"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Heat Wave (Here and There)

The last week has seen temperatures in the high 80's, near 90, every day. The skies have been bright and clear. As close as I live to the Canadian border, I often listen to Canadian Public Radio, since it comes in better than NPR. Thanks to them, I know a new term: UV index. This is a number which calculates - basically - how quickly you will burn if you are dumb enough to stand out in the glaring noonday sun without sunscreen on. I am often that dumb. I must be either a mad dog or an Englishman. This past week, the UV index has been - well, high. I can't pretend I understand (or even remember) the actual numbers, but true nice Canadian weather lady said it was very high.

Accordingly, we have spent the last couple of days at the lake, splashing about in the cool water and exposing our tender flesh to the unmitigated rays of the sun like frigging idiots. No; actually our local park is delightful and among its amenities are several mature maple trees that provide ample shade, even on these hottest days when everybody is spending time at the beach at once. The water, so far, has remained cool and clear.

But there's only so much time you can spend at the park. Alas, we still have to sleep at home. Newer houses in our area may have central air - some of them - but for the most part air conditioning is still regarded as a silly luxury in my part of the world, and certainly no 60 year old farmhouse is going to have it. We have a couple of oscillating fans from Walgreens in our bedroom, but they aren't much good.

Last night the thermostat told me that the air temperature inside my house was 82 degrees. I slept with a wet towel slung over my back. I know those of you who live in most other arts of the country are laughing at me, just as you do when I complain about the freezing 20 degree temperatures in January, but there's no need - tomorrow I am bound for the hottest hellhole in North America.


My Dad lives in Tucson (because he is CRAZY) and I have to visit him for 9 days. In July. Don't ask why - the timing is not up to me. I have TOLD my dad and TOLD my dad to please not schedule any health crises for the summer m months, but the stubborn old bastard just won't listen. The temperatures in the Tucson region hover in the mid 110's for three months straight.

My only hope is that by the time we return home, the weather will have turned here at home.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pig and Cow (Major Meat)

Long summer evenings and good weather have us out in the yard until late in the day. I haven't mowed the back yard in a few weeks; partly for the benefit of the bees and partly to have a nice carpet of clover available for fattening up the cow, who will be meeting her destiny as a meat animal as soon as this summer is over. Today when I let the goats out to graze, the cow came barreling out as well - nearly knocking me over - and so I grabbed a rope and tied her up smack in the middle of the clover-carpet. 

The rope was maybe too long, and the cow was overexcited at being out of the back pasture for the first time in her woefully short and dim memory. She capered about, knocking over the burn barrel to eat the salty ashes, upending the ferret's play-cage, and generally wreaking havoc. She trampled the new lawn game I bought last week (ladder ball) and now we will have to repair it with many yards of duct-tape. As annoying as all that was, it was also hilarious and delightful to watch her happily kicking up her heels. Homero was moved to try and ride her, with the results you see above. 

We have a new pig. It's been years since we had a pig - I'd have to look back over the blog to see exactly how long it's been and exactly why I swore off pigs forever. I remember doing that, but not precisely why. Since I have belonged to the Gleaner's Pantry, it almost seems a sin not to have a pig, when I have access to a literally unlimited amount of fresh clean bread and produce. Also, it being high milk season, a nearly unlimited amount of whey from cheese making. The waste-stream to which I have access is abundant enough to support a half-dozen pigs - I have been partaking only minimally, but now I will have to up my participation.

There is a local farmer, a neighbor of mine, an older gentleman who has lived around here since Hector was a pup and who in his retirement still raises pigs and chickens and who imparts wisdom to all and sundry via the medium of the local Facebook Farmer's group. I'll call him the Livestock Guru, or the L.G. for short.  This week, he was advertising barbecue pigs (100-150 lbs) for the fourth of July, dressed out and ready for the spit for $350. At the end of the ad he added "or you could raise them out for meat." I asked, "same price live or dressed?" and he answered that I could have a live one for only $200.

Considering that a 40-50 lb piglet goes for $125 to $140, and they usually sell out in minutes, that seemed like an extraordinarily good deal. I consulted with Homero and he agreed. He spent today fixing up the old pigpen - putting new hinges on the old broken gate and hauling the calf-hutch over from the pony's pasture.  Around 6 pm, L.G. brought over a beautiful, healthy pink pig who immediately went to town on the pile of compost in his pen.

If all goes well, he ought to be ready for slaughter at about the same time as the cow - late September, when the grass is dried up. I have heard that I ought to get on the waiting list at local slaughterhouses, as it isn't always easy to get a slaughter date in those prime weeks at the end of summer.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tidbits and Fruit Update

Beautiful evening out with the goats. They are all (all four of them - the fewest number of goats I've had in years) looking fat and sassy. I'm trying to decide whether to keep the same buck for this coming year or not. Advantages - he's proven, impregnated two of my ladies last year with pretty, spotty babies, and he's healthy, and free. Disadvantages - Iris doesn't like him, didn't let him breed her last year. Also, if I don't separate him (or get rid of him) he will impregnate the does in late summer and I will have babies too early again. If I don't use him, I'll have to find another buck and pay for him.

The cherries are ripening. As usual, the birds are striking the cherries just before they are ripe enough for us. Long term, we have to figure that out. Short term, we are enjoying semi-ripe cherries and looking forward to ripe cherries with a few bird strike scars. Also the neighbors pie cherries are getting ripe, hanging over the fence, and I need to harvest those and make a quart or so of cherry-and-mint infused vodka. Just add club soda and you have what we have named a Cherry Mindy.

Earliest year on record for berries. I took the girls out to pick raspberries today. Unheard of. Strawberries are already done, everywhere. Zion holds its yearly Strawberry Social June 28th (I WILL win the quilt raffle this year, I WILL) but they will have to use frozen strawberries for the sundaes and shortcake. As I was driving around the county today I even saw blueberries ripe on the bushes. Blueberry season usually starts in August. The blackberries are still in blossom, barely. Mostly the bushes are covered with hard tiny green fruit.

Looks like it will be a decent year for pears, but for some reason the Italian Prune hasn't set a single plum. Not one. Last year was a good harvest, and it is one of those trees that usually alternates a heavy year with a light year, but NO fruit seems weird to me. Oh well, here's hoping some of my neighbors will have extra.

I'm headed out of town next week to care for my dad in Tucson. Tucson in July is a trial; it's been over 110 degrees for over a week now. At least he has a pool. By the time I get back, it will be full on harvest season, and I will be consumed with canning for a month or so. I've made a fateful decision, this year, that I can no longer buy tomatoes from Mexico (an upcoming post will detail why- for now, one word will suffice: SLAVERY) and so instead I will be seeking out a shit-ton of local tomatoes to can. I expect the Gleaner's Pantry to help me with that.

The solstice was yesterday. The longest, prettiest days of the year are here. These few short weeks are why I put up with months of mud and freezing rain. I am enjoying them to the fullest extant.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

State of the Farm Summer Solstice (Drought 2015)

There are still almost two weeks until solstice, but with the weather we've been having, it feels very much like summer. In fact, it feels like midsummer - late July or even early August. It is as though the calendar were turned ahead a month.

The blackberry blossoms opened two weeks ago; now they are nearing the end of bloom time and there are hard little green berries on the terminal buds. White clover is in full bloom, and a few red clover blossoms are opening here and there. Full-summer flowers like oxeye daisy, lupine, and tansy are starting to bloom.

Record breaking heat - high eighties - for several days in a row has brought on the berries early. Strawberry season is in full swing and the commercial raspberries will open for U-pick in another week or so. Lack of rain combined with high temperatures has made the berries smaller than usual, but with an unusually concentrated sweetness.

Drought is a major concern this year - the winter was much warmer than usual and snowpack in the north cascades is one-third normal or less. When I look across the valley to the north at the Canadian Cascades, I see deep blue peaks with only flecks of white here and there - which is how the mountains typically look in September. The grass is already starting to dry up, and all of the neighbors are haying. This year I saw people haying in May, which I have never seen before.
We have only bought one truckload so far - 25 bales - but I would like to buy more than usual at early-season prices because I think we will be feeding hay very early this year as the grass disappears.

Though there will be fewer animals to feed over the winter this year. The cow is nearing the end of days. We will be scheduling a butcher date for early fall. I think she is about as big as she is going to get. We have started feeding her alfalfa pellets and bread from there Gleaner's Pantry in hopes of fattening hear up a bit more. I am frankly shocked at how much grass one stunted dairy calf can eat. The big pasture looks terribly skimpy, because the cow has been vacuuming up all the grass all by herself. In years past, I have had the same number of goats plus two ponies on this pasture and it was more lush. This year, the ponies have stayed in the sacrifice area and we stake them out to graze in the front yard. As far as I can tell, one dairy cow equals two ponies and then some. I only hope she tastes good. People who know have told me that Jerseys make good eating, but not to be alarmed at the yellow fat. 

Today I boosted Paloma up into the hayloft to look for eggs. She found a nest with twenty-two eggs in it. We floated them in the stock tank and they all sank, so it's time to make some quiches and freeze them. And egg salad for sandwiches for the last week of school lunches. And maybe some goat-milk ice cream for these hot days. 

Ordinarily, I don't put Demeter on the alter until midsummer (Lammas), but the grass heads are turning golden and my shoulders are all sunburnt and the tomatoes are in flower and the roses are in bloom. It seemed churlish to stick to an artificial calendar rather than honor the actual fact of the season which has clearly arrived. And it may be a brief season this year, so there's no sense in wasting time. Welcome, generous lady! Welcome, abundance! Welcome, Summer!