Thursday, April 30, 2015

In the Garden: First Tomatillos

It's been a soaking wet week this week.  A spattering of intense rain storms has cooled the weather off, making it possible to move fast enough to work in the garden.  I think that's why nothing gets done down here in the South like it does up North.  It's too hot to move most of the time.

The first tomatillos are ready!  They really took me by surprise this time, and if my children had not been on top of what's ready to pick, I might have missed them entirely.  It's so useful to have eaters helpers in the garden.  They were a big relief after so many months of greens and winter vegetables.

We've been finding a lot of wild passionflower vines popping up in the garden along the "tropical" garden beds - planted with bananas, taro (malanga), cassava (yuca), tumeric and ginger.  It's funny, because we were contemplating buying passion vine seeds when we were ordering.  I'm glad we didn't.  Ethan is building trellises for them to climb on.  

There is a wonderful patch of passion vines in a clearing on the driveway made a shocking number of fruits last year.  There was even one on the garden fence last year, but something ate all the fruit before they were ripe.  Raccoons and possums must be immune to belly-aches from unripe fruit.  They seem to live off of it.

This is just a picture to show that I finally got around to planting my beans.  It's the only part of the garden I feel confident in sharing a picture of.  The rest of it is nothing to be proud of.  I looked at pictures of last year's garden this time of year, and the rye was golden brown and lying flat like hay on the ground between the beds.  This year it is towering above everything, very weed-like, and going to seed.  Once I get everything planted, I will go along and make paths with the cow's strewn-about hay leavings, or at least in my mind I will.  It's very possible it will never happen, but I am hoping to load up another trailer-full of old hay and truck it down to the front of the garden this weekend.

There were a lot of experiments this spring.  I tried a solar-only cold frame, which I think would have worked if there wasn't a huge rip in the side plastic.  With Clothilde running around, I never got a chance to repair it, and it was never warm enough for the hot peppers to sprout.  Another discovery was that the flats work well enough for tomatoes and peppers, but none of the curcurbits thrived.  It downright killed the melons and squash.  Now I remember reading that melons, pumpkins, and squash do best if direct-seeded, and I could never understand that, because the tender sprouts get munched up very quickly in my garden.  I've always started them and put them out once they have some true leaves, but I've started them in plastic Soho cups, which gave their roots much more room.  I was trying out the fancy, expensive flats from Johnny's Seeds, but I am going back to my junky-looking cups next year.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Yarn Along: Another Shalom Cardigan

I have set aside my Scandinavian-style colorwork sweater (yet again) after realizing there are only three (THREE!!) more weeks until we leave for France.  I am still drudging away imperceptibly along the bottom edge, the sleeves are invisible, and the tiny yarn was becoming frustrating.  I needed a project I could crank out in a week or so, since I don't have any sweaters since the buttonhole on my last Shalom sweater tragically broke (the way so many strands of yarn tore, it really needs re-knitted).

Ah, the rewards of knitting with wonderful, chunky yarn.  Such a relief from the tiny, fingering-weight stuff!  I even had a beautiful skein of Cascade Eco-plus in Lichen, which I had mistakenly bought for Mirin's cabled vest (I had guessed the wrong green).  At this point, I've finished it, and was debating on whether or not to add sleeves.  My last sweater had short sleeves, which always left my arms cold, unless it wasn't cold enough to wear it, but long sleeves will require buying another skein, probably in a different dye lot....

I checked the weather in Nice to decide.  66F,  not too bad, but will seem cold after all the 86 degree days we've had here.  Then I checked some of the other places we're going - Crest 44 F, Premanon 33 F, St. Croix-aux-mines 38 F....okay, definitely sleeves!  More knitting, which isn't a bad thing usually, but the deadline is making me anxious.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Not So Many Peaches

The peaches and early rabbit-eye blueberries are coming along - it looks as if it will be a very good year for blueberries, and a very poor year for peaches.  The very late, only frost we got was at the worst possible time for them.  The Florida King trees have a few, and Snow Queen has perhaps four.  Disappointing, but these things happen.  One year we got almost no blueberries - the blossoms had all frozen in a late frost.  The next year the bushes were extra loaded down.  They save their energy for the next spring.

Today was an epic dairy day in the kitchen.  Four gallons of milk a day is not something to be taken lightly.  I am beginning to remember the stress of skimming every day when Clothilde was a baby.  I skimmed milk, made butter, made yoghurt.  It's been so long since we've had that much milk that I had forgotten how to do everything.  Butter-making is not really difficult - you whip the cream around to the point where it becomes yucky for whipped cream, and then voila!  Butter!

I dusted off my long-forgotten standing mixer, and quickly realized I had forgotten how all the parts fit together when I put them on in the wrong order several times.  I over-loaded the machine with two quarts instead of just one, and had to pour one out before it could make butter properly.  Washing the butter was the only thing I felt I remembered well, for some reason.  In the end, we got a lot of nice butter, and a whole bucket of skimmed milk/buttermilk for the pigs.  I didn't save the buttermilk to drink because it wasn't cultured.  I'm not about to break out a new culture just before we leave for two weeks.  I've killed so many already.

My hands are finally adjusting to milking so much.  I milked Matilda out yesterday without Ethan's help.  Geranium's udder is really annoying.  You work so hard, and the bottom of the pail is only just covered.  It takes ages to fill the thing.

Monday, April 27, 2015

31 - And A Grain-free Non-Chocolate Chocolate Cake Recipe

Saturday made 31 years since I was born.  We spent the morning stuffing sausages - three different kinds.  They are delicious, and we have 18 lbs of them.  It was a good birthday.

Later I made a grain-free non-chocolate chocolate cake (if I eat chocolate, I can't sleep for days).  Lately everyone has been asking me for chocolate birthday cakes, and I have been at a loss.  I felt safe possibly ruining my own birthday cake, so it was a good opportunity for experiment.  It was extremely chocolate-y and delicious.  Clothilde sat in my lap and helped blow out all the candles (at this point, I do need the help).  I think she thought it was her birthday.

Turning 30 was so much harder for me than turning 31.  It just came so suddenly.  What did I accomplish with my youth?  What do I have to show for it?  Mostly I spent my twenties doing ephemeral things for my family and working on our farm.  Clothilde was at her most difficult climbing age, and I felt like I was paralysed to accomplish even the simplest things, like loading laundry into a machine.  Mirin was bored that year, and spent a lot of time having tantrums about stupid things.  I kept hurting myself and getting sick.  It was a year of cleansing, of going through my experiences over the last decade and sorting them out.  It was a cross-roads.  I had to decide who I was and what direction to take.

Thirty-one feels much more certain and grounded.  I think I have taken a firm step into my early thirties.  I want to have a vision for myself as I get older.  I don't want to be one of those that covers their age up with youthful clothes and cosmetics and refuses to be changed by the years slipping by, but I would like to age gracefully.  That's always the hope, anyway.

I am glad to have been a young mother.  Having my own children so close to my childhood, it has helped me hold on to bits of youth.  Flexibility.  Interest.  The intensity of experiences.  Even as I grow old, I can hold onto those things, and try not to grow stiff, or stuck or too distracted.

Ethan said 31 is harder for him than 30, but it takes boys longer to grow up.  We have grown up together from age 21.  He is 18 days older than I am.  If he had been born a little later, or I earlier, perhaps we would have come here on the same day.  As it is, he gets older first, which I like.  It's easier being second.

Grain-Free Non-Chocolate Chocolate Cake

 1 cup coconut flour, sifted

1 cup toasted carob powder, sifted

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 eggs (appalling if you buy them, I know, but if you keep chickens, you'll understand what the piling up dozens are like and forgive me)

 1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup food-grade cocoa butter (I get it from Mountain Rose Herbs)

1 cup honey

Juice of 1 lemon or lime (about 4 teaspoons juice)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons chocolate extract (I get mine from Frontier)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 and line two cake pans with buttered parchment paper.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, sift together the coconut flour, carob powder, baking soda and salt.

3.  In a small sauce pan, melt the butter and cocoa butter together on very low.  Turn off the heat when they are just melted and mix in the honey and lime or lemon juice, and chocolate and vanilla extracts.

4.  In two mixing bowls, separate six of the eggs.  Add the remaining six to the bowl with the yolks and lightly beat them with a fork.  Set the 6 whites aside for now.

5.  Add the honey/butter/lemon/flavoring mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.  I find it helpful to add a third or so at a time, and stir carefully to avoid lumps.

6. Stir in whole eggs/egg yolks mixture in several stages, stirring carefully to avoid lumps.  The coconut flour is very absorbent, and will soak up what looks like way too much liquid at first.

7.  Whip up the reserved egg whites into stiff peaks, and fold into the batter.

8.  Divide between two cake pans, and bake for 35-40 minutes, until set.  Let cool.

9.  To serve, carefully turn cooled layers onto plates.  Slice in half and layer with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Minus Two

Exhausted.  We harvested two of the big pigs.  It really isn't the best season to harvest pigs, usually the coldest part of the years is best, but we are downsizing everything for when we are in Europe and my mom is taking over for two weeks.  I was already tired from chasing stupid Sappho around (Ethan has been calling her "Sapphole."  I've been thinking of veal).  The good news is that she was still weaned when we got out there.

We got an early start, although not super early.  The morning was surprisingly cool and pleasant.  Our friend PJ helped out ALL day - she put in more than twelve hours with us.  We even managed to mobilize all three children out of bed at at the farm by 10:00 or so.  Mirin actually listens to her, so we extracted a shocking amount of work from him.

He downed both pigs with the .22, which he was very excited about.  As PJ pointed out to him, it wasn't about killing something - it was about the opportunity to provide meat for his family.  Two other families drove out to hang out with us while we worked on the pig, and it was very fun, with lots of children talking and playing around us.  They loved to see and touch the fresh organs.  It is a great home school anatomy opportunity. There's something so cheerful and social about work like that.  Everyone works together purposefully and gladly with food at the center.  The work is naturally communal and non-competitive.  Proper communication is a must.  It's such a rare opportunity in modern life.  I think processing our own meat together is a major reason our marriage is so solid and comfortable.

Most of the day went to scalding, scraping, and chopping up pork.  We usually field-dress the carcass and bring it to the butcher, but PJ is experienced at cutting up pigs, and particularly sausage-making, so we were doing it all ourselves this time, with her showing us.  After everything was cut up and in coolers, the precious organs bagged up, we had our chores to do.

My mom had milked the goats for us - she is getting them used to her doing the milking so they won't misbehave too much when we are gone.  But there were two mama cows this time.  I think it almost killed me after all the other work.  I'm so glad she did the goats, because I don't think I could have done it.  My wrists already look puffy from all the extra milking muscles - I'll be a mutant after this.  It's like what Joel Salatin wrote about the old-fashioned hand-milking milkmen with the forearms the size of a vegetarian's thighs.  Ethan stepped in when my hands got too tired and let me rest.  PJ also milked some.  We got four gallons of milk, which was backbreaking to haul over to the truck.  The Ectophye natural fly repellent from Agri-dynamics did wonders to keep the flies away this time, and we were not stingy with the barley.  Whatever it takes to get them used to coming down to be milked.

After that, I noticed dark clouds were gathering, and I began to wonder whether or not to water the garden.  I just put in some tender little melon starts, and I didn't want them to wither up and die just yet.  Ethan checked the radar and advised me to water them, because it didn't look like any rain was coming.  The clouds overhead seemed to say something very different, but I did turn the sprinklers on for a short time - just in case.  It was in vain, because within 20 minutes, rain was thundering down.  It rained and poured.  We sheltered under the barn, which wasn't much shelter because the wind blew the rain on us.  I had thoughtfully moved all the paper bags and baskets with stuff under the barn beforehand, and it now appeared we would not be able to fit them all inside the truck with us.  So we began on triage, and only brought back what was necessary to the sausage-grinding at home, and it only just barely fit under and on top of all of us.

On the way out a small tree was leaning over the road, and Ethan steered around it, off of the hard-packed road and into a really gooshy bit of mud.  The truck stuck fast.  At this point, the rain had mostly stopped, so we got out and fished around for sticks to put under the wheels.  The big kids took Clothilde way up the road while we pushed the truck around.  First I tried steering us out, but was not successful, so Ethan drove and PJ and I pushed.  At last we were out of the mud!

When we got home, a new awful realization dawned on us - the milk was still at the farm!  We ate something very quickly, and Ethan drove back out to get it while PJ and I made sausage.  We were almost done by the time he got back.  The sausage turned out beautifully, but it was a really long day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Weaning (again)

At last, a picture of Flora's new calf!  We've hardly seen him.  He hides until he has to nurse.  They are both doing well.  It's hard to tell now that the other calves are so grown up, but he seems like a rather large calf.

And speaking of them....

They are being weaned (again).  Yesterday at the farm was a HARD day.  I think it took a few years off my life, or at least a few months.  It's funny how life can seem so simple and care-free at times, and then suddenly seem like a vaguely associated string of minor catastrophes.

Weaning is awful.  I hate weaning.  I can totally understand why dairies sell the little boogers at birth so they don't have to deal with them.  I always realize how inadequate and poorly built our fences are when we are weaning.  Sappho has been the most awful and elusive.  The last time we weaned them, she kept leaping out of everything.  The smug looks she gave me when we arrived and found her next to Matilda, drinking all the milk, made me want to smite her with something.  She's BAD.

It was very convenient the day before when we weaned them, because they all ran straight to the extra-sturdy weaning paddock with top boards we had built when we had this same problem with Isla.  It was no problem to ignore their wails of despair and move the mamas out to a fresh line of grass.

But yesterday when we arrived, we saw only two calves in the paddock.  Sappho had gotten out and was in the larger paddock, mooing hoarsely.  And horror of horrors....Matilda was in the garden!!

That prompted us to dash out of the truck and apprehend her.  Luckily, the incredibly lush rye grass between the beds seemed to have distracted her away from the bush beans, and nothing was wrong except some superficial hoof-damage.  Apparently she had leaped over three fences to get there, which seems like a shocking amount of inconvenience for stupid Sappho.

She was at least very easy to get out of the garden, but when I grabbed her halter and tried to lead her into the milking paddock, she balked and whirled around.  I had not had time to get my shoes on, so was cautious of getting my toes stepped on.  She dragged me across a spot of thistles and blackberries until I gave up and let go.  In the end, we managed to convince her with some barley (she is disdaining the current batch of peanut hay - it has larger stems than she likes.  She is a peanut hay connoisseur).  It was easy then to get Sappho back in with the other calves.  After Matilda was brought back to the pasture, Sappho launched herself off of a pallet on the ground and jumped clear over the fence - top boards and all - and landed ungracefully on her chin.  It didn't seem to bother her at all, and she jumped up and went on mooing her head off.

When Geranium was brought down to milk (naturally we aren't bothering with Chestnut at all), Sappho tried to nurse on her, and was very firmly and satisfactorily put in her place by being tossed aside with a very emphatic head-butt.

In the end we managed three gallons of milk yesterday, and sore wrists, and the calves are (as far as I know) still weaned.  Not too bad, but I can't help feeling like this whole milking thing is more than I can manage.  The ancient Egyptians started off milking antelope.  They must have been crazy.  I always feel like this when we first start milking again.  The goats seemed like this, and now they are good as gold and jump up in the milking stand, eager to be milked.

The worst part, I think, about weaning is the noise.  The calves were practically shouting at me the whole time I was trying to milk.  It must be in the same frequency that children's voices manage when they are tired and hungry - evolutionarily calculated to create anxiety and stress.  It was so loud, when I adjusted my hat, I found it was vibrating.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fashionable Farming

I've been overambitious in my garden plans this year.  It's starting to sink in now that I'm actually building it.  Gods, what was I thinking?  Last year half the garden was overwhelming, but this.....

My consolation is my early planted tomatoes.  They are doing well.  Army worms have been kept at bay - wooly bears, not so much, but they are so cute, I can forgive them.

Yesterday we went to stock up on non-gmo corn, barley, peas, etc for the piggies while we are away in France.  We all came along, I thought it would be some nice knitting time, perhaps we could stop at the river on the way back?  There was a Survival Gardening lecture that evening I was hoping to make.  Surely it won't take long to load up some bags and hit the road again?

When we got there, we encountered a new possibility.  The feed seller, a farmer himself, was waiting and eager for a conversational opportunity.  Being at home with small children very often for the past decade, I can sympathize, but.....

It was mostly my fault.  I always say the wrong thing, somehow.  But I had no idea.  All I said was, "Did you lime....." and he was off.

There's been a woman from Australia who did a lecture in these parts, and thus her style of farming suggestions (she isn't actually a farmer, merely a consultant) is very much in vogue among the eco-inclined around here.  They really like it, because she suggests not adding anything, just growing stuff (adding seeds, basically).  He gave me a long, long lecture about how "all the minerals you need are right here in the soil.  You don't have to add anything!  It's all about the mycorrhizae !"

I am familiar with her school of thought, and while I think it is interesting, and am even planning on using some of her suggestions, I am also very sceptical, because there's no place on earth like Florida.  If there was a Florida eco-famer/grazier who could say exactly how they became wildly successful at growing things overnight, I'm there.  But let's face it.  The soil here is mostly silica. 

 Every few years there's some new darling of eco-agriculture offering miraculous suggestions.  The most popular ideas are the ones that require the least effort.  "All you need is to move the cows around!" Joel Salatin proclaimed, the last time we paid $200 to see him speak.  He's farming one of the most fertile places on earth - the Shenandoah Valley.   Another time it was all about genetics and line breeding.  We went on a farm tour around then, and the farmer went on and on about how much line breeding has made him successful, and directed the farm tour discreetly away from the paddock with the miserable-looking animal dying of parasite infestation.

It's a very good idea, I think, not to take anyone's word for it, but see how things work for real, and be honest with yourself about it.  We had been working with an eco-agriculture company and buying expensive fertilizer that added minerals.  After a couple of years, I noticed that it had acidified the soil, and the pastures that had been fertilized were actually worse off.  I did experiments with adding lime, and saw what a big difference that made, so now we are liming.  This fall we are going to experiment with seeding different forages and adding more legumes on one of the lines.  It took me a long time to ditch the Countryside Organic's mineral lick and actually feed proper levels of copper to the animals, per Pat Colby's suggestion, but it made an immense difference in their health.  It's good to be able to be flexible and honest, and not just blunder around with whatever is fashionable.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Crazy Week

Ethan's Birthday cake from last week - and probably the nicest birthday cake out of my kitchen so far - four layers of grain-free cake, whipped cream with cherries and cherry filling, chocolate ganache icing with toasted almonds....

Wow last week was crazy.  There must be something in the stars.  Weaning babies.  Unweaning babies as Ethan was sent out of town.  Ethan's plane home cancelled, forced to stay at George W. Bush airport overnight and be gone an extra day.  Rare guest from Europe at mom's house.  A huge list of things breaking - including temporary absence of computer monitor.  Mirin and my mom having loud, dramatic fights over the use of his computer monitor (it was her video card that disabled two other monitors).  Phantom ghost-dog that plagued Rose while she was trying to go sleep every night.  Ghost-dog immune to all my efforts to convince him he didn't exist and wanted to leave Rose alone so we could all go to sleep finally.  Flora's calf (of course) being born then - no pictures yet, they are both very elusive - yesterday we couldn't even find him until it was pouring rain and we were leaving.

I'll admit it isn't easy with three children and a farm to take care of on your own.  All the major must-do projects were put on hold, but at least I got the beans planted, and we managed most of our home school lessons.   I finally had to drive the horrible, oversized truck, which was awful.  Mirin mocked my efforts the whole time, which absolves me of any future guilt I might have had at whatever I might say/do when he is learning to drive in a few years.

The cat, of course, always makes sure she is extra annoying when Ethan is out of town.  Perhaps she misses him.  He is usually the one who gets up at 4 am and tosses her out the door because she is mewing obnoxiously in the hall.  I am usually nursing the baby back to sleep then, so it was very inconvenient for everyone that he was gone, and I kept forgetting to keep her outside at night.

There was one time that Ethan was gone for was very late and I was lying half-conscious from a disturbing dream, listening to the reassuring sounds of my children breathing, when I thought I heard the quiet sound of the bedroom door creaking creepily open.  There's no way, I thought to myself stoutly.  I'm just feeling jumpy.  I'm sure I closed and locked it.  Seconds later, an unlikely horror-movie monster clawed its way from under the bed onto my feet.  It was terrifying.  I screamed and fumbled for the light.

It was the horrible cat.  She seemed very pleased at my surprise, and mewed loudly.

Here's a riddle for you - Ethan's already guessed it, but it has so far stumped Mirin and Rose:

Straight and tall I stand

Firmly grounded in the sand

And all around I spread my hands

Each vertebrae of mine

Becomes another of its kind.

Any guesses?  I'll tell you the answer in a few days.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


When we first started out at the farm, the whole place was dominated by blackberries, bahia grass, cactus, and weedy laurel oak trees.  The bahia isn't so bad - the cows can eat it, and it isn't thorny.  But it seemed so monotonous.  I missed my favorite little herbs and wildflowers.  It stayed like this for a long time.  I tried planting lyre-leaf sage and spiderwort, two plants that seem to thrive everywhere else, but they withered and died.  The front of the garden was kind of a joke for Ethan and our former squatter, Miles.

It was when we had the chickens moving along the grazing lines, and finally the grazing animals, that seemed to make a break in the botanical monotony.  They stirred things up.  Scratch daisy came first, and then clouds of agalinis and daisy fleabane.

This spring I was charmed by the appearance of lush chickweed and cleavers in the garden, black medic and henbit among the rye.  And although I have tried so unsuccessfully to grow plantain out there, now the second line is full of it, and it was practically taking over the garden.  Lyre-leaf sage is spreading itself out the grazing lines, alongside a native skullcap.  I feel so charmed and blessed.  It's like they moved themselves out there to meet me, so I wouldn't miss them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Arms Full

I don't know why anyone worries about Friday the 13th.  To date, nothing awful has ever happened to me on Friday the 13th.  Monday the 13th, I think, ought to be the worst.  With Friday, you at least have the weekend to lick your wounds, but on Monday you have the whole week to suffer through.

Yesterday was a crazy day.  On Saturday we weaned the calves.  I tried to milk Chestnut on Sunday, was brutally kicked in the leg (thank goodness not my face - we had a T-post in the way), and got a massive bruise.  We decided we will not milk her after all....and if we need to reduce the herd, well, we know which cow is first to go!  Geranium gave us a lot of milk.  Matilda had no milk, because her calf had slipped out and gotten in with her.

Yesterday several things happened that make me superstitious.  Ethan found he may be travelling for work at a very stressful time (weaning calves, milking mamas who are not used to it), the toilet overflowed in a major way, and Matilda's calf escaped the hard fence with electric top wire, and she again had no milk. 

Ahhh....this week will be an adventure!

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Potato Bazooka

For an April Fool's joke, Ethan told Mirin that he would get him a bazooka if he watched the baby while we did the chores.  Mirin hardly ever watches the baby, so this was a big request.  There's a family joke that he needs a t-shirt that says, "Big Brother Ain't Watching You" with a picture of a baby sticking a fork into an electrical outlet.

Two hours later, Mirin was still watching the baby, and Ethan started to feel slightly guilty that he was going to have to break the news that he couldn't actually get him a bazooka.  Then he thought about making a potato gun.

This was right along the lines of what would be guaranteed to evoke serious enthusiasm among the 10-year-old boy part of our family.  Earlier in the year, it was muzzle-loading rifles that he talked of non-stop, causing Rosie to cover her ears shout, "Just shut up!  I'm so tired of hearing about your stupid guns!  Shut up!" which was what the rest of us had been thinking, too.  Lately it has been The Slingshot Channel, which was perfect because I had been losing my steam with our Earth, Water, Fire, Air lessons we are supposed to be working on for 4th grade.  He's been hard at work every spare minute that he is not required to be picking up his laundry or head-scratching over multiplying fractions making various trigger mechanisms and carving cross-bow handles.

The potato gun took some trial and error.  It's basically a length of PVC pipe with a removable cap at one end.  A spritz of denatured alcohol, the cap is quickly screwed on, and a match is held beside a small hole by the back.  It was surprising how fast and far it could go, and was a fun home school project.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Art of Mowing

This week began with a major advance in technology for us.  As the cactus has been fading from the pastures, wickedly sharp-thorned blackberries have been taking over.  While we very much enjoy the berries from these bushes for a short time during the year, they also tear our clothes, scratch us and the animals' udders, and clog up large swaths of pasture that we would rather have for grass.

The lime we put on in the fall should help, but meanwhile, we have found that mowing really helps the grass have a competitive edge.  Last fall we payed our neighbor way more than we would have liked to for mowing the square pasture and a grazing line we refer to as "the goat wedge," although the goats have not been on it for over a year now.  There are blackberries coming up this spring on those lines, but they are the young, tender ones that the cattle gobble up readily, and we are hopeful that a few passes with the ruminants will really help.

Meanwhile, there are 22 more acres that could use mowing, some desperately, not to mention the overgrown fence lines.  The only mower available to us is an electric push one that really is designed for little lawns.  So the more we thought about it, the more we wished for a functional mower.

Thinking and talking about it, we at last decided on investing in scythes.  There are several reasons:  A mower that would knock out the pastures would not do very well under the fences, and that job would require a different machine.  Mowers break and use gasoline.  And planting seeds and then scything the longer grass on top is a very effective way to seed crops that would otherwise require drilling, and is the primary way that farming genius Masanuobu Fukuoka grew barley, rice, and other crops.  It would change what forages we could grow, and potentially give us the ability to easily grow staple crops.

A beautifully crafted tool that effectively does the job of a mower, weed-whacker, AND planting drill, and with care will last our lifetime?  Not to mention that mowing by hand does not require fossil fuels and does not create stinky, polluting exhaust, and has a beneficial effect on grass, as opposed to the violent shredding of a machine.  It was an obvious decision.

The scythes arrived on Monday, and by Wednesday we were taking our first awkward swipes at the pasture.  Mowing is an ancient art, one that requires skill and balance more than strength.  Still very much beginners, we are both enjoying diving into this new skill.  Already areas we wanted for so long to clear are beautifully cut, and the orchard is half mowed, and therefore looks like it belongs to someone else.

 The work feels grounding, flexible and energetic, a beautiful dance of gravity and blade.  As Ethan said, if building garden beds is the Crossfit of farming, mowing is certainly the yoga.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

In the Garden: Missing tooth, Hay Hut, Summer Garden, and Lepidoptera


The  biggest news is that Rose is minus one front tooth now.  It had been loose for awhile, and despite lots of wiggling and even dreams that it would come out, it didn't manage to until Mirin accidentally kneed her in the teeth, and Clothilde bashed her in the mouth with her forehead during a reckless game all in the same day.  I guess some baby teeth are just stubborn!

 We rolled in a hay bale to mulch between the rows.  The cage has been re-purposed into a hobbit hole.  All three of them spent hours playing in it yesterday while we worked in the garden.  It's better than a television or an ipad.

 She can open the latch from the inside, so it is very fun to be locked in, apparently.  The best part is hiding inside while the sprinklers are on.

 Serious gardening was taking place this week - it looks so nice!  The beautiful rye grass was getting a little too sure of itself and was shading out the tomatoes - so I mulched it with hay, and they look much happier now.  The tomato trellis is up!  Bean trellis is almost complete!

Still lots more to do.  This is the first year we are filling up the whole 3/4 acre with garden.  Ambitious, I know.


 The winter garden has exploded in drifts of beautiful flowers.  The swallowtail caterpillars have found the dill.  Why aren't dill flowers included in more bouquets?  They look so wild and Victorian at the same time.

 We also found a beautiful sphingid moth in the rye.  I thought it was different than the tomato hornworms, but I wasn't sure.  Ethan wanted to collect it, if its children were going to eat the tomatoes anyway.  It was so lovely and refined, we just took pictures and let it go.

My heart goes out to sphingids.  My dad raised a lot of different kinds when I was a kid, and I always thought they were interesting.  I'll never forget the ones he put in a bowl of water to observe their swimming behavior.  And there was the stupid one that crawled down the stem of host plant and drown itself in a tiny vial of water.  Only its face was in, but that was enough.  It didn't think to back up at all, or maybe it couldn't walk backwards.  I remember it was like a tiny sack of water, all limp.  We held it for awhile, and then laid it out on a paper towel, and it ended up coming back to life.  My dad blocked up the vial with plugs of paper towel so it wouldn't do that again.


This one turned out to not be a tomato hornworm.  It is a tropical one that eats plants in the coffee family, such as Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens).  It had the most beautiful scales on it.  It warmed it's wings a minute by vibrating them, and then went along its way.

And the kolhrabi is still lurking....larger than ever.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


I'm sorry I haven't been writing!  I realized that this makes a whole year that I have been dedicatedly writing here - and then was forced to take a break by computer problems.

Easter was was just right.  Not too busy or full, just right.  Painting blown eggs for our Easter tree, grain-free cupcakes with three different icings (strawberry, blueberry and peach made lovely spring colors), and dying hard-boiled eggs for Sunday's egg hunt.  Natural dyes again this year, although again the red cabbage blue did not turn out for me.  Somehow it never does.  I was pleased to use a tiny, stunted one from the garden, and then it just made the faintest  greenish hue.  So we didn't have blue until the children went outside and picked spiderwort flowers and mulberries - those made lovely blues and purples.

It's been a very productive week - lots done in the garden, little nagging projects finally neatly tied up.  I've been having panic attacks late at night because of the impending trip to France, but otherwise all okay.  Ethan found some wonderful cider on sale with only fermented apple juice (so hard to find!) that has been very helpful for sleeping.  I never hardly drink, so it knocks me out.

More tommorrow, I hope!  The spring weather is calling me outside....hope you had a lovely Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

In the Garden: Kohlrabi, Kohlrabi, Kohlrabi

As I have said before, the winter garden is in decline, but we are still suffering through the kohlrabi.  Well, perhaps suffer is too strong a word, because I really do like it, although it doesn't seem as versatile as the lettuce was, when you eat it every night for dinner (and lunch).  While it has really helped fill in the gap between the summer and winter garden, I certainly won't start quite so many next season.

The kale, at least, has offered some relief.  Despite his misgivings, Ethan found he really does like kale chips.  Our kale chips are not low-fat, nor vegetarian, being made with lard, which he particularly enjoys.  He says we are all set to ruin a vegan pot-luck now.

The flowers this spring have been so pleasing and beautiful.  The dill flowers are gorgeous with a few sprigs of flowering mustards and radishes, and the snap dragons eventually did bloom, and are very lovely. 

Last night I pulled the largest beets I've ever grown for dinner.  I pulled some extra for beet kvass, too, something I haven't had for a long time.

Despite the peppers having been frosted by the cold spell, I have more than I could ever fit in the space I have started, so I have replaced them.  Different kind, unfortunately, but I am hoping it's not too late to start them again.  Peppers like the fall, too, and actually produce better quality peppers later in the year, after the August hot spell.

Yesterday I planted another row of tomatoes, and I noticed the first-planted ones already have green tomatoes on them!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Man, I've been sick.  It wasn't one of those colds that allow you to still shuffle about your day - it was one that knocks you out.  But I'm better now, and resting was enforced.  It's been awhile since I've been so sick.

I went to the farm for the first time this week yesterday.  Matilda was mad at me for being gone.  I could tell because she was extra slow getting into the milking shed.  She dawdled and dragged her hooves, and stopped to crop up any green thing along the way.  Once in, she smacked me about the head and shoulders with her tail while I milked.  I guess I was missed!

It was difficult to be out there, because there were so many projects lying about that I didn't feel up for - mulching the potatoes.  Planting the tomatoes.  Building yet another garden bed.  Starting seeds.  It was all calling to me.  It was frustrating.  But while I was resting through this illness, I also realized that life has just been stressing me out way too much.  I realized I am almost addicted to that stress, the excitement of having too much planned, to the point that it isn't fun any more, it's overwhelming.  And I've been taking everything so seriously.  It's time to lighten up, and let things not work out sometimes, to be happy with what we will have this year.

It's funny how something unpleasant - like being really sick, can actually be a good thing sometimes.