he asked, pointing at my ancient VW Golf.  “Five, if I use the front seat,” I replied.  “Well, Jeff Foxworthy says you know you’re a redneck when you know how many haybales fit in your car,” yeah, lots o yuks.)

So I use the stuff only sparingly and in a reactive way:  only AFTER I see them does the powder come out.  It takes a day for the f*ckers to eat sh*t and die, but…all I need to do is hose the food off and it’s edible.  I still keep the covers on so no other creature from the order Lepidoptera gets affected.  And yes, it’s easier than squishing…and just as sickly satisfying, come to think of it.

On new potatoes

The child budding grammarian stands behind her latest victim

Last week my daughter scolded me on proper gardening terms and techniques.  The conversation went like this:  “Mama, when are you going to unplant those potatoes?”  “Unplant the potatoes?  Do you mean harvest the potatoes?”  She looked at me, exasperated.  “No.  “Harvest” is what we do to peas and artichokes and asparagus.  But we “unplant” the potatoes and carrots.”

And we do.  So schooled.

I am always happy to see volunteer potato leaves poking through the soil.  Yes, they remind me that I am an inveterate potato-misser when I do “unplant” them in the fall.  But even if they disrupt my tedious seedling rows, I know that those vigorous furls of greenery mean a crop of new potatoes for us around the end of June.  There’s nothing like baby potatoes, as that’s what they are:  with skin so thin that even the stream of the hose could tear them, they need gentle treatment.  And their flesh is so crisp and creamy…oh, I love my ground apples.

Here she is with the results of the unplanting (and harvesting in the case of the last peas and garlic scapes)

And so does my family.  Serving them up last week, I reminded everyone that it had been April when the last spud was served.  They hadn’t missed them (though I sure had).

Probably the best treatment for new spuds is cooking them en papillote:  wrapped in an envelope of parchment paper and stuck on a tray in a hot oven, they get steamed AND browned.  I make sure to add a lot of fresh herbs and the fattest grains of sea salt, a twist or five of the pepper mill, and of course our good friends Butter and Olive Oil.  I wish I was a great folder of parchment paper packages.  I have had some dishes served me in restaurants where the paper looked edible all on its own, its caramelized brown-ness, its beautiful folds holding in the moisture.  But I am not, so I resort to the stapler.  Sure, office supplies have a role in the kitchen!  What doesn’t!

Happy un-planting to all of you.

On barnyard sexual politics

Jellybean, Number 2 Rooster (with turkey poult and Ruby in background)

My garden lacks any shade at all.  This is not a bad thing, unless I wish to do a little pleasant sit-down hand task like I wished to do on this sunny, hot, breeze-less evening after work.  So, I made like any sensible animal would do and took my task (cleaning 50 heads of softneck garlic) to the shade found on the back deck.  And being a civilized social animal, I filled a small tumbler full of rosé and sat down.

Number 2 Rooster Jellybean espied me as my butt hit the chair and came sauntering down the walk in his mincing, pigeontoed, not-quite-cock-of-the-walk way.  Eyeballing any and all situations IS the Number 2 Rooster’s job, after all, and he was sizing me up to his advantage.  Because it was after 5:00 and Chicken Happy Hour was in full swing (i.e., all poultry out and about) I watched to see what he would do.  His thoughts were eminently transparent to me.

Some say it is wrong, verging on dangerous, to anthropomorphize one’s pets or farmyard creatures or, hell, the actions of any (other) creature living on earth.  Dangerous to whom, I always wondered:  even as a small child, I knew humans were animals…how we could ever think otherwise was a fight I fought until I won it (in my own head, anyway).  Let’s just say this:  it’s dangerous to NOT think that animals act as humans can.  Whether it’s dissing the animals or not to put the anthro- in front of the word  is the argument we should all have.

And so we have not-so-little Jellybean eying me from the side of the deck.  “Both big humans provide food, but this one provides food 99% of the time if she’s got a bowl in her hands, as she does right now.  Perhaps what she has is food,” is the way his thoughts turned, “and I will check,” thus taking a few pecks at the dessicated garlic leaves hanging over the edge of the deck, “and it is inedible, but the fact remains this human has a bowl in her hands,” and thus he began to do the call that mother hens and roosters do to let their charges know they have found food, please come running NOW.

And the nearby hens did.  Notice the further-away hens did not:  they can differentiate Jellybean’s from Number 1 Rooster Absolute Backyard God Mary Ellen’s calls.  When Mary Ellen calls, the goods are usually there.  When Jellybean calls, well.  Dried husks is the perfect example.  Those hens are not at all stupid.  And sure enough:  Jellybean jumped one of the chickens in range and whose back was turned.  As Number 2 Rooster, the only option he has is crass subterfuge and then blindsiding a hen.

Ah, yes.  Every time I look at the stats of how people find this site, it’s not at all surprising how often “barnyard sex” is a key search term.  And indeed chicken romance isn’t candlelight suppers and (more) glasses of rosé .  Almost all the hens rebuff Jellybean, even take him on in a fight, but if you’re jumped you’re jumped and the smarter hens just endure it with a ruffled resignation as they know it will be over soon.  In this instance though Jellybean has climbed atop Emilie, a not particularly retiring doormat-ty kind of hen.  So she squawks and Mary Ellen flies in to her aid.

So here we are.  What I have just relayed in 500-odd words has taken place within 3 minutes or less.  And in those 500 words and three actual minutes I think we can all see how I smirk at poor Jellybean as the beta male:  in all honesty though he’s doing what he can.  If things get too ugly, indeed, he’ll be dinner, but he’s wily enough not to piss off Mary Ellen too often, and so, he remains in the tribe.  But yes, his stress hormones are almost always sky-high, and you gotta wonder what it does to him, much less for the general temperament of the rest of the flock.

Number 1 Rooster, lord of the flock, Mary Ellen.

And it’s my job as chickenherd to do just that:  gauge the temperament and well-being of the flock.  We have two full-sized roosters for a reason, and that reason is because we want farm babies.  (And no, you don’t need roosters for eggs, just chicks.)  The flock’s too large for Mary Ellen to mate with all the hens on his own, though I suppose he tries.  He’s got a great easy-going temperament with both people and his charges, magnanimous even, and I always wonder if it was because he was alone to develop it, not having to battle someone for everything, during his formative year.  If Jellybean ruled the roost, would he remain the furtive little bastard he is now?

A little social psy in any situation can’t hurt, you know, and it might even teach you something.  It’s fun at least.

On the calm before the (garden) storm

A serious lack of dry wood (and dry conditions, as we haven’t finished its roof) have kept Loven out of commission most of this year.  She’s in fine form now though:  here’s the CSA portion of the WW sourdough, and a chicken, a big skillet of pilaf, a big pot of homegrown cranberry beans and some beets and onions are still cooking inside.

Even though I do my best to grow food year-round, it is in mid-June and mid-November where we experience a bit of a fresh-food desert.  Sure; there’s plenty of food to eat fresh year-round because much of it is grown year-round (salad, the onion family, root crops, cabbage family).  We’re human though and so we tire of eating the same things.

But:  new, seasonal things are ripening, whee!  Until we tire of them again, of course.

I like the pre-bounty of this time of year.  Every night means something new to eat, maybe just a few, fresh.  Last night, for example, was the first full harvest of favas.  Such a sensual pleasure, the whole fava experience.  I remember loosing the beans from their softly lined pods with my daughter when she was about three.  She put the empty pods on her fingers as “sleeping bags” and it was so apt:  I would curl up in that soft down too if I could.   The little pile of shells and the growing pile of bright creamy beans as we slip them from the beans’ inner skins:  we’re anxious to eat, and are not burdened by the task.  Earlier crops have likewise had us rubbing our hands together in greed, and we feel a happy anticipation during our pre-dinner trips to the gardens.

Year Five of seed saved from a Copra cross storage onion.  This is a good year for onions:  that cold wet spring seems to have favored them.  We knock their stems over a week before harvest to help store them later.

Despite the bounty, I try hard not to “miss” that which I normally can eat the rest of the year.  There is a shut, bolted, windowless door of the staple crops of potatoes, celery, carrots and beets: despite my efforts, potatoes will sprout; celery, carrots and beets will flower.  Unless the earth slips on its axis and we skip the frosts of early spring, these crops just try their hardest to be unappealing.  It’s a great survival technique.  Maybe I can jigger seed-starting just enough…or plant greenhouse spuds in January….

The distractions of the freshening garden though do help dull the pain.  Up tonight:  artichokes and the first squash of the season.  Oh, and strawberries.  Bon appetit.

On more waste management (or, Mulch 101)

Here you see Tom’s Friday deposit to the compost pile:  I was at my office on Friday so I couldn’t spread all this grass.  The bed in front of it is 3’x8′, if you’re curious about scale.

Most days, I consider myself more of a Mulcher than a Gardener.  I should give you a little background, though, to explain this.

Mother’s Day, 2005:  my second mother’s day, frankly.  And what did I ask for?

What do all new farm-owning new-ish mothers ask for?  A gas-powered, rear-tine tiller*, of course.  Silly question!  So I spent that day busting up the sod.  Then I built raised beds and filled them up with the resident clay soil.

It took me no time at all here as a small-g gardener that this clay here is baaaddd, but also surprisingly fertile.  Fertile, and that fertility does not discriminate:  those weeds were so happy that I had made lovely compost-filled raised beds for them.  (Did you ever truly wonder how I came up with the name of this blog?)  If I wanted ANY time to enjoy my new gardens and my toddler, I needed to figure out how to get ahead of those weeds.

And my answer was quite literally under my feet.  Grass!  Sears (and its Craftsman products in particular) sure came to our rescue those first two years as country dwellers.  To help me battle the weeds, we bought mulching blades and a badass rear bagger for Tom’s lawn tractor.  We could now capture and use all those grass clippings.  Well, not *all* those grass clippings, as 4 acres of grass clippings is, uh, quite a lot.  Half the acreage is wooded and seeded quite readily with poison ivy, so…I gladly ask for and receive about two acres’ worth of mulched grass (and fall leaves) from the non-poison ivy portion of lawn every time Tom mows.  It’s a bountiful resource.

First, though, the worry.  As a new mom, my worry was likewise indiscriminate.  I worried that our soil would become too waterlogged if I had mulch on it 24/7, but that worry was silly because the raised beds drain quite well.  I worried too about weed seeds:  cutting those dandelion heads and then spreading them on the gardens, what, was I crazy?  No crazier than letting them simply be wind-blown onto it…weeds just ARE, if you ask me.  I likewise worried about the bugs it would harbor, but 99% of them are more beneficial than harmful.  If I lived in someplace damp and forested where slugs or snails were a problem, I might reconsider my love of mulch…but I don’t.

I am so glad I don’t have a grass allergy.  Spreading those bags around is a dusty, pollen-filled business.  But spread I do.  Excepting the seeding beds (where I direct seed, let the babies grow big, then move them around) every bed has at least 3″ of clippings on them all year long.  Nature abhors a vacuum, of course, so any open patch of soil is sure to sprout a weed or six.  It’s best to keep it all covered up.

Mulch isn’t just great at suppressing weed growth.  Our clay soil turns rock-hard if exposed.  Keeping a blanket of mulch on it helps its friability…and helps the worms and millions of other soil dwellers use the soil all the way to the surface.  I really don’t water the garden at all once the seedlings have taken off.  Planting into that soil is likewise a dream:  I part the mulch, dig, and plant.

The green, green grass directly out of the bags is easily spread if it’s not allowed to mat up, so I try to spread it as soon as it’s cut.  Its bright color is handy:  because it turns brown after a week, I can readily tell where new mulch needs to be applied.  If I can’t spread it immediately, this isn’t a problem.  It mats up but those mats are quite usable, jigsaw-puzzle wise.  It becomes a stinking slimy mess though if it’s wet…and so if allowed to sit, it needs to rest, often for weeks, before it’s usable as mulch.  But all excess bags get thrown on the compost pile to help speed it along.

Anything that grows can be mulch, of course:  wood chips, straw, leaves, pine needles.  Cardboard, newspaper.  I wanted a renewable, constant, homegrown source free of industrial chemicals, so compost and mower clippings work well for me.   Mulching takes so much less time than weeding.

So, if you want to water less, weed less, have happier plants and build a more fertile environment for your soil’s biome, find yourself some mulch.  It works with clay, it works with sand, it works with all soils in between.

(*And incidentally I am very anti-tilling as a general practice.  For large new gardens and the impatient gardener, though, they’re great.  I only till now if I need to make a lot of new beds…which isn’t that often.)

One should always try to avoid injury, too.  Should I blame the 1.5 pre-prandial glasses of wine for me slicing part of my finger off, or general farm tiredness?  Either way, it’s a drag weeding in a latex glove, and even harder milking 2 goats with one hand!

On new compost

The compost heaps are also where the best volunteer veg spring up:  note the squash above.

Upon trucking the umpteenth wheelbarrow full of fresh compost around the new beds this weekend, I reflected on how much the big pile of stuff means to me and the gardens.  I’ve waxed philosophical on the subject many times over the years, and my ardor for the “garden gold” has only grown with time.

That said, I still have never let it cook down to being completely finished. Nope. Call me impatient, or greedy, or both.

It’s an interesting math problem, actually.  With the addition of dairy goats two years ago, the actual volume of compostables (in the form of their bedding) has quadrupled.  My gardens, however, have not.  It was only this weekend that the garden got expanded…it’s been the same size since 2008, thus, technically, I should be sitting on a surplus.  A surplus, or at least a big enough reserve so it actually cooks down!  There never is a surplus, though:  like the government’s budget, new sources for the goods are always readily found, and those resources get sucked up.  And lo, it’s never quite “done” yet.

So during that schlep of compost it also occurred to me that, as a gardener, my job is actually within the vast field of waste management.  You know, winkwink, nudgenudge, what Tony Soprano would claim as his profession (with a perfectly straight face, mind you) to anyone who asked.  Heh.

Yep.  Behold, the power of poo.

On losing time

Ground cloth/weed blocker makes a good shade cloth for tender lettuces

Ping/bang/scrape, buzzz….ping/bang/scrape…buzz:  it’s got to be summer, I can no longer deny it.  The June bugs hit the screen of our bedroom window as I sit reading every night in the light of the nightstand lamp.  June, already?  Yes.

I have learned to ignore or at least tune out the clanging gong of the seasonal imperatives this late spring/early summer.  How can I not?  With everything clamoring to be The First Priority, isn’t it easier to stay in bed, or maybe go to the beach?

15’x60′ addition is at least fenced and tilled:  garden beds need to be installed and filled and, well, planted

Yes, I am trying hard to take my own advice:  it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Winter’s late stay, spring’s sodden unhappiness…these things do affect what comes out of the ground, including what should be going into it, and when.  So indeed the garden expansion is two months behind.  So be it!  Corn in September, not August; beans in August, not July.

Besides:  wouldn’t you just rather be a kid, and play?  Or at least sit down and watch one do so?  Eleven day old baby Ivy with mama Cricket, out to pasture

On the CSA, part two

First pickles of the year:  Leek and garlic scapes, with chive blossoms for the cute factor

SO:  I said in a previous post that I have been running a small CSA-type scheme for unloading my veggies and other farm goods onto gullible friends, for money.  Let me give you a couple of tips on how I got here.

One of the first rules of manufacture is that increased production is more economical if you don’t need to retool and resupply.  If you can add another shift on your existing machines, then whammo, you can produce more widgets.  What does this mean for me?  Not that I sleep less due to a second shift, but rather that making six loaves of bread takes only a bit more time than making two.  Likewise, canning more pints of jam, planting more garden beds, etc.:  if I have the jars, if I have the garden beds, then canning more or succession planting the garden does not take me significantly more time.  I am already making the kitchen sticky with the jam, and I have already built those garden beds, and I have the seeds waiting.

In other words, I am doing it already, whatever “It” is:  making milk products, baking, gardening, fermenting, canning.  I have added nothing new.

The other thing that is required is a shift of mind.  I needed to stop thinking everything I made or grew was precious.  I needed to change my relationship with that which I produced.  Scarcity produces value, you see, so…if there is no scarcity, one’s perceived value of all that mache or arugula is lessened.  It helps matters I suppose that my spoiled and fussy family is not in love with anything I make or grow (it’s the downside of abundance, you see) with the possible exception of asparagus or cajeta (goat-milk caramel).  I doubt I would ever be able to grow enough spears or boil off enough milk to satisfy the gang here.

The counter to the less-precious stance is that all the best goes to us.  There are tons of things I do not share!  I had read in Nina Planck’s Real Food years ago that her truck farmer parents would reserve all the best produce for their customers, and I vowed never to do that to my own family.  Who is this for?  My family, or my bank account?  Fortunately, I have a real job that takes care of my bank account’s balance, so family production remains top priority.

Likewise, all this stepping up of production takes time.  I shouldn’t be so flip with my “six loaves is as easy as two” if those to whom I am speaking have never baked a successful loaf of bread, or have brown thumbs, or find the process of canning intimidating.  Listen:  I have been at this for a while now…I am not fresh on the farm, or new at anything except maybe milking.  There’s been a lot of hours logged, in other words.  A lot of rock-hard loaves of bread, unsealed jars, and failed crops.  Learning experiences all, is all I can say.  Failure has its uses.

If there’s something you are good at producing, then you should certainly try to share it, or even sell it!  Fortunately for you Michiganders, the Cottage Industry bill is now law, and you can sell your soaps or granola, jams or baked goods…anything that can sit on a counter can be sold by you at a farmer’s market (there are requirements, of course).  You can also home-process and sell your own chickens, turkeys and other poultry, and legally sell your own honey and maple syrup.  Other states are getting wise too:  check with your state’s Department of Agriculture for more information.

Two weeks of refrigeration and then they’re edible

And then there were three

Baby Ivy

Cricket delivered a gigantic doeling yesterday!  Not bad work for a first-timer.

She looks a lot like her mama, but even more like her daddy Moses.  Everyone’s happy, well, except for our old goat Bell, who has to sleep alone now.

On the value-added CSA

It’s been about a year ago now that some friends* convinced me they needed to pay for my food.

(This food of course was a gift before that date.  Yes, I have some dumb friends.)

There was a tipping point, though.  Excess vegetables are something most gardeners experience at one point or another (case in point:  zucchini), and even four chickens can produce more eggs than three people can reasonably consume per week.  But if you combine large gardens with year-round greenhouses, a lot of laying hens and then throw a milking animal into the works, well…excess is not the proper term any longer.  It’s something else.

Over the last year I have formalized the process of purchase.  I have a somewhat small a la carte list wherein other friends purchase items individually.  But my stalwart “customer” friends get a box of goodies per week.  A typical box-scheme CSA is usually where a set fee is paid upfront for a season of weekly boxes, and you get what you get, fresh, of what is harvested.  My setup is  different than the typical model.

I maintain the “get what you get” thing because I am truly not a masochist, despite years of blogging evidence to the contrary.  But I do it with a weekly fee, usually paid by the month (and the month has either 4 or 5 weeks in it, so the fee fluctuates accordingly).  And because my gardens are big but not huge, the food that goes in the weekly boxes is not all what’s harvested per week.  Instead, that’s where the “value-added” label comes in.

So the typical year-round share is:  a quart of yogurt and about 10 ounces of herbed chevre.  A quart of vegetarian soup or a quart of veg ferment (sauerkraut, kimchi, sauerruben, lact0-fermented beets) and a loaf of whole-wheat sourdough bread.  A gallon bag of salad (herbs at the bottom) and a gallon bag of other greens.  A dozen eggs.  And finally one canned good item (jam, chutney, salsa, tomato sauce, beans, peaches, applesauce, etc.).  Year-round fluctuations are in the vegetable/fruit kingdom: more garden-fresh to less, more stored-veg (squash, potatoes) to less.  It works, my friends are happy.

And my gardens and animals pay for themselves now…in fact, they’re creating a profit.

*”Friends” is completely accurate.  I would not do this with people I do not know and trust.  The sale of raw milk and its products is illegal, and indeed, my friends know the risk of consuming it.  They also help around the farm.  The payments help them (they know the value of the food, and therefore think it’s only fair) and they help my hobby’s bottom line.

On worst-case scenarios

The pod people descend

You regular readers may have been noticing a decided lack of content-laden posts lately.  I apologize.  I have been up to my eyeballs in personal matters.

Lo these last few years it has been fairly commonplace for many bloggers to rue a flavor of the week doomer issue:  global warming/climate change, peak oil, global fiscal collapse, terrorism, whatever.  What to worry about, what to do about it, is generally the theme of those posts.  “Preparedness,” “sustainability,” and “adaptation” are very commonly mentioned terms made in response to these problems.  I certainly didn’t read (much less use) these terms with such frequency a decade ago.  Statistics show however that personal tragedies are much more likely to befall you, and probably a lot sooner, too.  A job loss, say, or a house fire, or a car accident, or natural catastrophe, or the illness or even death of a dear family member.  It is these common tragedies that we should prepare for, that we should…befriend.

Smoking!

One often goes through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five steps in things other than death.  “Acceptance,” the last step, does not mean fait accompli; often, the griever circles back again through the steps like some nightmarish carnival ride.  Personally, I think what hurts the most is the yearning for that time Before The Event.  You know:  your carefree miles spent in your gas-guzzling SUV, say, or life before the job loss/accident/flood/fire/illness/death. Life seemed so much simpler then!  Our problems were so few!  What could we possibly have had to complain about?

Grieving too is practically another world, a parallel plane to the one most of us walk about every day.  In the words of Iris Murdoch, “A real experience of death isolates one absolutely.  The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.”*

Becalming the bees

Our family is going through some changes.  My autistic brother has moved in with us; I have blogged about him before.  My mother is suddenly very ill and cannot care for him.  We, in turn, will be caring for my mother.

Honey Turkey don’t care

What in the world does this have to do with gardening?  Quite a lot, if we were to look at my garden, my kitchen.  The dining room table will be set for five, not three.  We will probably purchase the farmhouse across the road for my brother:  it’s larger than this one, and needs a bunch of work.  He will eventually live there with a few other developmentally disabled adults.  That house’s eleven acres will complement this house’s five.  And the old farmstead will be reunited (the houses and land were originally part of a 38 acre fruit farm, built by two immigrant Sicilian brothers a hundred years ago).  And, well…life will go on.

*An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch, NY:  Penguin, 1988.  Originally published 1973.

On being busy


Sometimes life’s a bit too busy and running around with a camera is just one thing too many.  On occasion, though, it’s a good documentary tool for what happens, even in its minutia.  I’ve gotta try to remember that.

On the expanding farmstead

Every spring, the number of creatures goes up on most farms.  Ours is no exception…except, well, our numbers exploded this year, thanks to:

the bees.

We took delivery of them on Tuesday night.  I chatted with them in their box on the sideboard as we ate dinner, telling them all about the farmstead and neighborhood.  After dining, we went outside and watched Tom place them in their new home.

We’ve also got a few baby turkeys.  Not the 17 of last year’s first hatching, we’re content with four, maybe five.  Queen Ruby has successfully raised five in the past; it seems about all the girl can take.

And as usual, it’s baby chick season.  The spring has been so cold that all four of our sitting hens lost their eggs so I supplemented their mothering need by giving them meat and egg chicks from the feed store.  They don’t care.  Babies is babies.

There are also bunnies.  Ugh, bunnies.

And we’re expecting one, or maybe two, kids to be born toward the end of the month.  I’m getting a half gallon daily from Bell, but it would be great to squeak out another half gallon from Cricket…is that being greedy, counting-unhatched-chickens-wise?  Time will tell.

On sitting down

It’s also hard to take pictures if your goats make you laugh so much.  Here’s Cricket demonstrating her permanent milk mustache.  Does she look pregnant to you (due date 5/25)?

It’s hard to slow down sometimes.

With so much to accomplish, the very act of sitting down seems mutinous.  Yet I am sitting down in between tasks to type this, and to force myself to pause and reflect.

Pausing, indeed.  I am still reminded of time passing: the metronomic wet drips from both bags of cheese curds hanging above the sink are hard to ignore.  Surprising, really, how equally timed those drips are; the bags aren’t the same size.  And I’m listening to the crackling of the loaves of bread behind me.  Just out of the oven, their crunchy crusts are reducing to size.  The pot of stewing squash (the last of the pink banana) emits a burble here and there.  And through the open window, I hear the buzz and angry twitter of two hummingbirds fighting for the feeder.  Even when you put two feeders out (as we do) they still bicker.

It’s spring.  I am muscle-weary yet still anxious to move.  Better get up and get going!  Much to do yet.

Bell says get busy already, and is that camera edible?

On personal transformations

And sometimes growing a lot of food happens easily with an active compost pile (all the butternuts you see above are from the pile)

If you had told me 25 years ago that making food for a lot of people was in my future, I’d have, if not laughed in your face, at least told you you had your facts wrong.  Cooking for others would’ve seemed too trad fem for someone raised in a feminist household, and 25 years ago I was on my way to pursuing a butch-enough profession (architecture).  “Nursing and teaching were the only professions open to me, and I didn’t like bedpans,” my mother often said.  “You should do something I could not,” and so I did.

Yet here I am, scurrying about on a Monday morning, assembling four boxes for my CSA customers and sticking 12 loaves of bread into a carrier to take to our daughter’s school for the kids’ mid-morning snack.  Food growing and making IS a large part of my life, at least as big a part as my code books and my drawings.  And like making buildings, making food is terribly enjoyable to me…and I happen to be fairly good at both.

Like most transformations, my shift from either/or to both was gradual.  Certain imperatives hastened my decisions, of course:  our move from our small city lot to five country acres; parenthood; global warming/climate change:  the world is small, and growing more crowded daily.  This is the world I am handing my child, and it’s a world with many problems.

So I can show her that consuming less is a laudable goal…and it’s hard in a culture that only celebrates “more.”  But I can also show her that one can be a producer, too.  Whether it’s just for ourselves or (at this point) six other families, I can demonstrate that quality home-grown food can be made (despite? in addition to?) while someone has a full-time job.  And yes, it might mean that she helps too, and her dad as well.

But what I am also trying hard to demonstrate to her, and to you, is that the world is going to need a lot more people like me who’re willing to produce food for themselves, and eventually for others.  The transformation might be gradual.  But we’ll certainly be eating better food…and better serving our earth and each other.

Viva la revolucion, gardeners!

On seasonal shifts

Nothing like a little April SNOW shower

Winter danced in and out before it settled in, and spring apparently feels the need to do the same.  That’s fine.  I find I am still behind, gardenwork-wise, so a late start to the season is to my advantage.

Not that I am wishing a late season on the rest of you, of course!

On death and…poop

There’s a lot of life, too, including new life.

Thursday was a gray morning with me stepping into my boots, trying to keep my second cup of coffee from spilling, when the phone started ringing.  It was our next-door neighbor, asking, nicely, if I could come over, which, being neighborly, I said sure, of course.  Coffee down, hastily-kicked-off boots back on, I was over there in a flash.

Life on the farm has put me in contact with two expected but not necessarily always welcome things:  Poop and death.

Poop is mostly welcome, though I admit there is that maddening period of time wherein the snow has retreated yet the hose remains frozen:  poop, courtesy of free ranging chickens and turkeys, is everywhere on the walk and the deck.   (The hose has remained unfrozen for a couple of weeks now, yay!)  I am an inveterate harvester of poop and bedding, and goodness poop is what makes a farm productive so…as long as it stays out of the house, poop’s not a bad thing in its ubiquity.

Death, though, is also everywhere.  I found it ironic that this morning my neighbor happened to call when I had already killed or found dead five things (three trapped mice, one cabbage butterfly and one egg-stealing raccoon) and they were asking me to help with a sixth:  their fourteen-year-old Golden retriever had died in the night.  Their 120-pound dog.  Yes.  Who’re you gonna call but the feedsack-slinging, haybale-hauling, ditch-digging, raccoon-shooting neighbor, heck, SHE can lift old Annie into the trunk.

And I did.  Then I went back, got my now-cold cuppa, and had a sit in the old greenhouse, musing about my lot.  There’s turkey poop on my boots, I notice, and that first greenhouse bed needs more compost.  More poop, more death, to bring more life.

Sometimes, you feel small.

peep

On multiple harvests

blooming lacinato

Early spring means late spring in the greenhouses.  And late spring in the greenhouses means it’s probably time to evict the winter residents.  I’m moving through second, third and even fourth harvests from the greenhouse beds while on the way to pulling them up altogether.  I’m feeling a bit of pressure to stop, drop and eat!  It’s time, you see, to transfer the tomatoes and peppers to nursery hot beds.

So, we’re on a green binge.

Especially now that the new push of growth has begun, I look, eagerly, for sprouts and leaves.  And nearly everything is fair game. This is the time of year to eat what you could never find at your grocer’s, or even at a farmer’s market.  Order up!

Self-seeded beets:  1.  fleshy leaves, 2.  the roots are bound for quick lacto-fermented pickles

Kales:  Lacinato 1.  broccoli-like blossoms, 2. leaves, and 3.  peeled stems, great for stir-fry!  and Red (Russian) kale  1.  broccoli-like blossoms, 2. juicy, salad-bound leaves

Kohlrabi:  1.  the root of course but 2. the leaves, like all of the brassica family, are quite edible.

Cabbage: 1. De-headed, I leave some leaves attached to the rooted stem. In a few weeks, I get 2. a leafy second harvest (shown above).

Carrots: 1.  Roots of course but 2.  did you know you can eat the ferny leaves too?

The flowers of arugula and mache now grace some salads

And I am not above eating the roots of plants that are arguably grown for other purposes.  Parsley and celery fit this bill.  They require a bit of scrubbing but they taste just like celeriac, the fat root of the family.

Uh oh

After two years of saying “I think I have enough of a garden”  I have changed my mind.  Seven new raised beds and a new (chicken- and deer-proof) fence are in my future for this weekend.

Crazily, I am also planning a new greenhouse (for this fall).  Whee!

On fresh-herb season

Spring is here.  It’s here on the calendar, anyway; March came in and went out leonine, ferocious.  The only thing that tells me it’s the end of March and not the end of February is the strength of the sun.  You feel the strength of its life-giving rays no matter how chill the air.

bed of chervil

The herbs are certainly clued in to the seasonal change.  It’s at this time of year, thanks mainly to the greenhouses, that I am a fresh-herb fool.  The tender shoots of chervil, chives, tarragon, parsley and thyme just ask for snipping.  Even the new growth on the otherwise woody herbs of rosemary and sage (greenhouse-grown) and outdoor marjoram, oregano and winter savory are fleshy.  The bunching onions (scallions) are also shooting to the sky both indoors and out.  And mint, my nemesis, gets a bit of a smile out of me before I yank it out of the ground.

This, of course, means it’s time to make about 7 months’ worth of herbed butter.

There’s nothing easier, frankly.  Chop shockingly fresh herbs and mix with unsalted (or salted, your call) softened butter.  Add lemon or orange zest if you wish.  I place the butter in ramekins, about a 1/4 cup per, and freeze them; once frozen, I remove them from the ramekins and wrap them tightly with freezer paper and refreeze.  I also make tubes of them in the freezer paper like refrigerator cookies.

The uses for herbed butter are nearly endless.  And knowing I have it saves me a lot of time:  just a couple tablespoons added (even still frozen) to the soup pot before serving, or atop fish or mild meat or with pasta or grains?  Oolala.

On the seed-sprouting window

About two months ago I was surprised to find some seedlings sprouting in my greenhouse bed.  Surprise?  Sure.  It can be surprise if you planted the danged seeds LAST spring.  Well!  The germination brush-off in the instance of these onion sprouts holds a lesson for all of us seed-freaks at this time of year.  Here is what my seeds were telling me:

It’s not you, it’s me.

On second look, they appear to be leek seedlings.

Now, life would be wonderful if my seed packet had said “days to emergence:  7 to 365” as I’d have had something to expect.  But it did not.  In other words, the seeds sprouted when their situation was ideal for them, not for me.  And that’s the lesson we all can take with us.

You see I think we’ve all internalized the notion that what is ideal for tomatoes (the fruity veg most likely to be started from seed) is what everything else expects too.  And that is true in a way (warm soil, enough water, enough light) but it’s not absolute, it’s relative.  Indeed, onion seeds sprout at much lower temperatures.  Lettuces, carrots, and a whole passel of other things do too.

I keep referring back to the sprouting table in Nancy Bubel’s Seed-Starters Handbook for a reason, I guess.  There’s a whole lot of truth in it that we need to understand.  Otherwise, the knowledge gets handed to you in the form of seedlings you expected to arrive a year ago, or, well, not at all!

On spring chickens

Ah, spring.  The temperatures have finally climbed above the finger-numbing range so I took it upon myself to off a few supernumerary roosters on Sunday.

It seems that March through June is such a fraught time around the place, so much so that I awake at night with worries of “did I do that already?  ohgah when am I going to find the time to do X time-intensive, necessary farm task?” and it’s tasks like killing roosters that I put off and put off again and again.  Usually, things need to rise to near crisis level (read:  they’ve begun fighting) for me to really jump into action.  Let’s face it:  Chores like cleaning out the chicken coop or putting up a new fence, however distasteful, beat chicken killing any day.  But it’s come to that with these birds.  Spring means rooster testosterone flows just as readily as chlorophyll in the grass or lutenizing hormone in the egg chickens.

Life became a lot more cushy for this farmgirl when I found a local butcher to do in my critters for me.  Fifteen chickens takes him two hours, whereas five chickens nearly kills me and shoots my whole day (it takes me four hours, plus recovery for my feather-plucking fingers).  At $2.50 a bird, it beats the heck out of what I bill an hour, and even math-averse me can see that Mike’s skills, though cheap, are priceless.  But I won’t bring him these eight-month-old little bantam roosters.  It’s not worth his time!

Me, on Sunday

Two of the birds went to the freezer, but the last went into a wonderful mild soup called Cock-a-leekie…it’s a Scottish dish.  It’s traditionally prepared with the losing roo in a cockfight, actually!  Perhaps this boy didn’t lose a cockfight, but he lost the game of numbers…a farm only needs a tiny number of roosters.  Caput kaput, which makes me snort.

Cock-a-Leekie:  I harvest a good pound or more each of leeks and carrots out of the outdoor garden, grab a huge hank of thyme from the herb garden and scrounge up celery leaves, parsley, scallions and chervil from the greenhouse.  The rooster, gutted, headless and footless, is in a heavy pot with hot salted water to cover; I start braising him at the barest boil while I prepare the veggies and herbs.  After about an hour, I take the meat off the carcass, pan-sear the leeks and a handful of pearled barley in some butter and then put the leek/barley mixture, meat, bouquet garni (thyme, chervil, parsley tied w/ string), chopped carrots and celery back in the broth pot to cook another hour or so until the carrots are softened…adding spices to taste.  Traditionally served with prunes, this soup is sweet enough without them thanks to the winter-grown leeks and carrots, methinks.  Thanks, little annoying rooster!

On pea-planting season

I often feel like a poultry Pied Piper

There is a small window of time between melting snow and garden season when the chickens are allowed to run around unpenned.  They wander fairly widely, mostly in pursuit of the newly-sprouting grass, but mainly they all make a beeline for the gardens.  Deeply mulched beds need to be deeply scratched to find those worms within, you see, and then there’s the magic of The Compost Pile.  Oh the delectable wonders to be found in that monstrous pile of stank (if you’re a chicken, that is).I have set the compost bucket down to open the gate.  They have found it.

And then that window closes.  Slams shut, if you ask them: whaddya mean, we need to stay in here all day?  Their protestations are mighty.   Squabbles break out.  Feathers fly.  They are now confined until Happy Hour, usually around 6pm-dusk.  And they can tell time, so…at 6 you better be prepared to spring them loose.

The reason for their confinement?  The garden has been planted!  Yes, St. Patrick’s day, traditional pea- and potat0-planting day, was wonderfully warm and even sunny, so I locked up the birds and began the season.  These wily critters easily can fly over the 5′ fence encircling the gardens, and once they do, inevitably they will scratch up things that they should not.

Queen Ruby asks “but can’t I stay?  I won’t scratch things as much as the chickens,” to which I reply, no, m’dear.  She loves sprouts even more than worms.  (and notice the greenhouse roll-up side is up!  this is the earliest ever that I have had to do that.)

On hot beds

I have two 6’x3′ beds in the new greenhouse that are destined to get the hot-bed treatment.  Shovel Season is quickly approaching, so I might as well take this opportunity to get in shape for it, too.  Heave ho!

First step is to evict the resident lettuce, arugula, endive and escarole.  Potato onions at bottom of frame get to stay.

By halves, I remove the top shovel depth level of soil in the bed.  Notice I have left a ledge on the perimeter:  I am kind of making a tub

Third step is to lay down 3-4″ of mixed poo, including a bit of bedding from the rabbits

Fourth step is to replace the soil

Fifth step is to give it a good soaking: I didn’t need to do this, everything was wet already, so let’s skip to the Sixth step is to lay in some rows of seeds

Seventh step is to cover the bed to keep in the heat

And now I wait.  The microbial action of the mixed turkey, chicken, bunny and goat poo eating up the brown bedding material should happen quickly.  The point of this is to raise the temperature of the soil to a level that the seeds spring with life.  Ambient greenhouse temperatures range from 50-90*F in the daytime, with nighttime lows in the 40s.  The “normal” soil temperature, untreated, is around 55, which is quite fine for seed sprouting.  I expect this hot bed to jump to about 70, which means quicker germination.

This bed has been seeded with quick crops (turnips, radishes, spinach, arugula, lettuces) and transfer crops (broccoli, cabbages).  Nobody gets a long stay, in other words.  They’ll all be in and out by the first week of June.  Then, the bed gets the hot stuff (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and okra).

You don’t need a greenhouse to do this, of course.  As long as you don’t have heavy, wet soil, you can do this in an outdoor bed.  I would tent it with plastic, as long as you vent it in the hot part of the day.

Cheers!

On pottery

About two years ago, I signed up for my first ceramics class.  I had stifled a yearning to play with clay for years, and finally embraced it.  So I have taken continuous classes at the local museum, taking the summers off, but otherwise making lots of useful things.

I still suck at it, frankly.  It’s a good feeling, this lack of control.  I suppose I am getting “better,” but just barely.  Frankly, I like my wobbly cups and bowls.

However, the pièce de résistance has been my new pickle crock.  It does not suck.

so deep!

At 12.5″ high, 11″ wide at the top, it holds a bit more than three gallons.  It’s coiled, not thrown.  Cone 6.  And:  it’s currently making its first batch of wonderful fermented magic (a mixed veg greenhouse clean-out:  cabbage, chard stems, escarole, carrots, kohlrabi, green onions and herbs…and from basement storage, onions and garlic).

I also made a couple of sets of weights to fit inside and weigh down the stuff.  This set fits my other crock…but they work fine in this one, too.

Anyway, it’s fun!  Learn from my experience:  Even if you’re afraid of producing things not up to your own personal high standards of craft and capital-A Art, you should go out and try, whatever it is.  You might just surprise yourself, producing usable things beyond any price.  And that, my friends, is beauty.

On greenhouse season extension

Rapidly heading cabbages, freshly sprouting shallots and root-cellar potatoes means it’s colcannon season.  With bacon bits and goat-milk yogurt, it’s a one-pot hearty meal…especially if paired with a salad.

The one thing I cannot stress enough for those of you considering these plastic bubbles is this:  Having one extends your growing season.  In my experience at zone 6, it extends it in two months in each direction.  Four more months of growing things!  Think about your haul if you had four more months in which to grow your goodies.

I grow things year-round in them, of course, like that pretty head of late September-seeded savoy cabbage above.  Through the months of December-February, though, the greenhouses act more like big produce refrigerators than places in which things are actively growing.  But it is at this time of the year, early March, that I have a particular appreciation of them.  You see, late February/early March here means there’s still snow on the ground outside…nary a thing outdoors is “growing,” though there are a few hardy things hiding out there under the snow.  Indoors, however, it might as well be late April/early May.

Everything in the greenhouse, in other words, has hit the Spring button.  Chives and scallions are leaping out of the ground…a great thing, as my chevre loves chives, long missed since their November die-back.  Seeds of the February-planted fava beans and peas are shooting up.  The garlic is 8-9″ tall.  The lettuces, long picked-at and just hanging in there, are now growing madly.  The cabbages are heading faster and faster.  And the arugula, mache (corn salad) and fall-planted kales are at the point of bolting.

Sure, it’s nice to sit in there too…especially if you consider the alternative:

Abandon all gardening hope, ye who enter here

On good art in the great Northwest

Seattleites! Washingtonians!  All you all up there!  If you’ve got some time on Thursday March 3rd, go attend my husband’s opening at the Gail Gibson Gallery from 6-8pm.  He’ll be there, glad-handing; I will be milking a goat and shoveling snow, alas, back home.

Here’s a link to the gallery, and you can see more of his work there.  It’s his newest gallery, and they’d love your support!

On the dairy calendar

The subtitle of this post could be My Dairy Year.  (Say that fast and laugh to yourself.)

Today marks my first year as a milkmaid.

Indeed:  a year ago today, T-bell gave birth to three adorable kids, little bucklings all.

Mama T-Bell, lucky thing, gets a year off of breeding this year.  I believe she’s had three sets of kids (twins, twins then triplets with us); she will be six years old in April.  I will continue to milk her as long as I want to:  I should be able to “milk through” as she’s an awesome milk goat.  I feel so fortunate to have had her as a first goat, first milker.  Why?  Because she’s a bitch, that’s why!

Yes, in my first doe, I seem to have selected a definite herd queen.  She’s not really a bitch, you see.  She’s more, well, strong-willed, more particular.  She’s very friendly (a great thing) especially to little people.  The dog is her mortal enemy, although they do love to play.  But other goats?  She lets them know where they stand.  And they stand below her, way below, so…watch out.  And:  she HATES being outside.

But it’s nicer in here!  Bell, eating her bon-bons and watching the world go by

Learning to milk a goat and then learning to milk THIS goat was a bit of a challenge.  She’s smart, see.  If she’s not in the mood, you better guard that bucket.  If her feed bowl (the bribe which ensures her getting onto, and staying on, the milk stand) is less than filled, you’ll hear about it.  Milking is an intimate relationship forged between she with the milk and you with the desire for it:  really, it must be so, or the let-down (milk release) won’t happen.  And indeed learning to milk with those three rambunctious kids just inches away was terribly stressful at first, especially since one of the babies was expecting the milk himself (he was a bottle baby).  But we forded that whirling river.  She’s quite happy now, our routine is well set.  And starting the thirteenth month of her lactation, I am still getting nearly three quarts of milk from her a day.

On the Sunday after Christmas Tom and I coaxed our little Alpine doeling into the back of my small hatchback.  She was off, you see, to visit her new boyfriend, a handsome, smelly fellow named Moses.

The aptly-named Cricket:  Gotta love a youngster’s airborne enthusiasm.

Cricket is an adorable creature.   Curious, hippity-skippity, not super friendly but not skittish, the one thing she is is LOUD.  I made sure I brought earplugs (seriously) for the 60-mile round trip to the goat farm east of us where she was be bred.  It does seem strange, and kind of bad-mother-ish*, but yes, you can breed goats when they’re less than a year old.  She’ll continue to grow, and I only need to watch her feed to ensure she’s eating enough for two or three or (eeps!) four.  And let’s state the obvious here:  you want milk, you need babies.

So, yes.  Cricket will have her kids at the end of May, with luck.  It’s a different kind of calendar, the dairy one.  Bell will still be milking when Cricket throws her babies.  There will be two goats using the milk stand in the morning:  whee!  Say cheese!

*Indeed, though, it’s like I am condoning teenage motherhood; I guess I should state that she’ll technically be a yearling when she delivers.  Not a teenager, then, but definitely a young mom…!

On spring cleaning

This is a bit of a “taking care of business” post.  Apologies for its strange list-like format.

  1. BEES ARE OUR FRIENDS. I find it quite hopeful that 120 people showed up for the Introductory Beekeeping Class that my husband attended this past weekend.  The Kalamazoo Bee Club can now boast 500-odd members.  And if only half of those attendees start their own hives this year, that’s sixty new hives.  This is a great and positive thing, and I look forward to home-grown honey topping our home-grown breakfast yogurt!
  2. MO’ MONEY, MO’ MONEY. I have been watching with interest the kerfuffle over the apparent trademarking of the terms Urban Homestead/Urban Homesteader, among other oft-used terms.  I’ve been looking at the debate as one of morals (simply, individual working orders) versus ethics (collective working orders that don’t necessarily apply to everyone).  It seems the point of most people’s frustration is the graying of the moral/ethical line by a grabbing of the commons to the benefit of an individual.  The folks who are the center of the controversy started their home food-producing endeavor with what I can only assume were the best of intentions (a moral choice).  With time and the internets, it appears money has blinded them (an ethical matter).  This happens so often to individuals in the business world (that someone’s personal compass gets de-magnetized from one’s moral true north) that it barely bears mentioning…and 99 times out of 100 it is because the idea of “more money” is behind it.  In point of fact, “more money” is a laudable, revered goal in the business world (it’s the business world’s ethic, if not any one individual’s).  So my first response to this controversy, frankly, was why would anyone be surprised? What makes it galling, of course, is this one family’s land grab over anyone else’s use of the term as it would now infringe on their ability to make (more) money for themselves.  They’ve gone way beyond the mere sharing of gardening ideas to the copywriting of an idea.  This is morally suspect in the personal world but in the corporate world, it is par for the course.
  3. TRADEMARK THIS. So I of course have been thinking about how I would never be motivated to trademark anything.  Goodness, why?  Money has never been much of a motivator for me, and the idea of making money on how-to-grow-food advice is distasteful.  Collectively and individually, we all need to learn how to grow some of our food, and the sooner the better.  But over the nearly six years of my writing this blog, I have been contacted by two publishers expressing interest in me writing a book that codified and expanded on its ideas.  I have considered the proposals with all seriousness and have rejected them mainly because a book would not be free, it’s instead a money-making venture off of the commons.  The blog and its contents are free to those of us lucky enough to have access to the web, and likewise I do not accept ads.  (If indeed I were to write a book, it would probably be about something else entirely.)   However, if I were to rip off anything, how about my personal spin on Michael Pollan’s food recommendations?  You know:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  This is what I advocate for myself, and thus by extension, anyone else who can do so:  “Grow food.  As much as you can.  And share it.” I wouldn’t trademark it though.
  4. VEG GARDEN BOOK. Speaking of books, I have a fabulous one to recommend to you.  (Full disclosure of course is that I do know the writer, and, in point of fact, she interviewed me for the book…but I get no kickbacks from this, peeps.)  Michele rocks, period.  And her argument is completely convincing.
  5. MEAT CHICKENS. I have ordered my meat birds for this year.  This, indeed, is quite early…however, I won’t be getting them until the first week of July.  For those of you considering it, I annually raise 25 meat chickens within a chicken tractor that I drag around the back 40 twice a day for 12 weeks.  In other words, I expend a lot of energy just for a freezer full of chicken dinner.  And like last year, I am ordering the godawfully named Freedom Rangers because  honestly they are more tender than the usual slower-growing meat chickens I have raised in the past.  Marginally more tender, that is; they taste the same.  And despite the problems I had with them (splay legged chicks: a nightmare to resolve, frankly, and general meanness in the flock) I am going with them again.  Shoot me now.
  6. GREENHOUSE STARTS. Indoors and out, many things have begun to sprout, and it makes me happy.  I have two toads that have come out of their hibernation hidey-holes in the old greenhouse, too.  It’s fun to visit them.
  7. SWEAT EQUITY. I finally finished my bleeping kitchen renovation.  Ergh.  Took me eight weeks.  Now I can spend my extra time outside!

Ah.  That’s quite enough of a list.  I wish you all spring cheer.