Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Closing, continued

With the sale of the rabbits, the finalization of the harvest and the majority of poultry being sold on the 18th leaving us with only 10 chickens and three turkeys, I'm officially putting this blog on hold. There is so much going on right now that it's difficult to keep up and my focus needs to be, well...refocused. The chickens will be rehomed before our move and the turkeys will be dinner. We're ending on a high note of a feast. A culmulnation of our years of work whittled down.

Yes, I'm sad. Perhaps, not as much as you'd think. I learned a lot and had some very good times. The experiences the children have had are enormous and miraculous. Our goat of connecting with our food has been exciting and yet, also solemn.

Thank you for staying with us through all our (many, many) trials and tribulations. We had some successes I'm glad you've shared with us. For now, we're not saying "good-bye", just "see you later."

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Yesterday, we closed our rabbitry. Sold it lock, stock and barrel to the extremely sweet girl that purchased the little buck boy a few weeks ago. Everything went: combs, waterers, feed, hay, extra cages, even the wool I had planned to process.

I've been thinking about doing this for a good long while now. It was a big decision and yes, it was very hard emotionally. I forgot myself this morning and went in the barn to see them and was met with empty shelves.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Eating Local- Blueberries

HeartSong Farms isn't just about creating our own food, it's also about supporting those around us that are driven with the same desires. Providing healthy, fresh eats gets my heart thumping. I love the community that automatically develops when a dish is involved. Cooking and eating not only nourish our bodies but also our minds and souls.

We had the opportunity last week to visit the local organic blueberry farm to pick some local berries for our pantry. The 2.5 acre blueberry patch was so pretty- nicely mulched, bushes nearly as tall as I am, friendly staff and gorgeous fruit.

We could literally stand at a single bush and get pounds in return. For all our picking, we got ten pounds in roughly twenty minutes.

Its a really wonderful feeling supporting someone you can see, talk to. I learned the farm is named after the owner's daughter Isabella. I learned how they keep the birds away with an air cannon. I met their dog. You just don't get that in a little plastic box.

For all we picked, somehow we only ended up with five and a half pounds when we got home...

Friday, May 27, 2011

May Worries

Renting is driving me mad. There, I said it. Initially, it seemed like a wonderful way to get to the area we wanted to live in, the house we rented seemed to be just what we were looking for in terms of expanding our farming base and had the possibility of long term renting with an option to buy. But sometimes you get into something, thinking you've done your due dilligence and it isn't at all what you thought. It happens. It's not irresponsibility, it's just the way things work out.

It's terribly frustrating and worrisome when it happens though. This week I planted the very last of the crops we'll grow here. We had initially thought we would stay here a few years as we worked toward our final goal but the landlords attitude towards keeping the house running, the exhoribtant cost of fuel for communting and the neighborhood restrictions have squashed that view. We're looking at October for moving. Right when the pumpkins should be hardening up, a month before the turkeys get butchered, the time when cover crops and garlic get planted.

I'm already looking ahead five months, trying to figure out when and where we'll move, how we'll get there and what we can do. Five months seems like forever. When you're considering leases, its just too far ahead to sign, but considering we're already five months into 2011 it's a drop in the bucket in terms of time lines.

Our initial dream of building our own home ourselves on our own land had withered and died as the new spring grass was rising from the once frozen ground. It just can't happen for us when we're going month to month in a "food or gas?" state of accounts. While I miss them, it was a silent blessing larger livestock didn't stay on board here this year.

Right now, we're downscaling. Five of the three month hens found a new home yesterday. We're looking to rehome four rabbits leaving just our two breeding stock. Half the turkeys will be gone by Thanksgiving, a few chickens this weekend will become groceries. We're still debating what to do and where to do it. Florida is a humid, hot task master making farming more a chore than a joy, the half a year heat is something I'm thinking paradise to escape. But these are vast, huge choices and with our past bad luck of moving to a place and then finding out it isn't condusive to our dreams, makes those choices even more foreboding. Makes it even more difficult to make a choice as my thoughts continuously run around all the ways I could (and probably will) screw it up.

The what-ifs of moving, chosing and planning are weighing heavy on my May mind.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Feral Food

On the back edge of the cleared section of the property, near the dip in the land where water likes to collect on rainy days, there is a thicket. A wild, untamed, overgrown, ferocious bit of foilage and felled trees. It's unlike the deeper part of the forest where the ground is mostly clear save for old barren branches who's leaves had been suffocated from the thick canopy and the odd shade-tolerant bush. In the thicket there are no tall trees to hamper the strong, sharp rays of the hot summer sun. Here food grows wild.

For over a week, I have traveled a now well worn path though the brambles, over stumps and under trees to search for the newly ripe blackberries that grow here. My arms are scratched and bleeding, my fingers stained as raspberry as my muck boots, my shoulders are deeply tanned. By now I have an order to my wild harvest, I have a map in my brain where I left the pink berries the day before that are sure to be ripening. I have a method. Every day I have been outside, sometimes in the early morning, before the the sun has risen above the tree line in the East, shading me from the tremendous heat while leaving the berries cool with spots of morning dew. I linger as long as I'm able.

Sometimes, I can only get out in the afternoon. This is when I work hard and fast to get as much I can in the shortest time. The jar of iced tea I bring with me is warm by the time I'm done about an hour later. The purple gems are hot, bursting with flavor that can only be seasoned by the sun. You can taste life then.

Every day I have a helper. A four year old that understands and is enraptured by the idea of feral food. Armed with her sipppy cup of ice water, a prarie bonnet and a little wicker basket, she dons her hot pink rainboots and tromps through the grasses to the edge of the thicket.

We have found, by a series of mistakes and injuries, the best way to harvest the biggest fruit. Neoprene coated garden gloves save my hands a bit but make my fingers clumsy. Using a stick to hold back the tall thorny stalks help us reach otherwise unattainable berries. Thick pants and tall boots are a must. Hats and bonnets keep the sun out of our eyes all the better to spy those fat, juice ones that hang down into the shade.

Every single day for a week we have gone outside with empty baskets and come back triumphant. Most days we gather about a pound of lucious fruit. Our best day was over two and a half pounds. During all this physical labor I have much time to think. I have decided that gathering food this way is a direct link to our heritage. I feel at peace, even in the blazing sun and above 90 degree heat. I feel connected to something that is older and richer than myself. At my side, Amelia is exhuberant and delighted as she spots berry after berry. I feel good about sharing this gift of the Earth with her.

I also feel sad. Disappointed, I suppose that wild harvesting food has been neglected with our current generation. That I haven't had the opportunity to be taught by my ancestors -as they would have done- what is safe, when things come into season and what I can do with the food nature provides. I miss what has been and confused as to how I can regain that knowledge. After the discovery of yet another wild food on the premesis, passion fruit, I am anxious to learn what other edible delights are right out my back door.

These berries are amazing. They are nature's bounty, survival of the fittest. The berries I harvest are genetically superior as years of unimpeded growth have squashed the weaker vines. These berries, when fat and ripe, hang heavy on the vines, shaded by the leaves, obscuring any notice from birds or other animals. They have survived without man's chemicals, taming or interference and are all the better for it.

With the rise in gas and food prices, finding the treasure of a thicket such as this is an opportunity not to be missed. Any little way we can contribute to lowering demand for shipping and chemical farming makes the Earth just a little happier and our lives a little richer. And the opportunity to harvest quality time with those you love, is something I now can't live without.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poultry Concern

I'm an emotional spender. I know this, I deal with it. But on my very worst days, when I'm feeling a wreck and happen to be at a store (which I try very hard not to do when I am emotional) I tend to well...over buy. Even if it's just a couple extra things from the dollar section. When I had to rehome the goats that was a very sad time for me. I compensated with poultry. Something tangible I could have. While they were a cheap investment initially, I am realizing these large water fowl are eating more than I was prepared for.

Ducks, Geese and Turkeys eat a lot. They are meant to get big, fast. Part of the over buying was due to the non-sexing the three hatcheries I bought from didn't offer. The turkeys came from a guy with a local hatchery a few towns over who sold as a straight run. The others from two different feed stores that also bought straight runs from the hatcheries they ordered from. Apparently, vent sexing these fowl is different from a chicken though I haven't had luck doing that myself either. So, I bought enough to cover any day-old losses and crossed my fingers I got some females, planning to sell off or eat whatever extra males I ended up with.

A few months later I have been able to get the ducks and the turkeys gender figured out. Mainly because they have distinguishing features. The flipped sex feather on the rump of the ducks. The pouffed out strutts on the turks. The geese? I'm still unsure of.

Out of six turkey poults I have four toms and two hens. I have a friend interested in one of the Toms for Thanksgiving and one will be ours for that day, too. I wanted to keep a mated pair or whatever females and 1 male to try and breed out for next year, these heritage poults go for $10 a piece at a week old, $12 for 2 weeks and so on. It seems like a good investment. That is, if the Toms will stop chasing the dog.

Instead of selling off one Tom -which really wouldn't put a dent in the food consumption- I think I'm going to ask for those interested to put a small deposit down on the bird of choice. Maybe $10 that would go towards a bag of feed and give me a guarentee that we would have a buyer for these twenty pound beasts come November. I need to research free range butchered turkey prices.

The ducks I wanted only a mated pair and out of four I got two sets of boy/girl. According to a farmer in the check out lane at Tractor Supply (where all the best information comes from), one duck eats as much as nine chickens in a day. Even without the paper backing, that I believe. I'm trying to find a home for one of the duck pairs now. Feeding the equivalent of 18 chickens in a day when they aren't contributing yet by eggs, is a little rough. We would dispatch them and eat them, but we're not big duck fans here. They were never meant to be food at our house anyway.

The little chickens I bought we only lost one day-old, so we will have 23 hens laying soon. I have been having a hard time finding buyers for the extra dozens of eggs I get each week (we're up to 6 eggs a day now, on average), so I am trading five of them for two weeks of organic produce at a nearby farm. The five little hens don't eat a whole lot, and since we free range them on 10 acres, they forage for much of their food but keeping track of them and feeding them is still in the cards. I'll still have 18 laying hens by the end of July.

This weekend we're dispatching at least one rooster and the last of the Christmas meat birds. The poor dear hen has started laying. When I saw her in the nest box, the expectant nervous look she gave me said "See, I'm contributing!" I've been adding one of her pretty brown eggs in with the blues and greens that I have been selling. We *may* keep on the smaller rooster just because there is an opportunity for us to sell fertilized eggs but I'm not sure it's what I want. We came out here to sell healthy food to those around us, science research is great. I'm just not sure it's what this litte farm is about.

Out of all the animals we have the poultry and fowl really are the easiest to care for and mainatin. Other than our one hen still nursing the injury from the roos we've been very lucky health-wise with our birds. So, for now we're downgrading a bit on the number of animals we have and planning out what to do with the rest. I'd advertise more loudly that we have eggs for sale but I've heard so many horror stories of people getting caught selling eggs without a license (that is very hard to come by) that even the little bit of word of mouth we've been doing has me on edge.

It makes me sad to think we live in a country where trading eggs or milk from your farm to someone else for money or other food is a crime. The regulations make it difficult for anyone without a subsidy or a bank loan to get a foot-hold in the Ag community. I'm doing what I can.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Dinner.

It's happened again. Another agressive rooster. We hoped dispatching Terror Chicken would have made the cock to hen ratio fairer but it has not. I'm nursing a hen that has huge open wounds down both her sides because of rough mounting and then the two remaining males literally cock fight ON TOP of the poor mounted hens.

I understand that the young cocks are clumsy and I suppose we still have a fairly slim male/female ratio to work out. There are eight eligible ovulating females (out of twenty-three) and two males. I suppose that isn't quite good enough for those randy bastards.

While I was running for my life across the field  to reach the dog in knee high muck boots as a knee high Barred Rock ran after me, neck feathers flared and flapping like the fires of Hell, I decided then and there roosters are not for us. Only minutes before Rob (the man of the house and a war vet) in a single miraculous leap, jumped from the ground onto the hood of his Lincoln after a good loud scream in an attempt to scurry away from said rooster.

Someone in the hen house always has to be at the top of the pecking order. I just don't think it needs to be a male. Sunday, Chicken is on the menu.