"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, July 29, 2011

Neighbors And Hay (Stacking: Not as Simple as You Thought)

It's high hay season. Hay season is somewhat late this year due to unseasonable cold and rain in June. Good weather in mid July set everyone to haying, and we laid in the year's supply and enjoyed the beautiful sights and smells of hay season (Poor Man's Hay Elevator, Hay Season Again).

I had thoughts of haying our small front pasture - the half acre that used to be lawn when the last owners took care of it (The Lawn Chronicles) but which under our policy of benign neglect had reverted to a very nice mixed-species pasture. Several of my neighbors have haying equipment, but I haven't had much luck in approaching them. On one side there is the J. family, with whom we have a long history of marginal relations, for which I take full responsibility. If anyone is so inclined, they can search the sidebar and find a rich and amusing saga of escaped chickens and badly-behaved dogs wreaking havoc on a sweet little old lady's garden. We are utterly and completely at fault for the state of affairs that makes it impossible for me to ask Mr. J. to hay our small field.

The neighbors across the highway, the K. family, have about a hundred acres and haying for them is a deadly serious affair that provides some not-inconsequential share of their income. Their equipment is very large and I doubt their tractor and rake could even turn around in our piddly little field. I'd feel ridiculous asking them.

The other neighbors I know who do their own haying are Mr. and Mrs. B., who I know from church and who I am sure I have mentioned here before as really nice people and wonderful neighbors. Mrs. B. is the lady who just recently brought me fifty pint sized canning jars - just because she likes to see members of the younger generation who still can. When I dropped by their house to thank them for the jars (with a few of those same jars filled with jam and pickles, of course), I asked if Mr. B. might be willing to let us hire him to hay our small field.

"I'm sorry," he said, "but I can't. So many people ask me, and I just have to say no to everybody. If I said yes to anyone, I'd have to say yes to everyone."

"I understand," I said. "Of course."

I gave up. The small field would just have to do whatever it did. The grass grew taller, grew top-heavy with seeds, and then laid down flat after a summer downpour. I wrote a blogpost about grass. I doubt that Mrs. B. reads my blog, so it must be a coincidence that she showed up here the next day, and asked me, "is this the field you wanted hayed?"

"Well yes," I said, "but isn't it a little late? I mean, the rain laid it down flat."

"Oh that doesn't matter," she said. "The mower will cut it just the same. Mr. B. will be here in ten minutes. There isn't any trash in the way is there?"

Quickly I pulled up the extension cords that ran from Homero's shop to the house (a hard job, with the grass grown over them). Mr. B. came by and mowed the grass, and told me if the weather held he'd be back to rake and bale in a few days. "There's not much here," he said, "so don't worry either way."

The weather held - we've had a beautiful few days with nary a cloud in the sky and the mercury hovering near eighty.This afternoon, as I was sitting outside reading a magazine and watching the goats browse on the blackberries, Mr. B. came up the road and turned into the field with the baler attached to the tractor. I waved, and he waved, and he ran over the field and in twenty minutes there were seventeen lovely bales of hay sitting on the grass.

"Do you know how to stack these?" Mr. B. asked me.

"Um," I said, "probably not the right way..."

And in fact I did not. As Mr. B. showed me, there is a right way to stack hay to avoid mold. A bale of hay is a three-dimensional rectangle, and therefore has four long sides and two short ones. If you look at each of the four long sides, you will see that three of them have folded over grass, and only one of them has the cut ends of the grass showing. Stack your hay, Mr. B. told me, with that cut side up. That will allow the natural moisture in the bale to escape. Any other side up will trap the moisture inside the bale and it may rot.

There's so much to learn.

Mr. B., of course, would not accept any money for his time and trouble. I didn't expect that he would, but asking "what do we owe you?" is part of the neighborly ritual. As is the ritual response "Oh don't mention it." I can't, obviously, leave it at that. Last year Mr. B. asked to borrow our apple press, and I leant it to him rather reluctantly - but when he returned it he had serviced it and repaired a few little things that it needed. Today after he refused my offer of payment I said "well, when apple season comes around, just come and get the press whenever you like. No need to call ahead."

That doesn't feel like quite enough. I ran the numbers in my head and the hay off the field is worth approximately $100. It represents one fifth of our yearly hay expenditure. Mr. B. said it was no big deal to him, but it's a big deal to us - quite apart from the monetary value, it just gives me such a good feeling to see baled hay from my own land. I never thought I'd see that - we certainly can't invest in our own haying equipment, nor would it be worth it to do so. But just knowing that push comes to shove, we actually produce enough hay here to keep a couple of goats alive through the winter - well, that's very good to know.

Tomorrow I will put together a thank you basket for Mrs. B. She has been by recently to buy eggs so I know she could use some - a couple dozen eggs, a half-pound of cheese, a big bunch of peppermint, and maybe a jar of applesauce.

Good neighbors are worth more than gold. I have to figure out a way to be a good neighbor to them.

The Hope-a-Lope Speaks

Thank you for commenting on the Hopsicle Life! Here are the answers to your questions.

Heidi: My favorite animal to watch on the farm is my horse, Poppy. Yes I will have a blog of my own. Probably when I'm thirteen.

Uncle Beanzo: I help the chickens by feeding them their food, and keeping them safe from Lancelot (the dog). I walk Rosie around some of the time and I also play with Poppy to make her less shy. The goats my favorite to work with. I feed them and I help mama milk them. The horses are my favorite to watch because they are my favorite animal and they are super cute. My favorite animal to play with are the baby chickies. We catch them and put them in the calf hutch.

Farmer: I know how to juggle really good and I know how to breakdance really good and I like doing both of them but it's hard to do them at the same time, I bet.

Olive: Thank you! And I hope the calf Charlie will have a mummy. Maybe you can buy a mummy who will adopt him! And I like cows they give way more milk than goats. I would like a cow we could milk it for two years and then butcher it. Because I like cow meat, too.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Introducing the Hope-a-Lope

My middle child, Hope, came to me and showed me her "blog" which she had written on a piece of paper. She asked me to post it here, and I said of course, so here it is. This is what it looks like:

The Hopsicle Life

1. I am Hope, and I like to eat, breathe, sleep, and drink, and watch animals. I am not only weird, but I have many talents, such as standing on my head for a long time; juggling; breakdancing; monkey bars; ice skating; roller skating; I am smart, and gardening, and many other things.

To be continued!

Comments: _________________________________________________________


So if you have a comment for Hope, my funny, smart, athletic child, please leave them below. Hope will answer any questions you may have for her!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Lawn Chronicles

Back when I lived in the city, I never paid much attention to my lawn. Most of it was enclosed behind a tall wooden fence, and the small part that was visible from the street I mostly ignored. About three times a year I cajoled some man into running the mower over it, weeds and all. I'm sure some of my neighbors wished I would do a little more, but as a single mom in nursing school, the lawn was low on my list of priorities.

When we bought this place, the house had stood vacant for a couple of years, and was sadly neglected - but not the lawn! Someone had clearly been taking careful care of it, and it was a thing of beauty. Smooth, velvety, plush, devoid of dandelion or moss, shorn to an even two inches, gentle on the feet and easy on the eyes.

I appreciate the work that goes into a lawn like that, and as much as the next person, I enjoy being able to play barefoot frisbee or lolling about on a summer's day in grass more welcoming than any carpet. There's something uniquely charming about little children turning somersaults on a well-kept lawn.

But I will never have a lawn like that. I haven't the vaguest idea what it takes to maintain such a lawn but I know it involves a heck of a lot of work, and also most likely a plethora of nasty chemicals. I prefer to cultivate an appreciation for wildflowers (aka weeds). Also it hasn't helped that our riding lawnmower turned out to be the most unreliable hunk of junk that anyone ever spent $400 on. Over the course of four years, it hasn't ever worked for more than three consecutive mowings. Murray's the brand; stay away.

Besides avoiding frustration, there are many reasons NOT to keep a lawn, which is basically a chemically maintained monoculture. If you love bugs, butterflies, and bees, be kind to them and let your lawn revert to natural tangle of wildflowers (aka weeds) that can support a thriving insect population. Avoid applying fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides that run off into waterways and poison all the little critters therein.

Learn to enjoy the sight of a three year old lost in grass taller than she is. It's an easy sight to enjoy.

If you absolutely MUST have a lawn, here's some information on how to have a non-toxic one:

American lawns generate massive amounts of "green waste", waste water, require tons of herbicides, and cost the average homeowner much money and time.

According to the Audubon Society, the average American lawn generates almost 2 tons of clippings a year, and requires 2½-4 times more water than shrubs or trees. Homeowners use 50% more herbicides than they did 20 years ago, spend 40 hours per week mowing the lawn each year, and spend over $8 billion annually on lawn care products and equipment. Read on for more eco-friendly ways to maintain a lawn!

1) Use an electric or manual push mower to cut your grass. Don’t use conventional gas-powered lawn mowers – they pollute air and contribute to global warming. According to Sylvan Garden, "a typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower...can emit the same amount of VOCs—key precursors to smog—in an hour as a new car driven 340 miles. To top it off, lawn and garden equipment users inadvertently add to the problem by spilling 17 million gallons of fuel each year while refilling their outdoor power equipment. That’s more petroleum than spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska."

You can get a push mower from companies such as SunLawn Imports, Inc. (970/493-5284, or Real Goods (800/919-2400 http://www.realgoods.com/shop/shop6.cfm/dp/601/ts/1063505). Mowing with a push mower has an extra benefit--it's a good form of exercise!

2) Use hand tools or electric-powered tools such as hedge trimmer or lawn edger to maintain your yard. Don't use gas-powered tools. Use good old fashioned push broom and rakes for yard clean up, instead of noise and air polluting leaf blowers. Don't use the hose to wash down your driveway or sidewalk, as this is just a waste of water. On the coasts, the leaf and grass clippings end up in the gutter and go down the storm drains, out to the ocean.

3) Diversify your lawn by planting a mix of different grasses--that way, if one variety doesn't do well or dies, you still have grass that can "take over" for the dead variety. If your lawn is hardy enough, you won't need to use fertilizer. If you decide to use fertilizer, use an organic one such as Neptune's Harvest Organic Fertilizer (1-800-259-4769, or go to "Products" at http://www.neptunesharvest.com/.) Read more about organic fertilizers at Sylvan Gardens.

4) Avoid toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides. According to PANNA (http://www.panna.org/campaigns/pesticideFreeLawns.html ) "Every year U.S. homeowners apply at least 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns and gardens...pesticides are applied more intensively for lawn care than for farming! One recent survey reported that when informed about the risks posed by lawn chemicals, nearly 70% of homeowners indicate a preference for non-toxic alternatives." Pull weeds by hand, and get information about less-toxic weed control, lawn maintenance, and pest control from the NCAP website: http://www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html#alternatives

5) Conserve water. Water your lawn by hand with a hose instead of using timed sprinklers. This avoids water-wastage from runnoff and avoids watering your sidewalks and driveways. Water at night to avoid evaporation of water before it has a chance to soak into the ground. Avoid hoses made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC creates dioxins during manufacture, the useful lifetime of the product, and upon disposal; dioxin is a known carcinogen and hormone disruptor. Use hoses made of rubber instead, such as Craftsman, by Sears, or Flexogen, by Gilmour.

If you do use sprinklers, reduce the time they are on to no more than 10 minutes. Turn off the automatic timer during the rainy season in your area--there is nothing more wasteful than having the sprinklers running during a rain! Or do what I do--don't water your lawn at all, and let Mother Nature water it only during the rainy season, and let the lawn go brown or die off-season.

6) Save your grass clippings and use them as mulch for your yard. Mulch is anything that is put on top of the soil around your trees and shrubs to give nutrients back to the soil--grass clippings, tree bark, leaves and other yard "green waste" as well as food waste from the kitchen and even shredded newspapers! The mulch breaks down over time and adds nutrients to the soil. Mulch also prevents soil erosion and hardpan (tough, dried-out topsoil). Make a compost pile and feed it your grass clippings. Read the Organic Trade Association's "Composting for Everyone"http://www.theorganicreport.com/pages/249_composting_for_everyone.cfm to find out how to start your own compost pile using kitchen scraps and green "waste" that would otherwise end up as landfill!

7) Research plants that are native to your area and resistant to pests and drought, and replace some or all of your grass with these low-maintenance alternatives. I've let the shrubs in front of the house, on one side of the yard, grow down to the front sidewalk, eliminating about 24 square feet of lawn. According to the Audubon society, "If each one of us that takes care of our own lawn (49 million U.S. households), replaced just ONE square yard (just 9 square feet) of our lawn with a non-turf alternative, we would eliminate 1.2 MILLION hours of mowing and stop 60,000 tons of grass clippings from ever finding their way to a landfill. In addition, millions of gallons of water would be saved and tons of fertilizers and pesticides never applied." For more ideas about planting native shrubs and trees, see: "Rethink Your Lawn" from the Audubon society at: http://www.audubon.org/bird/at_home/rethink_lawn.html

Try some of these ideas, and you’ll save money, reduce environmental impacts, and have more time to enjoy relaxing in your yard!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Life Is a Bowl of Cherries (Summer Preserving)

Summer preserving season has kicked into high gear. Since I got back from Ocean Shores monday evening, I have processed many pounds of food, and the table is still covered with more.

Homero had to go to Seattle, and paid a visit to our old blue house and gathered some ten pounds of bing cherries (with the permission of the current occupant, of course!). These have mostly been eaten out of hand, but about three pounds remain, which I think I will pit, halve, and stir into goat's milk ice cream. Ice cream, I've discovered, is a great way to preserve both goat's milk and eggs. I've made lots of strawberry ice cream, rhubarb ice cream, and now cherry.

I put up ten pints of bread and butter pickles. Made strawberry jam. Pickled a pint of garlic. Shelled and froze three quarts of english peas. Awaiting treatment of one kind of another I have a couple gallons of assorted greens - mostly chard - and a few dozen beets, as well as a shopping bag full of summer squash.

It's the summer squash that has me stumped. The greens I can blanch, chop, squeeze, and freeze. Beets I like to pickle (I'm heavy on the pickling, I know, but it's water-bath canning and I happen to like pickles). But what can I do with twenty-some odd summer squash? Some people I know have told me they slice them thickly and dehydrate them, for use in stews and soups later in the year. I know some people freeze them, but I don't like the texture of frozen squash.

I can make several of them disappear into things like chocolate cake, frittatas, and lasagnas, but not as many as I have. But I just had a brain wave. Bread freezes beautifully, and I have a whole lot of freezer space. If I spend one whole day baking, I can have enough zucchini bread to get me through a whole school year's worth of bake sales.

Ok, I have a plan!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Where I've Been (Thank God for Girlfriends)

I went away last friday, and just got back today. All year long, I'd been looking forward to this past weekend. Some of my bestest, oldest girlfriends and I planned to meet up in Ocean Shores for a long girl's weekend. The list of invitees was fluid, and changed a bit over time, but in the end five of us went, old friends from high school and before.

We grew up together in western Washington, but as always happens, time scattered us around the country. For this weekend, some of us came from far away - central Oregon, east Texas. Some of us hadn't seen each other for as long as three years, and not all of us had been together in one room for many years, if ever! We rented a lovely vacation house nearly on the beach for three nights. All of us brought something to share - mostly booze, of course, but also plenty of food and music. I brought goat cheese and eggs and a big package of grass-fed rib-eye steaks from the freezer.

Ocean Shores is a wonderfully kitschy little town on a long, long spit of land on the south-central coast of Washington. It's a vacation/retirement community of a certain kind. You probably know the kind - the attractions include go-cart tracks and video arcades; all-you-can-eat seafood buffets; T-shirt emporiums and shell-shops; kite flying on the beach, or, equally popular, reckless driving on the beach and getting stuck in the sand so the town tow-truck has to come pull you out. Much of the town has a slightly run-down feel to it, but it's not out-and-out tacky.

I hadn't been to Ocean Shores in about eleven years. Homero and I went with Rowan the first year we were together, and had a wonderful time. And I went as a child, I think with both parents, which would have meant I was younger than eight. It is substantially as I remember it, which is nice. That's not a very common experience.
The weather was crappy most of the time, but the last day was gorgeous. Of course, the Ocean is always freezing in this part of the world, but I didn't care. I swam anyway.

Chainsaw art in some tiny town along the route.

The beach as it usually looks....

Aimee with a mojito... thoroughly enjoying myself.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hay Season Again

Our third hay season in Whatcom County. I love hay season. Fresh hay curing in the sun is my absolute favorite smell in the world - better than freshly turned earth after a rain, better than perfectly ripe strawberries, better than healthy pony. The only smell that rivals fresh hay is newborn baby-head.

I've been taking pictures of the hay in the fields around here. Here are a few of them:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's a Fricken' Chicken' Miracle!

The hens have not had good luck this year raising chicks. Twice that I know of, a hen sat on a clutch of eggs for the full 21 days (or longer) and then abandoned them when nothing hatched. I don't know why nothing hatched - the roosters have surely been doing their job. A little too vigorously, I might add, with much squawking and flying of feathers. One or two of the hens are looking quite bare about the withers, a sure sign that we have too many roosters for too few hens.

After the two nest failures, I began shooing away any hens I saw sitting on eggs, and trying to collect all the eggs every day. A large percentage of my hens are broody breeds, and unless I break them up, I just don't have very many eggs during the summer months. I hate feeding twenty-some odd hens and collecting only three or four eggs a day. That's just silly.

There was one hen I didn't shoo, because I didn't know how long she had been sitting when I found her. She was up on a high shelf in the mama barn. On the day that we stuffed the mama barn with hay, I thought to myself, I'd better send the kids up there with a pillowcase and get her and those eggs into a better place - but we never did it. All I did was leave a window open so the hen could get in and out to eat and drink.

This morning, when I went out to feed the animals, I saw the mother hen outside with a bunch of babies - tiny little fluffy just hatched babies. A couple of quick counts left me fairly sure there were seven of them. I was extremely impressed - the journey from high shelf to outside cannot have been easy. Alas, I can't find the cord to my camera, so I can't show you exactly how difficult the journey was, but let me try to explain.

After the babies hatched, they had to follow their mama down off the high shelf and onto the tops of the stacked hay. Then they had to traverse the hay bales - a journey across several frightening crevasses that a chick, if it fell into, would be entirely incapable of climbing out of. Upon reaching the open window, the mama hen would have flown out and onto the ground; a paltry drop, for her, of about four and a half feet. But the chicks would have to have hurled themselves willy-nilly out into the unknown and tumbled unwittingly onto the hard-packed earth.

What courage! What valiance! I'm not being sarcastic here, I'm honestly moved by the determination it took for this mother hen to get her babies out into the world. By her endurance, sitting for weeks in that hot, dark barn. And by the beauty and strength of the directive implanted in those babies to follow their mother, come hell or high water. I know it's all instinct, but in my mind that makes it no less awe-inspiring.

The next thing I did, after counting babies, was to open up the mama barn and see if there were any babies left behind. Indeed, I heard a loud peeping emanating from floor level by the window. One chick must have fallen down between the hay bales. Oh no! What to do? On my own, I was totally incapable of moving the twenty or so bales that would have to be moved to rescue the chick. It wasn't even close - there's just no way. I would have to wait for Homero to get home and see what he said. In my mind, I decided to abide by whatever his decision was without complaint - he has been suffering a great deal with his back lately and I certainly wasn't going to insist he hurt himself to rescue one baby chick that would have a very high likelihood of being eaten by a hawk within a day or two in any case.

However, my husband being the man he is, he set about moving hay bales right away. "She worked so hard," he said, referring to the mama hen, "we can't just let her baby die down there." It took him about fifteen minutes to tear down the bales, rescue the baby, and replace the bales. I hope he doesn't suffer for it later tonight, but if he does, I will be there with ice-packs and massages. What a man I married.

Right now, the mama and all eight of her chicks are under the mama barn, where they will be safe from hawks and - I hope - other predators. In past years, we have lost a very high percentage of chicks, mostly, I think, to hawks. I would try to round them up and keep them in a safer place, but I don't really have one available, and that hasn't worked well in the past in any case. I have come to the conclusion that a good mother hen can raise babies at least as well as I can and most likely better.

I wish her luck.

That's not her in the above picture, by the way. As I said, I lost my camera cord, and so I pulled a generic picture off the web. My mama hen is black, and her babies are a delightful melange of colors from jet black to palest daffodil yellow.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Trade Network Revival

Our best trade partner from years past, Veggie/Oil Man, had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth this year. He stopped going to the farmer's market, and when I tried to call him, his phone was disconnected. Finally I decided to simply throw a couple dozen eggs and a half a pound of cheese in the car and go out to his place and see if I could figure out what was going on.

Luckily, he was home. He's going through some major transitions, and that's why he hasn't been around. However he still has lots of organic produce and he still wants to trade. Yesterday I came home with everything you see above: rhubarb, zucchinis, cherries, and a giant box of english shelling peas - my favorite. It took two hours to shell all the peas, but I put three pounds of shelled peas in the freezer and made a lovely pea and zucchini risotto for dinner as well.

Also look what I found:

Isn't that weird? I thought peas had to be dried before they would sprout. Or at least be released from the pod! Several of the pods had sprouted peas inside.

Today the girls and are going back over to Veggie/Oil Man's house to pick sugar snap peas. Mine didn't do well at all this year, and I haven't been able to get any at the local farmer's markets. They are always sold out before I get there. V/O Man told us to come pick as many as we like for 75 cents a pound, which is pretty awesome. Later on today I will most likely be canning hot peas!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Poor Man's Hay Elevator

I am so annoyed with blogger. If I didn't have three full years invested here, I would probably quit. It won't let me upload a video, which it used to do. I can't create links anymore; photos show up only as strings of text. Anyway. In lieu of a video, here is a photo of Homero using our new pulley system to get hay into the hayloft.

Our hayloft isn't very high off the ground - about 9 feet - nor very big - it only holds about thirty bales of hay - but it's still very hard to get the hay up there. In the past, Homero just threw the hay up there, but his back isn't quite what it used to be, and these particular bales are very heavy. So we needed a new option. This is what we came up with. Still pretty hard work (look at the sweat rolling down Homero's face) but at least possible.

Now we have hay for the winter. In addition to the thirty bales in the loft, there are seventy bales in the mama barn. In order to get that many in there we had to remove everything else, including the milking stand. So now I am milking in the open air, but I don't mind. It's actually nicer - the mama barn gets extremely hot in the summertime.