"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Foal in Our Future!

There is no longer any doubt about it: Rosie Pony is pregnant. She's getting her udder back. (Do you call it an udder on a pony?) When I bought her, she was still nursing her last foal, although it was almost as big as she is herself. She dried off and her udder shriveled up soon after she got here. It's been gone for months, but now it's back! That can only mean one thing. 

But when? I have no idea how long it might be until she foals. I can only say, probably not more than a month or so. I know exactly nothing about foals and foaling. 

Guess it's time to read a book.

Oh but I can't wait! Her last two foals were both the most lovely cream color all over, the very palest palomino. Newborn baby pony! Could anything be cuter?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Weather Woe

At about two in the afternoon, it started to snow. Three hours later, it looks like this. And it's still coming down like gangbusters. 

I guess it IS still February. And it will most likely be gone tomorrow, anyway. Good thing I didn't put any plants outside in my burst of irrational exuberance occasioned by last week's beautiful weather. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Got Dirt?

Homero spent about 4 hours yesterday rototilling. I don't think he knew how grueling it was going to be. He thought it was going to be like driving a tractor, but instead it was like wrestling with a noisy stinky 300 pound beast with nine inch steel claws. That's probably why we have a patch of reasonable proportions (about 30 x 30) instead of the ridiculously large area he told me he was going to put in.  

It's not done, either, by any means. In four hours, he was able to till it in one direction; next he has to go back and till crosswise. There was an incredible amount of crap in the ground: sheet metal, bent pipe, broken cement blocks, lots and lots of rotted wood. The people who lived here before us, as I think I have mentioned, didn't haul away all the remains of their demolished barn. A fair amount of it got spread around and buried, or semi-buried. This is probably some of it.

As soon as my back recovers a little bit (I was digging out the blocks of cement and the metal and removing them from the path of the rototiller, and also turning compost), I will put back the two 4 x 8 beds and rake out the dirt inside them and get it ready for planting. Of course, there's a couple of frosts in the future still, but I think I can plant snow peas, radishes, and spinach just about any time now. The rest of the area I'll cover with black plastic and take my time preparing little by little. I told Homero that I was willing to take on responsibility for the entire vegetable garden after he tilled it. The garden is part of a larger responsibility which is mine: food security. 

We had a conversation and I told him I was feeling frustrated because it felt like I was depending an awful lot on him to get us towards our goals of independence. I'm not going to build a windmill. I can't build the biodiesel processor. I can't hook up a generator. I can't build a chicken coop or build a fence. I'm not even going to slaughter a hog. Chicken, maybe. I felt like I wasn't doing my part, even though rationally, that's a pretty silly feeling. I've been the impetus for this entire operation. I take care of the animals, mostly. I run the household, mostly. I'm responsible for childcare and child education, mostly. I cook and shop and budget and pay bills. I milk goats and make cheese and preserve the harvest. 

But rational or not, I felt like it wasn't enough. So now I have a new goal. I'm going to make sure that at the end of this growing season, we have six months of food in this house, and a damn good portion of it is going to be from this patch of dirt right here. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Warning, Politics Ahead


Please click on the above link and read the story about the people who pick tomatoes in the winter in Florida. I'm sorry, I can't seem to help getting more and more political about food issues. 

I'd heard about this situation before. I have heard, somewhere, about a group that was trying to get large grocery stores and corporations like McDonald's to pay a one cent per pound premium to better the conditions for migrant farmworkers, and that many had signed on. I'd heard that the Tomato Grower's Association  of Florida was resisting the trend. But I hadn't paid a whole lot of attention, until I got this month's glossy food-porn fix in the mail. What a surprise! Thank you, Gourmet, for having the guts, the chutzpah, to publish this alarming and horrifying report. I'm sure you'll catch a lot of flak for it.

As the wife of a Mexican immigrant, and as a nurse who has worked with immigrant farmworkers in the past, I must strongly condemn the system that allows - encourages! - the virtual enslavement of poor, mostly ignorant people who are only doing what they think they must to help their families. You've probably heard before that we in the U.S. pay a smaller percentage of our income on food than any other nation in the world. Well, this is how we make that happen, people. On the backs and with the blood of desperately poor people from other countries. 

Okay, rant over. What am I going to do? First off, I'm going to grow a shitload of tomatoes this year. I'm going to spend a couple of very hot weeks come August canning as many tomatoes as I can. And if I still have to buy winter tomatoes next year, I'm going to buy local hothouse tomatoes from Washington or B.C., not Florida or Mexican tomatoes. 

I'm also going to this website, below, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and signing their petition to the Govorner of Florida to urge him not to tolerate slavery in the state of Florida. Won't you please do the same?


Fun Idea

A cool blog I just started following (www.aviewfromthegreenbarn.blogspot.com) has an egg counter. I'm not sure how she did that, but I'm going to start counting the eggs, too. I can only start from the day before yesterday, but oh well. 

2/20: 12
2/21: 9

Friday, February 20, 2009

.....And it's only February!

None of these eggs are more than a week old. And a full dozen of them were laid today. Hope made a big sign which we taped to the lighthouse out front, and one lady stopped and bought two dozen. Bread Man has bought  - well, traded a very delicious fruitcake (that's right, I said DELICIOUS) for two dozen, but that's it so far. I've posted on Craigslist, both in farm & garden and in barter categories. Got a few e-mails back but nobody has come by to get eggs. Pretty soon here I'm going to have to seriously consider the food bank. 

What I want, of course, is to get this year's trade network underway. Unfortunately, my hens aren't winter layers, so my Garden Lady found some who are, and she's got herself a new trade network going. She may still give me veggies, for meat of one sort or another, but she won't take eggs anymore. It's far too early in the year to find another gardener.

There's one other possibility. I have a sweet elderly neighbor (see "chick-o-tastrophe") who likes eggs, and who has gorgeous mature fruit trees of diverse kinds. Perhaps I'll leave a dozen eggs on her porch with a note asking if I could supply her with eggs all year long in exchange for fruit in season. 

Maybe I'll just slink around in the dead of night leaving eggs on porches, like zucchini in August.

Ethical Eating and "Carbon-Costly" Meat

I came across this article today (below, edited), which covers a report given on the carbon footprint of producing various types of meat. No surprise that beef is the big bad guy, but there is a huge surprise here: the lead researcher says that grass raised beef has a higher carbon footprint than grain finished meat. Apparently, that's because the animals take longer to get to market weight and fart more methane while doing so. I'm not fully convinced, as there are many unanswered questions in the article: does the calculation take into account the carbon cost of growing, fertilizing, and shipping the grain? Does it include the cost of shipping hundreds of thousands of cattle to the feedlot? 
And of course carbon isn't the only consideration in the world here; there's the enormous destruction wreaked on water resources by CAFO's (feedlots). There's the millions of tons of concentrated excrement from a CAFO to be disposed of. There's the question of antibiotic resistance caused by the massive dosing of feedlot cattle with antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to kill. There's the issue of animal suffering, which they most surely do spending their last weeks in filthy, extremely crowded conditions. 
The report eventually comes to the conclusion that people who truly want to reduce the carbon cost of their food should switch some of their meat consumption to other, less costly meats. Pork is only about one fourth as carbon-costly (like my new term?) as beef, and chicken one tenth. Then of course there's the logical solution: simply eat less meat altogether. 
In this report, near the end, there's a figure that states a grown human needs no more than 53 kilos of meat/year to maintain optimum health. That'll be news to all the optimally healthy vegetarians out there, but let's let it alone for the moment. Our quarter steer weighed about 200 pounds. That's 91 kilos. Divide by three adults in the family and we get 30 kilos per person per year. Then there's the 50 kilo pig we eat each year, that adds 15 kilos/person. And an unknown number of chickens, and assorted fish. Hmm, I'm going to guesstimate that each adult in our family eats between 65 and 75 kilos of meat per year.  That's a lot of meat, but not really for an American. 
And no, folks, no way am I giving up my pasture raised beef from across the street. Even if these guys are right, I'm not participating in the CAFO system, I'm not eating an inferior, hormone and drug laced product, I'm supporting my neighbor's farm, and I'm going to darn well enjoy my beef with it's zero food miles. 

The carbon footprints of raising livestock for food
Web edition : Sunday, February 15th, 2009
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THE FIRST OF TWO PARTS. Followup story is at:http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/40943/title/AAAS_Climate-Friendly_Fish

For the good of the planet, we’re all being asked to reduce our carbon footprints — the quantities of greenhouse gases, aka GHGs, associated with our actions. Since some 30 percent of the global warming potential attributable to society’s GHG emissions stems from the production of foods and beverages, menu choices are critical, noted Ulf Sonesson of the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology in Goteborg, today. From this climate perspective, meat eaters are the big hogs.

Sonesson was one of the speakers on a panel titled “Food for Thought” at theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. This morning’s speakers shared data from largely new analyses on how foods, production techniques, and transportation affect the climate costs associated with our dining choices. And there were some big surprises.

No longer a surprise is the relative energy intensity associated with meat, especially beef. For instance, roughly half of the GHG emissions due to human diets come from meat even though beef, pork and chicken together account for only about 14 percent of what people eat.

From a climate perspective, beef is in a class by itself. It takes a lot of energy and other natural resources to produce cattle feed, manage the animals’ manure (a major emitter of methane, a potent GHG), get the livestock to market, slaughter the animals, process and package the meat, dispose of the greater part of the carcass that won’t be human food, market the retail cuts, transport them home from the store, refrigerate them until dinner time, and then cook the beef.

Tally the GHG emissions associated with all of those activities, Sonesson says, and you’ll find it’s the global-warming equivalent to spewing 19 kilograms ofcarbon dioxide for every kg of beef served. Swine are more environmentally friendly. It only takes about 4.25 kg of COto produce and fry each kg of pork. At the other end of the spectrum are veggies. The climate costs associated with growing, marketing, peeling and boiling up a kg of potatoes, by contrast, is just 280 grams, Sonesson reported.

Another factor contributing to cattle’s particularly egregious carbon footprint is their relative fecundity, if you will, says Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In her lifetime, a mother fish, particularly in protected aquaculture settings, may give birth to hundreds — if not thousands — of surviving offspring. A hen could certainly produce hundreds of chicks. Even a sow can give birth to eight piggies per litter. But a cow: She tends to issue a single calf every year for maybe 10. And while she’s in gestation and then waiting to become pregnant again, farmers have to care for her and perhaps a bull — which are both big, hungry manure factories.

Many environmentalists have argued that finishing up the fattening of beef cattle on corn is worse for the environment than cattle that are raised solely on pasture grass. Pelletier says his team’s analysis finds that at least from a climate perspective, the opposite is true. “We do see significant differences in the GHG intensities [of grass vs grain finishing]. It’s roughly on the order of 50 percent higher in grass-finished systems.”

When an audience member questioned whether he had heard that right, that grass-fed cattle have a higher carbon footprint, Pelletier reiterated, “higher. Yes.” The reason: “It’s related to the much higher volumes of feed throughput and associated methane and nitrous-oxide [GHG] emissions.” He added that most pastures were highly managed, and subject to “periodic renovations and also fertilization.” Finally, with grass-fed cattle “there is also a high [grass] trampling rate. So the actual land area that you need to maintain magnifies that [GHG] difference,” Pelletier said.

But what really concerns his team about the bonus GHG emissions linked to beef is the planet’s growing numbers — and appetite for meat.

Currently, although beef accounts for only about 30 percent of the world’s meat consumption, it contributes 78 percent of meat’s GHG emissions. Pork, at 38 percent of consumption, contributes only 14 percent of meat's GHGs. Another 32 percent of the meat consumed worldwide comes from chicken, but getting these birds from farm to fork contributes only 8 percent of meat’s global carbon footprint. By shifting some share of beef and pork production to chicken over the next four decades, the increase in meat’s GHG emissions by 2050 might be held to just 6 percent higher than today, Pelletier said, even as the human population grows by another quarter-million each day.

Although meat's overall carbon footprint is projected to grow only a little over the next 40 years, the global goal is to cut emissions in every sector. Pelletier offered some suggestions on how to do that. Some were considerably more appetizing than others.

For instance, substituting all beef production for chicken would cut meat’s projected carbon footprint by 70 percent, he said. Or perhaps per capita intake of meat could drop from a current average of 90 kilograms per year in the developed world to the 53 kg per person per year that's been advocated as sufficient for human health by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under this scenario, Pelletier said, “I estimate that . . . we could reduce associated [carbon] emissions by roughly 44 percent.”

Swap half of that protein now supplied by meat with soy by 2050, and “you could expect [projected] emissions to decrease on the order of 70 percent,” he said. Take the next big step — eliminating all meat in favor of soy — should drop the protein-associated carbon footprint of Western diets a whopping 96 percent.

Pelletier described that the last scenario as “utopian.” Hmmm. Not for this carnivore. I’m willing to eat chicken much of the time and reserve beef as a big treat — maybe even to be downed only in small portions. But go solely soy? That’s no utopia to me.

That said, would I consider such a sacrifice for survival of the planet? Of course — but I’m hoping someone can shoot me recipes that would made this legume taste like something other than soy. So far I only have one, but it's dynamite: forchocolate mousse pie.

Next up: What about fish?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eyeball Drama

Yesterday I got something in my eye.  You know how sometimes, when you have something in your eye, it will move around, get comfortable for a while and you think it's gone, only to have it resurface and hurt even worse a few minutes or hours later? Well that was going on ALL DAY. And ALL EVENING. I kept my face in a bowl of warm water, blinking, for a half an hour with no results. By bedtime, I was ready to just pop my thumb behind my eyeball and say goodbye to left peripheral vision for the rest of my life. 

Homero applied a weird Mexican home remedy (holding my eyelid open and blowing hard into my eye) that actually worked pretty good. For a while. I kept waking up all night long with my eye gooped shut. This morning I looked bad enough that Homero was worried for his reputation. I slept for shit and my eye was four times it's normal size. 

Same thing today; it would feel okay for a while, I'd start to think it might be gone, then suddenly I'm being stabbed in the eyeball again. Finally I decided to take drastic measures. I got in the bathtub and pried my eye open with one hand while I held my face under the faucet. After several minutes of this, I thought it felt better. Then I found this thing:

That's hay. Another thing I did yesterday is move sixteen bales of hay into the barn. You can damn well bet that next time I do that, I'll be wearing safety goggles. 

Adios, Porker, We Hardly Knew Thee


The men from Keizer meats were here bright and early in their businesslike panel van. They were here before I got back from dropping the kids off at school, actually. They were sitting in their truck waiting for me to get here, because, they said, they didn't know "which one" to kill. 
"There's only one pig," I said. "he's right there."
"Oh it's a pig? the paper we got says 'lamb'." 
"Glad you didn't kill one of my goats!"

I asked if I could watch, since we were trying to decide if this was something we could do at home next time. They didn't mind, so I observed the whole process closely. The pig was killed with a 22 pistol, right in the head as he ate some grain I fed him. It was obvious that he was dead instantly, nerve reaction notwithstanding. He keeled right over and went stiff as a plank, twitched and flopped and pedaled with his feet for about two minutes, the movements getting smaller and smaller. I'm completely certain he didn't suffer. 

A large knife to the throat, under the jaw, and he bled out very quickly, probably within two minutes or so. The men used a chain and a motorized winch to haul him over to the truck and get him set up on a metal sawhorse, face up. They washed him all over with hot water from a hose in the truck.  Then they took their knives and skinned him carefully until the hide was only attached at the back, underneath. They cut around the hocks and ankles and broke off the feet, still attached to the rest of the hide. They cut off his ears and nose as they skinned the face. This is the part that took the longest, probably twelve or fifteen minutes. It became quite clear that these guys were seriously practiced and that we would not be as neat, clean or quick by a longshot. One of the guys said to me, at this point, "this isn't as easy as we're making it look." That's for sure!

When the skin was almost all off, they used a large saw to open the chest cavity and put hooks through the back legs, under the strong tendons there, and hauled the pig up so it was hanging clear off the ground. This would be hard to duplicate ourselves, without a motorized winch or anything tall and strong enough to hang a pig from! They pulled the rest of the hide off and threw it on the ground. I was surprised how thin it was. For some reason I expected it to be thick and tough looking, but it was like a sheet. You could see light through it.  I asked the guy about the whole cutting around the anus and tying it off thing, but he said "you don't have to do that with a pig, you just grab it and pull out as you cut the guts out." And that's what he did. He held onto the anus-end of the guts and cut carefully the thin membranes that held the intestines and stomach against the back wall of the body. I guess this might be the omentum? The whole pile fell out forward as far as the liver, and then he had to cut some more to get the upper organs - heart, lungs - out. It all fell out together in a big slimy pile, but there was no blood at all. It was white and clean-looking.

I thought about asking for the liver. If I'd thought ahead and had a clean bowl handy I might have. I asked if they did anything with the hides, if they sold them or what, but they said, "no, it's garbage." 

All in all, I was very impressed with how quick and clean it was. There's a small puddle of blood where they cut his throat, and that's it. This pig, too, looked very lean, just like the last one.  I could see the pink meat through a layer of white fat, and in most places the fat was very thin. I don't think we'll be getting any lard back this time, either. I wish Homero had stayed home long enough to watch. He's the one who wants to kill the next one, after all, not me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Poaching off a New Blog

Found a cool blog today, through one of my followers here (Hey, Martian Chick!). It's called a One Acre Homestead in Ohio, and while I haven't perused it too thoroughly yet, it looks very cool. Go check it out! The man who writes it put up this list of questions for homesteader types to answer, and it looks like fun, so here goes:

Basic Questions About You
1-What is the biggest goal of your lifestyle? 
To live a rich life without doing too much damage, and get our kids closer to nature.

2-When did you start this lifestyle?

A year and a half ago

3-What was your main motivation?

To raise my kids in the country. It's since expanded to include reducing our impact on the planet and becoming less dependent on what we suspect is a failing system.

4-Did you have any previous experience in anything you're doing now?

Barely. I grew up, until age 12, on a three and half acre hobby farm, where we had most of the same animals I do now. But I was just a kid.

5-Does your spouse/signifiacant other (if you have one) share the same ideas?

Oh yes. He's not a big animal/farm guy, but he very much is part of the move to independence, and if we ever get off the grid it will be because he finally built the windmill.

6-Do your friends and family understand and support these choices? What about your kids?

Oh yes. My family members either are engaged in similar efforts or at least understand and support what we are trying to do. I just have one recalcitrant brother who thinks I'm crazy (Hi bro!)

7-How happy are you with your achievements so far?

7 on a scale of 10? I've accomplished most of what I dreamed about before we moved up here. I've got my goats, I've got my chickens, I love watching my kids run around like wild animals. Got my orchard planted. Made my cheese. But my goals keep expanding. 

8-Are you more of a gardener, homesteader, prepper, health concience, "green"' or a combination of several?

Combo, mostly homesteader, I guess. Green is a main motivation. What's a prepper?

9-Has this change of lifestyle affected your personality?

I haven't a clue, you'd have to ask someone who knew me before and after.

10-Has it changed your view of your life before?

I sure used to be lazier. 

11-What about how you view others that don't understand it or naysay?

There aren't a lot of naysayers around me. Even the recalcitrant brother sees value in what I am doing, even just in the sense of having created a life that I see as having meaning and working to accomplish it.

12-If you could convince someone to live the way you do in ONE sentance, what would you say?

Don't you want your grandchildren to know the beauty of a whole, healthy Earth and a flourishing natural habitat?

Other Questions-

1-How large is your vegetable garden? 

Right now, it's two trays of peat pots and four packs of seeds on my kitchen table. I'm not there yet. The plan is 25 x 40

2-Do you grow any fruits, and what and how many?

Apples 2 trees; pears 3 trees; plums 2 trees, cherries, 2 trees, hazelnuts, one tree, raspberries, 15 canes

3-Do you have any animals and what are they? (other than pets)

flock of 20 chickens (2 roosters), six dairy goats, a pig (going in the freezer tomorrow) 

4-Do you can/dehydrate/freeze/store your own produce?


5-Do you work with mainly power tools or hand tools in your gardens and others? (wood cutting, splitting, tiller vs. broadfork etc...)

I'm scared of power tools but my husband uses them. 

6-Do you compost?

Not in a serious way, just pile up the poop and let nature take it's course.

7-Do you recycle?

Yes but I'm not a total fanatic about it. I don't wash tinfoil. I don't tear the paper labels off of the tin cans although I'm supposed to.

8-Do you consider yourself energy consience? (conserving to save $)

Not yet, really. Just to the point of buying energy star appliances. I did buy a clothesline, but haven't used it yet. Long term, we intend to use wind and solar to be partially/mostly off grid.

9-Do you make any of your own household cleaners?

No, but I use white vinegar for a lot of stuff. Doesn't everybody?

10-Do you make your own bread?

Yes, but not all of it.

11- If in an emergency situation, are you able to not leave home for a week? How about a month? A year??

Assuming we have water and power, we're good for a pretty long time. Maybe six weeks. With water but no power, we'd have trouble with the quarter steer and the whole hog (tomorrow) in the chest freezer. No generator yet. Need one before fall. Serious wind up here.  

12-Are you tired of answering questions yet?

My fingers hurt. 

13-If you prep, what do you consider to be your most useful tool/items

I don't know what means.

14-Are you able to heat your home without gas or fuel oil?

Nope. Need to deal with that situation.

15-Are you able to cook without gas or electricity?

If we have briquets! Well, we have a functional fireplace too, but no wood.

16-Again, if in an emercency situation, could you live in the wild or out of a tent? ( camping,hunt/fish, cook,etc.)

Not even for a weekend. I have three children. And a credit card. I'm going to a hotel. 

17-Have you ever practiced your prep skills? (turning off main power for a day or 2) How did you do? (this can include a power outage due to weather as a test)

Oh okay I get it. Nope.

18-Do you have the knowledge & skills (plus tools) to hunt and fish for food?

No, but I could kill a chicken and prepare it. And if I got hungry enough I could kill a goat. I can milk a goat and make cheese! I'm a pretty decent forager, in high summer I could forage us up a not-inedible meal. We got lots of blackberries.

19-If you don't prep, why not?

Cause I'm ignorant and lazy? Cause it's my husband's job? Cause I still have faith that there will be light when I hit the switch? Cause I am a working mother of three kids and it's a good day for me when I have time to wipe my nose after I sneeze (toned down version of the first thing I thought of to say)? I must be tired of answering questions. 

20-Do you or can you sew your own clothes and make your own bedding?

No. But I am ripping up my old sheets to make braided rugs.

21-Can you field dress a deer, drink a coffee, smoke a cigarette, make a cell phone call, light a fire, AND answer all of my annoying questions at the same time? lol thanks for playing!

Okay, just one for you, Mr: Can you nurse a baby, wash the dishes, and talk to the school principal on the phone at the same time, while balancing the checkbook and looking hot for your mate?

The Eagles are Landing!

Every day for about a week now, I've seen bald eagles swooping and circling over this ridge we live on. The other day, as I was walking out to the barn, one of them glided directly overhead only about twenty five feet above me. Yesterday was warm and gorgeous, enough so that we had a barbecue out on the front porch, and had a great time watching a group of three eagles - two adults and a juvenile - doing aerial acrobatics for a half an hour. 

Last year I'm pretty certain that a pair of bald eagles raised a chick in the field across the street. I never did see their nest, but I saw them in that field many times, and I saw the fledgling learning to fly. I wonder if it is the same family that we have been seeing lately?

There are no trees on our property capable of supporting an eagle's nest, alas, but right on the western boundary there is a line of mature Douglas Fir, and the eagles land in them all the time. Perhaps this year we will be able to witness a new family up close!

And perhaps we'll have to keep a close eye on the chickens and newborn baby goats. 

(p.s., sorry for the crappy pictures. Eagles in flight are a hard target)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Signs of Spring

My neighbor's pussy willow tree is in full... pussy? Anyway, it's soft and dove-grey and gorgeous. Pussy willows are the absolute first sign of spring, and I wish I had one here. I hear willows are so indiscriminate and promiscuous that they can be propagated by sticking a cutting in the ground and leaving it alone. I may surreptitiously clip a branch from my neighbor's tree and see if it's true.

The goats are full of vim and vigor. They have been out enjoying the sun, jumping and butting heads and generally acting up. Flopsy and Nutmeg actually jumped the back fence out of an excess of high spirits and I had to go traipsing through the neighbor's field to get them back. I still can't tell if any of them are pregnant for sure, but I'm betting that at least two, Iris and Xana, are. Both of them are looking very thick.

But the most serious sign of spring is the return of my inexplicable gardening urge. I am the world's worst gardener. Really, I suck. Plants shiver and die at my approach. In all my years of home ownership, I have yet to keep a houseplant alive longer than a year. I even killed a jade plant. Nonetheless, I have planted some kind of garden every year since I was eighteen and first had a piece of dirt to plant in. Off and on I have enjoyed some measure of success, when I had the help of decent gardeners like my dad. But even when I have to go it alone, I have always managed to scratch some form of sustenance from the earth. Last year was probably my most pathetic effort; I only planted snap peas, mesclun, and tomatoes. Oh and zucchini. Not much weeding got done, so it was really more like foraging than gardening, but I did get enough produce to feel proud of. And even to can a little.

Last fall, when we were eating the last of our meagre harvest, Homero decided that he was going to put in a serious garden. He laid out plans for a garden that would take up all of our available space: a weedy, rocky tract about 50 x 80 feet. Of course I laughed in his face. My garden last year consisted of three 4 x 8 raised beds, and that was just about too much work for me. This is a man that works 60 hours a week at a regular job. Did he think I was going to take care of his massive, imaginary garden? Ha Ha Ha Ha!

I shouldn't have worried. That plot of land looks as it ever did: bleak and unproductive.

So now it is up to me, and my vague stirrings that return every year at about this time. A ridiculous time, way too early to plant, or even to think about planting. Why, it will be May before I can do any serious outdoor sowing. But now is certainly the time for grandiose, unrealistic planning. On a slightly smaller scale than my husband. I bought peat trays and a few packets of seed: snow peas, spinach, early beets, radishes. The first wave. I'll dig up just enough dirt to fill my little pots and let the children poke holes with their adorable little fingers, and I'll feel productive and industrious, and also like I'm being a good mom, teaching my children to be self sufficient and love nature and science.

I love this time of year.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pig Pictures

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big Pig

Once again, I'm having camera trouble, which is a shame, because what I would really like to do is put up side by side pictures of our pig: on the left, smaller than a chicken and cute enough to make the thought of eating him ridiculous. On the right: as big as a riding lawn mower, hairy and muddy and even a little scary. The thought of eating him does not spring to mind quite so quickly as does a primal fear of being eaten by him. 

Nonetheless, today I climbed into the pigpen. The door was stuck closed from a mound of compacted straw and pigshit piled up behind it, and I had to get it open and let the pig out. Why? Why would I loose the ravening beast? Out of pity. He is now too big to fit into either of the pig houses, and he can't get out of the weather. Even though he is slated to die in less than two weeks, I can't let him lie out in the cold and rain. I don't want him to suffer, and I don't want him to get sick. 

So I armed myself with a rake and hopped over the fence. He assumed I was going to feed him, of course, and ran right up to me and started screaming and butting me with his shockingly strong snout. Losing my balance, terrified of falling into the "mud," I hit him with the rake. It didn't hurt him a bit, of course. I don't think anything I could do would hurt him a bit. 

So here I am, scraping ineffectually along the bottom of the gate, removing the compost by the quarter-inch, and walloping the pig every ten seconds or so with the back end of the rake whenever he nudges me in the back of the knees with his horrible snuffley nose. He doesn't stop screaming, either. 

Did I mention that it's snowing like a mad bastard? 

Well, it took me about a half hour, but I got the door open, and I didn't get knocked down in the pigpen, either. I'm really looking forward to some fresh new bacon, though. I really am.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Work, Work, Work

Things which are broken and need to be fixed:

1) The chicken roost. The chickens have no place to roost now so they roost in the nest boxes and the eggs are all poopy.
2) The water-line for the animals. I don't know if it cracked in the deep freeze or what, but it's dripping all the time and wasting a bundle of water. (a bundle?)
3) The hose attached to said water line. It is definitely cracked, can't be used, so I have to haul buckets and my back is KILLING me. 
4) The rototiller. It needs to be returned to the people who gave it to us to fix, lo these 24 months ago or so. I'd like to use it ourselves, after it fixed and before it gets returned, if that is ethically sound. Don't think I'd put in much of a garden this year if I had to do it all with a shovel.
5) Fix the gate which is hanging off it's hinges.

Work to be done after things get fixed:

1) Break ground for a decent garden, say 25 x 50.
2) buy seeds and start them in the sunroom, the ones that can be started now.
3) figure out how to keep the chickens out of the hayloft (ha!)
3) pick up all the trash and crap around the place, scrub the feed buckets, go to the dump, trim the pony's hooves, trim the goat's hooves, prune the pear tree......

I think I'll go to bed.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Alpacas Getting Fluffy

Alpacas are usually sheared in May or June around here, to give them plenty of time to grow back enough fur for the winter. Last year, I think mine were sheared in July, and I felt sorry for them all during the long, cold, rainy fall. Not that they seemed to care much; they just lay down, close their eyes, and let it all wash over them. It was only a few weeks ago that they suddenly appeared, to my eyes, to be getting really fluffy. 

Which means it was time for me to figure out how we are going to shear them. There was a man on Craigslist advertising that he sheared sheep, so I decided to ask if he also sheared alpacas. Lucky for me he said yes, he has experience with alpacas. The next question was; do you have experience with wild alpacas that flee like rabbits from the very approach of mankind, who have never been haltered nor herded, and who live in a rather large enclosure? 

His response had a tinge of amusement. He wrote, yes, I have sheared "wild" alpacas before. Since I have a catch pen, he seems to to think it won't be too difficult to shove them up against a wall, get a halter on them and tie them close. He'll shear each alpaca for $40, and throw in a hoof-trim, too, no extra cost. But he wants a $30 travel/set up fee, because he lives kind of far away. So, all in all, I'll get three fleeces and three trimmed alpacas for $150. 

I doubt that's going to represent any kind of profit. I've been thinking about moving the alpacas on to another loving home. I'm just too dreadfully practical. What do they provide? When we got them, Rowan was heavy into fiber arts, knitting up a storm and constantly begging me to buy her yarn. Instead, we got alpacas and a drop spindle. She did learn to spin, sort of, and she did process some of the suri fleece that alpaca lady very generously gave us along with the alpacas, but it seems not to have turned into any kind of lasting passion. No spinning or carding or even knitting has been going on for a while, now. And the alpacas, while certainly decorative, I'll give them that, are taking up rather a lot of space on a very small farm. 

Rowan is upset at the prospect of losing them, so I made her a deal. Let's see you process one fleece as far as you can. Really do your best to turn it into something like roving (that's a long piece of soft, fluffy, ready-to-spin fiber). Then let's see how much we can sell it for. If we can make back the $150 shearing see, we'll keep them. I don't care about trying to make up for all their food and hay; for now, just the shearing fee is good.

But if we can't even make that back, well, I think it's time to say goodbye.