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.