Seeds, glorious seeds

It’s official.  The order is ready.  Tomatoes (six varieties including Green Sausage – new to me!) snaps, herbs, ground cherries, kale, cukes, lettuce, beans.  All the good stuff and a few experiments to boot.  Plus – for the first time – ALL BLUE POTATOES!!  Finally.  I found them at The Maine Potato Lady  www.mainepotatolady.com  I’ve been looking for an organic blue variety and there it was!  It’s the little things that make me smile! 

I’ll be heading out to the barn today to do some preparations.  Although our garden beds are covered with four inches of heavy white snow, I’m getting ready anyway.  Not only am I excited to begin planting again, but I need the extra barn space for the TWENTY chicks that will be arriving this spring.  This will be our biggest homesteading adventure yet.  Particularly because these twenty cuties will be living indoors with us until they are ready to move to the barn.  I hope they like our porch.  And I hope the dogs like them – just not too much!

Keep checking for my next installment – Sheep Shearing 101.  Should be interesting since I can’t even cut my daughter’s bangs in a straight line!

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It’s the hap-happiest-time-of-the-year!

Welcome to December!  And, with it, a few little treasures buried deep within the piles of toy catalogues that have been inundating our mailbox for the last five weeks.  Here they are folks – my 9 X 12 beacons of hope.  Seed catalogues!!!

Summerfall 2012 052Colorful and packed with great stories and information, they offer me a quiet place to rest my mind.  In a corner of my brain that is otherwise filled to the brim with thoughts of holiday excitement, preparations, and yes, obligations, I can retreat with these harbingers of the new year.

By January 1, I will have my gardens planned.  Just a few weeks after that, the orders will be placed.  And, then, lo and behold, on some bleak, windy February day, our mailman will hand deliver my carton of seeds to the back door.  Seeds, beautiful seeds.  For the rest of the winter, they will sit under warm lights, sprouting and growing while I anxiously await the day they are placed in the freshly turned garden soil.

I love winter.  It’s beauty and darkness most of all.  But, those seeds bring with them fresh air and hope for the coming year.

Happy December everyone!  And, Happy Garden Planning, too!!!!

First Snow

There is something so perfectly wonderful about the first snowfall of the season – that excitement that comes with seeing the first few flakes drift down outside your window.  No other form of weather (except for maybe a rainbow) commands so much attention.  Children throw themselves up against the windows of their classrooms, dutifully ignoring their teacher’s pleas to get back to business.  Dogs run about with their noses stuffed up into the cold air as if their communicating with Nature herself.  And adults, even the grumpy ones who claim they can’t tolerate the cold and hate all the inconveniences that come with the winter season, stop what they’re doing – if even for a short minute – to watch those small, floating flakes.

We had our first snowfall yesterday.  The weathermen told us it would be just a dusting, with no real accumulation on the roads. I didn’t want to listen to them.  So, I didn’t.  (We ended up with six inches!)  Instead, I dug out my thick alpaca socks and puttered into the living room where I began digging through a mountain of books and cd’s until I found what I was looking for – the mother load of Christmas carols.  Into the cd player they went.  Then, it was off to the basement to start hauling plastic tupperware crates of twinkly lights back upstairs.

I had a rather grumpy contractor in my house at the time.  You know the type – always complaining that the weather is hurting his business (even though he works indoors,) and forever listing the myriad reasons why summer is so horrible or winter is plain intolerable.  When he heard the music, he put his radio up louder.  I antied up.  Higher and higher went the volume until finally Howard Stern had been effectively shut down.

By the time he came back downstairs, the twinkly lights were plugged in and I was working on the window candles.  He shook his head.  He just didn’t get it.  The first snowfall is the most hopeful day of the year for me.  It’s when Mother Nature cleans house and washes away all the dirt from the last few months.  It’s like putting a line-dried linen sheet on your bed in August.  Clean and pure.

Yesterday’s snowfall was all that and even more.  The way I see it, Mother Nature was celebrating.  The clocks have been turned back, the pumpkins have all been picked, the animals have been bred, and the quiet days of Winter are knocking.  And, THE ELECTION IS OVER!  Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we can all agree on one thing – It is time to rejoice.  No more uninvited senators or representatives or presidential hopefuls calling us during dinner or showing up on our TV screens.  No more mountains of wasteful cardstock ads shoved into our mailboxes.  It’s a new beginning – for better or worse.  And, apparently Mother Nature is on board.  She has wiped our decks clean and scrubbed the dirt with her fluffy white snow.  She has offered us a chance to take a deep breath and look at the world with a fresh perspective.

I, for one, am thankful for that opportunity.  I’ll keep that gift in mind tonight while I’m sitting under my twinkly lights looking out onto my snowy backyard.  Beauty is, afterall, something to be celebrated.

Squirrels!

I’m not really one to describe myself as a Naturalist.  Don’t get me wrong,  I love the magic that nature delivers to us on a daily basis – seasons, mountains, wind, salt water.  All that good stuff.  But, I can’t say that I excel in the art of close observation.  I don’t know the names of every species of bird in my backyard – just the big hitters: Cardinals, Blue Jays, Robins, etc.  I’m stymied by the myriad bugs in my garden.  Lady bugs, bees, and earthworms are just about the only ones I can name with confidence.  However, this fall, there is something going on that has made even the most disconnected and nature-ignorant person stop and take notice.  It’s the squirrels.

Never in my life have I seen so many squirrels behaving in such truly peculiar ways.  Sure, they’re out there doing their regular duties – collecting and burying nuts and seeds, pilfering our leftovers in the garden and scooting across roads at inopportune times.  But, this year, they have gone over and beyond their usual routines.  I have observed squirrels chasing my dog – YES!  Chasing the DOG!  I have seen them sitting on the hood of a parked car eating a bit of leftover bagel in front of a bakery.  I have watched them destroying jack-o-lanterns that sit next to the front doors of houses.  They are loud.  They are hyper.  And, for some reason, they have decided to develop a sense of humor.  Like the one that tossed acorns at my daughter while she was screaming and yelping on her trampoline.  The sniper had hidden himself in the maple tree above the trampoline and just started hurling acorns at her.  Funny!  I wish I had known that was the way to get her to stop yelling!  Smart squirrel!!

I’m no meteorologist.  I do not hold a degree in biology, psychology, or zoology.  I’m going to say it anyway.  I predict that we are in for a long winter.  A big winter.  A doozy of a winter.  It’s this odd squirrel behavior that led me to this conclusion.  I hope I’m right.  I know many people are grumbling right now.  “How can she want a big, long winter?  We have things to do, places to go, people to see.”

Yes, I know.  We all have lives.  Busy ones.  But, personally, I think a day or two spent snowed in with the people you love, with no obligations to work or school because no one could drive there to unlock the doors sounds nice.  Those rare days when only the people with “essential and necessary jobs”  (not my word choice – it came from the news) are allowed on the roads and all of us “useless people” are forced to stay home are gifts.  Gifts of peace and time intended to be spent with the people, animals, books, teacups, and thoughts that deserve our attention.

I hope I’m right.

I’ve got to go.  I’m heading out my door in search of a fat wooly caterpillar with a big middle stripe.  Or is it a skinny middle stripe and big end stripes?  I have no idea.  But, I’m going to look for one anyway.  Then, my non-scientific  prediction made by my untrained and unqualified self will have the evidence it needs.  Wish me luck!

Just when you think…

A few days ago, I was walking in our front field, looking around at all the possibilities that our farm held for us.  I was feeling decidedly pessimistic.  The list of possibilities went something like this:

The possibility of throwing my back out again while I was double-digging the gardens.

The possibility of another tomato blight.

The possibility of more “emergency” vet bills.

The possibility of more bee stings and hairy spiders, broken fences, roof repairs, slug infestations…

The possibility of another romp through the neighborhood chasing our escapee goats. (Let me re-phrase that.  The INEVITABILITY of another romp through the neighborhood chasing our escapee goats.)

I walked back into the house to open the mail.

There, in the pile, was a friendly letter from our town assessor’s office informing me that our taxes had just gone up nearly $1000 a year.

I’d had it.

When my husband got home from work, I informed him that I wanted to move. To Maine.  (Let me just preface this story with a fact that many of you may not know.  I’m a bit impetuous.  Patience and planning are not characteristics that most people would use to describe me.  I’m more of a shoot first, ask questions later type.)

Maine wasn’t a complete surprise to him, though.  We have always talked about moving there.  It’s one of three places that make us both truly, ecstatically happy.

I ranted on about the ridiculous taxes that we pay in our town, the hassle of keeping the property from “falling down around us” (I was feeling dramatic,) and the cost of all that upkeep.

He listened.  He nodded.  He did not respond.

I mentioned how, as a contractor, it was time he started thinking about his next move.  His body was getting worn out.  He was stiff and sore all the time and his elbow was deteriorating.  Over twenty – five years of hard labor takes its toll.

“Perhaps now is the time to get our ducks in line,” I continued.

He nodded again.  He was coming around.

“I’m on board with the possibility of selling this house.  Maybe.  It’s a bad market, though.  It might be better to wait.  However, if we do decide to sell, I’m not ready for Maine, yet.  Soon.  But not yet.”

That was fine with me.  A true compromise.

The next morning, I began looking at properties for sale.  Nothing really grabbed my attention, except for one home not far from ours.  It was decidedly smaller with only a quarter acre of land.  There would be no room for the goats or the sheep.  Our dogs would have to get used to much “cozier” digs.  Our daughters would revolt!  But, change is good.  The taxes were half of what we were paying.  I called the number on the computer – hoping to get some information before we got our agent involved.

The agent that answered listened to me describe the property.  He was silent.  Then he asked, very politely, how I got his number.  I told him his picture and number were on the listing on the website.

“I don’t understand,” he said.  “I’m up in Maine.”

Well, blow me down!!  It seemed that larger forces were conspiring around me.  It was A SIGN!!!!

We talked.  And talked.  I told him that we wouldn’t be making a move right away but that I’d be interested in keeping in touch.  Soon enough, we’d be needing his services.  I was sure of it.

Feeling calmer, I went to work, confident that the die had been cast.  Now, all I had to do was wait for the universe to take care of the rest.  Patience, my dear, I chanted to myself all afternoon.

Last night, when I got home, my husband was in our driveway with a friend of ours.  A wonderful man.  Older.  An “old school” Italian contractor who just so happens to share a love of food and all things outdoors with us.  We all got comfy in the backyard.

“Mrs. O’Leary,” he said, in his fabulous rustic accent.  “Would you be willing to breed your goats?  I will take the babies in the spring.  A six – week old milk fed kid is delicious.  In return, I will cook a dinner for the two of you that you won’t ever forget and show you how to make cheese with all the extra milk.”

“That’s a wonderful offer, but, we’ve just decided to move.  I won’t be able to breed anything anymore.”

“WHAT?!?  Are you crazy?!? You can not move in this market.  It is suicide.  Listen to me… I have been around a lot longer than you and I have stories to share…”

By the end of the hour, my husband’s feet were planted firmly in the “we’re not going anywhere” department.  What we heard made perfect sense.  The market was horrible, the land was beautiful.  We would regret giving it up.  Just a little more time and patience and all the hard work would pay off.  In my heart, I knew this was true.  I went back into the house and looked out onto the field.  It was glowing purple in the evening light.  The animals were snug in their stalls.  The fences were secure.  Our barefoot kids were running around, screaming and jumping and chasing the dogs.

The universe had spoken.

I turned to open the mail.  In it was a package from the agent in Maine.

Earthing

It seems completely silly to me that science has found a label for something that should go under the title, “Common Sense.”

This new buzzword is Earthing.  The definition is, basically, to connect the human body to Mother Earth to ground itself, thereby balancing the positive charges coursing through our anatomy with the Earth’s negative charges.  This, says science, results in health.

DUH!  This, say I, is something that we, on a deep, cellular level, are already keenly aware of.  Let’s think about it -bare feet on green grass, fingers chilled by freshly turned spring soil, toes buried in grainy sand, bodies floating in salty water, backs scratched by the coarse bark of a maple tree.

Let’s take it a step further – freshly picked garden vegetables, dandelion greens pinched from your neighbor’s yard, raspberries plucked during a walk in the woods, fresh eggs, creamy raw milk, that elusive drop of syrup from a honeysuckle blossom, apples.

Fresh air!

Wind!

Rain!

Sun!

Do we really need a scientific label for us to accept the notion that Nature is a healing force for our bodies?  Can’t we just believe it because we know, in our hearts, that a day shoveling and digging in the garden energizes us, regardless of our sore muscles?  That a barefoot walk on the beach clears our minds?  That rolling around in a leaf pile enriches our souls?  That fresh food – not from a bag or box – with skins still intact, fortifies us?

Call it what you will, Mr. Science.  Earthing.  Nature Grounding.  Elemental Fortification.  Blah, blah, blah.

I’ll just call it what it is:  Good, old-fashioned, feel-good common sense.

If anyone has anything to add, you can find me in my backyard – barefoot and smiling!

Swarms of killer technicolored wasps?

Well, the summer is finally coming to a breezy end.  The small area of our gardens that managed to escape my attempted annihilation by weed-whacker is now browning and drying before my eyes.  The barn is clean and stocked for the fall.  The house has been stripped, steamed, shop-vac’d, vaccuumed, and scrubbed.  The fence posts have been replaced and the wires re-tied.  The trees have been cut-backed, trimmed, or pulled and the mulch is in the beds.

This morning, I woke and took in a full gulp of crisp, morning air.  I smiled.  I knew I had nothing to do but relax today and enjoy the weather.  I asked the girls to run out to the barn to take the animals into the back field while I cooked breakfast.  Two minutes later, they came racing back in.

“Mom!  There are the scariest bugs in the field!”

“Big!”

“Striped!”

“Stingers!”

“Black wings!”

“Everywhere!”

Now, given my daughters’ huge imaginations and their tendency to exercise them at will, I smiled, nodded, mmm-hmmed, and told them not to worry.

“I’m sure they’re harmless,” was my rehearsed reply.

While they were eating, I took a walk out to the back field to see what they were all riled up about.

Harmless?????  My ass!!!!!

There were dozens – close to a hundred – of the creepiest, B-grade sci-fi insects I’ve ever laid my eyes on, just hovering over the field at ankle-height.  They were, indeed, huge – nearly two inches from tip to stinger.  They did, indeed, have black wings – that shone a shocking iridescent blue in the sun.  As they lifted those wings, they revealed a hard red and yellow striped body with an enormous pointed back-end – needle sharp.

I screamed.

I ran.

I prayed they weren’t following me.  I galloped straight into the barn where I came to rest up against the dry, wooden plank wall.  My hand stuck to something.  I looked down and saw my fingers enmeshed in a spider web at least 10 inches across.  They came to rest about a fingernail’s width away from a fat, hairy, and very poisonous looking spider.  (I have no idea if it was poisonous.  But, it was hairy – and, in my book, that equates to the same thing.

I screamed.

I ran.

I prayed it wasn’t still attached to me – dangling by my finger – about to get stuck in the cuff of my shorts or down my boot.

I plowed through the screen door and into the house.

I sprinted into the bathroom, stripped down, and hopped into a scorching shower.

Ten minutes later, I was sure any living thing that could have possibly attached itself to me had been boiled to death.

I breathed a big gulp of crisp, morning air and decided to try to start the day all over again.  This time, sans insects!

The felons are at it again!

When we last checked in with our wayward goats, they were busy ripping down fences and eating our neighbor’s expensive bushes.  They escaped from their pasture three days in a row.  They spent most of the weekend penned into a smaller enclosure while I made desperate phone calls to every farmer I knew to see if there was some goat orphanage that I could drop them off at.  No takers.  Flash forward to this week.

Apparently, our goats are more unhappy than I originally thought.  They have begun bullying and assaulting our three month old ram – that cute and cuddly guy who just went through the ugly ordeal of castration not even two weeks ago.  The goats used to like him and his sidekick, Millie.  They still welcome Millie into their herd, but, as far as I can tell, a ram that is not longer “in tact” is an embarrassment.  “He must go!” is the rally call that I’m hearing from our back pasture.

It all started with a suspicion.  My inkling was later confirmed when I walked into the barn and witnessed Wally, our biggest goat, cornering the baby and head butting him.  Once she had him on the ground, she proceeded to pounce on his neck.  I shoved her away.  The ram just lay in the dirt, eyes rolling back.  It took a while, but I got him to come around and managed to get him upright.  As he tried to walk, his legs buckled a bit.  Then I noticed he was turning in right circles – unable to look to his left.

I was furious.  I immediately put the goats in isolation then called the vet.

For the second time this month, the vet’s red truck rumbled down our driveway.  After a full poking and prodding, he furnished me with two conclusions:  1.)  That the goats felt that the lambs were compromising their food source and 2.) that the ram had torn ligaments in his neck and would need about two months for a full recovery.  Then he proceeded to do a bit of chiropractic magic on the little guy.  Thankfully, he could walk in a somewhat straight line but his neck was still shaped into a perfect S.

So, after three escapes and an assault, I’m still where I was at the start.  Two sheep (one now in need of TLC and spinal adjustments,) and three delinquent goats in need of greener pastures.  Any takers?

Escape from Alcatraz, part 2

 

The felons

This morning began with blazing heat, broken fences, and angry neighbors.

I was at the hardware store by 8 a.m. buying reinforcements for the fencing sections that our goats so obligingly tore through yesterday.  By 8:20, I was knee deep in tall grasses, swatting back gnats and other winged creatures in 89 degree steam.  One bee sting and a few knicks and bangs later and the fence was secure.  Take that, neighbor.

At 9:15, I went inside to wash up, check messages, and organize our day.  At 10:30, I looked out at our back pasture.  Two sheep.  No goats.

Are you freaking kidding me!!??!!

There, in the back of our farm, was our neighbor, walking back from her stumpy bushes, phone in hand.  I was absolutely sure she wasn’t calling me to chat.  She wasn’t calling me at all.  Her finger was aiming at her speed-dial connection to animal control.

My daughters and I ran out and dutifully wrangled the beasts back in through the hole in the fence (AGAIN.)

I’m hot.  Sticky.  My girls are laughing.  Good summer fun as far as they’re concerned.

Short of building a concrete wall around the pasture, I can’t think of another option to keep these incorrigible fiends within their boundaries.

I’m sitting here, waiting for Michelle, our friendly animal control officer, to stop by.  We know each other well by now.  Practically friends.  She’ll be here, smiling.  Offering advice and comfort but flanking those smiles with words of warning.

I’ll be expecting my name in the paper again.

John Denver told us all that “Life on the farm was kind of laid back.”

John Denver lied.

That lady’s goats are loose again!

Several years ago, a police officer drove into my driveway to furnish me with a written warning.  On it were words admonishing me to make sure my goats didn’t go meandering down Main Street again.  Apparently, a misinformed and very nosy neighbor had called the police in the attempt to protect the innocent citizens of our town from our goats – public enemies # 1,2,and 3.  Well, the overzealous neighbor had called in advance of our goats actually leaving our farm.  In fact, they had only been grazing by the road (well inside our fence.)  Thanks, neighbor, for that public service.  I still haven’t lived down the embarrassment of the note in the following week’s town newspaper.

Fast forward to today.  If that neighbor had been witness to what was going on this afternoon, I’m sure I would have been taken in handcuffs to our otherwise inactive police station – charged with being some kind of accomplice to our escapee goats.  Yes, our goats had escaped – again.  This time, they ducked under the galvanized fencing that had been effectively penning them in all these years in search of – what else – a dip in our neighbor’s refreshing pool as well as a gourmet lunch of her hydrangeas and hostas.

I’m thankful I even saw that they were loose.  I was on my way to the clothesline to hang our bedding when I happened to look up across the pasture.  I saw three small black and white smudges moving around my neighbor’s back yard.  Looking harder, I realized what those smudges were.

“GIRLS!” I screamed.  My daughters came running out of the house and looked with wide-eyed shock at our goats pillaging the shrubs and flowers of our neighbor.  We jumped into our car and drove down the street.  Slamming the car in park, we jumped out and ran toward our goats.  We really didn’t have a single inkling as to how we were going to get these 230 pound felons back onto our property but, I hoped that the mere fact that we had made an apprearance would prove enough of an effort to keep the neighbors off our backs.

There were three landscapers at the neighbors when I arrived.  Not one of them chose to help us.  For the entire hour that it took us to chase and  corner all three of the goats, and then manage to get them back onto our property, they chose, instead, to shut off their mowers, sit back, and enjoy the show.  Free admittance to a rodeo as far as they were concerned.

My daughters were heroes.  They chased, jumped, wrangled, and coerced those animals right along with me.  Eventually, we got them back.  They are now penned in their stalls – punished for their acts of defiance.

The landscapers are gone.

The tick checks are complete – my girls are clean.

The sweat and gnats have been washed off.

My husband got a good laugh out of the whole ordeal when we regaled him with our adventure.

As for me, I’m getting pretty overwhelmed by the ridiculous side of owning a farm.  But, I don’t dare turn my back on the opportunity I’ve been given.  I’ll keep forging ahead.  Maybe someday I’ll get it all figured out.  In the meantime, feel free to join me on this crazy ride.  I’d love the company!  Wish me luck!

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