Sunday, August 2, 2009

Savoring Summer

Let's just say it has been a busy summer and that my blogs may become more frequent when winter gets here.For those of you that have asked when the next installment is -I'll do my best to do better!

Given the pace of this summer it feels like winter is just around the corner and the fact that it is now August is mind boggling to me. Life feels very sweet and short right now and as if there is not enough time to savor all it has to offer.

We just came off a week on a houseboat with our family which
included our new six month old grandbaby. What a lovely week it was even if it did rain every day. The rain made for some wonderfully restful sleep and makes one wonder if air conditioning is always the blessing we think it is. We cooed over the baby - which he seemed to like as he rewarded us with smiles and giggles - and we tried to give his Mom and Dad a little bit of a break from life's daily routine. I spent some time looking through magazines such as Hobby Farm, Mother Earth News, Mary Janes Farm, Countryside, Backhome and Kentucky Monthly looking for ideas for the farm and our home life as well as some current off-the-farm projects.

My current list of things to do includes; coordinating a new Heritage Living and Folk life event as part of the Redbud Festival that will be held on April 9 & 10 next year (see, helping with the first annual KY Sheep & Fiber Festival that will be held May 15 & 16 in Lexington (to receive the fall 2009 mailing contact, getting construction for our new house on the farm started this month, keeping up with farm chores in general, including putting up electric fences where the old fence had to come down for the new house site, and all the routine summer chores which, last but not least, means keeping up with the gardens.

I say gardens as I don't have one big garden but decided to develop several smaller micro gardens around the farm. All the gardens seem to do be doing pretty well this year despite or, maybe, because of all the rain. My newly planted asparagus is doing amazingly well for its first summer and is pretty to boot - it looks like big fluffy ferns growing by the tractor shed. And, its neighbor, the rhubarb, is growing like gang busters as are the grape vines and fruit trees. Everything is heavily mulched so weeding is not too bad this year.

I ripped out the first KY Wonder bean plants I seeded along the driveway as they were getting nasty looking and seemed to be on the wane but put in a second planting around cane poles in another location in the hopes of a second crop late this summer. The pototatos are blooming and the egg plants look almost too pretty to pick as one type is a gorgeous, deep purple and the other is a glossy white color. I planted roma tomatos for the first time this year and I think they are going to be a favorite in the future.

Speaking of tomatos, I have been dehydrating mine straight off the vine as they are starting to rippen by the basket full. The trick for me is not to eat them as I take them out of the dehydrator (or before they get put into it) so that we have a few to store for winter. I vacuum pack them after they are dehydrated and then pop them into the freezer. Last winter the dried tomatos were a real treat as they were like a taste of summer on cold, dreary days. They are one of my favorite foods and are surprisingly easy to make.

In the old dogs can learn new tricks category, I ventured into new territory last week by taking a Food Preservation Class at the Knox County Extension office in Barbourville as I wanted to learn how to can. I met some wonderful women who made me feel very welcome. Many of the women knew just about all there is to know about canning but said they had taken the class before as they "always learned something new." I think that is one of my main life goals - to keep learning - and, so far, our farm has helped me keep doing that. There is always something new to learn and try.

I did some shopping yesterday and purchased a hot water bath pot and a pressure canning pot as well as some canning jars and freezer containers. I started on my new venture last night and made 5 quarts of salsa and have plans for doing my first canned tomatos this week. Yes, it is work but it is also satisfying as we know exactly what is in the food we eat because we grew it ourselves. I am experimenting with organic gardening methods so we don't use chemicals on our vegetable and fruit plants. I have tried to locate local organic farms to purchase eggs and produce from but have not had any luck so far but I am not giving up. I know they are out there so if you know of any SE KY organic farmers, please let me know. I suspect other people would be interested as well and I'd love to support that effort in our local economy.

I wanted to learn more about food preservation this summer as I figure I need to be ready next year when our first real harvests of asparagus, blueberries and blackberries start coming in or I will be awash in fresh produce and will have no idea what to do with it all. I already have plans to go back to the Extension Office for more classes and have put myself on their mailing list.

And, for everyone that has asked about the sunflowers - they are still growing and were at about 14 feet last measure though the rains last week took a toll on them. I don't have the heart to shoo off the yellow finches and other birds that seem to relish them. I figure share and share alike - I will just plan to plant more next year so the birds and humans have plenty to eat and enjoy. The sunflowers are like summer - vibrant but short lived and well worth savoring.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Real Dirt on Farming

Well, today is the day.

A friend told me to get off the stick (in so many words) and start a farm blog. She encouragingly suggested that it might be of interest to other people who share my passion for fiber arts, hand spinning, angora goats, critters in general, art, food that tastes like real food and is actually good for you and lots of other "stuff". If you look up stuff in the Farmer's Dictionary you will find it has a lot of meanings some of which are not considered to be polite to discuss at the dinner table.

So, this "stuff" in general may be of interest to others - and then again it may not - but I figure what the heck. It will just be another "first" for me in a long line of first-time experiences these past few years. I have discovered that life is mostly about learning as you go. Just as soon as you think you have it all mapped out the road changes and none of the maps you have get you where you thought you wanted to go.

You don't get much more basic than today's topic. It's one which farm life seems to center around and for that matter it probably applies if you raise small children, have pets or work in an office. That topic is manure though that is not what I tend to call it. You shovel it, sling it, clean it up, hope nobody gives you any, hire someone else to take care of it or else you just figure out how to manage it day in and day out whether it is the literal or the metaphorical kind. What ever works for you. But, make no mistake, call it what you will, on a farm manure rules.

I like my stalls cleaned out every day. At this time of year, when the weather is warm and the sun is out, the farm animals live outdoors with shelter under open air shed row stalls. Did I mention that angora goats and donkeys don't like rain? Well, trust me, they don't and an angora goat or donkey's natural aversion to rain can make for some mighty challenging days when it seems as though it has rained for forty days and forty nights and the critters have spent every one of those nights snoring in their stalls. And, trust me on this one too, they do more than snore at night.

You begin to feel like maybe you really do have two of EVERY kind of critter given the amount of organic material you have to dispose of properly. Every day. I know. I could clean the stalls less often but did I mention I like my stalls clean whether they are inside the barn or out? So, do I kick the animals out when it rains? No, I don't. But that doesn't mean I don't grumble about the after effects.

Not that I blame the animals. The goats' jobs are to produce beautiful mohair fleeces and that is hard to do if you are soaking wet and your fleece is matting up because it is wet all the time not to mention the likelihood of getting pneumonia. And, the poor old donkeys immigrated from a desert some time in their ancestral past so their hair has not evolved to shed rain as well as that of a horse and wet fields and pastures are hard on their hooves. So, both species do what any sensible animal with a lick of sense does that is designed to live in a dry climate but happens to live in this rain forest we call KY - they hang out in their stalls (for you city slickers, that would be the farm equivalent of an office cubicle). Which brings me back to manure.

As is the case in most situations, there is a bright side to manure. I have discovered that shoveling out stalls builds biceps, eats calories by the pound and, best of all, is the start of a great garden. On days like today when shoveling is hot, hard work, I remind myself I am making dirt. Good, organically fertilized, dirt.

And my "good dirt" is the basis for what are so far turning out to be great gardens. I am experimenting with a variety of raised beds, small plots and veggie-pot gardens this year, and, you guessed it, they are all firmly rooted in our very own Hell Cat Farm compost whose main ingredient is - surprise - manure! As you can tell from the photos, and by all appearances, it looks like the plants have taken to their new dirt. We've got blackberries growing a mile a minute, grape vines racing their way up the new arbor, fruit trees budding out and tomato plants that are growing so fast I carry a stick when I weed the garden just in case they get any ideas of their own - though I think they already did a Broadway musical about that.

So, rain or shine, while the animals are making other "stuff", we're making dirt here on the farm.

Want to learn more about composting? See: