Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy (American) Thanksgiving!

Trying to plan out my day, so I figured I'd do it here, then update with photos tomorrow.

We have two turkeys to cook:

one 10 1/2 lb. free-range heritage turkey from our own farm, which Jim killed on Saturday, so he's been sitting for a few days to tenderize and has been in the garage brining for the past 36 hours,

and one 13 lb. kosher bird from the grocery store because my mother-in-law refuses to eat a "backyard bird."

Mashed potatoes grown on our farm

Green beans grown on our farm

Green onions grown on our farm for seasoning and stuffing

Sweet potatoes

Candied carrots

My mother-in-law is bringing the candied carrots, a coconut-custard pie and an apple pie.

I'm trying to motivate and make the pumpkin and pecan pies that I like, but I'm not feeling terribly motivated at the moment, which is why I'm sitting here typing this list rather than actually making any of it.

Goals for next year:
Homegrown pumpkins, which the deer crushed this year
Homegrown sweetpotatoes
Homegrown carrots, which we had but already ate
Home"grown" whipped cream from our goats
Homegrown sausage for the stuffing (yup! brought our piggies home yesterday!)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Food Blog

I've been inspired by all the delicious recipe posts and am trying to remember to take photos more often. Last week, I pulled out some pesto and oven dried tomatoes from my garden and sauteed them in olive oil with some garlic, coarse sea salt and pine nuts. Once done, I poured it all over cheese tortellini and served it with some homemade ciabatta bread. It was tasty, though the cheese tortellini weren't as tender as I would have liked. I miss having a place to purchase fresh pasta! I remember fondly the red pepper fettucine I used to be able to buy at DiSalvo's Pasta back in State College. Mmmmmm... Makes me almost crazy enough to want to buy that pasta attachment for my kitchenaid. Like I need one more thing to make from scratch!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Homemade Waffle/ Pancake Mix

Though we'd been making our waffles from scratch for a while, somehow the lure of opening a box of Dr. Oetker's was strong, as it seemed so much easier to muster in the morning than starting from scratch. Why not mix up my own, I thought, so I could just unscrew a jar of dry ingredients, mix up the wet and voila! I purchased the basics and set about making my own mixes.

Before long, Jules joined me and ended up mixing nearly all of them herself! We had a great time in the kitchen together, and she's so thrilled when we use the mix she made. Although it really was just a few basic ingredients in the mason jars, cutting out that one step does seem easier than scratch. Slowly but surely, we're breaking away from our dependence on grocery chains. We've recently joined an organic coop, which should make getting the staples I can't buy locally even easier, and buying in bulk not only means money saved on the food items but also translates into less gas used, less money spent on gas and transport, and less money into the Giant corporation. Woohoo!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

First Frost

We had our first frost this week, and I'd come up with a pretty good plan for protecting our late season crops. I found some pex piping, water pipe, that comes in 100' rolls at the local home improvement warehouse. We were able to cut that to length pretty easily with a pipe cutter to create a low hoop-style row cover, which I then covered with some old sheets.

Voila! Instant row cover, which worked quite well and none too soon. Being outside, working together and watching the cold front move in—the change in the light, the sky, the wind, the temperature—was really amazing. The next morning the basil was totally zapped anywhere that wasn't insulated. The beans were a bit more hardy, but the new growth still took a hit.

We harvested the last of our green tomatoes and green peppers, and I just put up a huge batch of green beans. I was able to save the basil from the middle of the plants and pull together one last big batch of pesto for freezing, and I got a bunch of this second batch of dill vacuum sealed and frozen to pull out over the winter—it makes a delicious dijon sauce for salmon among many other things. Jules is going to miss coming out in the morning to harvest raspberries, but man, is she going to love it next year when we hopefully have more than just a handful. I can't wait to make jam!

Friday, October 06, 2006


I know, I know. How can this photo possibly have any bearing on ahimsa?

Well, it's complicated—as is life.

Before I continue, I wish to recognize that much of what follows is a compromised version of ahimsa, but this version is what works for my family where we are, a crucial factor in my private definition and reasoning.

Exploring a Buddhist path for myself has meant multiple things to me at different times: it has meant vegetarianism and daily meditation; it has also meant mindful meat eating and meditation through living.

After a year and half of practicing vegetarianism while my family continued to enjoy meat, I found myself at a crossroads, needing to redefine where my practice was heading and how my family fit into it.

First and foremost, I am a householder, a role that is fundamental to my being and crucial to my interpretation and assimilation of the dharma. I came to a point where I needed to ask myself where I stood in relation to my commitment to vegetarianism and how that would impact my relationship with my family.

Was I, for instance, willing to force my own values on others, and if so, wasn't that a form of violence? If I was not willing to do this (which I was not), then I found myself face to face with the dilemma of what kind of meat my family would be eating and what role I was willing to take in supporting that consumption.

As I meditated on the dilemma, I determined that I could continue to buy grocery store meat, which supported the factory farming methods I loathed; I could expand my search for local sources and continue to pay top dollar for someone else to do the difficult work and take on the karmic pricetag for me; or I could consider raising the meat ourselves, which would not only ensure the quality of life and meat, but which also held the potential to transform my own family's relationship with the meat on their plates.

Raising our own meat, I reasoned, would put us all face to face with the animal whose life we were taking, creating the opportunity for each of us to become more mindful of what the meat on our plate meant—where it came from, what went into raising it, and how it was to honor that life even in the taking of it.

Also to consider was the affect my journey was having on my relationship with my husband. While he was not seeking to impose his values on me any more than I sought to impose my own upon him, he nevertheless mourned the loss of what he considered a valuable commonground and source of joy and connection in our relationship: the mutual creation and enjoyment of gourmet meals, along with the wine and meat that are a large part of that lifestyle for him and for us as a couple for more than ten years of our lives.

I had changed my path while he had not, and though I was free to continue my journey into Buddhist philosophy, I needed to find a way to do so while also honoring the path on which I already walked hand in hand with those I love. At what point, I asked myself, was I doing more harm by putting my values before my relationships than I would be doing by finding a way to live them together?

My own journey into homesteading has much to do with my desire to feed my family in a way that's both healthy and humane while also nurturing the earth that supports us all. By raising our own meat, as well as other food, we all have a new found respect for the life it represents and the level of care and effort that goes into bringing meat to our table.

By raising our own meat, by being responsible rather than abdicating that role to others, we are able to honor life itself by becoming more mindful of what and how much we consume. Our meat consumption has drastically reduced, and we no longer support large-scale meat production or consumption.

Ahimsa, I believe, looks differently for those walking different paths. This is what ahimsa looks for me on this lifepath that I walk at this moment.

This photo, this refrigerator full of chicken carcasses, represents the humane treatment and processing of poultry. It represents the mindful consumption of meat throughout the year, as it requires careful consideration of portion size and meat-oriented meals, as we've consciously increased the number of our vegetarian meals while reducing the number of carnivorous meals.

No longer does the bulk styrofoam package of boneless chicken breasts translate into two weeks worth of meals instead of the 14 chickens it really represents; instead, we see it for what it is. We do the math in our heads and consider how ludicrous it would be to attempt the harvest of a chicken breast per person per meal—how wasteful and wanton that would be on a practical level.

As we move closer to the production of our own food, we become closer to the value of life itself and closer to the earth that sustains it. That, to me, is a version of ahimsa—not ahimsa for a monk, certainly, but a version of ahimsa that works for my family in this moment, honoring the spirit of the precept if not the letter of the law.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Oven-dried tomatoes

Finally, I have time to post again--whew! Before the Live and Learn Conference I harvested and processed as much as I could, just so I could be away for a few days without worrying about all that was going on in my garden without me. Obviously, I made lots of paste and whole tomatoes from the San Marzanos, and I froze many of the sungolds raw. The grape tomatoes weren't quite as big as I would hoping they would be. I'd planted them, hoping I could stuff them with some goat cheese like cocktail tomatoes, but they were pretty small and not as good fresh, imo, as the sungolds.

It began to look as if they would languish on the vine, so I decided to try drying them. Not wanting to buy a dehydrater, I made do with my ovens, though they only go down to 170 degrees, not the 140 recommended by most sources. I left them in for somewhere between 12 and 24 hours, and though not all of the tomatoes dried completely, the ovens did a pretty good job.

When all was said and done, I couldn't have sealed the oven-dried tomatoes for dry storage because of the moisture still left in several, but they turned out to be absolutely delicious! I opted to vacuum seal and freeze them and look forward to trying them out this winter. I'll definitely be planting these again next year, as Jim and I love sundried tomatoes on sandwiches and in pasta. How wonderful to be able to use those from our very own gardens!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Summer's Bounty

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been preserving tomatoes like crazy--tomatoes of all sorts. Mini-gold gumballs frozen raw to preserve our "Goldnuggets" and "Sungolds"; paste and whole blanched "San Marzanos"; and crinkly, deep reddish-brown oven-dried "Cherry Red" grape tomatoes. At some point I simply stopped trying to keep an accurate count of the weight, but I estimate at least 40 lbs of tomatoes have made their way through my kitchen in the past two days alone.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Heirloom Harvests

This year, I planted several heirloom vegetables: Kentucky Wonder pole beans, also known as "Old Homestead" and "Texas Pole," was introduced before 1864; San Marzano, classic Italian paste tomatoes; and Tom Thumb, a dwarf heirloom popping corn.

The Tom Thumb plants yielded one or two ears per stalk, which, as you can see, really are about the size of a thumb.

We had lots of fun harvesting and were very excited to try our very own popcorn, though we all agreed that popcorn must have been a special treat, considering how much space, time and effort it took to produce! I began shucking the corn one afternoon, and Sam soon joined me. My thumb soon became sore, so my plan was to leave the remaining ears till the following day, but they proved irresistable to family members. Jim immediately jumped on board when he came home, so Sam joined in to show him how it was done, and upon returning home from the neighbor's house, the girls immediately joined in the round as well.Many hands really do make quick work!

Alas, the popping was not so successful. We will likely try some different techniques, considering we have quite a bit with which to experiment, but we won't likely be planting "Tom Thumb" again next year.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Springfield Farm

Last week, we took a small fieldtrip to Springfield Farm north of Baltimore to purchase some Narragansett hens. Although it was more than an hour drive, the kids had fun once we were there, checking out all the animals, choosing the hens and devouring a pint of cookies and cream ice cream from a local dairy. We were able to choose either one month old or two month old birds and ended up going with two of the older birds both because we'd have a better chance of choosing hens and because they'd be basically the same age as the birds we hatched out at home.

Although we ended up with two males from our hatching, buying two females from another breeder ended up making good sense to broaden genetics for our flock. I had planned on incubating more eggs next spring in order to do this, but the way it worked out saved us a year in the long run. This is a photo, I believe, of the hens' mother whose coloring is very light. In the pen right next to them were several peacocks, which completely captured the girls' hearts. If it weren't for the incredibly loud noise they make, I'd have had two girls begging for some at our home.

While there, we were able to see the breed of pig we're considering for our farm, Tamworths. Known for their flavor, lean meat and ability to do well on pasture. Sam and his dad are really looking forward to raising some feeder pigs for meat, but Jules is set on raising one to keep. Our big research project this year is to learn as much as we can about the Tamworths, so we'll be able to integrate them into our farm. Designing and locating the pen will depend in large part on where we can locate water and where we'd like to locate our fields. Our trip to Springfield gave us some good ideas and some visuals that will help our planning.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bountiful Harvest

We've been loving garden life again, and eating delicious, naturally grown food is like nothing else. Anyone who's a gardener will understand how incredibly difficult it was for me to leave my gardens when we moved last year. Moving in June meant all my effort would be enjoyed by the new owners while I moved into a home with a clean slate--fun to create, but a whole season of herbs and edibles lost! Bittersweet. Once again, however, we have herbs for flavoring dishes, greens and our very first tomatoes are beginning to ripen, which Jim totally stole for his blog! Those on the blog ring have inspired me to begin taking some pictures of the foods we create--thanks to everyone for being a part of Homesteadin' Unschoolers!

This year has also brought some wonderful expansion as we have more room and more sun for growing our delicacies. I bought some broccoli seedlings, which have come in beautifully, and I've just finished harvesting and freezing several batches after we gorged ourselves on fresh harvests. We've also been able to broaden our tomato repertoire and have enjoyed the "Gold Nugget" cherry tomatoes that have been the first to ripen. I'm looking forward to the grape tomatoes and the sungolds, which are delicious! Our dwarf popcorn has tassled out and is growing, and Sam and I are oh so excited to try our very own popcorn. I have a couple of acorn squash already, and a few more butternuts growing on the vines. I've been diligently picking the flowers off my strawberries, which at first was very difficult, but the plants are growing so nicely now that it's become easier.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Just when I think I have it all figured out...

Okay, so I know I posted earlier about my obsession with determining the sex of my turkeys. As you can see, this guy is pretty much a no brainer. He loves to display and strut and gobble, and his snood is definitely longer than the other turkey's snood. He'll even at times try to step on the other turkey when s/he's laying in the dust. For a while there, I even let all the obsession fall away as I was sure I'd lucked out in this whole grand experiment and ended up with a breeding pair after all. Then doubt once again rears its ugly head.

Here's another photo of the typical behavior--looks like a tom with two hens, doesn't it? Hence my complacency. Within the past day or so, however, the other narri-colored poult seems to have begun a kind of gobble, but only if the tom isn't there. *sigh* I thought, perhaps, too, that I'd actually seen this second poult display when alone, though I couldn't be sure which poult I was actually watching--other than a slight variation in the length and shape of the snood, there are no distinguishing features. Yet another worrisome bit of info, though I've read that it can take another month for their mature coloring to come in.

Here's a pretty good shot of the two of them together, and if you click the photo, it should open a larger version. Cast your vote in the comments section below--tom or hen?
You make the call.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Kitchen Garden

I've been meaning to blog about the kitchen garden for a while now, and we got some good pictures today. This is an overview of the area which is approximately 50'x50'. We fenced it in with goat fencing, which has done a great job keeping out the goats and chickens but not such a great job with the bunnies, who managed to nearly wipe out two sections of beans before we bought two rolls of 2' chicken wire to run around the bottom. This seems to have done the trick, and the beans are attempting a valiant comeback.

I need to scan in a copy of my garden design, so folks can get an idea of the overall layout logic, but until I do that, here's a quick and dirty description. The left-most three sections are permanent planting beds with strawberries and a central row of lavendar in the two outside beds and asparagus ("Jersey King") in the middle bed. I planted four varieties of strawberries: "Jewel" and "Sparkle" in the first bed, and "Tristar" and "Earligirl" in the last bed. To the front of these permanent beds are three more beds that comprise the left half of the kitchen garden. In the center bed, I have (semi) permanent herbs: rosemary, parsley and thyme. In the outer beds, I have tomatoes and basil, pole beans and onions. The closer tomatoes are grapes and cherries, and the farthest are slicing tomatoes.

In the right side of the garden, I have mirroring sections, though the back three beds are not permanent but a part of the 4 part rotation. The center back is the dwarf "Tom Thumb" popcorn that Sam and I planted, and in front of that is the mirror herb garden with cilantro in the back, then dill, then two rows of chives that I just planted because the first batch didn't take. In the front left bed are carrots and beans (the only beans that didn't get eaten to the ground), and behind them to the right are lettuces and peppers with broccolli. In the farthest beds are onions, paste tomatoes, bunny bashed beans and a basil bed that's just recently seeded.

The perimeter of the garden has the several fruit trees that aren't in the yard-scaping somewhere and these are the garden beds with hardwood mulch in the picture. The back has apples ("Liberty," "Enterprise," and "William's Pride") and pears ("Seckel," "Magness" and "Potomac"). The left side has 20 blackberry plants: 7 "Apache," 8 "Arapaho," 5 "Triplecrown." The right side has 20 raspberry plants: 5 "Nova," 5 "Killarney," 5 "Caroline" and 5 "Jewel" black raspberries. The front of the garden showcases 6 table grape vines: 3 "Mars" and 3 "Canadice." In our yard, we've planted a "Stella" sweet cherry, a "Hardy Chicago" fig, a peach tree, and a "Stanley" plum tree, along with 7 blueberry bushes ("Bluecrop," "Jersey Blue," and I can't remember the others) .

We also have other crops planted elsewhere on the property. I have a melon/ squash bed in a hollow of one of the pastures, hoping to maximize water. There I have acorn and butternut squash, watermelon and two kinds of cantaloupes. In Jim's fields, we have two kinds of sweet corn--bicolor and white--and a full size popcorn. He also planted "Yukon Gold" and "Red Nordland" potatoes and two kinds of pumpkins--a jack o'lantern and pie pumpkin for me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Digs

I had to steal this photo from my husband's blog because I don't have any new pictures yet! He spent his time while the kids and I were on vacation building this fabulous new chicken coop for me. What a guy! He even gave them a 4'x8' skylight--totally key for internal light. He used a tinted fiberglass after we'd talked about wanting light but not wanting to greenhouse the birds. It works perfectly! There's eave ventilation around the building, a large chicken-wire covered opening off the back, and he'll reuse the window removed from the barn to make space for a narrow door out to the coop on the farside of the coop itself. All in all, quite fancy digs!

These pictures are at least two weeks old now--I'll post some more recent photos soon. The chickens, on the right, are getting bigger, and the roos are becoming pretty easy to spot. The funniest thing right now is listening to them learn to crow--pretty pathetic squeaky squawks at this point!

The turkeys are getting huge, and my big obsession now is trying to figure out the sex. I'm really hoping I have a breeding pair, obviously, so I keep going back and forth sure that I have at least one hen and one tom to being sure that I have all toms. One poult has been obviously displaying, and he seems to have a redder and bumpier neck than the other big poult, but they still have the same feather coloration, and their snoods range from being quite distinct to looking quite similar. The little guy is still too far behind the others developmentally to be showing any sex characteristics yet at all, and the white one is pretty much just dinner regardless of sex. So, my new past time has become sitting on my bench watching the turkey's behavior and trying to pin them down, figuratively speaking.

We've also moved the kittens out to the barn, and they love their new playground. They're not too sure about the turkeys yet, but it's fun to watch them explore and observe and absorb all the new sights and sounds. They're still quite friendly, though they're becoming obviously more independent with each day. They're definitely turning into barn cats, but hopefully, they'll always like people. They haven't brought me any mousy presents yet, but I'm optimistic that they'll at least discourage visitors if not outright exterminate them.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Trapped like a rat in a sinking ship...

Or like a mouse in a cardboard box full of kittens, anyway. Yes, I'll openly admit that a mouse was, indeed, harmed in the making of these photographs. You can see him cowering there in that bright little patch of sunlight, like a suspect brought in for questioning. He had the audacity and, let's face it, the supreme stupidity to allow me to catch him in my chick feed bag one morning. And, like the good kitty-cat mama that I am, I brought home a juicy little mousie so my babes could hone their skills.

At first they weren't too sure what to do with this mousie toy that actually moved, but they quickly got the hang of things, particualarly Monster and Shadow. Cally and Primo got in on the action as well, but Tabby hung back in the middle of the box as if to question whether any of us had any morals at all. The kittens, however, were all play and not much for finishing the job. Our puppy, Buddy, however, whom I suspect has a bit of Terrier as well as Border Collie (and lord knows what else mixed in), was just thrilled to thwump his big ol' webbed paw down on the poor little critter and proceed to strut around the yard with a tiny little tail sticking out between his teeth for several minutes, just as proud of himself as he could be!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Turkeys Arrive

The turkeys began hatching on Friday, the 12th and finished up Saturday, with a total of 8 hatching live out of the 18 eggs set. 4 birds developed but died without pipping--one of which had a scissored beak and at least two of which had damage to the airsac during shipment. The eggs began hatching a day early, and unfortunately, the first poult to hatch out drowned in a tuppperware of water I had in the incubator to raise humidity. I thought the sides were high enough, but alas...

As you can see, one of the Narragansetts is not a Narri at all, but a white turkey of some sort. Jules thought it was cute and wanted to name it, to which we responded that the only thing she could name it was "dinner." This turkey will likely grace our Thanksgiving table this year.

The poults are doing well, generally, eating, drinking and growing, except for one little Narri poult who died yesterday--probably the one I helped out of the shell, though no way of knowing. It stayed signficantly smaller than the other poults and seemed either blind or brain damaged or both. It would circle the brooding pool with it's head down, peeping and looking for something warm to crawl under, quieting down only when one of the other poults let it snuggle up.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Chicks Arrive!

We had 50 chicks arrive by the 11th of May from two different hatcheries. The 25 Dorkings, which arrived from Ideal, did and continue to do wonderfully well. The assorted 25 that arrived from Privett had one dead on arrival with another dying that night, and a Delaware chick who died this Saturday, which was a total shock and surprise. All the chicks have seemed quite healthy and hardy with very little pasty butt.

You can see how much they're already feathering out after just a week and a half. The black chick is a Dominque, the yellow are the Delawares, and the brown are variously Dorkings, Americaunas or Welsummers. The Dorkings and Welsummers are both straight runs, so we'll likely have several cockerels for our table by the end of the summer.

We have them brooding in a vacant stall while Jim builds the new coop off the one side of the barn, which will feature a brooding coop and a breeding coop, one on either end, and a central, all-purpose coop. The lower front will feature chicken doors out into the pasture, hopefully keeping the other animals out, while the 8' back will have people-size doors into the coop for feeding and egg collecting. The back doors also open out to the compost area, which will enable easy clean out. Our plan is to put a gate from the end of the coop out to the fence, allowing us to restrict the area behind the coop for breeding management.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Garden Bones

I finished planting most of the permanent features of the kitchen garden this week. I planted and then replanted 25 asparagus crowns, 100 strawberry plants, 20 blackberry plants and 20 raspberry canes. One of these days I need to post a sketch of the garden, but it's a large square, with a large central path and several smaller paths, which you can kind of see in a previous post.

I haven't yet figured out where to grow my sunflowers, and I have a separate bed in a pasture hollow for the melons and perhaps the squash as well and Jim has a large plot for the sweet corn, pumpkins and potatoes. I purchased a dwarf heirloom popping corn for my garden and all the usual herbs, tomatoes, peppers, greens, beans, etc. will be in there as well.

The blackberries and raspberries each run the whole length of one side. On the back of the garden, I have 3 dwarf apples and 3 dwarf pears that I'm going to try to espalier, and on the front of the garden I have six grape vines growing. I've tried to set the berries far enough inside the goat fencing that the goaties won't be able to nibble them through the fence, and because they're on the outside, I'll be able to put up bird netting relatively easily should I need it.

The blueberries are planted in our yard along the boundary as a hedge plant--seven of them. Those will be much more difficult to net because they're free standing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dewormed Goats and trimmed hooves

Drunkard Paths and Rock Rakin'--a.k.a. Practicing Potager

Why is it that men seem to get all the big engine-powered toys while women--or should I just say me and stop making sweeping gender generalizations--get to do all the hard work with manual tools? Eh, I should stop complaining--garden building's a way better work out than any nautilus machine! While Jim had fun plowing up my garden and disc-ing it with his 16hp Massey-Ferguson, I get to rake out all the rocks he turned over and create the layout and permanent path structure--all that finishing work that's so fun to conceptualize and so painful to implement.

Unfortunately, we don't have nearly enough leftover brick from the house to create all the walking paths between the beds that I'll need, so my plan is to use the bricks to ouline the paths while I plant grass seed, keeping the seed from entering the garden plots. Once I figured out how many bricks I had, I laid them out in the general design I was hoping to create. What a drunken path I made!

Luckily, I had three handy helpers to measure and set the lines with me to create a straighter path--when they weren't running through the paths playing tag, that is.

The final layout came out pretty cool, and once the seed on this half of the garden germinates, I'll flip all the bricks over to the other half of the garden and do the same all over again. You can kind of see the apples at the back of the garden, the grapes at the front, and the tilled up line down the side for the raspberry plants, which will create a living fence inside the wire one. The key will be setting the fruit plants far enough back from the fence that the goaties can't stick their heads in to munch some tasty treats all the way down to the ground!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Turkey Dreamin'

This year, I began cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Easter, which is to say I set 18 Narragansett turkey eggs in the incubator. Narragansett turkeys are listed as "critical" on the ALBC site and are one of the oldest American breeds, developed in New England during the Colonial period, though they weren't officially recognized until after the 1830s. Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have owned Narragansetts at one time. Heritage breeds like the Narragansett are touted by the Slow Food movement as a delicious choice for Thanksgiving birds, as mentioned in this fun article on the Food Section site.

In preparation for the eggs, which shipped from a small poultry keeper in New York, I borrowed an old hovabator from my neighbor, as I was not eager to repeat my experience with our homemade incubator that used an incandescent bulb as the unregulated heat source. Unfortunately, however, the bottom of the 'bator was pretty chewed up, so Jim retrofitted the heater and thermostat onto my homemade 'bator and voila!

The eggs arrived all in one piece, though shipped eggs are still a bit of a crap-shoot. Until we candle them at around day 5, we won't know whether we have fertile, viable eggs or not. The incubator is doing a great job of holding temperature and staying pretty steady, and having a remote thermometer/ hygrometer is a godsend if you're anal about monitoring the 'bator temps like I am. I can wake up in the middle of the night, click the illuminator and reassure myself that all is well.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Touching the Earth

I've been working in the vegetable garden--raking out rocks, staking out plots, planting seeds, pulling weeds, all that fun stuff.

This week, I've gotten my onions, carrots, lettuce, parsley, lavendar, and chives planted. Jim turned over the blueberry beds with big bags of peat, so those are set. I weeded and mulched the apples and pears and ordered the raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.

I fed the hydrangeas, bulbs and roses with the "tones" as I mulched the flower beds this week. I use the organic "tones" from Espoma, which have been wonderful for me the past several years. The one product I haven't tried because I can't find it locally is the turf tone, which I'd really like to try. At this point, I've pretty much resigned myself to overseeding the lawn in the spring and fall, pulling a few weeds by hand when I feel motivated and embracing, if somewhat half-heartedly, the "wish flowers" that the kids so love--the dreaded dandelion gone to seed.

All in all, a very productive week.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Barn Cat Bonanza

After putting the mama cat down, we brought her kittens inside, and I am now the proud surrogate mama to five barn kittens. I can honestly say that until now I have never before wished for 6 breasts. Evolution rocks! Mama cat did her very best to mother her five kittens despite being a baby still herself, and she gave them the very best start in life they could've gotten--36 to 48 hours of her colostrum. If these babies survive, it will be primarily due to that gift she gave to them.

I went out and purchased a new cat crate for the kittens since our current one was in use by a quarantined hen, a heating pad, several bottles, some KMR formula and a digital kitchen scale. Our set up is working really well other than the whole automatic shut off feature on the heating pad, which causes it to turn off every hour. Apparantly, I completely missed that bonus feature when choosing the pad 'cause it sure wouldn't have been my choice to wake up every hour to switch the durn thing back on. Seven days later, I've now purchased two more wet pads without the bonus auto shut off. Live and learn.

Primo was the first kitty born and the one mama abandoned in the driveway. He hung out with me for about 2 hours the day he was born before he went back to join his littermates. Primo was the first to open his eyes at about 5 days--very early--which leads me to believe that he's gestationally older than the others. He came to us at 3.30 ounces and was the only one not to drop weight initially; he continues to hold his own as the second largest kitten in the litter. He's primarily a tabby with quite a bit of orange around his face, white on his throat, and a couple of black tiger stripes by his eyes.

4/2-- 3.30 oz
4/3-- 3.55 oz
4/4-- 4.00 oz
4/5-- 4.40 oz
4/6-- 4.90 oz
4/7-- 5.10 oz

Tabby is one of the smallest and definitely the whiniest of the bunch and pretty much the runt of the litter. He was dehydrated the first couple of days, but now at one week, he's eating like a champ and eliminating copiously, so I know his hydration is back to normal. He came to us at 3.55 ounces. He's a typical gray tabby with white around his throat line.

4/2-- 3.55 oz
4/3-- 2.95 oz
4/4-- 3.19 oz
4/5-- 3.55 oz
4/6-- 3.95 oz
4/7-- 4.10 oz

Shadow is a sweet little kitty and I think she's the one we found crawling away from her mama in a pool of motor oil. She cleaned up quiet well and is one of my favorites, perhaps because of her challenging start. She came to us at 3.40 ounces, and developed diarrhea and dehydration the first day, possibly due to the richness of the formula feed. I cut the formula to water ratio for about 24 hours, which helped rehydrate her and allow her digestive system to catch up. Shadow is a soft gray tabby with a white necklace--so cute!

4/2-- 3.40 oz
4/3-- 2.80 oz
4/4-- 3.40 oz
4/5-- 3.40 oz
4/6-- 3.80 oz
4/7-- 3.90 oz

Monster got his name because of how much bigger he was than any of his litter mates. He came to us at a whopping 4.05 ounces! He's a sweet little guy who was the first kitten to start purring. He's highly food motivated, and I'll be interested to see how his personality developes. He's a charcoal tabby with very dark skin, which is adorable.

4/2-- 4.05 oz
4/3-- 3.95 oz
4/4-- 4.45 oz
4/5-- 5.05 oz
4/6-- 5.45 oz
4/7-- 5.95 oz

Cally was the last kitten born, and as her name suggests, she's the only calico in the litter. When I changed the bedding Sunday morning, Cally was the kitten whose umbilical cord I found wrapped around her mama's leg, severely cutting into her tail. I was able to separate the cord, and both her umbilicus and tail are healing nicely, though I suspect she'll always have a bit of a kink as a reminder. She came to us at 3.65 ounces and seems to be a very loving kitten.

4/2-- 3.65 oz
4/3-- 3.35 oz
4/4-- 3.90 oz
4/5-- 4.25 oz
4/6-- 4.45 oz
4/7-- 4.95 oz