"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Spud 'Speriment (Potato Poetry)

Today I was cleaning out the kitchen drawers. There's a big drawer on the bottom, lined with brown paper bags, that I use for potatoes and onions. This drawer tends to get a little, um, icky after a while, filling up with onion skins and soft, sprouty potatoes. This tendency has intensified somewhat since I started going to the Gleaner's Pantry (Scavenge City (Gleaner's Pantry)). Turns out that I sometimes bring home more potatoes than we can actually eat before they grow long, pale whiskers.

Of course, as long as the potato itself is still firm, not flabby, it is perfectly permissible to rub the whiskers off and cook the potato as usual. Often I do that. But this morning, as I was excavating the drawer, I came across a pound bag of lovely little fingerling potatoes that had sprouted. Previously, we had eaten several bags of these fingerlings, and so I know they are wonderful potatoes: nutty, dense, creamy, and delicious. I remember thinking "I ought to try to get ahold of some of these for planting this year." So, of course, when I found them all sprouted and ready for planting, I had to think about what to do with them.

It is still January. January is a ridiculous time to plant potatoes. Not only will we certainly have a few more hard frosts, but even if we didn't, the wet ground will rot any potatoes that I plant too early - meaning, before the end of March. Ask me how I know this. Yes, because I have repeated that elemental error several times in my pre-spring gardening ardor.

Other things I know about growing potatoes, in no particular order:

- people say they are the easiest of crops to grow, but I haven't found that to be the case. In only two of my six years here have I had a really good potato crop.

- people are also always saying that you can grow potatoes in containers easily, but I have not had luck with that, either. My two good crops both came out of the ground, and out of containers I have harvested only small, rather disappointing crops.

- it is strongly suggested in gardening books on my shelf that one buy seed potatoes for planting and that one does not use grocery store potatoes for planting. This is because seed potatoes are guaranteed free of various diseases and viruses, whereas grocery store potatoes are not. Nonetheless, anyone as cheap as I am (or, if you like, as frugal) will not like to waste grocery store potatoes that have become inedible, but will try to salvage them for seed. That's what my dad always did.

- "chitting" is the process of pre-sprouting your potatoes, i.e., what naturally happens to any potato left in a dark drawer for too long. I was somehow completely mistaken about the meaning of this word, and thought it meant just the opposite: rubbing the sprouts OFF of your potatoes sometime in january so that they would not go all soft and flabby and would still be viable for planting come spring. (http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/greensprouting-potatoes-zb0z1203zlon.aspx) I got this idea from reading some memoir, the title of which I cannot now remember, by a woman who grew up in Iowa during the depression and described "chitting the potatoes" as her least favorite job as a child. Going down to the cellar and handling the pale, soft, spidery potatoes gave her the heebie-jeebies, she wrote, but if the sprouts were not rubbed off, there would be no seed potatoes for the spring planting.

So here I had all these adorable little chitted potatoes, all ready to plant, and it is still january. Seeing as how it was either plant them or throw them away (I have a serious potato surplus at the moment; and none of my farm animals relishes sprouty potatoes), I decided to perform an experiment.

The south side of my house has an enclosed porch with floor to ceiling windows. It isn't quite a sunroom, because there isn't ever quite enough sun up here to justify that title. But it is a large space with lots of light, protected from freezing temperatures. I thought, why not fill a couple of big black plastic pots (of which I have several dozen) halfway up with dirt and straw and throw those potatoes in? I could place them by the south windows and just let them be. What's the worst that could happen? So now I have a couple of twenty gallon pots in the "sunroom" planted with fingerling potatoes, which are officially the first planting of 2014. We'll see how it goes.

On a related note - I have only ever received material recompense for my poetry on one occasion. That was when I entered a poem into the WashingtonState Potato Commision's annual Potato Poetry contest, back in 1999 or thereabouts. I won. I won an apron, several potato cookbooks, and various sundries which I misremember now. Here is the 1998 (or thereabouts) prizewinning potato poem:

My dad planted potatoes
in old tires
all along the long side of the yard
and us kids grubbed them up
all summer
some as small as marbles
with thin, papery skin
some bigger than our child sized fists
The clean, cottony inside
of a baked potato
is such a surprise
or at least it was to us
who had prized them just that morning
asleep from the mud

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Productive Day (Chores)

The past few days we have been enveloped in a thick fog. Visibility has been so poor that we can't even see the neighbor's house across the street. It's chilly and wet and dispiriting after a few days, not to be able to see farther than the length of you arm, hardly.

This morning, however, the fog blew away by ten a.m., and a gorgeous blue sky emerged. The mountains came out and it actually got quite warm. Days like this in late winter always get my blood moving and make me want to work outside. I've been stuck inside with my seed catalogues for far too long - time to get out and do something!

Today I pruned the fruit trees. Or rather, I took the long handled pruners and a step ladder and gingerly cut off a few twigs here and there. I am a very timid pruner. I have a general idea of what a pruned tree ought to look like, and I can recognize a sucker when I see one, but that's about it. Generally I just try to open up the inside a little, and take out small branches that are growing at very acute angles from the trunk or which are crossing each other. The pear trees in particular have a very strong tendency to turn into thorn bushes after a year or two without pruning, and I try to slow that process down, at least. Also, I don't really like being up on a stepladder which is slowly sinking into the soft ground and reaching out past my balance point with heavy, sharp clippers. I can imagine all too well those clippers sinking into my liver when I land on them after falling off my tippy ladder.

Another job that involves sharp blades: we trimmed the goat hooves today. They weren't too bad. As usual, Flopsy's front hooves were grossly overgrown and warped, but they always are. For some reason those two hooves, out of all the hooves on the farm, grow at an amazing speed and want to curl up, as though they were horns. The most difficult part of trimming hooves today was getting the goats to jump up on the milking stand. It's been two years since any of them were milked, and they seem to have lost the knack.

I held the pan of grain up high, above the feeding trough, and the goats would rand with their front feet on the stand and poke their heads through the slats. Quickly, we'd slam the slats shut and trap them. Then Homero would have to bodily hoist the rear end of the goat up onto the stand. I hope they remember soon, because I can't lift their hind ends and I can't ask Homero to help me every milking. Stupid goats.

Last big job completed- the chicken coop is rebuilt. I'll post pictures soon. Homero built it, a few years ago, out of particle board. I keep telling him that particle board doesn't work in our climate, but he buys it because it's cheaper than plywood. Of course the boards crumbled and fell apart, and we haven't been able to contain the chickens for a while now. Finally I went out and bought plywood and had Phil rebuild the coop as his rent for the month of January (Next post: the unofficial farmhand). Last night we locked up the chickens for the first time all winter and this morning collected a couple of eggs. Very tasty.

It feels very good to get some serious farm work done. I'm tired. And grubby. Bath.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rosie Pony Update (And Notes on the Cow)

The vet came out yesterday to look at Rosie Pony's crusty eyes. We had thought that she had plugged tear ducts, because last time the vet tried, two years ago, to irrigate them, she was unable to clear them. This time, however, the vet was able to irrigate both tear ducts. First he had to drug her into insensibility, but then he was successful.

He says that she is an "unusual case," which is what they say when they mean "I haven't the foggiest clue." What she has is chronic conjunctivitis, but why is a mystery. It might be allergies, he suggested. What he did say is "this is probably incurable." That's a bummer, I was hoping for plugged ducts that could be restored with minor, inexpensive surgery and restore Rosie to perfect health.

Instead, I have a pony with a chronic, incurable, uncomfortable - if not painful - condition that will require treatment for the rest of her life. For the short term, I am poulticing her eyes with warm salt water twice a day and applying topical antibiotic. That's a two person job, but it only takes a minute or two. Usually, she is much better in the summertime, so I'm hoping that as the cold season ends we can leave off for a while.

While the vet was there, I asked him about the dairy calf. I wondered if he could tell me why she wasn't eating hay, only grain. He did; in one quick glance he looked at her droopy ear and bulging cheek and said "she can't eat. She has facial nerve damage and she probably can't chew very well." I felt like an idiot - I could tell she had nerve amage, but it never occurred to me that that was why she wasn't gaining weight. The vet said she probably found grain easier to chew and swallow. He suggested I buy pelleted alfalfa and wet it down, it would make a kind of mush that ought to be easier for the calf to get down.

He asked me what I was raising her for, meat? I said yes, we figured she probably wasn't a candidate for breeding. He nodded curtly and said "good." So that's our official vet opinion - the calf is now certainly a meat animal, not a dairy animal.

I'm scared to call the vet's office and ask for the bill. With sedation, I know it will be a minimum of $400. At least now I know what's wrong with Rosie and that there is no magic bullet. Everything that can be done for her is stuff I can do myself, at home. There's no more need for a vet - at least, as far as her eyes are concerned.

That's all for now.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Everything is all Bolloxed Up (Mid-Winter Blues)

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned it here, but I hate computers. I really, really hate them. Once, six years ago, with a lot of help from my teenage daughter, I figured out how to use the Blogger platform to make a very simple, no-frills blog, and I haven't wavered from that format one whit. Because I don't know how.

Blogger has changed a few times, and every time it does, I hate it. It always takes me about three weeks to figure out the new system, and I am always able to do less and less. The same thing happens whenever my computer or my phone automatically updates itself, or God forbid, my husband decides to download a whole new operating system. Nobody seems to understand that I am hanging on by the skin of my teeth, here, and one more little change might just be the end of it all.

This morning I spent twenty minutes trying to make the radio play on the computer. My husband was signed in to iTunes and I don't know his password. I couldn't figure out how to sign out, and it wouldn't matter if I did because I also can't remember my own password. So I tried Pandora - same issue. Why does an internet radio station need password protection anyway?

Why do I now have approximately fifty-eight different user names and passwords for accounts that I use once or twice and then never again?

Why can't I turn the speakers on? Where is the settings menu?

Why isn't the bluetooth speaker working either? Oh it needs to be synced. How do I sync it?

Now the battery is low. Where is the cord?

Why is there a ball of cords approximately the size of a basketball shoved into this drawer and why are none of them labelled and why is everything tangled up all the time? How do they make knots in the drawer all by themselves? Didn't I just go through this with the fucking Christmas lights?

All I wanted was a little music to wash dishes by, and instead I am weeping and gnashing my teeth, ready to throw the whole thing right out the god damned window and go live in a cave.

Why don't I have an actual radio anymore? With two knobs, volume and tuning.

My husband came inside and saw me with my hair standing on end and he fixed the problem in two minutes, apparently by witchcraft. I wanted to throw a steak knife at him, but instead I poured him some coffee and started washing dishes. I put on the blues station and and feel much better with Howling Wolf and Koko Taylor doing my wailing for me.

Being unable to manage my computer is not the only thing that has me feeling helpless. Quite a bit has gone wrong lately. Right after Chrsitmas, I decided to take my three daughters and go on a road trip to see my dad in Tucson. The house was so crowded, and I just wanted to get out of dodge for a while. We packed up the Jetta and started driving. I had decided to take a bit of a detour and go out through the California desert to avoid getting lost in the nest of freeways around Los Angeles.

Of course the Jetta decided to break down at the most inaccessible, god forsaken part of the whole trip, just outside of Needles, California. If you don't know where Needles, is, there's no reason to look it up. I'm not going to recount the whole saga, but after three days in a cheap motel, the mechanic called and said "buy a bus ticket." The Jetta is still in Needles, and will be for the foreseeable future, since we have no way of going to get it. So we are down to one car, and not a very reliable one at that.

This is the height of mud season, which always gets me down. The dog always jumps on the bed right after chores and I have to wash the sheets every day. There is something wrong with the exhaust hose and the dryer always steams up the laundry room and everything smells of mildew. The vacuum cleaner has been broken for months and so there isn't much I can do about the carpets except heave deep sighs whenever I look at them.

The dairy calf is apparently on a hunger strike. She won't eat hay, not even alfalfa. She only eats grain and bread and sometimes the old greens I bring home from the gleaner's pantry (Scavenge City (Gleaner's Pantry)). She is skinny as an old rail fence and I don't know why. But by far the worst animal problem is Rosie Pony. She has a chronic eye condition - her tear ducts are permanently blocked. I don't know if it's congenital (it sometimes is) or the result of past infections, but she constantly has crusty eyes. It's much worse in the winter. I've been washing her eyes with saline as often as I can, but it isn't enough.

After we came back from our ill-fate road trip, I checked on Rosie and saw she had a serious secondary infection in both eyes. She's been rubbing her face against the posts and scratched herself up. You can see from the photo that she's badly inflamed, as well as the thickened, sclerotic skin of her eyelids. The vet wouldn't prescribe her an antibiotic from pictures, but insisted on a farm visit. Even though we have been patients there for years and he's seen Rosie this year - for another condition. I simply can't afford a farm visit right now - we need to rebuild an engine and tow a car 1,500 miles. So I've been putting neosporin in her eyes and washing twice daily and we'll see how it goes for a week.

Eventually, I will of course pay for a vet to come see her. I want to find out if she is a candidate for surgery (it's the only way to open the ducts) and how much that would cost. And if they would let me finance it. Poor Rosie. I can see why she was at the auction. She's skittish, won't stand for the Farrier, can't be ridden, and has at least two chronic health conditions. Maybe, at some point, I'll have to re-evaluate whether or not all ponies really ought to be rescued. But not today. While she is mine I will care for her the best I can. Even though it means wrestling with her in the mud twice a day.

There's more I could bitch and moan about. The chickens aren't laying (when do they ever?). There's a big droopy gap in the fence. It's time to trim goat hooves again and I can't find the hoof trimmers. We are running out of hay early. But I think I will stop here. I thought of something good to adding at the end of this long, dreary post.

A nice young woman I met at the Gleaner's pantry is going to give me some of her sourdough starter. She's Ukrainian and it's been in the family a good long while, and I bet it's just wonderful.