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Category Archives: Daily Farm Life
Are you cooking out this weekend? Don’t forget to thank a farmer, or at least be truly thankful for the farmers, who grew and raised your food. Most of us would starve to death, literally, without farmers. Farmers feed our heroes but they aren’t thought of as heroes. Where would we be without fireman, EMTs, teachers, soldiers, doctors, truck drivers, and the rest of the people we depend on in our daily lives, if it weren’t for the farmers who provide our food.
Backwater. Backwoods. Out of touch. Out of date. Woods queer. Stuck in the past. These are terms used recently to describe people like me. Obviously, they are not terms of endearment. They’re not positive images as they’re being used in these conversations.
Here’s a little about me, in case you’re a new reader. I hunt, fish, paddle, forage and have a one-acre garden. I raise chickens, ducks and turkeys for meat and eggs. I’m a dumbass with a smart phone I barely know how to use to make a call (it’s not set up well). I don’t care to know more. I can make calls, text and send pictures. Apps? I have a great flashlight… All the other apps came pre-installed. My name is Robin, and I am an app failure…and I like it that way.
I’m on Twitter. I thought I’d enjoy sharing #TreestandTweets but it was annoying. I’m not sitting in a tree to tweet; save that for birds. I’m there to hunt and be aware of my surroundings. I have followers but I don’t follow the rule of following back everyone who follows me. I’ve never been to a Tweetup and have never felt the need to, even “for my career.” I have a Facebook page for my writing but don’t post there a lot. No need to inundate anyone with reminders about me; they know where to find me.
Out of date. I’m anti-genetic engineering, anti-Monsanto, anti-food lot, anti-antibiotic in factory farms…I’m anti-factory farms. I know what’s in my food. Like a growing number of people who are paying attention, I provide at least some of my own food. If you aren’t already providing some of your own food, you are behind the times. I can feed myself with food I grow, raise and buy locally. So I’m out of touch, backwater, backwoods, stuck in the past, but I can feed myself.
I’m out of touch. My kids didn’t get cell phones until they were driving. We live 20 miles from the high school, further from their jobs. They had cell phones with limited amounts of minutes so that they could call us in an emergency. We <gasp> were pretty insistent that they communicate with people face to face. I’m not used to this commonly accepted bad habit of ignoring people in favor of someone else.
I’m out of touch even with a cell phone. If your phone rings in a restaurant and interrupts someone’s meal I won’t hesitate to tell you we are not in a phone booth. If someone else is more important than the people you are with at the moment, do the unimportant people a favor and leave. Get off the phone and communicate face to face.
Backwoods. You bet! Forty-five acres in the middle of thousands of acres, no neighbors in sight. I can feed myself from the land. We heat our home with wood, a renewable resource. I’m not depending on anyone to keep me warm. Or fed.
Woods queer: (adjective) a milder form of insanity that results from living in a rural isolated environment, typically the woods or forest. Ok, I’ll claim that, but I don’t think I’m any more insane than the city or urban queer. We’re all a little insane (but some of us don’t know that yet) no matter where we live.
Backwater. Backwoods. Out of touch. Out of date. Woods queer. Stuck in the past. Happy. Satisfied. Fulfilled. Content. Well fed. Warm. Self sufficient. It works for me.
“The girls” are getting old as far as egg production goes. The main hens of the flock are a trio of three year old Buff Orpingtons. They’re starting to lay again now that the days are longer. I didn’t keep a light on in the hen house over the winter. The runner ducks aren’t laying yet. That’s unusual but they were traumatized three times in two months so it’s not surprising. They should start soon. We still have Buff and Boss and Cutie. Thirty Buff Silkie chicks will arrive in three weeks. I’m counting on about half being hens. I’ll keep two roosters and donate the remaining roosters to a friend who will be raising a goshawk.
Most of the seeds I planted last Sunday are up. The leeks were hold overs from last year because they’re back ordered from Fedco. I’m running out of time so I tried it knowing they probably won’t germinate. Allium seeds lose viability fast. If the fresh seed doesn’t come today I’ll order from Johnny’s and have them Monday or Tuesday.
It’s 24*, windy and only partly sunny at 8:40 am. I look to my left to see the seedlings and remind myself that spring is coming.
I did a one-armed furniture move this morning and moved my desk to the bay window. There isn’t going to be much sun shining in to blind me this week so I’ll enjoy a new view while I write. I hung an energy bar outside the window, which is opened enough to let some fresh air and the birds’ songs in. “Pee wee. Pee wee. Pee wee.” Not an early phoebe, that’s one of the many calls of a black capped chickadee. Crows are cawing, flying and diving at each other. A red squirrel is throwing spruce cones to the ground across the road. The turkeys visited early this morning, much to Steve’s delight. He’s enjoying the “flying crap machines” now that there are only two.
There’s a tiny bit of blue sky peaking through the clouds as it snows. This is the fifth or sixth day in a row it has snowed at least lightly. It has snowed during the past four weekends and random days during the week since the beginning of February; fourth snowiest February on record.
On a good note, Boss has started to lay again. We’ve been buying local eggs but I don’t think they’re very fresh. The whites don’t stand up well. At $3.50 a dozen, it gets expensive to buy them but eating factory farmed eggs is never an option. My new flock of mini, foraging egg-laying machines arrives the first full week of April. I’m not usually excited about chicks coming but these tiny fluff balls already make me smile and they aren’t even incubating yet!
The chickens, ducks and turkeys are loose outdoors today. The snow is sliding off the roof and will crush the ducks as they enjoy the puddles below, so everyone is out. I love looking out the window to see the birds. I filled a large pan with water for the ducks to bathe in and tossed down some cracked corn for them to peck at during the day. All is well in their world.
What’s good and wonderful in your world today?
Hens and Chickens by Jennifer Wixson
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: White Wave; 1st edition (August 5, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 0963668986
Maine author Jennifer Wixson brings her knowledge of farming and live in a small town to words in Hens and Chickens. She moves Rebecca and Lila from corporate Boston to Sovereign, Maine to become egg farmers, a bold move for two city women who find themselves unemployed.
Sovereign is one town over from Unity. I’m getting to know Unity well as my daughter is a student at the college. It was nice to see places in town as I read the book. Wixson brings details to the story that only a local and farmer can share. In this day and age of discouraging and depressing news in the media, escaping to old fashioned values, romantic love and family dinners is refreshing.
I laughed out loud at a mouse and cheered on unexpected love. The characters become real as details about them, enough but not too many, become known.
While this is a heartwarming story, life isn’t always perfect. Heart break, a long-kept secret and the town’s lowlife business man ensure the story isn’t just a fairy tale but reflects real life.
Wixson’s unique method of storytelling kept my attention. I was a bit put off when her method took a drastic change but settled into it after a few pages, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s an opportunity to meet Wixson as a person, not just as a storyteller.
Everyone needs a happily ever after now and then. What will be a trip back in time for many was a story of modern day times for me. I’m eager to catch up with characters I’ve met and get to know new ones in the next book in the series. I give Hens and Chickens five stars.
Jan’s kids- or one of the reasons I can’t leave agriculture behind.
The phone rang at 9:05 Wednesday morning. It was Jan, a friend who lives three-quarters of a mile down the road. “Are you very busy today or do you have some time to help me?” I make time when Jan calls. When she calls for help I know she has a Nigerian Dwarf doe in labor and something might not be quite right. This time it wasn’t the doe that wasn’t quite right, or so we thought in the beginning, it was one of her bucks who’d decided to break out of his pen and cozy up to Yuki, a young doe who was pushing herself up to the fence that separated them. Misty was laboring, the buck was out and Yuki was a happy girl.
I arrived a few minutes later to see Misty in a bed of hay, blatting and pushing. The buck had been escorted back to his pen already and if Yuki smoked, there’d have been a cigarette balanced between her lips.
Misty had triplets and quads in the past and looked like she’d be doing it again.
Progress! There’s a foot. A big foot. The nose or other front foot come next followed by whichever wasn’t second in line.
Misty normally gives birth very early in the morning and Jan finds the kids clean and dry, nursing and bouncing around when she goes out to do chores. It wasn’t happening that easily this time. We sat talking about life and health and Talitha’s kids (check out that link) while Misty labored. We weren’t happy with the amount of work Misty has having to do for a little progress. I suggested we get her up to see if a new position might help. Nigerian Dwarfs are small even when pregnant so getting her up wasn’t hard. Jan tugged her off her side and with a little nudge Misty stood. <insert insides settling here> She didn’t stay up long and with the next push, we could see black. Ahhh…good…the nose.
Except it wasn’t.
Tips of noses do not have hair. Crap. The tail. Tails are supposed to come out last, not first. We jumped to action. I grabbed paper towels while Jan pushed foot and tail back in. It takes a lot for Jan to do anything but make sure the nose and mouth are clear so the newborn kid can breath. She’s there to enjoy the birth and give a loving pat but she’s not one to A) have weak stock that have to be assisted B) jump the gun and help until it’s clear the doe is in true distress beyond normal birthing. When Jan moves it’s with good reason. She’s been very, very particular about her goats, their sound bloodlines and making sure they give a respectable amount of milk without being irresponsibly bred to give more than they should, causing poor udders
Back to the action. I tore off paper towels while Jan pulled on a glove and did a little body-part rearranging. I grabbed my camera, Jan said “I’m going to pull” and before the camera could focus the kid was born.
It’s always a relief when you see the kid breath after a troubled labor. Jan checked its mouth and nose and rubbed its body vigorously with a Chux to stimulate breathing. “It’s a boy!” And he’s polled which means he naturally has no horns. Misty had horn buds and was disbudded when she was less than a week old. The buck, whose name I can’t remember, is polled.
I ripped off a few paper towels, grabbed another Chux and took pictures as kid #2 made its arrival into the hay. Another buck, also polled. Cleaning the first baby and hearing its calls helps stimulate the doe. It happens fast after the first kid’s birth.
Sandra arrived in time to see the second birth, a first for her.
That’s two. She looked like she’d have three. Oh yes! Here it comes. Misty was preoccupied with her newborns. Number three was delivered easily with little pushing.
Sandra made a gallon of molasses water for Misty while I went to the loft to get a bale of hay. Jan hustled about with the kids and cleaning up paper towels. We blanketed the walls of the pen Misty and the kids will spend a few days bonding. We have wind and below 0* temps coming for a few days. With a very deep bed of hay, the breeze blocked and snuggling they’ll be plenty warm. If necessary, Jan can turn on a heat lamp hung high above the pen when the temps hit their lowest.
Yuki, the doe in heat, looked in to see what the noise was all about. She stood for the buck so she’ll be in this pen kidding five months from now. She loves attention. I thought she was sniffing my hand for treats but she was looking for another petting instead. Jan spreads kidding out to keep fresh milk available most of the year.
An hour after the first kid was born, Misty and her kids were in their pen, she’d had a big drink of molasses water, the kids were not only dry and standing but walking, and all was well. The white kid on the right is the doe. The bucks are cute but she’s a really charmer. She’s also polled.
I do miss market farming at times, especially on days like yesterday when babies are born and seed catalogs sit on the edge of the table demanding my attention. I’ll never walk away from agriculture, and I have loose plans for a book in mind. As soon as I tend my poultry and shovel yesterday’s 5″ of snow I’ll sit down with paper and pen and start scribbling notes.
An hour on the tractor this morning was a sharp reminder that I’m not a farmer anymore. I loved being a farmer even when farmers were thought of as too stupid to do anything else. Someone told a friend a few years ago that Maine was full of farmers because we’re not very smart people. She’d starve to death if she had to be responsible for her food so while it was an insulting comment, it was also quite hilarious.
Part of what I miss is the short and long-term planning involved in growing vegetables. Choosing varieties is complicated if you’re a market farmer. One year everyone wanted heirloom tomatoes because they read about them in New York Times, but I didn’t have them. I grew a few plants of a bunch of varieties the following year so that we could taste test them. Customers liked some, not others and the consensus was overwhelmingly positive. They wanted lots more heirlooms the following year. I cut back on Early Girl, the round, red, traditional tomato in this area and grew lots of heirlooms. They didn’t want them. Maybe they really did like that Early Girl better. It’s always a guessing game.
Along with what to grow is the puzzle of where to grow everything. Crop rotation is an important part of natural growing. I don’t use petrochemical 10-10-10 fertilizer so I had to keep track of what used a lot of nitrogen (corn) one year so that I could help replace it the following year (legumes). Keeping track of pests from one area to another was a challenge, and I love a challenge.
I miss the busloads of kids who pulled up out front and started asking a million questions before half the kids were off the bus. Pony rides and picnic lunches. Cracking duck, chicken and turkey eggs, no two ever looking alike, was always fun. They learned that an eggs is an egg is an egg is not so overall. A green chicken egg looks like a blue egg, and a blue egg looks like the brown egg, which looks like the green egg…when the shell is gone. But duck eggs don’t look like turkey or chicken eggs when you crack them open. There are visual and textural differences. They pet 600 pound pigs, goats in various sizes, milked goats, learned about herding dogs and different breeds of cattle. They learned about white versus red turkeys and big yellow chickens compared to tiny, fluffy white chickens. When the pre-k and first grade came from Peter Dana Point, a Passamaquoddy school on the reservation two towns over, they same to me. They sang in Passamaquoddy, a language I in no way understand. I didn’t know what they were singing but loved their adorable faces and their little voices singing through big smiles. And then, I knew the song. “E I E I Ooooooo.” I miss the kids.
Sometimes I miss cattle, pigs, goats and horses. And 30 seconds later, I’m over it. I was not cut out for livestock farming. It’s not sad when a tomato plant dies but when you have to put down a beautiful buck that got tetanus in spite of being vaccinated, it’s rough. I never imagined myself reaching into the back end of a goat to turn her tiny unborn babies so that they could be born, but I did it. I miss piglets but not pushy 300 pound pigs. All three of our equines were rescues that we rehabbed. They died here and are buried here on the farm. I found Cola dead, without any sign of what might have been wrong. I spent two days with vets coming to the farm to save our much loved, stubborn as hell, cute and funny pony named Andy. A friend was with me when I checked on him last, waiting for the vet to come out third time and put him down. We stepped away from the barn door, took a few steps and heard him hit the floor. I don’t know that the friend will ever really get over that. If I bring it up now, nine or ten years later, she gets teary. The worst loss was Gia, Kristin’s AQHA mare. I’m not talking about her today, but I will tell her story here eventually.
I don’t miss moose walking through the electric fence during the night and not discovering it until the cows were up the road. I don’t miss mucking stalls during January thaw but I do miss all that manure and straw for the gardens. I don’t miss forcing myself to work when it was 90* and farmers market or a restaurant delivery was coming up the next day. I hate the heat and think I might just die if I have to work when it’s 80*. So many things that were critically important when I was a farmer just don’t matter anymore. I’m a million times more casual about the garden now.
You know what I really miss? The money. You might be amazed at how much money you can gross on an acre of garden using extensive season extension to stretch the growing season.
I’m going to finish planting this afternoon. The garden is small, about a third of an acre (not counting the high tunnels), and it won’t take long. Beans, corn, carrots, zucchini, yellow summer squash and a few other things are left. It’s late to plant but I’m glad I didn’t have to stress over a cold, wet start to month of June.
It’s very cold today, around 34*. The wind has been gusting since last night; it kept me awake much of the night. I’ve carried in firewood twice already and it’s not quite 11 am. That said, it’s been a spectacular spring. We’ve had six or seven days in the 80′s already. The fire danger has been very high because of a lack of rain. We’re 3.67″ below average rainfall. Today’s expected 1″ of rain will help the grass green up and wet down the dry grasses and forest floor. I’m relieved to not have to watch for smoke. A neighbor goes for a ride several times a day so that he can sneak cigarettes; his wife doesn’t know he smokes. He and another neighbor throw their butts out the window. I’m grateful for the rain today, and all that’s to come in the next three days, too.
Steve tilled the first 2/10ths of the garden on April 14 and I started planting the 15th. I now have 450′ of row planted. When I went out to do poultry chores this morning I saw greens that have germinated. The soil is too wet to walk on without causing damage so I didn’t go into the garden to see what it is. I’m guessing it’s a lettuce or turnips.
The tomato plants are ready to be transplanted into the high tunnels but it’s still too cold. They’re here in the house, hanging out under the grow lights if they still fit, or sitting in the bay window if they don’t. Each time the overnight temps have been above 40* in the forecast it’s been short lived. Within a day or two, the forecast changes and 30′s are back in the long-range forecast. This is normal. Our overnight temps are supposed to be around this time of year. I’m more cautious now than I used to be about planting. I’m in less of a rush now that I’m no longer a market farmer.
I’m watching three male grackles eating seed I threw out for them. It’s raining hard. They must be very hungry to stay in this downpour. Rain rolls down their backs as though they are ducks. The female grackles and red winged blackbirds are here now but I haven’t yet seen any cowbirds. The cardinal came back a second day but moved on. I still listen for him and hope that he’s around.
A Cooper’s hawk has been trying to get to the Silkie chickens for four days. The dogs have kept it from coming in too low, and the chickens run for cover as soon as they hear or see it. Three of the Silkies are setting on eggs this morning. They eggs aren’t fertile, we don’t have a rooster. I’m going to move them to the barn this week and once they get settled and stop trying to get back to the greenhouse, will give them turkey eggs. If they hatch only a few of the dozen eggs I hope to give them, I’ll be happy. I don’t need a lot, just enough for Thanksgiving dinner and another for the freezer.
My Lancaster Farming column is due today and I need to get started on the final scene of the novel I’m writing in class ends this week, and I still have three assignments to complete. Good thing it’s raining. It’s easier to stay “ass in seat” and get the writing done when I can’t be out gallivanting across the country side.
While I have the row markers at hand, here’s a list of what’s going to be planted today. This is the earliest we’ve been able to work dry soil and by far the most seeds I’ve been able to plant in mid April.
Lettuce: Royal Oakleaf, Forellenschluss, Tango, Rouge d’Hiver, Black Seeded Simpson
Spinach: 7-Green that someone gave me to try
Mesculen: Wine Country from Renee’s Seeds
Roots: Laurentian Rutabaga, Purple Top White Globe turnip, Kohlrabi, Eyeballs (Those white salad turnips…I can’t think of the real name. They look like eyeballs when you pull and clean them.) and mixed in to mark rows via early germination, Purple Plum radishes.
Swiss Chard: Bionda Di Lyon and Ruby Red. I had Ford Hook out but put it back. We can’t eat THAT much Swiss chard.
Beets: mostly for greens but I’ll pickle some beets, Early Wonder Tall Top
Peas: (talk about going overboard) Coral Shell, Sugar Snap, Alderman Shell, Oregon Giant snow, Cascadia Snap. I put one 8 oz package away for fall seeding and will put 8 oz of Coral Shell away, too.
There’s a stack of seeds to start in pots sitting on my desk. I have to evict the Silkies from the greenhouse and get them settled into the barn before I can move seedlings into the greenhouse. I need my house back. There are so many seedlings in the house that they don’t fit on my racks. I have 16 grow lights going and could use another six. The seedlings have spilled over onto the dining room table and even the dishwasher. Evicting the silkies is on my list for later in the week.
When you live in a snowy area it’s easy to get cozy by the fire with a cup of tea and catalogs, and day dream the winter away. Oh how nice it will be, you think, to be out on a warm spring day, wearing just t-shirt and jeans again. And you order 200 strawberries, kiwi and grape vines, plum trees and bittersweet. You imagine the trellises you’ll build from cedar cut from your woodlot. Won’t it be lovely!
Fast forward to April when the snow is gone and you’d really like to take the boat out on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. You haven’t cut a single tree yet and hey, there’s the shipping notice in your inbox. The order will be delivered today.
I’m going to work on the soil tomorrow and build some protective cages to keep the saplings safe from the deer. I think the arbor for the grapes will be made of cedar. I don’t have to build the arbor before the vines are planted but it will keep us from stepping on them. We’ll cut four logs for pots, two for supports over the top. I haven’t decided on wire or wood for the vines to cling to. I’m planning to buy lumber for the kiwi trellis. The bittersweet….to be decided. They’re the easiest plants to deal with in the order.
The strawberries are going into the small garden right behind the house. I need to gill some grass, pull weeds and lay down IRT to help with weed control. After the plants are in and the soil finishes warming I’ll mulch them heavily with straw. Until then, they’ll be covered with low tunnels and Agribon.
It is nice to be working in a t-shirt now and I am excited about getting another aspect of the homestead underway. I’m eager to put up lots of fruit and be able to share with family and friends.
9/10/2011 10:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent
The end of the “warm” growing season is near.
The average annual first-frost date jumps around so much now that I no longer know what it really is anymore. I’m sticking with Sept. 15. The 10-day forecast shows nights in the mid-40s.
There isn’t a lot left in the garden. Most of the extra bush beans I planted specifically to feed the soil are now … feeding the soil. Sometimes I get the “I’m done” bug and watch out garden, you’re going down.
Until the something-or-other on the three-point hitch came undone, I was a rototilling wild woman one afternoon. I called Steve, my husband, to explain to him what was wrong in hopes that he could tell me how to fix it.
“The blue one is hanging down, swinging back and forth.” He asked which blue one. I hadn’t noticed that all three are blue. He asked what was happening, or not happening. The tiller wouldn’t pick up. It turned, but I couldn’t lift it anymore. That was the end of tilling that day. I’ll never claim to be mechanically inclined.
My kitchen looks like a cannery. There are two roasters full of tomatoes in the oven, a pressure canner cooling on the sideboard, another canner heating up, jars of tomato sauce popping and salsa verde waiting to be put away. The countertops are lined with empty jars, boxes of shiny new lids and a bowl of rings, all waiting to be used.
I’m reasonably sure there’s a sink under the pile of dirty dishes in front of the window. I vaguely remember seeing the bottom of the sink for more than five minutes, though that was days ago.
The tomatillo jungle, a double-wide row of plants in one side of a high tunnel, will be pulled this week. I’m looking forward to that monstrosity being nothing but a bad memory. In their place, I’ll plant spinach, boc choy, turnip, baby beet greens and other cold weather greens.
I’m ready for the tomato plants to be, too. I have most of what I’m going to can put up. The cherry and grape tomato plants will stay in so that kids at a local elementary school can have them for snacks. I’ll save a couple of Jet Star tomato plants and two cucumber vines. The rest will be gone soon.
Opalka produced very well again this year, both inside the tunnel and outside. More cold weather greens will be planted when these plants are pulled.
Pumpkins, squash and gourds are my favorites. This year, thanks to aged poultry manure, I have beautiful pumpkins and gourds. Cinderella pumpkins are red and the warty Galeux is very warty. It’s a little too soon to be sure of what the seeded winter squash will do. They need more time than Sept. 15; I hope they get it. The winter squash I transplanted are just about ready to be cut.
For the first time ever, the watermelon have done well. They’re not as sweet as we’d like them to be because of extreme rain, but they taste good.
The onions are beautiful. I learned this year that I’ve not watered my onions enough. A very wet August finished off the onions beautifully. They’re spread out to dry now. Soon, the storage variety will hang in the dark pantry in mesh bags. The red onions will be eaten fresh and another variety will be sliced and dehydrated for use when the whole onions run out. The garlic is disappointingly small. I’m blaming the soil. The best garlic has been set aside as seed and will be planted in October.
The corn is taller than me this year. It’s nice to look out the kitchen window and see it standing there. I’m holding my breath, hoping it fills out before frost. I’m eager to have my fill of late-season corn and to cut the stalks for fall decoration. They’ll look nice bundled and sitting beside the great pumpkins on the back porch and out by the mailbox.
There’s still time for radishes, salad turnip, cold-tolerant lettuces, spinach and more out of the regular garden. When frost threatens, I’ll put low tunnels over the plants. They’ll be opened in the morning, closed in late afternoon and give me up to two months of additional growing time outside. Or maybe longer.
We’ll see how early the snow starts and if it stays or melts.
There was a surprise waiting for me in the garden this morning. Long and thin, a sharp curl, light green — garlic scapes!
I wasn’t expecting to have scapes for several more weeks. They are coming out on what seems to be an early variety of garlic called Phillips. I planted only a pound of cloves from this variety so there aren’t a lot of scapes to use yet. This is an unexpected treat. I’m going to make garlic scape pesto to serve on penne rigate pasta.
When growing garlic you either can, must or do not have to cut the scape from the plant. It will either not make a difference, drastically stunt or only marginally affect the size of the garlic cloves. I’ve been told each of these pieces of advice by people who have a lot more experience than I.
I haven’t been growing garlic for long. This is the second successful year after a few years of miserable failure caused by planting the cloves in the spring rather than the fall. In my defense, I’d never seen a healthy garlic plant in person until I finally had them growing in the garden last year. I really had no idea what I was doing wrong.
I was told I could plant the cloves early in the spring and have beautiful garlic in late summer because Maine summers are so cool. The people who told me this must have thought Maine borders Siberia rather than Canada. Now I know. I plant in late September, water well, mulch heavily with oat straw and forget about it until spring.
This afternoon I’m going to cut a dozen scapes for tonight’s pesto. Pesto can be simple or, well, complicated isn’t the right word. It can have two ingredients, pulverized scapes and olive oil, if you want to keep it very simple. If you have time, a few more ingredients make a fantastic pesto. Here’s my recipe.
1 cup of chopped garlic scapes. (8 to 10 scapes, depending upon size)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup almonds or walnut halves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Place the scapes and nuts into a food processor and pulse until both are in small pieces. Now pour the olive oil slowly into the scapes and nuts with the food processor pulsing. When the combination of oil, scapes and nuts is smooth pour it into a bowl. Fold in the Parmesan and add salt to taste.
Garlic scapes are much milder in flavor than garlic cloves. It won’t be overpowering for bruschetta. I cook a pound of penne rigate and use at least a half cup of garlic scape pesto. When using basil pesto, which is much stronger in flavor, I use only 1/3 cup for the same pound of pasta.
If you’re making homemade bread you can replace some of the water and the oil or butter with pesto. The scapes lightly color the bread and lend a great flavor. It’s great to use for a grilled cheese sandwich.
If you like big flavor, you can double the recipe offered here with a small change. Rather than doubling the scapes, use a cup of pulverized scapes and a tightly-packed cup of basil leaves.
Last year I froze pesto in ice cube trays. It sounded like a very small amount but it did turn out to be practical. When I made soup over the winter, I could take out a cube or two to add flavor. A cube per serving of pasta was perfect.
According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, we shouldn’t can pesto at home because it contains oil. I did can pickled garlic scapes that turned out very well. This year I’ll try another recipe for pickled scapes and a few twists in the pesto recipe. I think sunflower seeds would be good, rather than walnuts or almonds.
When the rest of the garlic produces scapes, I’ll be trying my hand at humus. I’m still learning about garlic and scapes. It’s nice to have something new in the garden.
Previously Published in Lancaster Farming newspaper.
ALEXANDER, Maine — Route 9 is a busy highway. It’s the main route used by chip and log trucks traveling to and from Woodland Pulp and 18-wheelers carrying goods to eastern Maine. Canadians on their way to Bangor use Route 9, as do the majority of tourists entering and leaving the area.
A few miles before Route 9 meets U.S. Route 1 in Baring sits a small farm. It’s out of sight for most drivers traveling 60 to 70 miles per hour. If you know it’s there, you might catch a glimpse of a low tunnel through the trees on your way by.
Just when you think you must have gone past it, the driveway to After The Rain Farm appears. You drive past a neighbor’s home and follow the driveway away from the busy highway and into a different world. The noisy trucks are barely heard. The wide road is replaced with a narrow gravel driveway, soft in spots because of recent snow and rain. On the right, those low tunnels you might have seen from the road are protecting a very early planting of peas, cabbage and kale. Nearby, apple and pear trees, grapevines and strawberry plants are waiting for spring. Spring is about a month late this year. They grow a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.
After The Rain Farm is home to Ted and Liz Carter. They’ve lived here since 1979. Liz is an artist and homeschooled their two children. Ted taught first grade for 31 years before retirement.. They started a “full service” CSA in 1996.
“We let ourselves into homes, put food on the counter and in the refrigerator and flowers in the vase,” said Ted.
“At the time, CSA was enough for us,” Liz said.
Ted was still teaching. The CSA worked well for them through 2003, when they decided it was time for a change. That year, they operated the CSA and became vendors at Sunrise County Farmers Market in Calais.
“The market in Calais was doing well and we wanted to support it as it was growing,” Ted said.
After a year of running the CSA and attending a farmers market, it was time to make a decision.
“We liked CSA, but we can’t do both. We were stretched too thin,” said Liz. Ted still had a full-time teaching job at the time, so they decided to stay with the farmers market. They returned to the market in Calais in 2004, but took 2005 off when Liz was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Carters returned to the farmers market in 2006 and are still there. In 2010 they became members of Machias Valley Farmers Market, their second market.
“Machias has been very accommodating,” Ted said. “It’s open Friday and Saturday. We’re there on Friday because it works with when we have vegetables to pick. We’re usually the only ones there. People stop on their way to Hannaford (grocery store) and get what they want. Then they pick up the rest at Hannaford. The customers are dependable.
“We’re limited to two markets because it takes so much time to pick and clean the vegetables. We’ve upped our production by 50 to 60 percent to add the Machias market,” Ted said.
The Carters enjoy farmers markets very much. They both went to market in the beginning, but soon realized one of them needed to stay home to work in the garden. Liz continued to attend the market, while Ted worked in the garden.
“Farmers market is like a garden party. You get to hear other people’s stories. They tell you about their gardens. It’s a sense of community. People are visiting while they’re waiting in line,” she said. Ted goes to market now. “He’s good at sales,” Liz said.
“I enjoy the personal interplay at market,” Ted said. “I’m a social being. It’s gratifying to know people are eating our food.”
Ted and Liz work together as well as separately in their day-to-day farm work. “We dovetail,” said Ted. He organizes seeds, chooses most of the varieties, starts seeds, manages succession planting and works outside in the garden and high tunnels. Seed starting begins in late February or early March. The last succession is seeded in August. They work together when needed.
Liz adds and deletes varieties on the seed list depending on their popularity and how well they produce. She tends to watering the seedlings. “She’s the one who notices what’s happening,” Ted admitted. “She notices plant health and pests.”
Liz laughed and added, “I’m the one who comes in and says, Oh my God! Did you see the potato bugs or the flea beetles or the sick plants or whatever I find going on.”
Ted retired at the end of the school year in 2009. “Our customers made it easier to retire,” he said. “They told me how much they loved our vegetables and how good they taste. There’s a lot of gratitude.”
Liz and Ted have found a rhythm in working together. “I don’t go into Liz’s world,” Ted said, smiling. “She grows the herbs and flowers. I don’t know what they are. I was pulling them up when I was weeding.”
Liz no longer interplants herbs and flowers in the vegetables. “I’d plant something and go back to check on it and it would be gone. He thought he was weeding,” she said.
Liz’s hard work in the herb and flower gardens shows even in mid-spring when few plants are growing. The farm is beautiful.
There are several challenges to face each year. Ted was quick to say the weather is the biggest challenge of all. If you don’t like the weather in Maine, wait a minute. It will change. In a two-hour span, the sky cleared a bit and the sun peeked out. That was soon followed by heavy rain, a temperature drop that brought heavy snow and then a steady sleet that pelted the poly covering the high tunnel.
Liz planted the first seeds on March 31, the day before the April Fool’s Day nor’easter. They placed low tunnels over the rows to give the seeds protection and a little added warmth. Steam escaped the low tunnel recently when they pulled back the cover to show rows of 1-inch-tall seedlings.
Season extenders are used to start the growing season in late March and continue into May. By November, they’re ready for a winter break. The greenhouse used for seed starting is attached to their home. They harden plants off in cold frames they’ve built. There are high tunnels and solar pods in use.
The soil is another challenge. They have a small mountain of aged horse manure that would make any gardener envious.
“There’s never enough compost,” said Liz. “We’re always working to improve the soil.”
In addition to the aged manure and compost, they use cover crops and foliar sprays of compost tea and an amendment called MPM from Lancaster Agriculture Products in Pennsylvania.
“Cancer made us step it up,” Liz said. “The soil will help heal us.”
“We’re dependent on the top 6 inches of soil,” Ted said. “We have to take care of it. If not, we’re in trouble. So we make the soil the best we can.”
“Two markets is perfect,” said Ted. “A week between markets is too much. The beans get too big, so we pick them and drop them right there on the ground. A second market a week means nothing goes by. We’re at our limit now with two markets.”
There’s room to expand the gardens. After a working visit last year from Mark Fulford, a soil scientist, they have started using strip tilling in a new area. They’re expanding the barn to build an apartment on the top floor to provide residence for two interns, preferably a couple. They’re hoping interns, or possibly journey people, will like the area and want to stay at the end of their internship.
“A motivated couple could start their own garden here and add a third market a week,” Ted said.
The apartment will be ready by the beginning of the 2012 season. The Carters are eager to share their knowledge of growing and love of farmers market.
Is it the last day of December or mid May? Look closely at the eggs. One of these eggs is not like the others (now you can sing that song in your head with me for the rest of the day).
It’s been an unusually warm December. November was the warmest on record. The eggs on the right are from the Buff Orpington hens. The egg on the left is from a Bourbon Red turkey. She’s been laying eggs for a week. The turkeys are seasonal layers that don’t usually start producing until spring. The warm weather has confused the birds. The toms are especially romantic. The older hens are receptive but not laying.
I’m not complaining. I haven’t had to clean snow off the high tunnels yet. I am ready for some snowshoeing though.
When I said I hadn’t posted much because there’s only so much to say and repeating it would be boring (or something like that), many of you messaged to say you’re not bored. So, here we go again. It’s the start of 2011. Things are different here this year. The only thing I’m going to do on the borrowed acre of land up the road is find out what the owners would like planted for a cover crop. I’m one woman. I can’t do it all.I don’t want to do it all. I’m over it.
Everything will be grown here on one acre. I have three main goals this year:
- Get as early a start outside as possible in order to have a bit to sell to locals. The freezes in Florida and Mexico are causing fruit and vegetable prices to soar. I wasn’t going to do this but I feel like it’s something I need to do.
- Put up enough fruits and vegetables to last my family 18-24 months. I’m at the mercy of the weather, as always. The weather is so bizarre now that I want extra put away in case 2012 is as unpredictable. My sister won’t be having a garden this year so I’ll be growing for her too.
- Grow enough extra for one school for the Farm To School program in the fall.
If I have extra in the summer I’ll sell it. I’ll be selling seedlings but not nearly as many as in previous years.
In between all of this I have a bi-weekly column and occasional report to write for Lancaster Farming.
It’s supposed to be 30*+ on Wednesday and Thursday this week. I’ll be in the tall tunnel Wednesday and the long tunnel Thursday. I’m waiting a few days to decide what I’ll be doing on Friday.I hope the potential snow turns out to be sunny and warm.
Coming up – a 2011 To Do list, info on a couple of workshops I’ll be teaching and an update on Ava.
I frequent a message board for people who are considering relocating to Maine. A “would-be farmer” asked for information about farming in Maine. I don’t like to see anyone fail and I’ll help most anyone. One of the best things I can do for “would-be farmers” is be honest about the terrible times. Like many others, I had wonderful romantic notions of what farming is like. I would walk through the garden with my basket and a scissors, listening to the songbirds, cutting fresh greens for my perfect lunch-time salad. Then reality hit. The black flies swarm and bite, it gets hot, slugs hide in lettuce and half the time I can’t find the scissors. The basket is full of cat hair because the formerly 30 pound, down to a svelte 22 pound, cat has crammed his over-sized body into said basket. The pastoral setting with goats and horses, a mooing cow and little brown bunny takes place in someone else’s pasture because a moose walked through the electric fence during the night and the animals escaped.
Animals die hard deaths. Disease wipes out crops. Rain starts and doesn’t stop for seven weeks, or for seven weeks it doesn’t rain a drop. I shared a few tidbits of farm life on the message board. One member of the board was was very vocal about me writing a book. I’m going to do it. It’s not “how to farm” or when to start your seedlings. It’s going to be short stories based on my life on my farm. Some hilarious, some serious, some sad, one heart wrenching. Will it ever be read by an editor? Printed? We’ll see.
Surprisingly, I made money last year. Officially. Taxes done, Schedule F done, showed a profit. I’m not going to retire on last year’s income but hey, who has time for that anyway. I’m not going to buy a shiny new tractor (I’m never breaking up with Cranky!) but that’s ok. I’m set for this year. The farm turned a profit so there’s money in the account for everything I need this year. Seven weeks without rain and irrigation be damned, I had a good income, and turned a profit, and I didn’t do it by getting a commodity check from the gov’t.
The Fedco order has gone out. I’ve never sent such a small order. The total was only $106.18. I didn’t fill the first page of the order form. I have a lot of seeds left from last year. Some are left over because I ordered large quantities and haven’t used them up. Others are left because I missed succession sowing because of the lack of water. I’ll place a small order with Johnny’s for I don’t know what. There must be something new I need to try. I still need to write the supplies order. That will be small too.
What’s that? How’s Ava you ask? Well let me tell you about Monkey Dog. Tammy came to visit a few days ago. We watched Fresh and ate gumbo that Tammy made for lunch. Before she left we went to a tunnel to cut tatsoi. I let Ava and Seb in to nose around for voles but they wouldn’t stay off the plants so I kicked the out. Ava was not at all happy about this and became determined to get back inside. She discovered the loose poly in the bottom corner of the door and poked her head through. I made her stop. I should have known she’d given up too easily. Ava is not a quitter. We cut tatsoi and chatted and heard crunching on the snow. I looked up to see Seb walking on top of the snow in front of the tunnel and assumed it was him. Thirty seconds later I heard more crunching snow.
Ava was on the peak of the 16′ tall tunnel. The first crunching steps were from Monkey Dog trotting her 35 pound self up the crusty snow I hadn’t yet cleared off the tunnel. She left a fanny print where she sat at the peak, squarely on top of the second rib in. The second set of crunching steps was Ava coming back down. I don’t know what possessed her to do this. There isn’t a secret magic door at the top that lets misbehaving pups in. She pushed some snow down but for the most part, her feet stayed on the crusty snow and didn’t poke any holes in the poly. She’s going to be spayed Wednesday. I’m counting on a peaceful day with her Thursday! Keeping her quiet after that is going to be a challenge.
I had Steve as my captive audience today. He can’t get away from a talkative wife while driving 70 mph on the interstate. I’ve wanted to pin him down on an orchard and today was the perfect day to do it.
“If I order apple trees, will you clear the land for them?” I’m going to order pears, peaches, plums and maybe apricots too but apples are his weak spot. He checks on the wild apples often from mid summer through fall. We pick and preserve the apples we need. The rest are left for the wildlife – deer, bear, partridge.
“Where?” He knows where. I’ve talked about this for years.
“Same place as always.”
He was ready to plan with me. We’ve been waiting for three very big widow makers in my chosen area to finish falling. The heavy wind has finally done the job and the trees are down.Turns out he walked out there before the ground froze and discovered it’s a lot wetter than we realized. It won’t work. Instead, we’ll plant the saplings along the edge of the grass. There were more than two dozen apple trees growing in sight of the house when we moved here. Goats and browsing cattle killed a lot of them. I let them strip the bark because the apples on those trees were of no value to us.
I don’t know yet what varieties I’ll choose. I’m looking forward to an afternoon with the Fedco Tree catalog and a pot of tea.
I’m going to expand the raspberry patch this year. I have those plants already. I’ll dig up suckers and move them into rows. We have Heritage, Latham and Kilarney.
I’ll post more about the trees when I make decisions on varieties.
I am only one woman.
I work alone.
Mother Nature is kicking my ass. She has an army. She has insects like flea beetles and striped cucumber beetles. She has diseases like late blight that flies in on the wind before early blight arrives. That, Mother Nature, was just plain bitchy and I haven’t forgiven you for that one. Mother Nature has rain and she’s bi-polar (sorry, I don’t do PC) about it. One year she tried to drown me and the next she withheld rain so that me and my garden would dry out. Mother Nature has snow. Three winters ago she threw 10′ of snow at me and I fought back. I shoveled every bit of that damned snow. I cleaned out around two high tunnels and cleared the greenhouse. “Take that!” I yelled. Two winters ago we bought a big snow blower. “Bring it on!” I yelled. She withheld. This winter I said, “Whatever, but please be kind to the wildlife.” She’s mean. She dumped 16.5″ of snow on us on December 6 then 4″ of rain on December 13 (which was not a Friday). Roads washed out, people lost their homes and I offered fly fishing in the garden. Climate Change should have brought Midol for Mother Nature.
Last year DH said “You plant an acre in pumpkins and I’ll run the tiller over the top to take care of the weeds til the vines start to fill in.” He turned over the acre+ and I planted. And he didn’t go back up there for two months. By then it was too late. Weeds and lack of rain were too much. It’s hard enough keeping up with one acre of intensively grown vegetables by myself is enough. I need to plant a cover crop on the second acre this spring so that it’s in good shape if someone uses it.
I’m working out my plan for this year. I’m thinking about strip tilling. I see it in blogs I read. If I use this method this year I won’t be doing it quite the same way. Rather than tilling a strip in the grass I’ll be filling the strip with white clover.
I’m going to plant the acre and spend more time writing. I’m having a great time writing for Lancaster Farming. I’d like to spend some of my writing time with fiction. We’ll see.
I should get the poultry taken care of for the day. It’s going to snow soon. They need fresh food, water and straw. The rooster needs to be done away with (bastard attacked me Sunday night, off with his head!) but that probably won’t happen today, unless he comes after me again. After chores, I’ll switch laundry around, start the dishwasher, bake a few potatoes for fish chowder and settle in to sort through the notes and literature from yesterday’s trip to the Maine Ag Trades show. I have a lot of writing thanks to the show. Maine’s new commissioner of agriculture will be announced today. He seems like a good person for the job but it’s a shame Seth Bradstreet is being replaced. Seth did a great job. He listened to the small farmers and he had a plan in place to deal with Jack DeCoster when problems started coming up. Gov LePage didn’t ask me for an opinion but I wish he had! :)