Sunday, March 30, 2008
We learned the New Zealand method of sheep shearing, and these guys made it look sooo easy when they did it, but I can tell you that it's anything but easy. It takes a lot of physical strength and stamina, something I was sorely lacking by the end of the second day. (One of the gals in my group got some pictures, so maybe I'll have some to post later.)
I sheared two sheep the first day, which went really well. I got some nice clean blows and barely nicked the sheep at all. Gracious, I can't even tell you what some of the folks in the class were doing to their sheep—several were just too awful to look at. Even the pros got a couple nicks here and there, so some are to be expected I guess, but there's a big difference between a nick and a gash, and some folks were leaving behind huge gashes. My team did well, and I was really grateful to be with them. There were four of us working together: a fella from PA who grooms dogs and worked well with the shearers, and a mother-daughter pair out of Reiserstown, MD, who have Angora goats. The daughter was a senior in high school and interested in becoming a vet. She did a great job and held up really well because the stress of seeing the animals hurt was really taking a toll on her.
The second day, I was really beat, especially considering that I haven't slept well for about a week and a half with the kids being sick and then me getting the cold. I had chills and a fever of 102° and my strength was sapping. I spent about 10 minutes in the car at lunch time closing my eyes and just trying to get warm. My first sheep of the day went well, though I still struggled a bit with the positions. Lacking leg strength, I kept letting the sheep's head slip through the back of my legs, which wasn't good. Still the shearing went well with good clean blows and no nicks but a bit of scungy stuff left on the spine where the dirt had worked way down into the wool.
By the time my second sheep rolled around, though, I just had nothing left. I made it through all the positions, but was having a heck of a time getting the shearers through the wool, and I couldn't get a good clean blow down on the skin. I was exhausted and ended up asking one of my partners to finish up the last leg for me. Even he was having a hard time getting the shearers through the wool, at which point David came over and tried and had the same issue. This sheep just produced so much lanolin and it was still cool enough that it was gunking up the shears big time. I felt slightly vindicated even though David made a bit fun of me, saying he thought I'd be stronger than that. I told him how sick I was but that I didn't think he'd be willing to hold a private class for me when I was feeling better.
I was so sick by the end of the day that I just crumbled when I got home. I leaned into Jim's chest and just cried I was so exhausted. He's so good to me—he ran me a nice hot tub and told me to just go to bed. I was in bed by 6pm yesterday until 7am today. I think my fever may have broken in the night, but I'm still pretty wasted. We'll see how I feel tonight, as the fever seems to creep on slowly throughout the day.
All in all, it was a great class even if I wasn't 100%. I still learned a ton and got to shear four sheep. Hopefully I didn't get anyone else there sick—I tried to be careful about it. I was proud of the job I did and feel confident that I'll be able to shear our three sheep fairly adeptly if not totally professionally. I know I can get good blows, good fiber length and still keep my sheep in tact. I think if I can improve my speed by working on my positions, I'll be able to minimize the impact on the sheep even further, which let's face it is really my goal. I'm still a bit miffed at the attitude some folks had towards the animals, and I can guarantee that fleece quality will never be more important to me than the welfare of the animal itself.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
But little doings add up, too, and it's not just the big stuff that keeps one ahead of the game come season. Of course, many of these things involve spending money rather than doing work, but still... here's a list of some of those little things:
- ordered bee hives:
After much hemming and hawing over size, I ordered two standard deep hives from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in North Carolina. A standard hive full of brood and honey can weigh up to 100 lbs, so I was seriously contemplating going with a medium hive instead, which will weigh around 60 or 70 lbs. Ultimately, I decided to go with standard equipment in the hope that it will make life slightly easier in the long run, although it seems nothing is completely standard in the bee world.
Brushy Mountain offered free shipping to beginning beekeepers enrolled in a bee course this year, so I took them up on the generous offer. Unfortunately, things are backordered and they're running a bit behind schedule, so I'm hoping to have enough time to assemble the hives before my nucs are ready, around the 2nd week of May. I'm pretty sure that the only things I'll need to assemble are the hive frames, so it shouldn't take too long. Of course, there are 40 of those, so...
- ordered amaranth and quinoa seed:
This year, we'll be planting three test plots of grains: hulless oats, amaranth, and quinoa. I was able to get my oats from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, my favorite local source, but I needed to do some shopping around for the other grains and ended up getting a pretty good deal from Wild Garden Seed out in Oregon. They're not local by any stretch, but they look to be a good company, and they sold the seed in bulk rather than by packet only.
I ordered 1/4 lb of burgandy amaranth, an ounce of Hopi red dye amaranth, and 1/4 lb of red head quinoa. I also decided to try a packet of huauzontle, a grain I'd never heard of before, based on their description. A chenopodium like quinoa, it's related to lamb's quarters, but is an ancient Aztec green/ grain version that is supposed to be more reliable than lamb's quarters in addition to being a beautiful red color. I'm not sure yet how I'll grow it with regards to cross pollination, but I wanted some nonetheless; I may use it solely for microgreens and salad greens.
- ordered 25 tulip poplar trees and 25 hybrid willows:
We live on such a small acreage that I've been searching for some way to produce at least a portion of our own wood fuel, and while these are both soft woods, making them less ideal than traditional hardwoods like oak, they also grow quickly—about 6' per year—making them good possibilities for a staggered yearly harvest. Willow, in particular, can be coppiced, the practice of cutting the trunk to the ground, allowing multiple side shoots to grow, which can then be harvested for firewood.
Another advantage of planting these species will hopefully be to provide quick-growing shade in our pastures for the livestock, something we've been wanting to do since we moved in. Our land is primarily pasture, with a long hedge-row running along the back that provides some morning shade, but no afternoon shade. The pastures can be brutally hot during the high summer, often about 5-10° hotter than the house yard. The hedgerow, too, is overgrown with several invasive species, including honeysuckle and Chinese sumac, which we've been working to clear since we moved in to enable the native Eastern cedars and staghorn sumac to gain footholds. We're hoping to use our goats to help with some of this now that Jim's pulled the fenceline through the tangled mess.
I opted to go with native tulip poplars rather than the faster growing hybrid poplar because this native species is such an important food source for wildlife like the Eastern swallowtail and my bees. In fact, both poplar and willow are great food sources for honeybees: the willow will provide one of the first important sources of pollen, while the tulip poplar will provide a key nectar source. So, my hope is to accomplish several things with these two species of trees on our property.
- transplanted and divided some ornamentals:
This is just typical gardener fare, moving and dividing and tweaking the gardens up by the house. Nothing terribly exciting, but it lets me get my hands in the dirt and feel like I'm actually getting stuff done.
- trying to get hens to set on collected fertilized eggs:
And not being terribly successful, I must say. The hens have their own ideas and timelines and seem to be completely ignoring mine. So, I may be ordering chicks again this year as I try to identify which hens will be willing to act as my broody hens next year. I think, too, that I'll do a better job keeping the roosters separate to prolong our fertilization window. Unfortunately, this year, one of the roos got out into the general hen population, messing up my careful segregation. Live and learn.
- over-seeded pastures:
With our rotation, we pull all the animals off the pastures sometime after Thanksgiving, giving the land a chance to rest all winter long. This also gets the animals closer to the barn, making winter feeding and watering much easier. We'll be turning them out into rotation in the next couple of weeks, keeping them off the parts I over-seeded for another couple weeks. The drought hit the pastures pretty hard last year, so I'm anxious to see how the grass comes back. Right now I'm seeing the cool season grasses but won't see the warm season for a little while yet.
- continue to water seedlings in high and low tunnels:
I have several sowings of radishes, as well as tatsoi, turnip, beet, kale and chard growing now. Our temps are still dipping into the 20s at night, so the plastic will stay on for at least another week.
- planted two rows of peas in market garden:
It's been too wet to plow on the weekends, so I had Jim use the walk-behind tiller against the fenceline to allow me to get at least the first sowing of peas in the ground. Hopefully either this week or next, he'll get the whole garden plowed, and I'll be able to begin some serious planting. Our seed potatoes won't be shipped out until the first week of April, so we should be able to get them in the ground shortly thereafter. I need to get the broccoli, onions, and carrots in asap, though I do have a round of carrots maturing now for harvest in the next few weeks.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
February 2008: Flour Shortages in Saudi Arabia
March 2008: Flour Shortages in Belize
March 12, 2008: Bread Baker's of America march on Washington in protest of US agricultural, financial, and foreign policies that have contributed to rising wheat costs and flour shortages in the US.
Many bulk suppliers report record lows and shortages of wheat berries and flours, including Walton Feed and United Natural Foods. Grocery stores and warehouse clubs are experiencing similar situations.
Bought any flour lately?
*Editing to add that Acres, USA reported in their March issue that US wheat stores are the lowest they have been in 59 years.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Braised goose in a red wine gravy, mashed potatoes, and southern-style turnip greens with salted pork, topped with home-made bleu cheese dressing and accompanied by ciabatta bread:
Curried goat stew over sticky rice, accompanied with naan, an Indian fried bread:
Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits, accompanied by a salad of mixed baby greens with bleu cheese dressing:
Frittata with mixed baby greens, salted bacon, and swiss cheese before baking:
Roasted pork tenderloin, gravy and couscous, along with a side of Southern-style turnip greens with salted pork and ciabatta bread:
Sunday, March 16, 2008
There I sat in a room full of women who live a far fancier lifestyle than I, most of whom, I'm willing to bet, spent more on their hair and nails in the past month than I've spent in the past 5 years or so. Of course, that's not hard to do, considering Jim doesn't charge me for the infrequent trims, and the occasional henna doesn't cost very much. Nails... fuhget about it (said with my best Brooklyn accent). Several have au pairs and fancy jobs in New York City.
Yes, I was out of my element, but having a blast nonetheless.
There was far more eating and drinking of wine than discussion of the book, but I think we had some meaningful moments looking at the possibilities of local eating as well as small, but simple changes folks could make in their purchasing. We talked about CSA's, which most had never heard of, and I told them about localharvest.org, a great place to find local farms and products. We talked a bit about buying meat by the side, which can easily be split among several people to share costs and minimize storage, allowing for custom butchering and lower prices for premium cuts. We talked about purchasing in bulk through buying clubs like United Natural and Organic Foods, which again can be split among members co-op style if folks don't want 50 lbs. of sugar at one time, for instance.
What we didn't talk about are the advantages to having bulk food storage in case of emergency, something Kingsolver gets around to by the end of the book. In fact, we didn't have a chance to talk at all about the global warming/ peak oil implications of the book or why Kingsolver feels such urgency about producing her own food and buying locally. I would have liked to hear whether folks in the book club were aware of the concept of peak oil and what they thought about it.
Several of these women were directly impacted by 9/11, so I wondered what their thoughts were on emergency preparedness and whether having a well-stocked pantry and local food sources would feel more practically reassuring than the plastic wrap and duct tape solutions that circulated shortly after 9/11 (never mind the woefully inadequate 3 days of food—remember Katrina?). I wondered, specifically, whether these women had thought much about feeding their families during an emergency and how that might look if the impending economic crisis looming over Wall Street were to result in bread and grocery lines reminiscent of the Great Depression.
JP Morgan's weekend buy-out of Bear Stearns ushers in governmental economic strategy unseen since those dark days, as that looming shadow grows larger and more menacing every day. I wondered, for instance, whether these women felt this menace even more acutely than I in some ways because of their proximity to Wall Street and a lifestyle driven by credit and big business. Eliot Spitzer may be the great scapegoat of the day, as persecution arises out of a much needed distraction as much as sweet revenge. Nothing quite like a juicy scandal to keep folks' minds off failing credit.
But I digress....
Much of our time early on was spent discussing my family's lifestyle choices, ranging from farming to homeschooling. Folks seemed fascinated by the idea that we grow most of our own food and wondered how we'd gotten to this place and why I linked farming and homeschooling in my mind. I talked a bit about wanting to eat well and touched on the idea of self-sufficiency and becoming more independent of larger cultural systems like schools and grocery stores. We also delved a bit into GMO foods, and I recommended the book Seeds of Deception or the documentary The Future of Food for folks interested in learning more about the issue.
Most folks in the room that evening had never heard of Monsanto or GMOs or the problems with "good" companies like Horizon, so I think if nothing else Kingsolver and I planted some seeds that night that may cause several of those readers to consider more carefully and critically the sources of their food as well as what goes in it. They've already circulated several links amongst themselves and researched the possibility of joining a local CSA. Hooray for little ripples!
Food for the evening featured deviled eggs from our farm and chicken salad sandwiches made from one of our free-range broilers in addition to several other local delights such as Italian bread and fresh mozzarella cheese. One touch everyone seemed to appreciate were the half-dozen eggs I brought for each member to take home, giving them a taste of free-range, heritage eggs that are both aesthetically and gastronomically pleasing. Hopefully that'll hook 'em for good!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The project was a tasting room for a new local winery in Frederick County, Maryland, Black Ankle Vineyards. Owners Ed Boyce and Sarah O'Herron are strongly influenced by biodynamic philosophy and in keeping with that, they produced as much of the building materials on site as possible. Most of the wood was milled from their own land, the rye straw was all grown and harvested on site, and they've even worked closely with a papercrete company to produce countertops made from grape vines, seeds, and skins from last year's harvest. It's very cool. They'll also be using some wormy maple from the grounds for tabletops. It should be absolutely beautiful when finished, and a delightful place for Jim and I to go. Since the owners have 5 children, their plans are to make the gardens kid-friendly.
This was a post and beam project with straw infill, meaning that the straw itself primarily functions as an insulator, and what an amazing insulator it is with R-42 value! The roof will be insulated with an expanding soy foam, and the concrete floors will be finished with a soy colorant. The building will also include a cob-covered masonry stove, some living roof area, as well as cob walls and benches in the outdoor rooms. (Note: these links aren't necessarily the actual products being used.)
My team and I worked on an outside corner wall with a window (below) that flows into an internal wall and window, which means we had loads of specialty cuts to make in our bales. Here we are standing on our strawbale scaffold against our internal wall just before we laid the last course under the beam. Eventually, strawbales will be laid on the cut side on top of this final course, all the way up the cathedral wall where it will meet the ceiling insulation.
The weekend was amazing, and fun, and filled with all kinds of challenging weather, including a rain and hail storm which soaked me to the skin in the frantic run to tarp the outside walls, demonstrating the clear value to post and beam construction in our area of the country. If this had been a load-bearing or "Nebraska style" strawbale, there would have been no roof in place!
After work was done, we were all treated to a tour of the winery and an informal tasting back in the tasting room to toast all our effort. What an amazing experience! Now, I'll have all kinds of experiential knowledge when I finally convince Jim to build our own strawbale on 100 acres somewhere.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Maya had 10 piglets, 9 of whom survived. The runt was about half the size of the piglets you see here and couldn't move very well. She just laid where she was without trying to get near milk or mama, as you can see in the photo below. I tried putting her into the fray a couple of times so she could get some milk, but she wouldn't latch on and the others pushed her out, and mama would start to get very agitated. I didn't want to create a situation where other piglets were stepped on and lost, so I backed off.
Unfortunately, by the end of the day she got stepped on at some point, probably because she couldn't get out of the way, and I discovered a huge laceration when I finally decided to take her into the house to bottle feed her. By that point she was chilled and in shock, by my best guess. I warmed some goat's milk I had in the freezer, but I couldn't get her to suck at all after several tries of warming her and reintroducing the bottle. Her snout kept getting bluer and bluer, and she was weaker and weaker. We eventually made the very difficult decision to euthanize her, which was very sad and definitely the down side of homesteading.
Mama and all 9 piggies made it through the night, and the most welcome site of my morning was seeing Maya come running out of her farrowing hut for breakfast and a nice long drink! The babies, however, were clearly wondering where their heater had gone, looking all around for mama while she was gone.
These nine are incredibly vigorous, and at one point yesterday, one of the largest made an excursion all the way next door to the boar paddock! He was a bit muddy and chilled, but none the worse for wear when I retrieved him. Here I am showing him to the kids with a rather incredulous look on my face. Our boar, Big Boy, is right next to Maya, and he'd been very concerned and protective all day yesterday every time one of us approached, running along the fence line and grunting at us. But a bowl of feed, and he happily let me take the squealing piglet from the paddock. The kids had been dying to get close to the babies, so this seemed like a good opportunity. Mama sniffed him quite a bit when I put him back, and finally let him nurse with the rest once satisfied he was one of hers.
We'd known farrowing was getting close by several signs even without knowing the breeding date, so we moved Maya into her own paddock about a week and a half ago.
Here she is with enlarged nipples and noticeable dropping; her vulva was also significantly engorged:
Here, you can see her teats beginning to bag up nicely, as she enjoys some nice belly scratches from Julia:
The day before, there was milk in her nipples, so we knew to start watching her closely and to put fresh hay in her farrowing hut:
Monday, March 03, 2008
Water usage, while not quite as important in my discussion circle's part of the country/ world, still can make a significant impact on CO2 production, especially when heated. Climate change, too, is drastically changing the traditionally wet east coast's relationship with water, as seasonal droughts continue to ravage large parts of the South and to have significant impacts on most of Maryland. So finding ways to reduce water usage in general makes a significant difference in both CO2 reduction and environmental impact, though round these parts that means a big shift in cultural awareness of our relationship with water.
"Am I Clean Yet?"—Reducing Hot Water Used in Showers
The suggestions in the book itself are limited to installing low flow shower heads and taking shorter showers. Consider timing your average shower so that you'll have a sense of how long it takes to shower and to see how close you can get to a 5 minute shower. Heating the water for a 10 minute shower, for instance, can generate up to 4 lbs of CO2. Remember, too, that reducing that load also puts money back into your pocket in terms of fuel bills, a helpful thing to keep in mind when you long to linger.
There are some other great ideas that we discussed as a group as well, and folks raised some important points. There was a general resistance to the low flow shower heads, and several people pointed out the additional time spent in the shower trying to rinse shampoo, for instance, in a reduced water flow calling into question increased efficiency.
Speaking of shampoo, Americans in particular have a relationship with bathing that borders on the obsessive. Particularly during the dry winter months, reducing showers to every other day can be healthier for the skin as well as the environment. Shampooing, too, doesn't need to be done every day, and many people have found that their hair responds better to no washing at all, particularly those with curly hair. Some folks talk about turning the water off while soaping, often referred to as the "navy shower." In my opinion, that sounds like a mild form of torture. I'd much rather save my water by showering every other day! Young kids especially can help with water conservation by bathing together: everyone gets clean and has fun at the same time.
Bath water, too, can be saved rather than drained and used occasionally to water plants. Stick to non-edibles and be sure that you're using enviro-friendly soaps. Gray water recovery is tricky and governed by all kinds of regulations that vary by state, but it can be done. Find out more about the possibilities in your area.
In my home, waiting for the shower to heat up can waste a tremendous amount of water. Keeping a bucket handy captures that clean water for other uses, like watering edible plants, houseplants, or just pouring into your washer next time you do a load. One of our members passed around this link to SinkPositive.com, showing an easy retrofit solution to recovering clean water in the bathroom. For those building new, consider working such designs into the bathroom in the first place.
Capturing water with rain barrels can be a great way to get clean water for irrigating and can be done relatively cheaply. There are, of course, the beautiful prefab barrels that can be purchased for a tidy sum, complete with diverters for those worried about run-off from asphalt roofs, but we talked about some low-tech solutions too. Juice and soda companies can be a good resource for inexpensive, food-grade 50 gallon barrels that can be attached to downspouts with just a quick trip to the local hardware store. Here's a great website to get you started. It's amazing how much water a roof can collect in even a small rainstorm!
Another great, low-tech idea is to build a summer solar shower outside. I grew up going to the beach where we always showered outside as a way to keep the sand out of the house. While it may take some getting used to, it's a wonderful, cool, refreshing feeling to shower outside and an easy way to take advantage of the sun's power without all the fancy and expensive photovoltaics. Camping stores sell solar showers that can hold up to 5 gallons of water for easy heating and quick set up. My plan is to build a more conventional style shower by using a black storage tank in combination with a black hose snaked unobtrusively through the garden. Building an attractive shower stall for privacy near the garden takes advantage of that space while also allowing shower run-off to divert into the garden. Here's a do-it-yourself site to get started thinking about outdoor shower designs.
"Scrub-A-Dub-Tub"—Reducing Water Used for Washing Dishes
The big debate is often which uses fewer resources: hand washing or a dishwasher. The answer seems to be a very qualified it depends how you do it, but in general, the dishwasher is probably more efficient. Running a dishwasher can generate up to 2 lbs of CO2 whereas hand washing inefficiently can produce almost 3 lbs, as well as using significantly more water.
As an exercise, take a large tupperware-type container and determine the volume: some will tell you on the bottom, but it's easy enough to measure with an old gallon milk jug. Place the container under the spigot as you rinse, wash, etc. This will let you measure just how much water you go through during your normal dishwashing routine, and it will help you target where you could reduce. Pre-rinsing with a dishwasher, for instance, uses approximately a gallon of water whereas inefficient hand rinsing with the water running can use up to 25 gallons of water in just 5 minutes!
New, energy-star dishwashers can use significantly less water than older models, which also translates into less water heated by your water heater. A dishwasher with a soil sensor can tailor the amount of water to the job, and those with internal water heaters can spot heat water for dishwashing, allowing homeowners to turn down the water heater for all other household tasks. Replacing a 10 year old dishwasher with an energy star model can save more than 1,000 gallons of water per year!
There was some debate over whether pre-rinsing was necessary, as many sources suggest scraping only to reduce the amount of water used in rinsing. Personally, I've found that my dishwasher does not get things clean without pre-rinsing the dishes. What I do is keep a dish tub in my sink, which I fill while waiting for my water to get hot to wash those large pots and pans. This dish tub is enough water to pre-rinse all dishes from plates to silverware to the big pots and pans without using any more water.
What are your tricks and tips?
Saturday, March 01, 2008
This week we enjoyed egg salad sandwiches on homemade ciabatta bread with the last of our red salad bowl lettuce. Together with chips and beer, this was a tasty somewhat local meal, though the chips, flour, mayo and dijon mustard were all store bought. We also made sausage and cheese polenta with poached eggs for dinner one evening with our own sausage produced here on the farm.
Other dishes included taco salad with local beef and onions, green chilis hand-delivered by friends from New Mexico, and lovely bright green homegrown turnip leaves and the beginning of spring's cilantro. We're beginning to miss those tomatoes, though.
Also on the menu this week was the first taste of our recently butchered pork, raised here on our pasture. We had some chops and some Southern-style turnip greens with salted pork. The turnip greens are absolutely amazing, making turnips a worthy addition to our winter garden. Here's the recipe:
- turnip greens
- salt pork
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- dash of sugar (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
Cook salt pork in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat until crispy and brown. Add about 1 1/2 cups water, turnip greens, onion, salt, pepper and sugar and bring to a boil for about 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes or so until greens are nice and tender.
Delicious served with cornbread.
*Notes: if using traditionally cured salt pork, you may not need additional salt. Also, greens can be blanched for 1-2 minutes and the water poured off to get rid of any bitter taste. Turnip greens may react with aluminum.