Monday, December 5, 2011

New Piggies

I've been rather distracted lately with holidays and such.  Last week we butchered Fred, and he turned out to be 280 lbs hanging weight, which means he was probably around 400 or more lbs live weight.  He was huge!  We've gotten about a gallon of leaf lard already (leaf lard is the highest-quality lard from the fat inside the pig), and I have a big batch of headcheese simmering on the stove.  We have so much food right now.  I still have the blood to make blood cake with, Ethan also got a rabbit on Sunday, the Americana pullets have started laying their pretty green eggs, Matilda has been making extra milk and the children have been so excited about pulling up the massive turnips we've been getting out of the garden, so the kitchen has been exceptionally busy.

Anyway, another distraction is our newest addition.  We got two new little piglets last week!
These are pigs to keep.  They are gilts, and we are hoping for them to have lots of piglets.
They are Gloucester Old Spots, which Ethan was not really excited about when I first told him (he doesn't like "cute" animals, and it didn't help that the Craigslist ad had a link to a Countryside and Small Stock Journal aritcle--a publication he disdains).  But he cheered up about it when we met the people and found out they grow their own open-pollinated corn to feed the pigs and let them out to graze and stuff.

Another good thing about them is that they are extremely friendly already.  They are bucket-trained and like being scratched, although they still squeal frightfully if you try to pick them up.  We are still working on names.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011


There's so much to be thankful for...
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Maggot Morning

I don't have any pictures to share for this post, and trust me, that's a good thing.

So, if you recall, a few posts ago I was pickling turnip greens for the animals in my grandfather's ancient ceramic crock.  It was the first time I've used it, and I definitely did something wrong (very wrong).

Several days ago we woke up and the house smelled a little funky.  I thought it was maybe the compost needed taken out.  My friend called and wanted to visit in half an hour, so I was desperately trying to cook breakfast, feed and water guinea pigs, over-fed cat and the new baby chicks; clean my neglected house and deal with the laundry crisis when I noticed it looked like we had spilled rice on the floor.

Except we've been out of rice, and it  was moving.

Yes, it was Maggot Morning.

And not only that but our recent ants-inside-the-house problem had escalated to the point that the ants were in the process of devouring the maggots as they crawled in unison towards the dining room window.  I'm still not sure if this was the best part about the situation or the worst part.  On one hand, our house had become a thriving ecosystem with a food web and anything that was helping to get rid of the maggots was great, but on the other hand, we were just flooded with unwelcome invertebrates.

I am an entomologist's daughter, but this was too much.

While sweeping up maggots and crying (not too much, really), I noticed more and more were coming out of the crock.  Darn it!  I covered the thing with a towel and secured it down to keep this from happening!  I lifted the towel and discovered something worse than maggots.
Anyway, long gross story.  The crock is clean.  The maggots AND ants are gone, the pickling experiment has been buried.  I think I needed a better weight, and maybe finer grained salt. friend called while I was scrubbing the floor to say she wouldn't come after all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Littlest Milkmaid

Rose always likes to help me with the milking.  Sometimes she actually helps to milk, but usually she stands by my side and rubs Matilda's round belly, and laughs when we get whacked by Matilda's tail.

She always insists that I save a little for her in the milking pail to drink warm and fresh and very sweet.

Fresh milk is the best!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The big news around here is that we now have guinea pigs.  We didn't want guinea pigs.  In fact the last thing we need is another animal, but alas.

Ages ago, our friend and neighbor Ron got a breeding pair of guinea pigs, despite his wife's misgivings about the whole thing.  He wanted them to trim the grass in the back yard.  A few months later and he now has more than 30 guinea pigs, most of them expecting, and no more grass.  He's been trying to give some to us for ages, and I've always deflected it with, "Oh, I'll have to talk to Ethan about it."

Last week he showed up with two guinea pigs.  Mirin was so excited.  I kept saying, "Well, I just hope they'll survive," hoping that would deter him, but Gail, his wife, countered that by saying, "Oh no, don't worry, these are 100% guaranteed.  If any die we will replace them indefinitely."
That gives you an idea of the guinea pig problem down the street.

They are cute.  Even Ethan, who was not really happy to see the guinea pigs at first, was carrying them around in his shirt pocket and trying out names for them.
As far as we can tell, they're both girls, I just hope we're right about that.  Otherwise they might start giving the neighborhood squirrels and rats some competition.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

First Turnips

 The turnips I had planted back in September are now ready to pull.  This year I read about planting turnips and discovered they need a shocking amount of space between the plants, like 6-12."
All this time I had thought my turnips were pathetically tiny because the soil was so poor, but it was probably because I just planted them in a big blob and didn't bother to thin them.  I was very surprised to find big turnips in my garden this year.
 The Scarlet Ohno Revival turnips I had gotten seeds for from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange were pink inside.  They remind me of choggia beets.

Since we have quite so many greens right now, I decided to ferment the turnip greens for the animals.  I got out this amazing crock I inherited from my grandfather, who used it to make kraut.  It's probably almost a hundred years old, and I've never used it before.  It sat in our garage with tools in it for more than a decade. I had no idea what it was, but now I shudder to think that I might of cracked it in my careless ignorance.  Rose was happy to help salt and mash the greens to make a brine.  I used the sea 90 livestock salt.

Mirin even started to help, and things were getting pretty crowded at the end.

I put a plate on top to weigh the greens down.  We'll see how it turns out!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Spirit Train

For a long time now I have been wanting to photograph the place we get molasses for the animals.  The atmosphere has such a magical, abandoned and supernatural feeling to it.

You have to drive for a long way down 441 from Gainesville.  There is an ugly parking lot beside the feed store, which looks out on a ruin.  An old railroad track that ends abruptly a few feet away runs in front of a rusting relic of forgotten times.  In the background you can see the stairs that now lead to nowhere.  It strongly reminds me of scenes from Henry's Quest, a post-apocalyptic children's adventure story by Graham Oakley.

After you arrange to get the molasses at the feed store, they call the man who owns the molasses works to meet you across the street where the molasses is stored.
He is striking in appearance, too.  He almost looks like a drizzle of molasses, being very long and lean, and  reminds me curiously of Kamajii, the boiler man from Spirited away.

The molasses works is a monster of metal tanks, pipes and valves.  Yellow sulfur butterflies flutter in circling swarms and dot pools of rotting molasses where they are mud-puddling.

Another abandoned railroad runs weed-choked to one side, going somewhere.  Far down the track (too far to capture in any of the pictures) sits an old train car, stopped in the middle of it's last journey.  Enormous blooming Bidens bushes spill over the tracks.

My children, too, notice that things are more than they seem here.  They always try to walk to the old train, but never are able to get there.

In the car on the way home, we always create fanciful stories of the Spirit Train, which comes to life at midnight and travels on the old, forgotten railroads to fantastic places.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


The baby rabbits have really grown, and as far as I can tell they are all females.  They are so cute in real life, but were really hard to photograph.  Either they turned out with evil red eyes:

Or like this:

I did get a few nice pictures of them.   Here's the friendliest one, munching on some barley grass I had sprouted for them as a treat.

And here's Lily with her favorite one.  They're just alike.

They're growing, and soon it will be time to wean them.  Just like with most babies, they grow up so fast.  But at least with rabbits you know there will be lots more.

Friday, November 4, 2011


We've been finding the most interesting stinkhorns around.

Ethan said they look like Anime penis monsters, and they really do.  This one below seems like it must be related to the famous Phallus impudicus.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The old summer garden

We keep the garden by halves, so that each season the land gets a rest.
The summer half of the garden has been interesting this year.
Even after the goats and cows trampled and munched their way through it, it became a wild tangle.  Roguish hybrid cucumbers, sunflowers, tomatoes, melons, dent corn and amaranth seeded themselves rampantly.  The dent corn even tasseled and bore little ears.  The zinnias became monstrous.

At it's peak, my children would get lost in the overgrown grass and weeds.

The Roselle is flowering its strange and lovely flowers.

Massive Spanish needles have taken over in places, each a humming and vibrant ecosystem, alive with many different kinds of bees, flies and butterflies and things that eat them.  I saw at least 5 different types of bees nectaring one day, and not a single one like our honey bees.  Just one of these bidens bushes is at least 10 feet across.

It's a jungle out there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Heading Out

I think we make a ridiculous spectacle heading out to the farm--striding around in clunky mud boots, more clod-hopperish than the trim versions which have somehow found their way into popular fashion, while we stuff our screaming and flailing children in the car among an odd assortment of very full baskets. 

For some odd reason our children have that reaction to going out to the farm.  Once they are there they have a blast building fires and forts, swinging, running, climbing, squirting each other with the hose, making bows and arrows, picking flowers and vegetables, making mud pies and digging holes and they scream just as loudly when we have to go home and go to bed.  It is completely baffling, but that's how it is.

The other day while Ethan was dragging Rosie off of her tricycle before she "ran away" and Mirin out of a tree, I saw the baskets on the driveway and thought they looked amusing.  Milking basket, water jars, extra milking jar and seeds for the garden, the egg basket, knitting and a story to read on the way (The Wolves of Willowby Chase at the moment). 

There's something interesting about all the baskets in a row like luggage, ready for something.  Ready for adventure, I suppose.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Do you mind if this is another garden tour?  

Things are looking so much better now that the cooler weather has blessed us.
(These are the Picotee cosmos blooming in the turnip patch)

There's more than Tatsoi growing out there now, thank goodness!  Even Matilda was getting a little tired of it.  You can vaguely see the yellow flowers of the bolting Extra Dwarf Pak Choy in the distance (I do wish the photo quality was better) and this year I've been realizing that pretty much the only difference between Baker Creek's Bok Pak Choy and Extra Dwarf Pak Choy seems to be that the Extra Dwarf stuff just bolts and becomes inedible much, much sooner.  Ethan is very pleased.  He has always been scornful of the Extra Dwarf Pak Choy.

Although a bit frosted, the pumpkins are still alive and flowering.  Some of them have even set some fruit, although I've been much too busy to poke around and see if they are keeping them.

The peas, the peas!  Despite the best efforts of the ants and what must be now a very tasty pea-sprout fed rabbit(s), they are starting to climb.  Ethan and Mr. McGregor (the .22) have been vigilant, but we've seen no signs of the culprit(s).  A good rabbit dinner(s) might make up for it.  Please forgive the s's in parenthesis, but it's like Will Cuppy says about mice, you can never have just one.

See, it's all looking slightly more cheerful, except maybe the pumpkins.  They might become a bed for lettuce and beets, anyway, we'll have to see.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


These are the pomegranates I started from seed (yes, from seed) way back in January!!
I just re-potted them, and they are starting to look like something finally!
Apparently starting pomegranates from seed is sort of hit-or-miss as far as how good the fruit will taste, but my dad had a great pomegranate he had started from seed planted in their yard until it was killed by a fungus.  They were super easy, and I've got a bunch of them, so who cares if only a few of them are edible?  I'm sure someone around here will like them, even if it is only the pigs, and I can't wait to have loads of fruit trees growing everywhere.  I think this coming spring I'm going to attempt tons of fig cuttings, and maybe more pomegranates.

(I just had to show some scrap of growing success after the previous depressing post about the winter garden)

Friday, October 21, 2011

The fall/winter garden

This is a photo of the abysmal fall/winter garden taken in September.  It looks slightly better now.  See how there's nothing actually growing in it??  That's continuing to be a bit of a problem.

I started off this season feeling lost.  I couldn't remember what I was supposed to do, except start brassicas to plant on September 1st.  I think I was still burned out from the summer season.

It was an extremely hot and dry summer, and none of the brassica starts really took off.  In fact, they mostly withered and died.  They would sprout right away, and then languish and dwindle, despite being watered properly (not too much, not too little), given a little boost of kelp emulsion after they were turning yellow, moved into the shade, moved into the sun and generally babied.  They just weren't happy.

I soaked and then direct-seeded the peas, thinking it would be just like the string bean success of the summer, but alas, no.  In the photo you can see the long row of peas only because of all the notermelons I used to weigh down the weed guard paper and keep it from blowing away.  They mostly rotted or were eaten by ants.  Freakishly, only one part of the row grew, although I can detect nothing different about that particular spot.

I think it was just too brutally hot for them.  Anyway, things are looking slightly better now.  Most of the fall pumpkins I had planted in August were attacked by creepy little flying aphids that made them wither up.  Oh, and squash bugs.  Strangely, nothing could be seen of the stem borer moths that were so common in the spring.   They were an easy pest to deal with if I was diligent about stalking up and down the rows of squash daily, picking off the little brown eggs.

The little flying aphids, however, were not easy.  They would fly smugly away in a little cloud when I swooped down on them with soapy water.  Eventually I abandoned the pumpkins to slowly die, which most of them did.  It does look like we might get a few, if the weather doesn't get much colder.  All I want is one pumpkin for Thanksgiving dinner.  If we get just one, it will all be worth it.

The other failures included direct-seeding all the Asian greens and only having eight rows of mustard come up (short rows, luckily.  Even so, we and the cows are getting tired of it already), and a very desperate struggle with the weedguard paper.  They make it look so easy on their website, but it's like wrestling an alligator.  An alligator who gives you paper cuts.  For some possibly supernatural reason it always becomes windy when I decide to work with it in the garden.  I could be thinning the turnips and there won't be a breath of wind until I get the weedguard paper out, and then it just won't stop.  Maybe it offends the wind gods or something.

Actually, half the battle with the fall/winter garden was troubleshooting the weedguard paper.  The other half was failing to keep anything except mustard and weeds alive.  (not to mention the situation with Alachua County Feed and Seed talking me into buying a "cover crop" for my garden that has now become a hideous and inextinguishable nuisance.  I still don't know what the plant is called, but at least it fixes nitrogen, although  with the cassia and the crotalaria, I'm not sure we really needed another nitrogen-fixing pest.)

So, next fall/winter season, if I am still gardening and haven't given up in despair, here are the following notes to myself:
-Start Asian greens first, in pots (which is what I eventually did this year), and transplant September 1st.

--Start peas in pots and transplant September 1st (yes, there are peas growing out there right now, and only because I bought more seeds and started them in pots, which will probably sound ridiculous to people who are used to gardening in much more fertile places.  Interestingly, they are the same height as the unfortunate peas who survived the first direct-seeding, although planted a month later)

--THEN start cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, etc.

--The best way to deal with the weedguard is to cut it to the length of the bed, soak it with water, lay it out and cover it with old hay or mulch to weigh it down, and then it can be planted through.  This saves the trouble of trying to find where all the little starts were planted under the paper or struggling to mulch around the starts.

Anyway, I hope to post a better picture soon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's kind of gruesome, but this is Mirin and Rose's notermelon baby they made.  (It was actually cute in real life, but in the picture it looks like a zombie).  The kids started with a notermelon that Mirin had hollowed out to make one of his drinking gourds for me (very refreshing to drink from one when you are planting the fall garden in the hot late summer sun).  They found a little one and carved the face with a butter knife they found in the milking basket, and stuck it all together with wet sand.  The yellow cap is a funnel that was lying around.
Since we just didn't manage to grow our own Halloween pumpkins this year, we are planning to have notermelon luminaries lining the driveway.  Not that anyone comes trick-or-treating in our neighborhood any way, but we're hoping the sheer number of notermelon jack 'o lanterns and the dug-out-of-the-compost-real-pig-skull candle holder will discourage pumpkin smashers this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fred E. Pig

This is Fred Pig.  He was the runty one of the last batch of pigs.  Being slightly smaller than everyone, he got pushed out of the way by his seven companions and was still way too small to eat last spring when it was cool enough to slaughter.  We kept him for us and let him grow all summer, and with none of his other companions around to push him away, he has grown enormous.  He's just huge.

He's a good pig.  He's happy and healthy.  When we come out to do the chores he runs alongside in his paddock by the driveway.  A few days after it rains he becomes a black pig.  He's got a wallow in the woods somewhere.  As it dries up he gets pinker and pinker.  We'll come out and he'll have only a pink butt, where he didn't quite fit in all the way, or just his sides will be muddy.  I love watching him leap over logs and squeeze through the trees, making  the "woof-woof" sound that pigs make when they're excited (strangely, I've never heard a pig say oink).  He's amazing agile for an animal his size.

It's been so nice to have a pig on the farm this whole time.  Usually we would have gotten new piglets by now, but we really need to make some changes and improvements to our pig set-up.  Fred and his friends were in a large wooded paddock the whole time, and they did a great job of clearing out the overly-dense underbrush.  It used to be so thick you couldn't see the large trees, but now you can see them clearly (and they look kind of relieved.  It's not good for large trees to have so much underbrush beneath them).  I'd like to give the land a rest.  I wonder what will grow there next year in the space left from all the little laurel oaks.  I wonder if we'll get some new wildflowers, like after a burn.

We need to finish the rest of the pig paddocks before we get another pig, but I so hope someday to have a sow and have our own little piglets.  Having babies on the farm is just so much fun.  There's so much to look forward to every day, to see how they've grown.  (The baby rabbits are hopping out of the nest box now, they are so cute!).

Monday, October 10, 2011

 Mirin got a real bow and anrrows for his birthday this year. 

 He's been so excited about it.  Ethan used to teach archery as a summer camp counselor before we got married, so he's been teaching him.  Out at the Farm, Mirin sets up a firing line and a wild watermelon (we call them Notermelons, because they are not watermelons--they are bland like cucumbers and very seedy--we feed them to the animals).  He's actually a pretty good shot (better than I am).  He's very careful about how the arrows are handled and about finding them all when he's done.  Luckily he only has six and they are brightly colored, because the grass is at it's longest right now.

Strangely, having a real bow has set off an even more obsessive phase of making bows and arrows out of sticks and all kinds of things.  I don't have a picture of it, but two days ago he found a hacksaw and cut and trimmed a long piece of oakleaf hydrangea and made a long bow that shoots shockingly well for being strung with cotton twine.  He also fashioned arrows out of palm fronds.  He also had a little crossbow he made with a rocket balloon.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Baby Bunnies

The big news around here is that Lily finally had a surviving litter of babies, and they are pretty much the cutest things ever, especially now that they have fur and their eyes are open.  (They resembled naked mole rats at first).  While the photo is not the best (they are looking a little demonic with the glowing red eyes) I assure you that in real life they are unbelievably cute and it's all I can do to keep myself from picking them up and snuggling them every day.

So, the story about the rabbits is that they were given to us.  We originally got two females and a male, Lily, Magnolia and Peter.  I honestly don't know anything about rabbits at all.  I really need to buy a book about it or something.  Our neighbor has a really nice rabbit set-up in his backyard, where all the waste from the rabbits goes into an earthworm bin.  Occasionally when I catch him walking by in the afternoons I can ask him questions about it.

Lily has had four litters before this that didn't survive, and a lot of that had to do with the nest box we were given.  It was just a square of wood, with no bottom.  It might have been totally great for in town, which is where they came from, but it just didn't work out in the wilderness of Fox Grape Farm.

The first time, I messed things up because our neighbor told us we should pick up the babies so they'll be used to being handled.  That  freaked Lily out and she stopped taking care of the babies.  The next litter she over night ate all of the straw I had put in for her to make a nest with and had the babies on the wire floor, and they died.  The third litter I put cardboard down on the bottom, then some straw, and she ate the straw and the cardboard and had the babies on the wire and they died.  The fourth litter (and I was feeling pretty awful about the whole thing by this time) I put extra layers of cardboard down, and straw, and she made a nest in it, had the babies and they got eaten by ants.

I was in despair after this, so I left her alone for awhile.  I finally realized it was time to spring for a new nest box, so I did, and it's made such a big difference.  This time, right around when she was due I bought some bag balm and smeared it on every possible place that ants could get into the cage.  And so, a year and a half after getting rabbits, we have our first surviving litter!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Roselle is blooming!  I've been drying bunches of it.
It's the first year the Roselle has survived long enough to produce anything.  And it really has survived.  I haven't watered it at all since the rest of the summer garden died back, I think in late July.  And then when the animals were in I had put up a strand of non-zappy electric netting fence to keep everyone off the Roselle and just eating the weedy old garden.  But guess where we found Miss May's head stuck every single day they were in there?

Every day we would come out and hear a miserable "Maaaaah!" and see May stuck, once again, in the netting around the Roselle, surrounded by luscious green things to eat on the outside of the netting, but determined only to entirely devour the forbidden plants.  (She's lucky it wasn't electrified!)

One day she peed for nearly 5 minutes after we had struggled to free her little empty head from the layers of fence, I guess she hadn't been able to all day while she was stuck.  You'd think she would have learned, but no.  Weeks later we put the animals back in just for one day because of a crazy fencing problem we were having, and sure enough, May was stuck again.  She managed to strip a bunch of the plants, but they came back and are blooming, along with the unscathed ones.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dent Corn

 This was the dent corn harvest.  It's not the loveliest corn.  I think it needed to be in larger blocks, away from the sprinklers and needed more calcium...and is it boron that is important for the kernals?  I can't remember.  This year we grew Blue Jade, Strawberry Popcorn (the cute little red ears at the top right), Oaxacan Green Dent, Daymon Morgan's Kentucky Butcher corn....and I think that was it.  Memories of the summer garden are fading fast.  And then there's the massive Attack Zucchini on the left.  They look like jewels in the light.  I was hoping to grind them and make corn bread, etc, but unfortunately a scourge of weevils came into our house on some brown top millet and cow pea seeds I had bought from Alachua County Feed and Seed.  (We call it Alachua County Toxic Exposure)   I was shocked that weevils could survive the atmosphere of ACTE, where stacks of pesticides are kept handy by the register, but that probably means they're Super Weevils and are immune to everything.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Fortress

Mirin and Rose spontaneously made a hobbit hole in the mulch pile the other day.  They've been playing in it ever since.  

They even used fence posts and made a roof.  They later piled more mulch on top.
It was a little snug, but a respectable shelter nonetheless, especially for a 6 and 3 year old to design and build themselves.  I agree with Ethan that it was a better shelter than anything we saw built at the Earth Skills gathering at Finca Mycol.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Toadstools and Fairy Rings

The rains have brought the fairy rings dancing all over the pastures!  I really want to re-name the farm Fairy Ring Farm, but Ethan thinks it's cheesy.  I've never quite liked Fox Grape Farm.  It was just the only name we could agree on.  Generally I liked to think of magical-type names and Ethan liked good and sensible (boring) names.  Fox Grape Farm reminds me of the story of the fox and the grapes, but the fox never got the grapes, and I am definitely in this to get the grapes.

It reminds me, I MUST set-up the garden oyster mushroom kit I had bought from Fungi Perfecti ages ago before it croaks.  Some day (when I have more time) I want to learn how to grow all sorts of mushrooms.
( Rose also thought they looked like boobies).