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.