Posts Tagged ‘farming’

Our First Garlic Braids

The garlic was ready to harvest this week!  It’s the final part of the glorious garlic cycle:  Cloves planted in the fall, harvested some early bulbs for their tender garlic greens in pesto, and chopped off the flower scapes for the grill.  I thought I’d try my hand at making garlic braids this year.  I found this fabulous youtube tutorial for hard neck garlic and here are the results!  I feel so crafty!

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The Great Rooster Disaster of 2012

#1 Mommy raised the three chicks.  Yay!

Two faverolles:  Bonus.

One bantam Belgian d’Anvers (BBD):  Cool.

Not so cool:  The BBD is a rooster.

However, we’ll go with what we’ve got.  Besides, hopefully the BBD can help protect the flock from the #%$&! red-tailed hawk that is federally protected and prowling the skies with poultry on its mind.  We nickname the BBD “Little Roo” and we loved his cute stature and musical crowing.

It was not to last.  Nature reared its ugly head in the form of teenage rooster hormones.  Little Roo attacked our daughter’s very threatening pink butterfly boots while I was across the garden.  Our dog rescued her by driving off Little Roo.  Hmm.  I’ve heard about banty roos and their Napoleonic aggressiveness and privately vowed to keep our child close by while out in the garden.  A few days went by without incident. Until one morning, we went to collect eggs hand in hand.  From across the lawn, Little Roo came flying at my daughter’s face, spurs out.  Really?!  I’m right there holding her little toddler hand!

That’s it, husband.  Something’s got to be done about the rooster.

Crying, my daughter insists that Little Roo can learn to be nice and that we shouldn’t eat him up.  So I lied.  Yup, I took the easy way out and lied to the toddler.  “Ok,” I said, “we’ll send Little Roo to a nice farm were he can learn to be nice.”

That nice farm was coq au vin.  And it was indeed nice.

However, husband didn’t have much of an appetite.

So much for my brilliant plans to help the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy‘s mission by raising endangered chicken breeds.  It’ll have to wait until the kids are old enough to don protective gear and ward off flying coq au vin.

Almond Romano Pesto and a Nod to Pestos in General

Got herbs in your garden or CSA? Make pesto! There’s much room for creativity, it’s marvelous and versatile stuff, and stores for weeks in the refrigerator.

The Basics…

  • 1 Bunch of Leafy Herbs (Basil, Parsley, Arugula, Oregano, etc.)
  • 1 Tbsp Nuts (Pine Nuts, Almonds, Walnuts, Pistachios, etc.)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup hard cheese (Parmigiana, Romano, Asiago, etc.)

Almond Romano Pesto

  • 1 bunch Parsely
  • 1 Tbsp Almonds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cups olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese

Toss it all into the food processor and process until it becomes a paste. Step back and smell the herbs. Your whole house will now smell fresh and green. Happy sigh. Add more olive oil if it’s too thick. Store in a lidded jar with a layer of olive oil, which will help it keep its bright color. Use it on pastas, in sandwiches, and on bruschetta, which is an Italian-style toast.

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When you’re ready to use, scoop out what you need, making sure the layer of olive oil is still enough to cover.

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Layoffs at the Farm

Dear Chickens,

Mommy found out that she still has a job today.  “What is a job?” you ask.  It’s the work we do to contribute to our little family.  Each of us has our job.  Mommy and Daddy go to work to earn a paycheck, your human sibling goes to school, doggie stays home to watch you, and you stay home to grow and lay eggs.  We each do our best to contribute to our family in our own special way, despite repeated efforts of a determined toddler to switch jobs with you to stay home and lay eggs.

Does it feel good to have your chicken job?  Eggs for grain and grass.  I know that Mommy likes her job very much.  It is a part of her and feels as natural as your instinct to dust bathe and chase bugs.  I would miss my job terribly if I lost it.  Do you worry about becoming a very literal casualty of layoffs when you become obsolete or outsourced or simply because times are tough and there isn’t enough grain to go around?  I hope not because I suspect it might lead to upset chicken tummies.

What will happen when, during the natural course of farm living, some of your brother roosters are laid off from the flock to become Sunday dinner for the family?  Will you, my darling laying flock, have survivor’s guilt?  Will it be hard to keep going when you know that those chickens forced into an early retirement could not?  What if those terminated chickens were just as capable as those left behind on the farm?

Sometimes good farmers have to make difficult decisions.  I am very lucky to have just such a good farmer-type at Mommy’s work and I strive to be the same for you, my hardworking chickens.

Love,

Mommy

Our Garden Plan… Now Almost Completely Planted

Danger of frost is not officially over in our area until later May, but the forecast predicts fair weather this week and the dogwoods are blooming, so it’s time to sow!  Here’s the plan…

We’re trying something new this year for us, but the concept originally came from the Native Americans: The Three Sisters. It’s an interplanting of corn, beans, and squash. The corn provides the poles for the beans to climb, the beans provide necessary Nitrogen for future plantings, and the squash shades out weed competition. Together they all provide balanced nutrition.

This summer we are growing a modern sweet corn and a traditional Indian corn, cranberry beans and snap peas, edible pumpkins and ornamental gourds. Corn is one of those crops that our CSA doesn’t provide and besides, for the sweetest sweet corn, you need to have the water boiling before you go out to harvest it.  Because of cross pollination of multiple varieties, we do not plan on saving our seeds this year. We’re just experimenting because I’ve heard that corn is difficult to grow without spraying.

To get started with The Three Sisters, first prepare your full sun garden beds with compost.  Depending on the soil in your area, you may want to create traditional mounds for better drainage. Because our soil is quite sandy and already well-drained, the extra irrigation for mounds would be water wasteful. Instead, we sow on level ground, but still follow the pattern needed for corn pollination and the companion planting benefits.

In the lore of the three sisters, it’s traditional to bury fish remains under the mound in which the plants are grouped. In honor of this tradition, we saved the remains of our grilled Sardines and I suppose you can guess where the leftovers are currently composting! Ick.

There seem to be two philosophies on how to proceed with planting. I’ve found that some sources recommend only planting the corn first until it has a 4″ head start or it will be overwhelmed by the beans and squash. Others recommend simultaneous planting, but keeping vigilant to make sure the corn has room by redirecting wayward bean and squash vines. We’re trying the latter option this year and we’ll let you know the outcome.  We used the little flags to help keep everything according to plan.

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Here’s the other side of the garden where our berry bushes and perennials live.  We interplanted sunflowers, chard, and arugala today.

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We also repotted out lemon tree this afternoon.  It overwinters inside and nearly dies every year, but somehow pulls through.  It’s the best (and only) way to get local citrus where we live.

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We just need to get our seedlings into the ground and we are completely planted for the Spring season.

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I hope everyone had as nice a Mother’s Day.  I’m very grateful for this beautiful and productive day with my family at home.

A Nudge From the Universe

Dear Chickens,

I’m writing today as a follow up to our discussion in the garden this afternoon.  It was rather complicated and one-sided; I know your chicken brains were too busy eating unearthed grubs and other delicious bugs as I pulled weeds to pay much attention.  If you do remember, our family was considering raising an endangered heritage breed to help preserve these disappearing and dear animals.  “Good idea,” I wanted to hear you bok-bok while following me for more weedy roots, but you were silent.  So I told you about the catch.  “The catch?” you must have thought.  Then I told you how with raising a self-perpetuating flock, comes the need for culling.  After all, too many roosters will hurt each other and isn’t the point to save your kin hurt in factory farms?  Yet, could I purposely take the life of another living creature that comes to me for nourishment and protection?  Especially one that my child chases among the grass and herbs and apple trees?  Could I?  We’ve been agonizing about this for months and you’ve haven’t offered much advice, allowing us to make this important decision in our own time.

This letter, dear chickens, is to tell you we’ve come to a decision. I think it may have been a small nudge from the universe (although I’m not sure I believe in such things); circumstances coming together and wistful me finding meaning and purpose.  Knowing my interest, a teacher at a local school asked if I could adopt their chicks and even choose their eggs, but I needed to let him know by today.  Then another little nudge:  Being torn between, Dorking, Faverolles, and Java breeds, a search of reputable breeders I know yielded only Faverolles hatching eggs ready in the given time frame.  I had already been leaning towards that breed since its roosters are reputedly the gentlest and quietest.  That is, if roosters are ever quiet.  The choice was made for me.

Now the order has been placed.  Two dozen fertile eggs arrive next week.  They hatch three weeks after that.  Modern markets slaughter their Cornish Crosses at 6 weeks old.  These new additions will not receive names as you have because how could I then do what has been required of farmwives throughout time?  I hope you will be nice to them and integrate them with love, but I suppose that would be asking too much of your chicken hardwiring.  So within three months we engage in what Barbara Kingsolver called a real game of Survivor were only the chickens that meet the American Livestock Breed Conservancy’s criteria will make it to breed another year.  So in the words of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, “May the odds be ever in your favor” because the nicest, quietest rooster will win.

I hope it will not upset you, my omnivorous chickens, that we did not choose the vegetarian option.  I will do everything in my power to be compassionate and humane.  You deserve such dignity and more for all your kin have done for us.   You and I have have a special bond, my trusty laying flock.  A reader commented that every egg is a little miracle and I have to agree.  Thank you for all that you have given and taught our family.

Now the scary part… has anyone done this before?  I know, I know:  People have done this throughout time, but just not in my sanitized suburban setting.  Ahh!  I really need help!

Love,

Mommy

Ps.  I really think Alice Walker was onto something with this whole writing to chickens.

A Difficult Letter to Write to Chickens

Dear Chickens,

Mommy has been conflicted since you came into our lives last summer and my child kissed the tops of your fluffy heads. Is it odd to call myself your mommy? After all, I am the only one you knew since hatching from your shell. Like all beginnings, we knew there would be joys and tragedies, but I did not foresee how welcoming you into our garden would change my daily life. Before you came, I went grocery shopping; I ate. Now I cannot make a menu or walk past the market’s glistening shelves of plastic-wrapped cuts without thinking of you, thinking of your warm chicken-ness, thinking of your curious beak begging a treat, thinking of each feather quill on each of my fingers when I carry you inside your run at night. I’ve read about what your kin are subjected to in factory farms and wasn’t that the point of raising you here at home? To give you dignity, freedom, and chicken-joy?

We have had lots of joy: Glorious eggs, chicken chatter, scratching in the compost, and dust bathing among my flower beds. We’ve already had lots of tragedy. One of your number did not make it long after hatching. It was a case of failure to thrive and we had barely met. There were still so many downy little chicks to care for. We lost another a couple of weeks later. She was partially paralyzed and suffering severely. I admit I hastened her end. I had never before purposely taken the life of another animal, but she was in pain, I assuaged myself. Then not long ago, we lost Chocolate Chips to a hawk, our friendliest and most inquisitive of the flock. She was perfectly healthy and all that was happy in the sun and grass. This was the hardest of all and I still miss her every morning. This is life on the family farm. This is the cycle.

So, dear chickens, we are daily participating in that farm cycle that precious few families and livestock experience. Do we take the next step? Do we expand our flock with a heritage breeding program to rescue an endangered breed? If our family is to eat meat, do we do so from chickens that were hatched by chicken mommies instead of electric incubators and allowed to run in the grass and nap in the sun? How do families do this? Not technically (I’ve found that in books), but spiritually, emotionally? How do we explain it to a 3 year old? How do I pluck feathers that I saw moving with breath only minutes ago? How can I not when confronted with agribusiness?

Help. I need advice.

Love,

Mommy

Ps. Perhaps you can tell I’ve been reading Alice Walker’s “The Chicken Chronicles” by the letter format, but forgive me because it feel good to write to you, my dearest chickens.

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