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.