From ram to wether in forty-three seconds

I’m a terrible person.  At least my husband thinks so (although he left the room so fast that I can’t be certain what he really said.)  Anyway, I’m certain of one thing.  That cute, adorable, perfectly beautiful ram that came to live with us a few months back is no longer one of my biggest fans.  Yesterday afternoon, while he was contentedly resting in a shady corner, thinking that his life was pretty great, our neighbor (and vet) came to visit, wielding what looked like a medieval torture device.  He walked calmly up to our little guy, cupped his you-know-what’s in his hand, and clamped down (hard!)  The ram took it like a champ.  Not a peep.

What had I done?  I knew that it was for the best.  Although our original intent was to breed him, the ewe that we have is a heritage breed.  She’s small – very small – and he is rather large.  Not only that, she was born late in the year.  Two things that work against her for becoming a mom this coming winter.  I was fearful that she if she did lamb this winter, it was going to be too hard on her.  That being said, keeping the two sheep separate from one another for six months or more was just not practical.  So, what’s a girl to do?  Yep.  You guessed it.  Castration.

The poor guy looked at me with his wide baby eyes.  He felt completely betrayed – that was evident.  But, what made it so much worse, was the fact that he just stood there, staring at me.  Not moving.  Just standing.  Looking me straight in the eye.  Chip (our neighbor) was packing up his truck.  This was routine for him.  But not for me and certainly not for our ten-week-old ram.  I was left there in the barn with him, his eyes accusing me.  I felt horrible.  My husband couldn’t believe that I could do such a thing.  He wouldn’t (or couldn’t) listen to the details or my pathetic rationalizations.

What has become of me?  Not so long ago, I was happy planting tomatoes.  Now, I’ve turned into a woman who keeps animals in her barn, encourages them to feel safe and happy, and then BAM, takes them out at the knees.

To make matters even worse, our ram didn’t seem upset today.  He accepted his fate and is moving forward.  As for me?  I had two chilling dreams last night and a pit in my stomach this morning.  His acceptance and feigned forgiveness did not help matters.  But, what’s done is done.  Live and learn.

I think I’ll keep to female livestock from now on.

Wabi-Sabi!

I’ve decided to adopt a different kind of gardening style this year.  I’m calling it Wabi-Sabi Gardening.  I learned recently that wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy that encourages acceptance of imperfection and the subsequent celebration of imperfection’s transient beauty, particularly in regards to aesthetics.  To put it in clearer terms, I will quote writer/designer Leonard Koren’s definition:  “Wabi sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty…”  Bingo!  This was what I need – my golden ticket to free myself from the guilt of a hopelessly weed-infested garden.  My rudimentary personal practice of wabi-sabi (still in its infancy) goes something like this:  embrace and accept beauty’s imperfections in order to recognize that imperfections themselves are beautiful.  They are what make us and the things around us unique.  They are the sublime battle scars of our life stories.

I can think of no better philosophy to apply to my gardens – particularly this year.  Here in our little pocket, we have experienced record-breaking temperatures and humidity followed by destructive electrical storms and even hail, not to mention record rain-falls. This has all happened inside of four weeks.  Needless to say, most of what has survived in my gardens is weeds with the sporadic seedling interspersed between.  This year’s effort won’t be an entire loss.  Mother nature has a way of bouncing back.  Those little sprouts will persevere and produce fruit and veggies later this summer.  In the meantime, the weeds will put up goliath efforts to thwart any desirable outcomes.

This is the point where I am going to employ my fledgling understanding of wabi-sabi.  My intention is to just keep treading through the jungle of weeds with one goal- to maintain some small breathing space around my plants to ensure some possibility of success and to let the weeds have their fun in between the rows and edges of the gardens.  I am a beaten woman.  I can not possibly tackle the amount of growth overtaking the gardens myself.  I wholeheartedly refuse to employ the dubious help of herbicides.  So, I will do what I can, all the while embracing the imperfect overgrown rows.  After all, some weeds are attractive – tall flowering spikes of yellow and purple flowers.  Short, soft tufts of thick green carpet under my feet.  This is, I think, what wabi sabi is all about.  Maybe those weeds weren’t intended to be there.  Perhaps I didn’t openly invite them into my gardens.  But, they crashed my party anyway.  However, they did not come emptyhanded.  Their blooms will attract the pollinators that I so desperately need in my yard and their soft leaves and blades will keep my feet cool this summer.  As long as they abide by some very lenient rules (let me pick only the ones that are strangling my tomatoes and other edibles – all the others are free to carry on as they wish,) I think we’ll get along just fine this summer.  And, for my part, I will remember to give thanks for the unintended blooms that will lure the bees to the gardens and to learn to accept that I have forsaken control of the gardens – at least for this year.

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll make a habit of embracing wabi-sabi in my garden next year, too!

HAIL!

Not a great photo but you get the idea!

I’m beginning to see the advantages of container gardening.  I think we can all agree that we’ve been witnessing some odd and often destructive weather patterns this year.  This change from the normal (is weather ever really normal?)weather that we’ve come to rely on has turned many of our plans upside down.  I usually have early spring veggies planted in March and eagerly await the first tender leaves of spinach and arugula and those first spring green snap peas.  When the peas flower, I know that it’s time to prepare the other beds for their late spring tenants.  I begin hardening off the tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings and start anticipating a two day stretch of clouds and showers to get those squash seeds in.  Well, this year was different.  I got the first March plantings in and then watched them suffer under relentless rain and ping-pong temperatures.  The arugula persevered.  The spinach and peas were overtaken by an onslaught of blazing temperatures and choking weeds that I just could not get a handle on.  When it came time to harden off the starts, extraordinarily hot afternoons had me running around seeking shade for the babies.  To my dismay, many of them got sunburned.  I decided to plant them anyway – I had seen many other little sprouts rebound after a slight burn in the past.  What could it hurt?  Those starts had only been in the ground for a few short days when, out of nowhere, with no warning, a hail storm with stones up to a half-inch wide poured down on us and pummeled the seedlings.  This was the last straw for me.  Gray days, seemingly endless rain, jungle-sized weeds (with no break in the weather to attempt to control them,) steamy hot afternoons that averaged 12 degrees above normal, more garden-chomping insects than I’ve EVER seen, and now hail.

I moved some of the tomatoes and herbs to containers, re-tilled (for the fourth time) plots for beans, cukes, squashes, and sunflowers, and then – with a great deal of frustration – covered the rest of the gardens with plastic tarps to suffocate the weeds.  I turned my back on the peppers, eggplants, ground cherries, and melons and then, threw in the towel until the first week in August when I will, once again, dig deep for what little amount of faith I have left and attempt a fall crop.  Until then, I’ll be thankful for the farmers’ markets to supplement our scant summer bounty.  Hopefully they are having better luck than me this year!!!

Good morning – let the stress begin!

Today was one of those days when being the owner of a 5-acre hobby farm was just about the last thing in the world I wanted to be.  The day began with one of our dogs waking our neighbors with her incessant, glass-shattering barking.  Apparently, the lambs (who seemed to me to be quite content grazing in the back field,) were in distress.  They weren’t.  The dog just thought they were.  She felt it was her duty to sound the alarm.  No amount of commanding, chasing, or cajoling could persuade her to stop.  Twenty-five minutes later, she finally paused for a breather.  By then, my nerves were frayed to the point of disintegration.  It was 6:24 A.M.

Shortly after that, morning feeding time began (for the family, that is.)  Then it was off to rewire 90 feet of fencing, mow the front field, and weed whack a small jungle of overgrowth behind the barn.  A trip to the garden center for all the items I forgot the day before and two arguments with my daughter over the virtues of owning lizards (guess which side I was on,) rounded out the morning.

These are the kinds of days that you’re sure – somewhere in the mess of it all – that there is a message just screaming to be heard.  But, under all the compost, potting soil, laundry, dirty dishes, and hundreds of feet of tangled fencing, I couldn’t hear a peep.

By five o’clock, the house was put back to its moderate but manageable state of disarray and tempers and bruised feelings(and muscles) had rebounded back to “almost right.”

My daughter ran out to the back pasture to help me bring the goats and lambs in for the night and, as she walked ahead of me with the animals following behind her in a perfect line of seniority, I saw my confident and independent 8-year-old taking charge of the evening chores.  The barn door was glowing brilliant in the late afternoon light and she was at peace on her farm, doing what she loved most.  The animals followed her able spirit into the cool, dark barn.  Finally, I heard the message that I had been struggling to hear all day – embrace the fitful starts and difficult hours.  Don’t shun them or try to make them less than they are.  For, at their end, there is always a place for a deep breath and a blissful resolution.

I hope your challenges are manageable and that you find that deep, private space of contentment when you finally push through.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

After nearly a decade of vegetable gardening, I’ve learned a few things.  In the beginning, I bought all of my plants at the farm stands around my town.  Strong and well-cared for, they didn’t fail to produce.  Then, I decided to move up the gardening ladder and seed my own garden.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the glut of weeds and immature seedlings that all looked just about the same.  I had to wait weeks, maybe even a month, before I could identify those sprouts with any confidence.  By then, my garden had become a jungle.  The amount of hours I spent removing the invaders and carefully nursing my struggling seedlings to health was staggering.  The next year, I decided that I needed to split the garden into two sections – flowers and vegetables.  That idea was spurred by an article that I read about encouraging pollinators to your garden.  Well, in theory, the idea was solid.  In practice, not so much.  My garden became a haven for bees and wasps and assorted other stingers and the dread and fear that I felt that summer kept me away from the vegetables more often that I would have hoped.  Again, my garden was overrun with weeds AND large, stinging insects.  Two years ago, we cut another large garden space. I planted everything imaginable:  tomatoes (8 heirloom varieties,) squashes (7 varieties,) mini chocolate peppers, kohl-rabi, turnips, lettuce, spinach, arugula, carrots, cucumbers (4 varieties,) beets, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, peas, pumpkins, watermelons, and a mountain of beans.  Here’s what we ate:  tomatoes, squash, lettuce, cucumbers, peas and beans. This year, I think I finally figured it out.  I just put in my tomatoes and squash plants.  The peas went in last month.  Beans and cucumber seeds will follow in a few days.  Sunflowers round out the bunch.  As for all the other seed packets that I bought in January when the thought of summer was just too far away to bear, I’m throwing them into the compost.  This is what I’ve learned:

GO SMALL!!!

Only plant what you really enjoy eating.

Don’t waste your time on pumpkins and other space hogs unless you’re sure you’re going to use them.  Pumpkins and melons are cheap at their peak.  Your garden space is not.

Pre-seed only a few new or heirloom varieties that you can’t easily find in your area.  Experimenting is fun but time-consuming and often frustrating.

Buy your starts from a reliable farmer.  They know a lot more about their product than most big-box sellers and will be able to give you great growing tips.

Buy space or time consuming veggies at your local farmers’ markets.  They’re often inexpensive (think kale, pumpkins, lettuce, and root veggies.)  This will give you more time to enjoy your own garden and will also help boost your local farm economy. 

Most importantly, enjoy your garden and share the wealth.  If you don’t overdue, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy your harvest and, believe me, you will still have PLENTY of goodies to go around.

Happy Planting!

Breeding 101

I’ve done it again.  I’ve acted too quickly and now I have two amazingly loving and adorable lambs that won’t be able to breed to make more amazing and adorable lambs.  Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, bottle-fed rams should be CASTRATED (gulp!) because they grow up without a fear of humans.  This lack of fear can become a problem because once they are ready to mate, nothing will stop their aggressive behavior – particularly towards the loving hands that fed them while they were still cute and cuddly infants.  Although I was warned that rams can become aggressive and would need to be penned up separately from the ewes until the intended time for mating came around, no one really stressed the importance of keeping my children away from their pet once Mother Nature took over.  Now we seem to have found ourselves in the difficult situation of choosing to do a nasty thing to this adorable little guy or take our chances with him when he gets older.  I already know the answer.  Welcome to Stonepost Farm – a place for happy, castrated sheep and their adoring families!

ARUGULA!

Perhaps one of the best flavors of spring is that of fresh picked arugula after a hard spring rain.  The scent is intoxicating and the flavor of the bitter but fragrant greens is powerful to say the least.  One of my favorite indulgences is a crispy arugula and portobello panini.  I’d like to share my super easy recipe with you!

You will need:

A generous handful of fresh arugula.

One portobello cap, sliced thin.

One roasted red pepper, julienned.

Fresh goat cheese.

Thick, fresh peasant bread (rosemary flavored is my favorite.)

Olive oil.

Balsamic vinegar.

_____________________________

Place mushroom cap in a shallow bowl and cover with balsamic vinegar.

Slice bread into two 3/4 inch slices.

Spread goat cheese onto both sides of the bread.

Layer with julienned pepper.

Top pepper with torn arugula leaves.

Top arugula with marinated mushroom slices.

Place second slice of bread onto sandwich and brush both exterior pieces with olive oil.

Place onto a panini maker or into a sautee pan and weigh down.

Cook both sides until they are golden brown.

ENJOY!

Oops! I did it again!

Well, it’s been just over a week since our little lamb found his way onto our couch and into our hearts.  In a moment filled with impulse, I drove my girls this morning to a farm a few towns over and came home with a two-week-old girlfriend for our little guy.  She’s quiet and sweet and has very fine manners (unlike her roommate who guzzles his formula from a Bass beer bottle fitted with a nipple and jumps on the furniture with as much zeal as our two 70 pound dogs.)  I think she’s going to be a good influence on our baby ram.  The best part about the whole deal (so far,) is that I got our lamb out of our kitchen and into the barn where he belongs.  He’s got a friend to share his stall with and, with any luck, she will teach him that he is, in fact, a sheep and not a dog!  I’ll have to see how his first night in the barn goes.  So far, I’m not feeling very positive.  The last time I checked, little Millie was bedded down and Chief Fluffy (my daughter got to pick his name!) was pacing around, not knowing how to sleep without his pillow and fleece blanket.  Transitions are hard.  Just ask our daughters – particularly the one who cried for over an hour when we told her that he wasn’t allowed in the house anymore!

There’s a LAMB in my kitchen!

It’s been nearly five years since we moved into our 267-year-old suburban farm.  The last of the renovations are being completed and now it’s time to turn our attention to turning this place into a legitimate working farm.  Which leads me to the matter-at-hand.  There’s a lamb in my kitchen.  And, it’s alive.  Life has a funny way of paying attention to us when we don’t think we’re being watched.  My husband and I were considering raising a few lambs in the hopes that I could manage to harvest some wool for my knitting compulsion and some milk for our daughter’s interest in learning how to make cheese.  Low and behold, the vet next door called the other day and asked if we would be interested in taking one of his lambs.  It had been orphaned (a bummer in farm-speak,) and needed someone to bottle feed it and give it a home.  And, that is how we ended up with a three-week-old bummer lamb in our kitchen.  He has made himself right at home and has easily won over our hearts, as well as those of our dogs whom he never stops chasing in circles around our kitchen island.  Life is never quiet here at StonePost Farm, but it sure is filled with lots of laughter, love, and an endless array of surprises!

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