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.

Last batch

This is the last of the potatoes I planted in February. A few weeks ago, the leaves had yellowed and I dug around some pulling off a few of the top-most roots, recovered them and hoped 2 months later I'd have a bumper crop.

The potato plants didn't like that idea.

They decided that my impatience was impertent and all went off and died. I pulled them up today and got nearly another 1.5lbs. I am thinking that putting them right in the ground isn't such a hot idea. I also made the mistake of not hilling them after. I kept meaning to buy the dirt since all our top soil here is a sandy mess but just kept forgetting as I am wont to do.

I still have a good bit of sweet potato slips in the ground but the potatoes are over. This batch at least. I put in about 10lbs over a 100ft row and got back just under 5lbs. I'm not very pleased about this though the taters are especially tasty.

I'm going to set up a new bin for them and try hay growing. I still have time for that. Hopefully, this week I'll be able to get it going. Until then, we're having potatoes for dinner tonight and counting it a victory.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What is this?

And can I eat it....

And will it kill/maim/hospitalize me....

And if you answered "yes" then "no" to the above questions, do you have a recipe?

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Poulan's name is Rosie.

I jumped into a cold shower to cool off and rinse the layers of dirt that coated me from head to toe as soon as I came in from outside. It figures the A/C would break on the hottest week of the year. The shower helped immensely.

My hands are sore and my legs are trembling a bit. Hard labor will do that to you. I'm have a single serve black tea cold from the fridge that I'm sipping from a mason jar. I'm thankful I remember to make those a few days ago. I'm munching on a bowl of cold alfredo pasta with raw squash. The crookneck came from the garden. Finally, I have grown successful Cucurbita.

You see, the reason for all this bodily angst was my new best friend. Meet Rosie, my new rear tine tiller. Say "Hello" Rosie.

"Hello, Rosie." Already a smart-ass.

There she is all pretty and new from the store. Everyone I've met today has chuckled over my exhuberance upon aquiring this tiller. I was nearly bouncing waiting in line to pay for the gas I needed to fill my little red jug. Me and a lone guy from the store hoisted it in the trailer bed. He took the heavy end. Then questioned my intentions which I answered with hearty smiles.

I drove home with frequent glances in the rear view mirror. All I could see were the handles and that was enough. My grin stayed affixed the entire ride.

Unloading it was...interesting. In the end I propped a pallet to the back of the trailer and quick as you like it was on the ground. Immediately, I filled her up with petrol and guided her through the wrought iron garden gate. We had to manuver around the snaking vines of garden hose that feed my plants. This isn't our place, we're not investing in high-tech underground watering.

It only took me a moment to get her motor growling. Usually, the pull cord on the gas lawn mower takes me several arm wrenching tries. I was pleased pink with her instant gratification. The garden has been over grown past all caring. I try so hard to keep it weeded but the sheer size and number of unwanted growth is difficult for me to manage on my own. At first I was unsure and got too close to the fence or plants I wanted. I mucked about really being pulled along by a machine beast that ate up the ground like pudding.

Two hours later we were both coated in dirt, moving so smoothly through the garden I could manuever her one handed around bends. I could reach down and toss a stick clear without missing a boot clad step.

She looked pretty before with her electric yellow paint but now she looks good. We tore up half the field keeping out of the small patches of beds previously planted. Tomorrow, I'll rake up the ton of grass and weeds she spat out and maybe give her another go. Weeding the beds by hand will be so much easier and now I have a nice plot to plant my moon and stars. I'm wishing for watermellon by August. I'll also be expanding the pumpkin bed, adding more sunflowers and as far as my email is concerned, another shipment of sweet potato slips are on their way (what else have I ordered that I forgot about?).

It was only a few hours work but my body feels as torn up as the ground we covered. I'll be taking it easy tonight with a good book and lots of fluids. Tomorrow morning I have an appointment at a u-pick peach orchard and will again be working the field at home during the hottest time of the day. I really hope the landlord comes through with the A/C repair man.

Cheers, Rosie, to a job well done.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Today marked a milestone in our farm experience. We sold livestock. In March our Angora doe, Flora, gave birth to her first litter. I had been putting off breeding for a long time nervous and anxious about the possibility of landing an enormous litter of kits and no one willing to buy them. "Breeding like rabbits" isn't just a cutesy saying.

Its a big responsibility, this breeding business. But this is one of the main reasons we got into rabbits in the first place. They are small, economical, breed quickly, low maintenance and can bring in money by the hair on their backs.

We have owned rabbits for about 18 months now. I am still a nervous wreck when it comes to breeding. Flora's litter netted 7 babies, three of which didn't make it. This isn't uncommon for a first time mom and four healthy kits is a respectable number. Three does and a buck turned 8 weeks this past Thursday. I weaned them from their mom, giving them cages in the house for now while they await their new owners. Leaving the buck with the other girls could be a bad thing in a couple weeks. Two of the does are promised to an Alpaca fiber farm down south and the buck went home with a nice girl across the way.

For some reason, I feel safer having does on hand than bucks. Maybe because males are so under-prized in the farming community. You need only one, really. This sale today makes me feel a little more confident in breeding our rabbits for sale. I will expose Flora to Duncan again this week, giving her a break between litters to dry up and grow back her tummy hair. I will only breed her three times this year. I want to breed rabbits for sale, placing them in homes where they will be cared for properly and enrich lives by their companionship and fiber, not churn out a rabbit mill.

So, I mark today a success in the books of the HeartSong Farm Rabbitry.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


My friend Ara just posted about this new site that connects flock owners with people looking to buy local eggs. I just set up an Egg Stand for HeartSong. Let me know if you can see it and what you think of the site.

The only thing that is a little awkward about the site (which is in a Beta mode BTW) is that there is no easy way to search your zipcodes. Egg Stands are listed in order of dozens available with the zipcode on the side.

Hopefully, in the future there will be an interactive map or a zip code or area search function but for now it's nice to join a community that supports local Ag through the US.

For our own flock we are up to 5 laying birds though I'm not 100% sure who the two new girls are. Their eggs are blue/greens so I'm thinking it's a few of the Borg Americaunas. The eggs are on the small side and not consistent just yet, they're just now over 4 months so it's a little early for them to start laying anyway.

The egg counter on the side will go away soon, I've completely lost count. It'll be replaced with our Eggzy Egg Stand link. (Can someone check to see if the link there goes to Eggzy or my farm?)

Feed prices and feeding a flock this size is getting a bit insane for me right now. If you're interested in some free-ranged eggs let me know, I've been selling them for $3 a dozen ($2.50 if you bring me an egg carton or return one of mine) and have 3 dozen available right now. I'm also looking to part with some 2-3 month hens of varying breeds.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Barn Kitty

This is Currently Unnamed Kitty. Our friends adopted a stray that turned out to be pregnant when they went to get it fixed. This is one of her four babies. For all my vent-sexing abilities we can't tell if it's a boy or a girl. Hence the fact it is still unnamed.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Some days I think I have things mostly figured out. There is a general map in my head vaguely outlining the steps and placements of everything that I want to accomplish to build a farm. I get excited, elated. The future seems clean and clear, a chalk drawing on black top, vivid and bright.

I look around and see what could be. A future of farmer's market stands, farm workshops, an animal gallery of friends in the barn that give me food, a garden wonderland teeming with bounty just out my back door. It's a heady thing to grow your own food. To wash the dirt off bright pink new potatoes and think to yourself I made that. There are now two pounds of potatoes that have been consumed that didn't need to be sprayed, dug up with machines, packaged or shipped. Half a meal I didn't have to buy. I get cocky sometimes with the power. I gloat at the grocery store skipping parts of asiles, Ha, ha Smuckers, not today! I make my own jam!

It's not a feeling of superiority, really, it's a feeling of self-reliance. The power feeling comes from my efficientness, my lack of dependency on store bought goods. The deep core knowledge that if some catastrophy came upon us, my kids wouldn't starve because I know how to harvest and put away. I suppose it's a sort of primal triumph.

These good feelings lead me to want to expand the farm; Honey, grain crops, dairy animals, pigs, draft horses, herd dogs, a mini fiber mill, heritage turkey breeding, brick ovens, solar power, milling, the list goes on and on. The chalk drawn map gets larger and larger.

But when does it end? Where do I stop? For now, I'm mostly concerned with providing for my family, selling excess -or trying to, doing things that interest me and that I enjoy. My rental restrictions provide a safety net to not expand too soon but then I get dismayed that the things I want to do I can't. All in good time, I know, but time doesn't last forever.

So, right now on the farm, we're watering and harvesting little bits as the springs plantings finally start producing, we're getting aquainted with the new fowl, watching them grow, we're planning to have our raw wool spun into a marketable, sellable product. I'm re-evaluating what I want to do overall on the farm starting with some personal internal evaluating. Balancing being a homeschool mom raising 5 kids, being in college myself, and persuing other personal interests besides farming is a difficult assignment.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Nibbles of Affection


The geese are absolutely fantastic. I know I go on about them but I just didn't realize just how fabulous they were before. If I had to choose only one breed of poultry to raise hands-down it would be geese. But I couldn't eat them. I just...can't.

They are a RIGHT.IN.YOUR.FACE. kinda animal.

I respect that.

Whether it's because they are larger than any other poultry we have or they are just predispositioned to be fearless of huge beings with forward facing eyes, they are the complete opposite of any other barnyard animal I've owned thus far.

Even after having them for 4 weeks, sitting with them for hours and giving them treats, the goats weren't even a tenth as friendly as these guys.

I've named them Sam and Jam (I reserve the right to change Jam's name later). Both are non-gender-specific names since I still can't tell what sex they are. And I have to call them something. "Here geesey geesey!" or "goose, goose, goose" just isn't working for me.

Today when I was out chopping up beet greens and lettuces from the garden into their blue swimming pool for their afternoon snack my two guys started biting me.

It didn't hurt, not really. But I had to come in to check if they were loving me or warning me.

Geese can be mean, it's one of the reasons I got them.

Apparently, nibbling is a sign of affection.

They love me, they really love me.

I love them too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fertilizer Failures

The garden has been a huge expense this year. First the tilling, then the fencing, then the seed re-buying, the sprout buying when the seeds failed, the tilling again, irrigation supplies, more fencing, the W.O.R.K. of getting it all together and now, nearly May and the garden is truly a pathetic 1500 square feet.

Which is really sad because soon the weather will get too hot. The green plants visibly wilting in the afternoon sun. Bugs will start coming in and slaughtering whatever fruit dares to even consider ripening. Other than the tomatoes and perhaps the underground roots and legumes, everything out there is visibly failing.

The forty-two cucumbers are only 6" tall at most after sprouting 8 weeks ago (and that height including the ones I bought from seedlings nearly that size already) and sport one tiny 1/2" long cucumber among the lot. The seventy seven pole beans are yellow and sickly looking, around the same size and though they're flowering, have yet to really take off after more than 2 months. The broccoli has produce only 2 small dollar coin sized heads before going to flower out of eighteen plants. Most of the over 100 corn stalks are yellowed and haven't grown since I transplanted them. Same with the 6 eggplants, 12 canteloupes, 30 zucchini, 15 yellow squashes, 6 strawberries etc. etc. you get the point.

Talking with my neighborhood plant guy, my problem is probably fertilization related. Meaning, I have none.

The earth up here in the wide open country is a layer cake of disaster; a half inch of white sandy soil covers a sandy-but-dark soil and six inches or so under that lies a thick redish orange clay. So much different than the rich, loamy ink black soil I had in the city. So ironic, really.

But I have ammended the soil with cured horse manure, epsom salts, coffee grounds and rabbit manure. Two weeks ago I bought a bottle of The Scotts Co. 100250 Miracle Gro Organic Choice Plant Food. The first "chemical" fertlizer that I've allowed myself to ever use. Today, I started the second round of feeding. It's a lot of work filling up a 2 gallon jug and hand watering by 20 square feet at a time. But gardens are work, growing food is work. It's par for the course in farming.

So, what do I do if this doesn't work? The first round didn't really seem to make an impact, I'm not sure what another dose will do. My lovely neighborhood farmer uses 16-4-8 and he gets fantastic results (he doesn't use herbicides, pesticides or fungicides, just the fertlizer in the ground.) And it's making me want to go out and buy a bag to try it.

For those of you that grow organic, what am I missing here? For those that know more about fertilizer than I do, what exactly is in this magic potion of a chemical mix that my garden is so desperate for?

I have always said I prefer local over organic but when it comes to dousing my own plants with unknowns I really am not feeling comfortable with this. Someone show me the way!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meet Torture Chicken

This is Torture Chicken. He is a Rhode Island Red rooster. He is also mean. Very mean. The children named him Torture Chicken because he is so very mean. He is really, really terribly rough when he um..."sits" on the three older laying hens. He likes to stalk people. And give them the evil eye.

Torture Chicken is still fairly young for being such a jerk. He is one of the four week old chickens I bought myself for Christmas. One of the four cross-my-fingers-I-want-more-hens baby chickens that all turned out to be roosters. The other RIR got killed by the neighbor's dog. Maybe that is why Torture Chicken is so terrible. Maybe he's seething in uncontrollable fury over the loss of his only brother. Maybe his blood boils with the injustice of the world and his inability to do anything about it.

Whatever his reason he's a mean, onery bastard and this weekend will be soup. Tasty, evil soup.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I like dirty food.

Years and years ago I held a joint party for my two oldest kids 3rd and 2nd birthday. At the time, I was part of an organic CSA and had been delivered a box of food I was using to make a salad for our guests. I remember this distinctly as a turning point in my food views. I can still recall the tiny rectangular kitchen that had the best pantry I've ever used and the worst lighting, the little window that overlooked the front stoop and the pass through on the opposite side which housed a bar sink for no apparent reason. Out of every apartment I lived in I think I liked that one the best.

My mom was helping me get dishes ready while everyone mingled and the little kids played on the back screened porch in a blow up pool. It was a hot Florida June and the lettuces were huge. I took the romaine out of the box and a bug scurried out from under the bright green leaves.

The reaction from my mother was seared into my brain then and there. "Ewwww! There's a bug in it!" At that moment I realized that I had been conditioned to approve only sterilized food. Food that was ladened with pesticides and herbicides; fungacides and chemical fertlizers. Any of the above chemicals damaging cells to the point that smaller life forms died. Slowly poisioning our larger bodies. I remember replying along the lines of "Why would I want to eat food that would kill other things that ate it?"

My mother grew up on a piece of land in the sticks of New Hampshire that had an adjoining plot of fruits and vegetables. I grew up there too. As a child I would walk the field with my grandmother, gorge myself of sunkissed raspberries and sneak peeks into the dug out cold cellar -where I was not allowed- that held the secret delights of my grandma's canned foods. Then there was that time when my grandpa hung a gutted buck in the backyard. The contrast of crimson slashed through the downy brown I will never forget. The fur swayed in the night air as he hung by his back legs. I consoled the mounted deer head in the livingroom later, promising that I'd free him one day.

Our food came from the land. She grew up with the dirt, sweat and blood of farm life. I wonder when it become a purified experience for her? For me?

Lately, I've been finding that innocuous scene from a kitchen past rolling through my head. Such a short, simple phrase has had an enormous impact on my life and I find myself uttering the same question I gave in reply:

Why would I want to consume a food that would kill something else that ate it?

Every time I silently answer myself, I don't. And I can't fathom why anyone else would either.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Poultry Housing

The ducks, geese and turkeys are getting too big for the pallet brooder we made a few short weeks ago. I still can't believe how fast those geese grew. With their long necks extended they're up to my knees and still haven't fully feathered out.

I looked up Toulouse sexing and apparently the males and females are identical in coloring, behaivor and honks. I am sure now that we have 2 male ducks and 2 females. A set of Peach beaks and a set of Bright Yellow. We won't be eating these but one of the males might find a new home. I'm not sure yet. I like them all so much, only time will tell when personalities really emerge near laying/mating age.

But they all are too big to brood and we need the barn stall for hay and feed and other supplies. Ducks and geese are messy. A new house was in order. Our neighbor made a semi-circular brooder out of PVC and we saw a tutorial on for one as well. It seems a good, easy design. Quicker to build than the week-long chicken coop I built and less expensive.

Here is the PVC frame. We scored a deal for Ace Hardware which we bought the chicken wire half price. Our supply list included PVC and fittings, 2 sheets of plywood, 2 25ft rolls of chicken wire, and hinges. We used other things we had on hand from other projects to finish it off; a tarp, scrapwood, a bolt, wire. I think total we spent about $65 and have an easily moveable, built in a day, 10x4' poultry house.

Sorry for the half photos, I had the wrong lens on my camera and couldn't get far enough away to get the whole thing.

We'll be picking up a larger tarp later this week, this is all we had on hand and didn't realize it wouldn't go all the way around. For the ducks and geese this is fine. They are very hearty animals that are waterproof (once they get all their feathers). They thrive in inclimate weather. It's the turkeys we need to watch out for.

The PVC married to the wood makes it sturdy but still easy enough for me to pick up an end and carry around the yard. Since all our birds free range we can tarp the whole thing as well if we wanted to. I am considering making a smaller house to keep a pair of ducks in the garden, moving between the rows to help with bugs and weeds but for now this is where everyone will live. Hopefully happily.

Friday, April 15, 2011

2011 Yarn and Fiber CSA

Flora and her baby

I have been nervous about doing this but I think I can now safely start our 2011 Yarn and Fiber CSA. We have ten pounds of Gulf Coast Sheep wool ready to blend with our personal Angora fiber. The sheep wool comes from a local, neighbor farm and we have scheduled processing with a small fiber mill just south of us, Woodland Hills.

We're going for about an 80/20 mix on the sheep to rabbit ratio and will provide shares in the form of either roving or double plied yarn. There are only going to be FOUR full shares available to ensure everyone that participates recieves about 2 pounds of fiber/yarn along with other special goodies from the farm including a newsletter and information about the rabbits and sheep that have provided the fiber for your share. Your share price is determined by the amount of processing that is involved in the share you choose. (Half shares will include approx 1 pound)

The yarn and fiber will be undyed, neatly packed and shipped to you for the share price including a special shareholder day where you will be invited out for a fiber art day at the farm to meet the rabbits, have lunch and work on projects.

The cost of the share goes to supporting this new farmer, processing the yarn, supply new housing for the rabbits, feed, hay and the start of a rabbit only fresh vegetable garden.

We are dropping off the fiber for processing in May and expect to have it back in August. Enough time to get holiday presents made. Shipping will be done as soon as it is recieved. We will send you emails with the progress of the processing as it becomes available. Our Yarn and Fiber CSA shares also make great gifts.
I will update the shares available as they are purchased. If you are interested in a share please contact me at for more information.

We also have one Angora buck baby available for $35 adoption fee ($45 with workshop) and a few non-rabbit buying slots in the May 21st New Rabbit Owner Workshop.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poultry Intimacies

One of the issues with buying straight runs is that you never know what you're going to get. I am not an experienced poultry sexer (but my rabbit sexing skills I think are quite good). I bought these four Pekings from the feed store hoping I got at least 1 female from the bunch. I bought the geese that way too, hoping for a mating pair. My idea was keeping all the hens and 1 drake and selling the rest since we don't care for duck meat. I only got 2 geese, they're more than twice the price of the ducks. Fingers were crossed big time hoping for a mating pair.  

If there are any experienced poultry sexers out there that might give me an idea on what I have I'd be mighty happy. I have two with light peach beaks and two with bright yellow. Bright yellow beaks are larger than the Peach beaks (the beaks are the only way I can tell them apart right now and they have not been named). So, I thought maybe the Peachies were hens and the BY's drakes. (*note to self, next time buy multicolored birds)

Today's photo session squashed that thought. They're 5 weeks old now and I think I see some sex feathers on two of them, one BY and one Peach. I'm not sure if it's the right time for sex feathers or if two of my ducks are just having a bad hair day.

Here you can see how much shorter the Peachies are to the BY's, their bodies are also smaller.

See the flipped up feathers on the rump on Peach Beak?

And here on the Bright Yellow?

The Peachies tend to hang out together as do the Bright Yellows. So maybe I got a pair of each? (Don't mind the turkeys, they're sooo ugly and think they're ducks and/or geese.)

The geese are harder to determine. They're not fully feathered yet, both the same size and coloring so far. With my luck they're both males. But here's a picture of them anyway since for some reason they've become my favorite in the poultry division. They're braver than the ducks, they like to explore around the barnyard and not just stay in the perimeter of the paddock. Usually, at least one turkey tags along. They come to me when I call and honk at me. I love it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

first true harvest

The first true harvest of the year has been radishes. I bought these as teeny plants at the U-pull place and honestly didn't think they'd grow. I really bought them for the leaves. Rabbits like a good radish green. I had taken my iPhone out to the garden to take photos of polinating squash blossoms by hand and noticed that the potato and the radish were both in flower.

Technology is such a funny thing. At some points I feel that we have too much of it. That it impeeds on our lives too much. I can't stand the glow of tiny power lights in the bedroom at night. But yesterday in the field it was a wonderous thing. I jumped on Safari and within a few minutes knew that the radishes needed to be pulled and the potatoes were fine. It was like having a seasoned gardener in my back pocket.

I also take most of the photos on the blog and Facebook page with my iPhone just because it's so much easier to take outside than my bigger camera (and I feel safer with it in it's Otterbox than the Pentax on a string around my neck). It's nice to be able to chronicle the progress of the farm, the sizes and looks of poultry as they grow, see how others live and do things, the beauty of life as we live and share it.

It makes me sad for those that came before the invention of photographs. It makes me wonder how much we here in 2011 are ignorant of because they lacked inexpensive, easy forms of documentation. How amazing it would be to look back on my Penobscot relatives and see what their lives were like. 

Or maybe they were better for it? Maybe they lived fuller, deeper knowing that the only memories of time spent was only as thick as the impressions in their minds.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Honey Badgers eat Local

My kids are obsessed with the Honey Badger. Which isn't really a badger and doesn't actually eat honey. They know this but they still love to pretend to be Honey Badgers whenever a new bottle of honey comes in the house. They eat it on everything. Our recent favorite is organic peanut butter, my chunky pear jam I canned a few weeks ago and Thomas Honey, a locally produced raw honey we can get at the weekly farmers market and True Value.

I have never lived in a place that I can get honey at a hardware store or canning jar lids and tomato plants at the gas station. It's a little surreal at times.

Over the weekend I missed out on yet another bee keeping class. This tallys up to four over the past two years I couldn't make it to. It's a tad bit depressing. As if the Universe just isn't ready for me to be exposed to bees. I'm trying to be patient but my squash is suffering from lack of polinization. I've had to pull off about 5 shriveled squashes so far. Bees would be so welcomed here.

I tried to go out today to hand polinate (which includes muck boots, q-tips and mood music) but it was a bust. You see, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, the epitome of gardens and summer produce, have both male and female flowers. Both need to be in bloom and have a qualifying polinator to create a vegetable. Today all my female flowers were brightly blooming. I could see them from the porch and yet not a single male flower was even close to opening. I'll try again in a few days time.

Last year I grew only 3 teeny zucchini. I was throughly discouraged. I'm  hoping a little human intervention will help.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Starts

 slowly but steady.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


At five fifty-eight this morning I woke up with one of the children. I got them settled and lay back down hoping to get a little more sleep. A deep rumble sounded in the distance and I hoped for rain. A few minutes later the thunder intesified rolling in hard and fast. I could tell, laying in the dark, this was going to be a doozey.

I love thunderstorms. I love listening to the rolling thunder and patter of the rain on the windows and roof. Rain is important for so many things. But sometimes it gets out of control.

In a sudden rush rain splashed the windows. It sounded like someone outside held a hose full blast to the thin glass. The thunder that had been so distant just moments ago now tumbled in the sky so violently I could feel it quake in my stomach. One rolled into the other and into the next creating a constant deep drum roll. The lightening flashed so quickly it reminded me of my club days. The strobe lighting up the room in fast, bright pulses.

The rain this morning actual made me afraid. I had heard reports from friends that last weeks storms created tornadoes, tearing through landscapes and ruining homes. For some reason storms like this didn't bother me in the city. As closely packed as the houses were and surrounded by century old trees I felt safely snug. Here there is ample area for tornadoes to touch down, the owners of this land felt the need to remove just about every tree. The house sits in the center of a veritable prarie.

It's open, vunerable.

I lay in the dark nearly terrified of the storm waging hell outside. Sometimes grown-ups are scared of thunder, too. I thought about how dependant we are on the weather. How important a good storm is to replenish the watershed. That the plants won't need watering after the .55" we got in a mere hour.

We're at the mercy of Mother Nature. If she withholds the rain the crops will die. If she gives us too much they will drown. If a hard storm rolls in and whips up tornadoes we can die. It's hard feeling powerless like that. So dependent on something we can't do anything about. It's hard to both love something we need so greatly and be afraid of it at the same time. Storms like the one this morning reminds us that life is fragile and the natural world harsh.

Mortality is a hard thing to swallow in the darkness.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New Digs

The three Buff Orpingtons and the Black Maran have moved from the nursery into the A-frame coop with attached run. There were just too many birds getting too big in one smallish area. Also the three Phi Beta girls decided they would stoop to roosting in the larger coop now that a couple roosters are gone. If you can't be 'em, roost with 'em.

These Buffs are six and a half weeks old now, the Maran is supposed to be 9 weeks but I think the chicken guy aged her wrong. She's just so small. Once we dispatch two of the three roosters and the three remaining broilers we'll move these girls in with the big chickens. (We've gotten one chicken being processed and hope to get to the remaning four today.)

I went a little gung-ho buying pullets this year. I had a few reasons

1. Pullets notoriously end up as roosters at our house 
2. A dog has killed one so far and completely free-ranged birds are more suseptable to losses. (though we have Leeloo outside guarding them and mature roosters now plus guard geese brooding)
3. We're not keeping all the chickens as they age

I'm hoping to raise them up to 2-3 months old and then hand pick the chickens I want to keep as laying birds then sell off the remaining. I'd like about 15-20 layers at a time, I have a half dozen more than that now.

I'm still debating what to do with the roosters I'm sure we're bound to get.* We'll either raise them to slaughter size or sell them off at about 4-5 months, when we're for sure they're boys but not before they start with the testosterone nonsense. Or we will build multiple small, movable A-frames and keep the cock with the hens and brood out babies for sale.

I haven't decided yet.

I bought many, many different kinds of chickens because of my lack of being able to have many kinds of animals. I figured if all I can do is poultry this year, well, this year won't go to waste. Plus they're all unique and pretty and I like telling them apart by colorings, giving them names and such.**

My only issue now is that I bought a lot of solid black chickens and now that they've lost their baby colorings I can't tell an Australorp from a Sex Link and they were getting really close in size to the Maran -which is also solid black. At least the Wyandottes have gotten their white colors in and should be marked significantly different from the Barred Rocks.

I might have to have a chicken expert help me identify them later on though.

*Watch in a few months for a post that we got entirely all pullets. I'm convinced Fate laughs hard at me sometimes.
**We have learned to only name chickens we're not going to eat.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Stuck in the Mud

Saturday morning and all is quiet on the farm. The baby rabbits are hopping merrily around their cage, exploring their world, nibbling a tiny blade of hay. The chickens are all free ranging around the barn looking for bugs that washed up to the surface over the past three days of rain. The ducks and geese are the only ones making a sound, greeting me at the barn door with adolescent honks and quacks knowing I come baring treats of chopped up veggies floating in a moat of cool spring water.

I'm quiet today, too.

Inside I feel trapped in sludge, no movement, not even a shallow quake of breath. Today my mind is stuck in the mud. The ooze around me the thoughts of everything I'm still so far from accomplishing.

We moved to the country to be farmers and settled into a home where we're not allowed to. We set up a large garden hinged on the promises the landlord made and in seven months -right when the garden will be exploding in it's second Florida season- we'll have to tear it down if we decide to move on. A move I'm not looking forward to making but we have to if we ever want to have goats or sheep. I feel like we're so far behind where we were this time last year living on a miniscule city plot that we'll never catch up again. That so many things we had hoped for were taken away.

Depressed? Yeah, a little bit.

I'm trying to be grateful for what we do have, the ducks and geese and turkeys. The larger garden. The additional space for the kids. It's hard though, not to look back at decisions made and think Well, that could have been done a bit differently. I wish we had know that beforehand. 

But it is what it is and unfortunately Science hasn't given us time travel yet.

So, I curse Science and try and have a better day. The kids are anxious to go to Pioneer Days the next town over. I need to go braid a yard of hair and put on bonnets and a smile. Even if it doesn't reach my eyes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A new look

I've added a few new pages to our blog and changed the layout a bit. I'm working on a new banner as well and hope to have it up in a couple days. Please look around and let me know in the comments on this post anything you like or things that can be improved about the new pages!

County Extension People are my new best friends.

Yesterday, after reading Becca's post over at Rabbit Moon Farm, I decided to give my County Extension office a call to see if they can help clarify myriad laws into a succinct list of rules that I will not lose my mind trying to decipher. If the laws were written in heiroglyphs I think I'd have a better time reading them. Fate finally shone on me and when I called they told me about the Farmer's Market seminar (free!) that they were hosting oh, about seven hours later.

Tip of the hat, Becca, I wouldn't have even bothered to call them until your post.

The seminar was really informative though I was coming more for the law breakdown than how to make a pretty display at a market. It's still good information to learn incase we ever do want to branch off from straight farm sales. They did give me some great ideas for the farm though, I'll post more about those later.

And they did have some information about the laws. Apparently they have a guy that is in love with Chapter 500 of the Florida Law and he has created an over six page break down of what I can and cannot do.

He's my new best friend.*

They are also having an entire year program (which I am three months late for) called Living on a Few Acres. It's $10 for the program and comes with a nice large three ring binder that covers all the information in the seminars. And the seminars cover everything from aquaponics to almonds. I think I might be able to sign up for the remaining 9 seminars, too. They also spoke of hosting a Beekeeping Short Course (a one day intensive) soon. Having missed the last four short courses offered in two different parts of the state, I will be on that like a bee to pollen.

The moral of this tale is to not write off -like I did- the Extension Offices nearest you. They have a wealth of information that they want to give to you, for free (mostly). They have lots of programs and know so, so much. They might even be your new best friends.

*He doesn't actually know this. Or me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

End of the March Recap

This month hasn't been terribly productive. While we have gotten new livestock in the form of 4 rabbits, 4 ducks, 2 geese, 6 turkeys and 3 barred rock chicks we haven't really done anything. I'm adding in some photos of how the garden looks now, at the end of the month so I don't have to do a separate post. I know, I'm totally lazy.

 Right now we're in a waiting phase. Waiting for the animals to grow, seeds to sprout, plants to start producing, Christmas birds to start laying. This week is wet (yeah! the first in over 2 weeks!) so even watering is on hold. Today the rain came down in buckets. I felt a pang that we didn't have the rain barrels set up.

What we have done

-butchered and froze 2 of our meat birds (by our little ol' selves)
- planted, planted, planted
- finished the garden fence
-set up irrigation
-planted most of the Big Field with corn, amaranth, quinoa and sunflower (that hasn't sprouted after three weeks but we got to use the new seeder)
-planted more stuff
-sold a couple dozen eggs
-build a dog house and brooder for the larger baby poultry out of pallets
-canned pears
-cleaned rabbit cages
-sheared a rabbit

Really, nothing much happened.