“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22, 2011

It’s only fair to warn you that this post is a bit long – but hopefully not a bore. I was off this week from my “other” job, and spent a few minutes each morning writing down a few thoughts and experiences that had come by…

I was stuffing apples in my pockets this morning for the horses, getting ready to head out to feed the animals, when I looked out the kitchen window and saw the “white” flock of turkeys under the bird feeder, pecking up the gleanings. I call it the white flock ‘cause one of the turkeys is mostly white – a sorta albino. So I waited. I didn’t want to go out and have them scatter back to the woods. I let them eat. I haven’t seen the flock for weeks and I wanted them to be there. And I wanted them to get something to eat.

One thing about the snow is that it betrays every animal that moves in the night, preserving their tracks for all to see. The tracks of deer come from the west wood line, around the apple trees, along the front pasture fence, and then into the woods along the east side of our property. Rabbits are everywhere along the wood and brush lines. And there are also fox tracks. The fox came from the woods and circled out through Louie’s paddock, then went near the chicken coop. From there its tracks follow the wood line in a zig zag pattern. Most likely the fox was trying to hunt rabbits. I am thinking it may be the same fox that took seven of our chickens last summer.

During the day, winged predators have been keeping watch over the farm and pastures. Often, I have spotted a red shouldered hawk and what I think is a sharp-shinned hawk gliding along the east wood lines. Every so often, the red shouldered hawk perches on any one of the cedar fence posts and patiently watches over the area underneath, waiting for a mouse or small bird to inattentively come close enough to become its prey. A mature red tailed hawk also shows up every so often, perching high in a tree, looking over the yard and fields.

For this reason, we have not let the chickens free range. Instead, we keep them loose in their pen, which is netted above so that a hawk or owl cannot swoop in to take one. They might not be as happy as they would be running all over the place, but at least they are safe. One of the most interesting things I see with the chickens is their instinct to keep an eye on the sky. Whenever a hawk or large bird flies over, the chickens freeze, or sometimes run for cover into the stable, under the raspberries, or anywhere else that separates them from the sky above. They do the same when a low flying plane passes over.

Rain. Not enough yet to melt the snow. The ground has not thawed so the water has no where to go but to pond in the fields and overflow towards the woods in slow moving streams. Usually I am not too good with cloudy wet days…especially in the winter. I think we were evolved to slow down in the winter, preserve energy for the coming spring. We aren’t supposed to be jumping out of our skin. Artificial lights, clocks, alarm clocks, schedules, to-do lists, etc have replaced the human tendency and the intuition to live a life of natural rhythms. We have given these up to live as if there is always something chasing us – we have made ourselves the prey of time. Always out of breathe. There is always something yet to be done. We feel guilty if we slow down.

But the farm is so different. Today it is saying that there is nothing to be done. Rest. “It is raining and there is nothing you need to do that the rain can’t do”…. So today I will try to do my best to keep from wrestling with the pace of the world. And I will try not to feel that it is wasted.

I went out to the hoophouse to check on things. Inside I am building a new raised bed that will fit between the two that I had built last spring. I pretty much have it finished except for filling it with soil, which can wait a few more weeks.

In the two original beds I have a few things growing – parsley, rosemary, chives (dormant), a few scallions that are left from the summer, and a lot of carrots. A few weeks ago I planted spinach and arugula too. The arugula is up pushing double leaflets now, and in a few weeks I think I will be having baby leaf arugula salad! The spinach has yet to emerge…

The carrots are great. I had read that carrots that go through a frost, or a cold snap, get sweeter because they naturally produce sugar as a survival mechanism against the cold. I can say it’s true. Very true! These things are really crisp and sweet. I am eating up all the sized ones, and giving the tops and any small carrots to the horses.

For dinner, I pulled about 20 carrots, washed and sliced them – I don’t peel them, because fresh carrots don’t have a dried, coarse skin like old ones do– and sauteed them in butter…and served them garnished with parsley.

This afternoon I am going to a friend’s farm to borrow their horse trailer, so that Kath and I can trailer Patrick up to New Bolton on the 31st. Figured I‘d get it now, so I can practice loading and unloading Patrick, and get Patrick used to loading and traveling and unloading. Our horses don’t go anywhere, so this is a new experience for all of us. The last time that Patrick or any of our other horses were trailered was to come here. That was years ago.

Besides getting Patrick used to the trailer, we will all have to deal with separation anxiety – horses don’t like to leave their herd or buddies. I am sure that Patrick will get upset, but on the other end, I can pretty well predict that Lou and Zips will go nutty pacing, calling, and running the fence til they’ve completely exhausted themselves. Patrick is the leader of the herd, and he leaving will not go unchallenged.

When you see a horse in a trailer, quietly munching on hay, it just didn’t happen. The horse is calm and content only because it was patiently trained to be that way. I wish I had that option, but I don’t. Patrick has developed a dental problem that our vet cannot treat here – Patrick needs a horse dental surgeon/vet. Some of his teeth are broken and might have to be removed to stop the abscessing that has become a problem. Its not an emergency, but it cant wait either. So I’ll have to train him the best I can with the few days I have. Actually, I am up for the challenge – looking forward to see what I can do with him. But first I am going to buy a bag of apples…apples can tempt a horse to do almost anything.

Another note from yesterday….the sun has melted off the snow almost completely now, and it gave me the opportunity to walk through the “garden”. The lettuces, although frost burned, are hanging on, as well as a few cabbages (their outer leaves are flopped, but the leaves coming from the center are healthy). Neither are pretty or grocery store chic, but towards spring when the weather begins to warm again they will out grow their cold withered leaves and be better than anything one could buy.

We had planted Esther’s garlic late, and my curiosity as to how it was doing peaked as I looked into the row covers and saw no green leaves pushing through the straw mulch. I peeled back the first couple feet of the tunnel fabric and reached my fingers down into the soil, feeling around for a clove till my fingers were able find the first one. I pushed deeper into the soil and curled my fingers around and beneath the clove and lifted it out of its dark, warm nest. It had a root ball the size of my fist and a small tip of flesh pointing up from the clove's top- all good signs of a healthy start. I worked the clove back down into the soft soil and covered it with mulch and redrew the fabric over the hoops…things are doing fine.

Yesterday I donated blood to the Red Cross. I try to do this whenever I can. I used to give money to charities, but…for example, I gave to a popular housing charity years ago, and then every week thereafter I received mailings to donate to them again – fact being that they spent more money in stamps and letters trying to get another donation from us than I had donated in the first place. So I figured that my donation never bought even a nail. So I give blood, because I know that someone will benefitIt will actually reach someone. Kath and I also do a thing called Family Promise, which helps families who have lost their housing although they are working. We make dinner and spend an evening with the families. I know they are benefiting – and I am too, because these families have a lot to teach someone like me who has had the luck in life that I’ve had. Imagine working seven days a week at two full-time jobs and not being able to afford a simple one bedroom apartment….its very common. It’s sad. And it isn’t right.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 13, 2011

I just finished wrapping my mailbox with duct tape to hold it to the post. It looks sorta like something that would get Jeff Foxworthy’s attention. Seems every time it snows, the plow comes roaring down the highway slinging fists of snow off its blade against the mail box, ripping it off it’s stand. Maybe it’s the plow man’s game to fend off the hours of boredom in a loud, bouncing truck. Looking down the road that I live on, I consider myself lucky. At least I found my mailbox – it doesn’t look as if many of my neighbors will find theirs. Their mail boxes are gone. I can only imagine that theirs are somewhere buried under the snow thousands of yards down the highway….probably with their mail still inside.

January 10, 2011

My nephew Erik sent me this e-mail. In the subject line he wrote “Simple Things”…

“I remember when growing up - sitting at the window for hours on end with our cat- watching birds, squirrels, chippies, and sometimes a hawk around our front yard bird feeder. I had many failed attempts at catching some of those critters with a bit of string a stick and a box. Those memories came back to me this morning at day break as I spread some fresh seed around our new little bird feeder. The birds were already enjoying their morning feast and scattered as I approached. They were quick to return to their white table as I walked away with an empty cup.”

This really brought back winter memories of my childhood growing up in central Pennsylvania, ‘cause I used to do the same thing with a string, wobbly stick, and a box. I think everyone who grew up in those parts did. I am sure the kids there still do. But what really moved me about his words is how they come from his connectedness with the outdoors and nature…its just so natural for him to observe and write something that might seem simple, but speaks so much…thanks Erik, and thanks for letting me post it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

January 1, 2011

This isn’t a good thing…

Yesterday and today the air temperatures warmed into the high 50’s and low 60’s, causing the bees to “break cluster”.

When the cold comes, the worker bees stop foraging and ball up around the queen to keep her warm through the winter. The cluster moves along the frames, eating the stores of honey through the winter. If they did not store enough honey through the season to get them through the winter until pollen and nectar are available again, they simply starve to death.

When its cold, the cluster isn’t very active, using little energy, and needing little food (honey). Yet, when the temperatures rise in the winter, some of the bees break cluster and begin moving around – they clean the hive of dead bees, take flight, etc. This all requires energy and that means the bees need to take up more food, using up stores faster, and increasing the chances that they run out of honey long before winter breaks.

That’s why this isn’t so good…

Today there were a few hundred bees out on my oldest hive. It’s the most I have seen outside a hive on a winter’s day since I started bee keeping three years ago.

From another perspective, I am happy to see that the bees are still alive, look healthy, and not too many dead ones were being cleaned from any of the hives.

But it’s only the first day of January and there are ten to twelve weeks until the winter turns to spring and pollen and nectar become available again. It’s a long way to go. The best thing would be if the weather stayed cold and they remain in cluster – the worst case is more days like this.