Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recent happenings..

My turkeys are getting big and beautiful!
I just love the turkeys. They are much better all around
than stupid chickens! As you can see, my love affair
with my 150+ chickens is waning.
I am having a big chicken sell off soon.
And a several big slaughter days too.
Viva the turkeys!!
And last night was their first night in
the big new turkey pen in the barn.
They are not happy.
But, they have to stay inside for a few days
to acclimate to the new digs if I don't
want to spend every evening having a
turkey round-up. And turkey round-ups
involve long sticks and ladders if I don't get out there
soon enough. Turkeys can fly, you know.

And here is Mr White! My free range buck.
His 'wife' is around somewhere too. But they will soon be caught and
penned. I know they are breeding, I see them do it.
But without a safe home I am not getting any of the kits
for myself and that is wasteful.
The barn sure will be lonely without them underfoot
and chasing the chickens off their feed. I love Mr. White.

And what is summer without the obligatory tomato pictures?
And the things that taste great with them...
chard and basil!

I do dearly love basil! And it grows so well here.
When I make pizza it goes right on the dough
snugged down in tomato sauce and baked in..
So delicious to have homemade basil pizza!
Oh, now I want one. I wonder if I could
convince the family to go for pizza again tonight?
And other than the basic day to day
running of the farm and the setting by
of food for the winter, not much has been happening..
We did have a house full of people last week
and that was nice. I love cooking for huge groups
of hungry folks.
The next few weeks will see some changes though..
butchering and selling will empty the barn out some
and lower our feed bill in preparation for winter too.
Hard to think about winter now, but it needs to get done.
Soon it will be wood chopping time...
It is coming...

Figs and Muscadines!

Aaaaah! Free Food!!
These came from the 'secret garden'
I found this spring. I have the owner's permission
to use the gardens as I will. Oh Joy!
Green Ischia figs and muscadines!

It took some internet digging to find the variety of fig.
The bright red insides are the give away.
They are gross raw though, but
all figs are. I am a cooked/dried fig kind of girl, I guess.
Note to self.. next time chop them finer.

Sure are pretty though.

And cooking down the muscadines!
Oh, if you could have smelled my house!
These are a different muscadine than I am used to.
They are darker and sweeter without the 'tang'
of wine I am accustomed to working with.
More like a Concord grape really.
And I haven't even tapped the haul yet.
It was just too hot to pick that day.
It will be much cooler
this coming week and much nicer to pick in.
Plus, the cooler nights will act to sweeten them even further.

And some of the finished product to line my shelves with.
I had some on cornbread this morning..
wonderful! Fig on one half of the wedge and muscadine on the other.
Decadence and plenty!

Sure will be good when the cold winds blow this winter!
I love putting food by, I really do.
Is there anything more satisfying than seeing the
shelves in the pantry bending with plenty?
I just don't think so...

WARNING! graphic bunny butchering!

For those of tender hearts I apologize.
But rabbit tastes good!
So, here goes..

I dispatch the buns by the
'broomstick' method.
just as I do the chickens.
But I must say I don't like it.
It has a tendency to cause
a mass of blood to pool at the junction
of the neck and shoulders.
I am going to try slitting the throat
immediately upon the upwards yank
to see if I bleed them instantly
I can stop that.
Personally, I don't care, but I do sell many
processed rabbits and I like a cleaner

So, here is a bunny in a dead state.
It's neck has been broken.
I will let the head dangle off the edge
of the table and remove the head or
slit the throat to bleed it.

I make a slit in the skin
on the belly and on the back
for skinning.
I slide my hands under the skin
and pull in opposing directions..

Until I get this..

I will remove the head and feet and tail

and pull the rest of the skin off.

Leaving me with this...
I will then make a vertical slit
up the body and hold it by the
shoulders over the bucket.
The innards fall right out.
I take two finders and reach up into
the upper chest for the lungs and heart.
I can do a rabbit from hopping to soaking
in about 2 minutes. It is wonderful!
Much easier and cleaner than
stupid chickens with all their stupid feathers!
(forgive my tone.. I am facing a day of butchering and plucking tomorrow)

And the wonderful finished product!
Don't they look delicious!
I am very proud of my rabbits.
I get great size and superb meat
from them. Each of these weighs in between
4 and 5 pounds- dressed weight.
That is a big! rabbit.

I attribute some of the weight to my

raising process. I do not cage my buns.

I colony raise. My buns have an indoor

room and an outdoor pen.

They run and hop and dig and groom each other

in a more or less natural habitat.

They get to use their muscles

which makes for good meat quality

and flavor.

My does and buck run together

and the does kindle in a vast underground

warren system of their own making.

I don't even know I have new babies

until I see them pop out into the

pen for the first time!

And I don't know how many I have in total

for about another week. They scoot in and out

of their bolt hole very quickly if they hear me approach.

But they eventually get used to me

and are all over my feet all the time.

I weeded the garden today and they are feasting
on piles of wood sorrel and peppermint and mulberry twigs.
I try to feed from the yard as much as I can
They are very efficient at turning weeds and grasses into protein!

The three hefty boys in the foreground are the next up for
freezer camp. Maybe next week.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

From a few days in the mountains...

I harvested some onions..
A crazy big squash plant..

Jewelweed and Steve's gate..

My favorite weed.. Joe Pye Weed.

Even in July this water will turn your feet
beet red and burning,
then blue.
It will take your breath if you are foolish enough to immerse yourself..

Preserving Perfection...

Rhubarb is perfection.

I cleaned out and cleaned up the rhubarb
bed this week while I was home to the mountains.
There has been a lot of rain and the weeds
and rhubarb were out of hand.

See, all better.
And I decided to make preserves instead
of just freezing it this time.
The preserves last longer than the frozen.
I tend to eat too much if I turn
it into rhubarb cobbler.
With the preserves I can have a little on the biscuit
many times over.

Rhubarb is pretty stuff.
I chopped it and set it to cook down
I ended up having to use my
hand blender on this batch.
The stalks were a bit old and very stringy.
When I would stick the spoon in to stir
it would become entangled.
So, I made rhubarb goo instead.

I washed and sterilized the jars,
filled them and into my water bath canner.

I love my old water bath canner.
I think it is from the 40's.
I got it at the thrift store for $4!
Woo Hoo!!
I love the rack inside too.
It makes taking the jars in and out
so much easier.

Isn't that a lovely sight?

Sitting and cooling.
One didn't seal
and it lives in my fridge
ready to use.
I need to make biscuits.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Simple Life...

I keep coming across the phrase or description "The Simple Life'
in reference to lifestyle.
As in, 'I want to live the simple life'
or, "I want to get back to a simpler way of life.'

And I have decided that this bugs me... deeply.
So I did a wee bit of digging on the word 'simple'.

In many ways I suppose it is appropriate.
Meanings such as 'humble', 'unadorned' can fit I suppose,
as can 'unaffected'. When I catch my reflection
in the kitchen window in the evening
I fit some of those.
I am most definitely unadorned unless you
count a wisp of straw and streaks of dirt.
And I am unaffected in my dress and
hairstyle (or lack there of..the hairstyle, not the dress)
And my lifestyle is most definitely humble,
if you take that to mean
not having two coins to clink together.
So, I will concede to living a 'simple' lifestyle within those bounds.

But the rest of my life is certainly not 'simple'
when in the context of some other definitions.

'Not complicated, complex or compound' doesn't really fit the
farming, livestock and homesteading lifestyle at all.

Let's break it down, shall we?

"Not complicated"
My life is complicated.
I have weather, I have pests,
I have predators and I have illness.
Those are complications.
Any one of those things can bring a screeching
halt to the success of my lifestyle.
To my life, really.
Your average suburban, non farming bloke
can handle the weather etc...
without losing a winter's worth of food.
My job is here. Right here.
My payment is a stocked larder and some
scratch money from eggs and meat.
Ok.. so the scratch money goes right to the feed
store which goes right back into the whole
stocked larder and scratch money thing.
It is a complicated system.

Especially when you balance all that
in with the norms of daily life..
baking bread, running the house,
feeding the humans and finding time to do that.
Scheduling the day so that dinner is more or less
on the table before midnight,
making sure we aren't wearing rags of filth in public,
homework, bill paying, how many more loads
do I have before it is time to make more laundry soap
And sometimes I find time to bathe.

"Not complex"
I imagine it like a CEO of a business
with over one hundred employees.
But, unlike a CEO I have to be aware
of more than productivity.
I have to know how each employee should
act, look, eat, walk, sleep, breed etc..
I have to really KNOW my employees.
At a glance I must know if something is wrong and how
to remedy whatever that problem may be.
I have to decide if it is a life threatening condition
and how to address it.. successfully.
Every time.
And I have to provide all for those same workers.
Housing, water, food and entertainment.
And their safety. Their complete safety.
They must have a secure place to sleep safe from Death.
And I care for their children
in every way.
And that is just the animals.
The same goes for the garden.
I have to provide everything
and monitor everything everyday.
The same issues apply for observance and diagnosis.

And I have to be one step ahead all the time.
I must know what the weather will hold for today,
tomorrow and three months in the future.
And planning.. oh my!
When do I think the last frost date will be considering
how the weather is this year versus the last couple of years?
Do I have time to plant more of this or that?
How old are these?
Which day will the weather be right for butchering?
When should I breed them next?
What should I raise next year?
And how did the weather and growing conditions affect the outcome of each of these?
I must do constant analysis..
What grew best?
Which was the strongest at germination?
Who was the first to produce?
Ripen? Who was the most disease and pest free?
Who is laying and laying strongly?
Which cross breed grew out the fastest and had the best meat ratio?
This is all some complex shit.
Which counters some of the other words that popped up..
"ignorant' and 'unlearned'
Oh really??
I study constantly and in great, great depth
to make sure I have all of the knowledge
that is possible to gather in hopes that
I can be successful.
I will go head to head with any medical student
on hours spent with my head buried in a book
and in the volume and weight of notes taken every year.
Bring it on!

"Not compound"
is really just a conglomeration of the other two,
but still must be considered.
If I screw up on any two or more things
at any given time my pain will be compounded.
And it takes a sum of all of the parts to have any modicum of success.
All things in moderation and all things must be in balance.
None of the parts of my little world can survive singularly.
It is a complex and compound life.

A few other words popped up in my search of "simple'.
'Common'. No, my life is not common.
There was a time when it was common to have
people thinking and living this way. But not so much anymore.
The ease and convenience of technology has
made doing for self darn near obsolete.
But I also think of "common' as an insult,
as in not special which leads me to next word..
No, my life is not ordinary. I mean, it is to me because I do it everyday,
but ordinary in the context of what others around me do.. no.
I am one of only two people on my road that
have a garden. I am darn tooting the only
one who has the animals.
There are beef cattle across the road and a horse farm up a bit,
but not a homesteading, many faceted enterprise.
My kid is the only kid in school who does this
that I am aware of and I know a few adults who do.
Nope.. not ordinary.

And the last is the funniest to me..
- of little or no importance-insignificant-trivial-irrelevant.
I find the work that I do to be very important
and significant and relevant. At least to me.
I would not do all of this crap,
oh! believe me I would not,
if it weren't all of those things.
The feeling of cooking food that I grew and
harvested with my own two hands,
the bite of a tomato still warm from the sun and
the deep pleasure at each and every egg I put in that basket
is what keeps me doing it.
The knowledge that I can provide fresh, good, healthy veggies
and meat for my loved ones
(and the nice people who are willing to pay me to do it for them)
fills me up.
I could and probably should have a job.
And many, many, many, many days
I am stricken with guilt and shame for staying
home all day everyday and playing while my
Sweet Husband struggles to provide monetary
sustenance for us to keep us alive and under roof.
But, he is willing to let me stay and I try to work hard.
And I try to provide my share and it is most definitely relevant.

Oh, hang on.. someone is coming NOW to buy some
chicks and I have to run and make sure the barn looks decent!.....
Ok.. I am back and $40 richer than when I left. Yippee!!
Now, where was I???
Ummm.. simple, relevance.. ahh.

But, to me, my life is simple. I know, I know..
negating my own arguments..
but it seems/feels simple to me because it is what I am good at,
it is what I do.
It is like breathing air.
I can walk into my barn and know in a split
second if something has changed.
I can tell by the sound or the quiet, the motion or the stillness.
I know my barn.
I know the different sound qualities of my dogs' barks.
I know if it is animal or human intereference.
I know how fast to head out the back door.
I know if my plants are dry or if they need a glance.
I know from the chew marks what ate my tomato leaves during the night.
I know how to find the time to knead and rise bread
and have it ready for dinner
and I know how much butter to make how many biscuits
and how the dough should feel in my fingers.
I do not measure.
This life to me is simple because it is mine
and what I was meant to do. I simply can and do.

And I wouldn't trade unless I absolutely had to.
The thought of 9-5ing it with afterschool care
and pantyhose and shopping after work
and hair products and makeup
and all that hell makes me feel sick inside. Sick.
And what do the folks that live that way look forward to?
What keeps them going?
For me, I love the constant change.
I look forward to fall and harvest, then putting the garden to bed.
I look forward to apple butter season
and the spiced smell of woodsmoke filling the yard.
I look forward to garden catalogs
and garden bed prep and spring planting
and the first warm days.
I look forward to the summer heat
and the first tomato and hatching time.
There is always something new right around the corner-
new and an old and familiar all at the same time.
I know what to do and what to expect,
but it is different than what I did last week.

If I was 9-5ing it, what would keep me getting out of bed in the morning?
Certainly not the expectation of the constant whir that is farm life.

Yep.. my life is simple
and complex
and complicated
and relevant
and vital
and mine.