Category Archives: Country Life

Silencing the Noise

kiwi garden

One thing I realized after getting out here is how much noise there is in the city. It’s not just the traffic and airplanes and throngs of people. It’s the fabricated activities that cause noise too. The endless errands that I seem to no longer have. The shopping that I no longer seem to need to do. The non-stop activities that we don’t seem to miss. The constant, endless noise in life keeping you from doing what you really want to do.

I realized after having a hard time forcing myself to post on this blog that it too had become a source of noise keeping me from spending more time with my family, from getting this farm off the ground, from spending time on myself. So I took a bloggy rest that stretched and stretched into a longer bloggy rest but the noise was silenced. And I got lots done.

I am slightly embarrassed to think just how long ago I left off with regular updates. I may even have left off updating when things went crazy LAST kidding season. I never even updated Mary and Mona’s kids, and now they and their kids are on to new owners. And Val has kidded a second season and I have added a newcomer and sold Bessie and am already planning to breed Val’s second round of kids since I left off updating.

After last year’s mini Dairy Goat Show, I changed directions and got more serious about breeding. Val walked away with 4 ribbons. I had no inkling she would do so well. In fact I never even shaved her or bathed her and she sported a dog collar and I let the kids nurse the whole time. Meanwhile everyone else had matching outfits, fancy collars, kept kids separate so udders would be near to bursting and just milked off enough before judging to make sure the goat didn’t leak on the judge. And yet at the end of the show it was Val and I versus Lacia Bailey and Pegasus for best in show. Lacia took it which made me happy because I didn’t even plan to attend the show. But it opened my eyes to what I had suspected all along made a good dairy goat, and that is what I decided to breed for going forward. So I sold most of my herd, and all the babies, re-bred Val and brought in some new blood from far away lines.

Like I have done with the chickens and bunnies, breeding livestock is addictive. Choosing whom to separate out and combine together to create the perfect conversion rate/temperament/eggdairymeat potential/udder capacity, teat size and opening, mothering instincts, etc. It’s a lot of thinking and you don’t know until several generations later if you are even on the right track. But I think I am.

This time last year the 1/4 acre adjacent the house was newly cut deep forest, with all the topsoil bulldozed into a pile tangled with logs and stumps and branches and rocks, making it all completely inaccesible. Since then I have dug through by hand and pulled out the stumps and logs and branches, woven them into a large hugel and planted an orchard in it. The remaining areas I am landscaping or have painstakingly leveled, cleared branches and rocks, amended and planted new pasture to hay or for meat birds. I started the driveway hedgerow project that will be deer fodder and pollination as well as living fence. I’ve planted living chairs of willow and secret gardens that will take several years to fill in. Where others see sticks I see my vision and it makes me happy.

There has been endless fencing and sub-fencing to complete the chicken rotational paddocks, the turkey rotational paddocks, and the goat silvopasture. There has been constant and deep amending of forest soil in the pasture and the newly fabricated garden area soil. I’ve renovated the extensive flower beds, and attempted to clear the woods of buttercups and Himalayan blackberry.

I’ve learned that you never, ever want to gravel because it’s a trap that begs for roundup. Instead I’ve been hand weeding (over and over) 1/4 acre of legacy gravel so thin it’s mostly dirt. Half of that I will bark over, the other half I will bring in more gravel for the driveway. If you are considering going with gravel – please don’t. It increases surface runoff, decreases organic matter and therefore soil life, and traps you into needing to continue buying more and more gravel and then weeding or spraying or flaming said gravel. Consider that gravel needs to be mined, is usually exploded and then trucked to you. Just say no to gravel.

I’ve raised and processed countless chickens and turkeys, milked countless gallons, made a fridge full of cheese wheels, coordinated countless produce bulk buys, canned or fermented or cellared all the food we needed, strained honey, gathered eggs, learned to spin and knit and repeated the cycle again even without updating this blog regularly.

I’ve buried pet bunnies, dogs and new puppies even, taken up the piano again, built arbors and stairs in the earth and cozied things up. I’ve switched to the Ruth Stout method of gardening whereby I lay a thick layer of straw mulch down, open a hole and plop a transplant in or thin a spot and sow seeds. It’s magical I tell you. Forget weeding ever again. Just invest in lots and lots of Sluggo and grass hay.

I’ve managed to find time to watch tadpoles develop in the garden pond, listen to hummingbirds, chase dragon flies, challenge my kids to see who can pick the most strawberries. I’ve done so many things in the last year getting this place up and running that I can’t even remember most of them but it is up and it is running. It is finally a work in progress enough that I can enjoy the journey and relax without looking around and thinking of everything that needs to happen. The project list is dwindling despite me adding to it daily.

So I want to thank you for your patience – you who never removed me from you daily readers, who followed me on Facebook to get my cryptic updates whenever I managed to log in and make them. You who have followed my journey all the way from the 1/8 of an acre in the middle of the city to this incredible oasis that feeds my soul.

I think this place is finally ready for prime time. I think I am ready to blog again. I think I am ready to handle some noise. Especially the croaking of frogs, the singing of song birds, and the sound of the breeze in the high tree tops far up above our hollow. Now to get my broken camera fixed…

Unintentionally Off Grid

Nine days ago it started snowing, on a Saturday. It fell steadily for days on end. By Monday we had big drifts of fluffy, white snow. Enough to build snowmen, to sled, to build jumps, forts and tunnels.

It covered my half-planted orchard, and my dreams of summer.

Blueberries and Currants in HugelKulturs

The Biochar Pit Burns Not

It frosted the mulberries and wild huckleberries.

Mulberries with Frosting

Wild Huckleberries

It blanketed the cottage garden.

It filled the woods with the heavy stillness that only snow can make.

And then Tuesday the ice storm came and that stillness was broken by the constant sound of cracking branches and falling trees.

Snowed In

This was once a clear driveway as far back as you can see. In 24 hours it was full of fallen trees. And then the power went out on Wednesday.  It continued to snow steadily until then.

I spent most of the daylight hours thawing animal waterers and doing farm chores, busting buns to get everything done by dusk. I boiled water on the wood burning stove to wash dishes and rags to clean udders at milking time. On the campstove I cooked rooster and dumplings, rabbit gumbo and corn biscuits, pancakes, bacon and cobblers from thawing fruit.

We played Yahtzee, Cribbage, Scrabble and Go Fish. We read The Long Winter by kerosene lamp and to warm up, took turns hand grinding flour.

To save the lamp oil we went to bed early. After a few days we fell into a routine and this new life began to feel normal. Disconnected from electronics and instant gratification I watched my children begin to play differently with each other. I saw more imaginative play and more conflict resolution. Despite the stress of trying to get everything done during the short window of daylight hours, it began to feel almost like a vacation. Our neighbor came over for breakfast and dinner most days. We had time to sit and talk to each other.

And then on the fourth day the power came back on and a part of me was sad. But not the part that had worried about predators finding my animals without the electric fence on! It’s obvious to me why we have less time these days, and less engagement with our immediate families. We’ve created situations where we need to leave the house for long hours to hold down jobs, too many engagements for children, and when we are together we are all plugged into different electronic devices.

We’ve decided that each Saturday we will turn off the lights and electronics at dusk and spend time together as a family, studying each other by candelight.

We also decided that since we had become acclimated to a frigid internal house temperature, we are lowering the thermostat from 58 F to 54 overnight and 57 during the day. The bad news? We are out of dry firewood. My secret is two pairs of long Johns. Since we’ve been keeping the house cold I no longer dread heading out in the dark to do animal chores.

Some other things I learned last week:
Goats don’t like head lamps.
Chickens that roost in trees can freeze to branches but they are otherwise incredibly hardy.
Old roosters taste amazing. So much so that I’m thinking about taking up caponization.
I’ll be taking down a lot of trees as soon as I can afford it.

How about you? How did you fare in the storm?  Did you learn anything surprising?

(Nearly) Wordless Weekly Update

In the morning I’m off to the King Arthur Flour Kneading West conference. I’ll leave you with some new beginnings from the last week.

New part-time kindergartener waiting for the bus.

The addition of barn cats.

Future mouser in training, under the able paws of Sensei Ninja.

Val preparing for her heat cycle. Which means I learn how to do bloodwork and acquire a buck rag next week.

Out of the ache of sore muscles a new grow bed is born (thanks to Katie and Cyndi for helping shovel in the topsoil and take out the last of the gravel!) It’s hard to get an idea of the scale from a picture but this was a mammoth undertaking, 120′ x 20′ of compact gravel that came out to make room for this topsoil.

Into the food stores last week: 3 1/2 gallons of milk, 28 eggs, fig lemon marmalade, green apple jelly, mulberry huckleberry jam, and 25 pounds of pickles.

Next week: 10 yards of manure, more shoveling, and the beginnings of the permanent rabbit shelter and compost bins. Also the final tomato buy of the year, countless canning jars, a full larder, and me on Saturday along with Readers to Eaters and Amy Pennington at Oxbow Farm. The book promotion begins!

Nibbles and The Buns – The Sequel

After a summer away, the Buns are back. When we put the house on the market there was a little too much critter chaos so the Buns went to stay with a friend who had been wanting to start a backyard rabbit operation. He bred them and kept them all summer until the kits were weaned. Now he’s got a full crew of bunnies and we get ours back. Unfortunately he didn’t handle the bunnies on a regular basis like my five year old did so they’ve grown somewhat wild. Still soft but no longer cuddly. More prone to shredding skin. It’s probably not possible to reform bunnies this late in the game but Lander is trying his darndest.

Along with Nibbles and the Buns we got one kit from each litter to bring home. Some baby bunny cuteness, poorly photographed because the dumptruck of topsoil was backing down the drive.

In addition to getting the bunnies back we did some driving last week. Thursday to the WSU Avian lab to find out what was ailing the flock. It turns out some nondescript bacterial infection, like bronchitis. As much as I hate to do this I medicated the whole flock because they were simply passing it back and forth. Bummer. So now we are without eggs for two weeks but I know it’s not something like Newcastle’s disease, or avian flu.

On Friday we drove to Ellensburg to pick up two new goats that needed re-homing. Meet Valerian.

She’s a sweet, calm milker prone to putting a hoof in the bucket. I may be getting hobbles soon.

Meet Little Bells.

She may seem small but she’ll be ready to breed in November, which is when I will breed all three girls for April babes. Let’s hope for does!

In my spare time I’ve been shoveling out the gravel and now schlepping in the topsoil. Two yards down, eight to go. Next week the kittens arrive, hopefully manure and I’ll order the plant stock for the orchard. Stay tuned for continuing progress converting this place into a food oasis by fall.

The Feral Flock Returns and Other Updates

It’s the last week of August and I’m on a feverish pace to finish digging the gravel out of the garden beds.

What you can’t see? That compact sand and gravel was up to twelve inches deep in places. How ripped my arms and back are getting. How I shuffle and stoop by the end of the day. Even luckier? You get no groaning.

I finally got my quilted overalls and herring net and managed to crash through the bramble and capture my feral flock of Delawares. After a summer in exile, Crankypants has become much less cranky, and Peep turned out to be a rooster (bringing my total to three). If you ever have need to capture unwilling chickens forget the chicken hook. Find yourself a big, big fishing net with a telescoping handle.

I finished painting the new coop. It’s designed to house up to 20 chickens by maximizing roost space. It has no floor so I can practice deep bedding. It still needs some flair, and I’ll get there eventually.

But this week I’ve been dealing with some unknown chicken illness. Last Thursday I noticed one of our original hens (Wishbone, with complete immunity, hadn’t laid an egg in years) moaning. Friday when I went to check on them I realized her eye was so swollen and crusty I didn’t even know what part of her face I was looking at. She had rattly breath and wasn’t moving. I panicked and put her down since the kids were away.

I checked on the others, who all appeared to be fine. In a few hours though, 3 others had come down with goupy eyes, runny nostrils or wheezing. I isolated the other three and gave them extra apple cider vinegar in their water. By morning all but one had recovered so I re-integrated them with the flock. Now nearly a week later the lone chicken (Chicken Little) is still wheezing with a rattly bawk. I plan to process and necropsy her tomorrow in order to find out what the illness was. I can never re-integrate her seeing how long it’s taken her to recover. She’s not resistant to whatever it was. I want chickens that will be naturally resistant to antibiotics, and illness. I want strong chickens.

It’s a hard decision to make though. Stacy went through this earlier this week as well. I have the luxury of space, and multiple coops and no limits on number of chickens. It’s easy for me to be cavalier and say “Whatever happens.” It’s much, much harder when you can only have a few chickens. She had a hard decision to make, and it was the right one for her. It’s not easy being close to your food.

It’s tough even for animals. Look how tough!

It’s even tougher to be the food. Notice the missing foliage at the bottom of the pear trees. Goats are quite agile, even close to milking time.

One more exciting piece of news – Friday I’m driving to Ellensburg, boys in tow, to pick up two more goats. If you follow this blog you’ll remember I had been milking Mona and Bessie and was planning to buy them. Until my neighbors read that facebook update and unfriended me. By the time I was in a position to get them, they had been sold. One small solace is that I am getting Val, Bessie’s sister. All my goats have come from Soaring Heart Farm in Snohomish – a well loved and respected mini-Nubian breeder. She breeds for temperament and dairy output, health and quiet voices. Sometimes it works out and sometimes not. Mary was not – quiet. We’ll see how Val is. One thing I do know is, she will be lovely and sweet because all of Wendy’s goats are like that.

She comes with a four month old doe. In November I’ll be breeding Val, Mary and Little Bell. That means we will have six to nine baby goats and lots, and lots of milk. So get ready for some cheesemaking!

Next week: updates on Val and Bell, Nibbles and Buns return, and hopefully lots and lots of topsoil…