Friday, May 30, 2014

Piglets are growing up

The piglets are quickly growing up.  They have abandoned their nest and roam around after Star now.

They stay together in a little herd and play together or try to root like big pigs.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fruit from the Earth

 The peaches have been amazing this year!  We had even more than I'd thought on the trees.  Mirin had a "momotaro" peach he called it that he's been watching ripen for weeks that he finally got to eat the other day.  The squirrels in town have destroyed almost every peach on our trees by the house, but at the farm a big old owl comes and sits by the orchard every evening to hunt, and there's a pair of mating hawks we see often.  The farm squirrels keep very close to the forest.

Every day we each pick a peach to eat fresh, but we also brought some home with the early rabbiteye blueberries with cream and grain-free coconut pound cake.  A fresh peach right off the tree is so delicious.  Also extra fuzzy.  I guess all the handling of the store peaches wears some of the fuzz off.  For so many years we've watched these trees grow, and it seemed like we would never get fruit from them.

The chanterelle mushrooms are out since it rained.  Here is one of our omelettes - mushrooms, horsemint and fresh eggs.

We got some good rain, and the corn seedlings are sprouting!  It is so hopeful to see them growing at last.  They were in the freezer for so long I was afraid they wouldn't grow at all.

Someone asked me what the eggs of Squash Vine Borer moths look like.  Here's a picture of one.  They look like tiny brown spots on the stems.  They seem to really like laying eggs on the tender little leaves and buds, but I have also found a lot just above the ground on the main stem.  I pick them off into soapy water, just in case just scratching them off isn't enough to keep them from hatching.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Yarn Along

I finished Clothilde's Phoebe sweater last week, and am now making a start on one for Rose.  She requested the same color - Quince & Co's Winesap.  It reminds me of Little Red Ridinghood with this pattern.  I've finished the decorative border on the bottom and am struggling through the monotonous body stocking stitch.  I guess I share Elizabeth Zimmerman's dislike of purling (it's harder on my hands with the thicker yarn), and I found myself trying to knit backwards to avoid it the other day!

I would have liked to post pictures of Clothilde in the Phoebe sweater, but she wouldn't let me put it on her at all.  I can't really blame her, as it's been in the 90's during the day, and it's really too hot to be knitting!  We have such a short winter, though, that if I want to knit for next winter it must be done now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nature Finds: Sun and Moon

 Over the weekend, Ethan went out to do the chores early in the morning so we could go to the Folk Festival.  The evening time out there is beautiful because of the sunsets and fireflies, but in the early mornings are all silvery with dew.

When he arrived one day he noticed something interesting in the garden.

 The blooming sunflowers were facing east where the sun was rising.  They follow the movement of sun all day long across the sky.

The evening primroses were still open (they close soon after the sun rises and the day becomes hot).  They were all facing west where the nearly full moon was sinking below the tree line.  You can see in the background how the sunflower is facing the opposite way.

Do the evening primroses follow the moon?

Monday, May 26, 2014


We are all so tired from the Folk Festival.  This year the "Florida Remembered" area that we participate in was not in the usual nice, central spot under an oak tree by the Folk Life stage.  Instead there was a guy with chainsaw carvings.  They put us WAY far away beyond the dumpsters and portapotties.  I'm afraid it was a little like being seated "below the salt."

There was a good deal of uphill walking to do to get to anything else.  Of course there were the usual golf cart shuttles for the non-athletic and decrepit, but Clothilde was absolutely terrified of them.  We thought she would love riding on them, so we tried to catch a ride up to the Old Marble stage on Friday.  It turned out to be the golf cart ride from hell as Clothilde screamed hysterically the whole way and everyone stared.

Otherwise, it was wonderful, but that's why we are extra, extra tired this year from lugging the toddler all over the place.  I think we might only go for one day next year if Clothilde is still scared of golf carts. 

All the children were so busy running and playing all day they almost forgot to eat or drink unless they were reminded.  We made some new friends and Mirin helped build the chickee with Willie.  There is a special way that the fronds are twisted onto the poles.  It got a real test, because on Sunday afternoon it rained torrentially and Mirin said it was still dry under the chickee.

It was extremely hot, but every afternoon we went and cooled off in the Suwanee River.

So we're resting up today.  There's still some work that needs done in the garden, and of course the regular chores.  But the happy feeling from new friends, beautiful music and fun still lingers.  Oh, and the chigger bites do, too.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Have Ax, Will Travel...

We're enjoying the Florida Folk Festival again today!  Mirin is really one of the Barefoot Boys this year, working with his own ax to hew a beam.

Friday, May 23, 2014


We're headed to the Florida Folk Festival this weekend, where we hope Mirin can help Willie build his usual chickie with wood and palmetto fronds.

Here's a short clip of Star nursing her piglets - so much cuteness!  They always fight over the bottom nipples for some reason.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nature Finds

 These are jumping spiders, but we like to call them "Florida Tarantulas" because they look so ferocious.   Notice the iridescent green fangs?  It was living on the same post as the matriarch roach that I wrote about a bit ago.  Incidentally, I haven't seen them lately!

This is one of our pecan trees that  has finally leafed out.  Summer is in full swing, everything is fresh and green and bushy.  It actually had pecans on it last year.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Corn is in!

We finally got the Dudley Farm dent corn in!

I'm not sure if I've talked very much about my plans for this corn this year.  Dudley Farm is an old homestead that was turned into a park.  Ethan's grandfather actually helped work with Sally Morrison before it was a park.  Ethan worked there for a short time before Sally retired, and got a handful of corn seeds that were sitting in our freezer for several years.

I'd wanted to plant them anyway, just because it's so cool to have our own very local, native genetics, but there were so many interesting corn varieties in seed catalogs I wanted to try out, it took me years before I planted the kernals.  It just never seemed urgent at all, because I thought we could always get more.  I think that's the impression modern life gives the world - infinite.

But once Sally retired and the park came under new management, they stopped selling their homegrown, stone ground corn once a year at the cane grinding.  They still sell ground corn, but it is sourced from somewhere in Georgia.  I learned that they have very badly mismanaged the corn by not planting it at the right time or not planing enough to maintain genetic diversity.  They must have completely ignored Sally's notes and just googled an IFAS PDF on when to plant corn.  Sally told us years ago that they plant the corn very late, beyond the dry season, so it gets plenty of rain and doesn't need irrigation, which they couldn't provide.

Last year I finally planted the Dudley Farm corn.  I studied how to save pure seed and even bought tassel and ear bags so I could hand-polllinate.  But it was just too much last year.  I missed the tiny window when the tassels come out and start taking in pollen, and I had grown many other varieties alongside, so I didn't save seed from last season.  I did some more research and realized I could just grow Dudley corn and wind-pollinate, which is a better way to save especially rare seeds anyway.  I spoke to the ranger at Dudley Farm and asked if I could get some more seeds, because I wasn't sure if I had enough left to plant.  She said they really could only spare maybe 50, because they were so low, which worried me even more.  When I got the seeds out to plant, I was so relieved to find that I still had over 300.

So the corn is in!  This might be a last chance for this corn variety...
The garden is huge this year.  There's only the okra and sweet potatoes left to put in.  Now I can think about getting the minerals and fertilizer on the pastures.  The work is never really over.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No Place For a Stroller

Over the weekend we had Rose's daisy scout troop out for a farm tour.  The girls had a blast playing in the pit and on the hammock.  We've had an unusual coldish snap lately, and it was beautifully, unseasonably cool and pleasant on Saturday.  The weather was perfect and dry, not unlike southern California.
They got to feed the goats, pet a kind of ugly adolescent meat chicken, see a newborn piglet and taste straight-from-the-cow fresh milk!  We also brought some watermelon to share with them, and my mom made an agua fresca from soursop that was very refreshing. 

Otherwise, the only thing that wasn't quite perfect was that I misjudged the walking capabilities of average American people.  I realized this as I was bringing them up to see the cows and observed that many of them had pained faces, were breathing heavily and didn't seem very enthusiastic to walk all the way across the farm again to see the pigs after that.  One daisy scout tapped my leg and informed me that she had TWO scratches already.  I told her she was lucky she only had that many, and Ethan mentioned that we had once contemplated naming the farm "Poky Pastures."

One poor woman tried to bring a very nice jogging stroller for her toddler, which she abandoned in the milking paddock for most of the tour.  I just hope it left with all the wheels intact, because really the farm is no place for a stroller.  It was painful to watch her struggle to push it through the waist-high rye cover crop in the garden to see the baby chickies.  There's still the occasional hidden cactus in there.  I thought maybe we could have offered to put her toddler in the wheelbarrow with Clothilde, but then it still has manure and moldy hay stuck to the bottom.  Oh well.

Clothilde was strangely fascinated with the stroller and kept trying to climb in while we were still in the milking paddock feeding the goats.  Strange, because when we tried to put her in the stroller at home she screamed and tried to throw herself out face first.  It's probably the same phenomenon of how a car seat is very fun when it's not strapped into a vehicle.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Star's First Litter

A couple of weeks ago, Ethan thought he had noticed Star and Bee in heat, and he thought maybe we should get feeder pigs again this year for next year's pork.

 But on Friday when Ethan went to feed the pigs, Star did not show up to eat.  He went looking for her, thinking that at the worst she had swallowed some glass from the old homestead site, or best she had escaped.  But when he found her, there was a third possibility he didn't think of.


She had made herself a nest and was grunting softly.  We fenced out the other pigs so she could have some space to herself.  When we checked on her just before leaving late on Friday night, three had been born so far.

Ethan got to see the first two be born.  The first thing he saw was a curly pig tail come out!

By Saturday morning, four piglets had been born, two girls and two boys.  They were nursing and doing well. 

 We made Star as comfortable as possible, with her own dish of barley and water. She doesn't seem to mind us looking at the piglets.  Ethan even picked some up.

 I was concerned on Saturday, because Star seemed to be having trouble standing up to eat.  She paused, and then heaved herself up very heavily.  Later we found out she was still in labor....

Because another piglet showed up!  It only has one spot.  Ethan says she ran out of spots for that one.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Can you see Mirin in the tree?
Isla didn't actually tree him - he was climbing it anyway.

Yesterday we had torrential rains, and this morning was very cool -  especially for May!  Rose had to look around for a jacket for school.  It was only 55 F, but after 89 degree weather, it feels freezing.

The ditch just beyond the driveway was all full of muddy water.  Ethan was joking that we should go "muddn.'"  It was in reference to an evening about a month ago when we were leaving late - I think it was past eight o'clock, and we saw a group of maybe three or four bros shuffling around on the side  of the ditch.  They were sheepishly tying their golf cart to a rope attached to their four-door jeep that was jammed in the mud.  Their car obviously didn't have the off-road capabilities they thought it did.

Mirin made a great sandcastle by his pit with the damp sand.  It even had a drawbridge.

This evening our pig Star was not at her usual place at dinner.  Ethan found she had made a nest and was in the process of giving birth!  Four piglets were born when we left just now, and I think more were on the way.  These are the first piglets bred and born on our farm.  They all looked big and healthy, too.  I hope they don't get stepped on or anything.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

First Sunflower

The first sunflower is blooming!  The garden is finally looking like a garden, not like a pile of hay with bits of grass sticking out.  It is always encouraging when it gets to this point.  The marigolds are blooming, too, so there's a little color out there.

The garden is going in bit by bit.  We finally got the tomatoes off the ground on their horizontal trellises.  This was a genius idea I got from my friend Haley of Comet Farm.  We tried so many other ways of tying the tomatoes up before, and they always grew too large and flopped over, causing the fruit to rot on the damp ground.

It's just T-posts with clips supporting the cattle panels.  The tomatoes grow through the wires and are held up.  We are planning a second layer for later in the season.  I can't speak highly enough of these trellises.  They have made tomato-growing in our climate so much easier.

The pumpkins have been planted, and we are beginning to build the corn beds!  It's the same as last year's garden - rye cover crop crushed down by moldy hay and black dirt.  The black dirt is from the pit that our friend Danny dug, thinking he was going to build a cob house and farm.  The "cob house" is still a pile of rubble, but we have a pond now and lots of black dirt for the garden.

It looks like a bad year for the stem borer moths and the squash.  I've been hand-picking hundreds of eggs off of them every day.  As long as I get the eggs off, it keeps them at bay.  An organic farmer who visited recently asked me why I don't just spray bT on it.  Because I'm just not willing to expose myself (and my baby, because I'm nursing!) to pesticides, even "organic" ones.  I do use diatomacious earth on occasion, and soapy water, but usually I just hand-pick pests into soapy water.  I can do that for my little garden.  I realize that's just not possible for any scale of commercial enterprise, which makes me appreciate my home-grown vegetables even more.

Beyond the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tomatillos and summer squash I've got the watermelons, cucumbers, casaba melons and beans planted.  We have spiffy new trellises for them - T-posts and wire.  They are even braced, which makes them the garden trellises of my dreams, ones I was asking Ethan to build for years.  We'll see how they turn out.  We have yet to find a long-bean trellis that really works for us.  Last year I used my old laurel oakling with sections of red-top fencing.  It was ugly and collapsed mid-season from rot and the weight of the vines.  We've also tried posts with twine tied back and forth, and the very worst one that killed all the pole beans, posts with bits of twine dangling down along the row.  The twine just rots in our very humid climate.  I'm hoping the wire we've invested in will be used again and again in other trellises.

We are trying to trellis the melons and cucumbers this year.  I've heard of people growing them on trellises, and I want to try it out.  I don't have a good set up for them yet, so we're still trying different ideas to see how they work.  I'm hoping it will help keep the melons from rotting this year -  always a tragedy in previous years.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Yarn Along

Still working on the Phoebe's sweater for Clothilde.  It is turning out to be so cute!  I tried it on her already and I really like the look of it even without the sleeves and hood.  I am thinking of knitting a couple that way as a long winter vest of sorts, one that she can play outside in without fear of getting the sleeves dirty.  I am just in the process of cleaning all the wool and putting it away, and even copious amounts of gall soap did not completely restore her white wool undershirt sleeves to their previous not-grey color.  She is definitely a girl who needs machine-washable sleeves (perhaps even with a touch of bleach).

When I was taking the picture, Clothilde took the chance to try out knitting herself - I am always amazed at what she absorbs just from watching us:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Nature Finds

We found a little mouse in the barn!  He must be eating the spilled oats.  He (or she, I suppose) was so small.  It could jump shockingly high and tried to climb a tree to get away from us.  We let it go, of course, after we took a picture.  It was so cute.  I think we have quite a lot of mice around, judging from the number of snakes we also have, as well as the big old owl that comes and sits right on the garden gate in the evenings.

 We found a glass lizard in the yard.  There were actually two of them (just friendly?  Or friends with benefits?).  They are lizards with no legs, and their tails will fall off if they are distressed.  We see them often, usually in the spring time.

A patent leather beetle?  We've had so many beetles lately.  I think they really like the permaculture beds in the garden for some reason.  I find all sorts of beetle grubs when I'm transplanting starts.  A lot of them are probably dung beetles, of course.

 The garden has some impressively huge crickets in there, but keeping up with them are some equally impressive wolf spiders.  Sometimes I find a mama with it's babies on it's back, or an egg case.  I wish they ate the squash vine borers.

This was a really cool caterpillar the kids found at the farm.  I'll ask my dad, the butterfly guy, what it is.  He told me, but I've forgotten already.  Will have to add notes to this one.

The slime molds are gearing up in the garden.  I wonder if this is one of the "dog vomit" varieties.  I'm not terribly familiar with slime molds, except about how they act like plants, animals and fungi all at once, and simultaneously congregate in one spot with perfect conditions, although they start out in different places.

This is my favorite - a blooming moss garden on the outdoor shower.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day

Isn't she cute with her toddler step stool?  Do you see how well she can reach the doorknob?

 Looking back, I can barely even remember the time when I could set her down and she didn't go anywhere.  And were her cheeks really that chubby?  I don't think she ever chewed on the wooden baby teether, not even once.

Rose dressed up as a beautiful flower fairy.

Don't worry -  this one was staged.

I have mixed feelings about Mother's Day as a holiday.  I love the opportunity to honor my mother (and mother-in-law),  but over the years I've decided that Mother's Day is bad for me.  I think it's all the pressure to be appreciated.  I never get to sleep in and my family always dissolves into tantrums while I try to do something quiet and focused for once.  Usually I end Mother's Day feeling either like crying or packing a backpack and quietly moving to New Zealand.

In light of now being three decades old and therefore wiser and more mature, I decided to take Mother's Day into my own hands this year.  I woke up before everyone else on Saturday and brushed my hair, something I only get to do about twice a month.  Then I finished knitting a sleeved on Clothilde's Phoebe sweater.  Bliss!  I couldn't even believe it was happening without someone climbing on me. 

Once the children were awake I did massive amounts of laundry and swept, mopped, and oiled the wood floors while Ethan slept in (he wasn't feeling well).  All three children helped out and had a great time.  There was a minor tussle taking the spray bottle of water and vinegar away from the toddler (she was squirting us all with it).  By the time Ethan was awake, I had even already planned a special breakfast for Sunday and taken the recycling out.  I of course realize how transient a clean house is, but it really made Mother's Day wonderful.

On Sunday morning, sleeping in was actually enforced because Clothilde flopped over my legs and I couldn't move without waking her up!  That morning I made sausage patties for breakfast with our home-raised pork and even dried sage from the garden, our eggs fried in butter, and soaked-flour pancakes made with home-made Matsoni yogurt with strawberries and local wildflower honey.  Everyone was delighted.  Pancakes are a rare treat for us because eating something that sweet first off in the morning makes me feel funny all day.  It was fine when paired with sausage and eggs, though.

I spent the rest of the day starting more seeds for the garden and making a grass-fed beef stew and an apple tart for my mom for dinner.  We brought dinner to her house, and I picked a bouquet of wild and garden flowers for her.  My brother, who is back in town after finishing yet another semester at CMU, came over for a rare visit.  It was a wonderful day, the best Mother's Day yet. 

If there's anything I've learned in my time here, it's that you really have to appreciate yourself, too.  There's just no way my family could ever have given me a clean house for Mother's Day, but making it happen as a gift for myself was wonderful.  And since I wouldn't be a mother without all of them, doing nice things for them on Mother's Day not only made everyone very happy, it also seemed appropriate.