Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thoughts while falling asleep

This is not a farming story per se, but it started with a rooster crow in the middle of the night.

Midnight is not a usual time for a rooster to crow, and we have had a raccoon in the neighborhood lately, so I was awake immediately and ran down to check on things.

The goats were all peacefully lounging, and all the chickens were accounted for. All were perched in the rafters except for Dustin, our new rooster (I promise he'll get his own story soon) and Granite, a big white hen.

I watched them climb back up to the rafters. They appear to be safe up there, but on the ground they are easy prey.

When I went back inside, inevitably I could not sleep. I tried reading Middlemarch. It was the section of Middlemarch when the reader starts to realize what a long book it is. I caught up on some emails I should have sent out earlier. I deleted some photos from my phone and reorganized my mailboxes. Still waiting to sleep.

It occurred to me what a fortunate life I have, and in that half dozy state of comfort, I began to list all my blessings.

I have my parents, and all my siblings, my spouse and my child. I don't want to take these people for granted. I am incredibly lucky to have known them and luckier yet that they are all still around.

I have all five senses intact.  I don't feel enslaved to my senses, but I have not lost any of my wonder at them. The crow of a rooster still wakes me up in the dead of night and I feel fortunate that this is so.

I have made friends, and they are knitting together into a community. In my younger days I wouldn't have believed this possible. I like people but I'm the first to admit, I don't really 'get' the secret of being comfortable socially. I'm delighted to have friends who accept this, and who are comfortable with the same kinds of friendship I am.

I am also no longer ashamed to like being alone.

I am healthy. I keep waiting for aches and pains, but if I have any they are no worse than the different ones of my twenties. I'm on a plateau, where I've learned all my triggers, and know how to avoid them. It may not last indefinitely, but at this moment I can honestly say I've never felt better.

I have always loved animals, and I am able to have them in my life in ways that are productive. I have made peace with the fact that I will outlive most of the animals I care for, and that I will participate in the respectful end of life for many of them. And occasionally eat them.

I was getting sleepier as I went on making my list. I would think of new things and try to fit them into broad categories of gratitude.

And as I fell asleep, one last random thought floated into my lapsing consciousness. Don't ask me why, but I thought to myself

"And I have absolutely no fear of spiders".

Goodnight everyone.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Crimson Clover - an ode and tribute

It’s already October - the main harvest is over
And the rain’s a harsh lover when soil is uncovered

Will erosion take over? Can the weeds all get smothered?
It’s time to discover, my one favorite cover:

Crimson Clover, Over and Over

When the long stems of barley  just seem too darned gnarly
When you want rhizome action, and break up soil compaction
If you want some good forage that’s not fuzzy like borage
It’s too cold for buckwheat and you shout out, oh  f#@& wheat
It’s too tall for my mower just give me that clover!

Crimson clover, over and over

It attracts pollinators you’ll be glad for them later
If your soils acid, lime it and you need a mild climate
Just broadcast and plant it then take it for granted
Till in spring you discover the most beautiful clover!

Crimson Clover, over and over!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Goodbye Cosmo

We are very sad to announce that Cosmo, the rooster, is gone.

Cosmo joined Several Gardens Farm as a young rooster back in 2003, as part of a group of bantam chickens given to us by neighborhood children. We did not know his age at the time, but we estimate he was between 7 and 12 months.

He was our faithful rooster for eleven years. Few humans could have show the courage, generosity or loyalty he did. He never ate anything until his hens had been given first choice. He never ran from danger until the flock had made good its escape. Then he would run screaming from his predator, diverting them from everything but the red comet of noise he could become.

He never knew how tiny he was. He took on fights with stray roosters in the neighborhood, with a huge drake duck, with his own evil and ungrateful son. Never once in his life did he win a fight. We often had to rescue him. But he was always gentle with people, to the point of letting kids pull on his feathers or cuddle him like a baby.

He never abandoned his hens, even if it meant being constantly beaten by another rooster, or stalked by a cat. He knew his duty. Once a foolish hen flew into the neighbor's yard and was attacked by their dog. Cosmo went in to get her. I went in to get him, too late for the hen.

This summer he slowed down. He became too weak to climb up to the perch and began to sleep in a nest instead. He stopped leaving the barn, except to eat, drink or sit in the sunlight. Courting the hens was ancient history.

Then about a week ago, he started wandering off. He had a very strong sense of place, and never left the yard, but suddenly he was showing up at the neighbors. He was losing weight, and looking wrinkled in his skin. His crop was never full any more, as though he had stopped eating.

I began to lock him up at night, which I had never done before. Then we locked him up in the days, too, as he couldn't stop wandering. But it was a strange wandering - he would sit still for hours, then walk off to the fence line, where he would huddle miserably. I began to make plans for his end of life. I could see it was soon. While it would have been nice for him to peacefully pass, I was getting ready to bring him a quicker ending.

Then one day, I let him out to sun himself and went away for a bit. I came back and he was gone. Three days have past and we haven't seen or heard him.

A rooster doesn't hide. Can't hide. I am certain if he were alive, Cosmo would crow. I have hunted down every rooster cry in the neighborhood. I've discovered many, well loved roosters that I knew nothing about, but none of the crowing is Cosmo.

I have to conclude he has died. I never believed that animals 'went off to be alone to die', but I can see the logic for a rooster. As head of the flock, most roosters have a huge investment in the chicks that are their offspring, and in the well being of the hens who care for them. A weak, old, disoriented rooster could bring down predators on his whole flock. Walking away, letting them catch him far from his family, might be a last service he can give to the flock he has cared for so valiantly and well. I feel guilty and horrible for letting it happen but there's a certain sense in it.

To his great credit, Cosmo has made me a lifelong fan of roosters. I will find another one - many roosters need homes. I will try to find one as gentle, brave and devoted as our Cosmic Cosmo, and I will try to let him be his own rooster, instead of making him fill the giant shoes of his tiny predecessor.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lawn to garden conversion - first summer

I can now say with confidence, our front yard is starting to happen.

Last fall we cut up the sod, stacked it into rows to form gentle terraces in the hillside, and mulched with shredded cardboard, burlap and wood chips.

We planted trees in the spring, and I broke up lots of established perennials from other parts of the garden and stuck tiny divisions into the wet, pulpy soil in the rainiest part of spring.

Some of them looked so sad, so ready to wash away. Some of them probably did.

But we are beyond the green shoot stage now. Some of these plants have found their roots and decided to grow.

A plant that goes straight from a pot into the ground can run into trouble. If its roots had filled up the pot, they may have stopped reaching out and started curving around the edge of their little universe. When they go into the ground, if the soil is too compact it feels like the edge of the pot. The plant has learned about limits and doesn't try to expand beyond them. Whenever you plant a potted plant, break up the roots a little - just massage them hard. Break up the soil all around the hole, and fill it with water. Water the soil in around the new plant so it fills the cracks you made in the root ball. This helps the plant discover all the opportunities outside the edges it's gotten used to.

On the other hand, bare root plants are in danger from not having any contact with the ground at all. You can plant them and walk away, and they can be surrounded with pockets of air instead of nice soil. Always water them well, even if it's raining, and stamp or press hard on the soil around them to bed them in.

But when your transplant works, it's amazing. If you watch a new transplant, day by day, you can almost see the moment when the new soil becomes home. The leaf buds it already had when you planted it are all open. Suddenly a tree starts to form new leaves, or a perennial pushes out  a second shoot from its crown. The plant is no longer drawing from its reserves, but making new food for itself from the sun, soil and water in its new location.

Red currant from this year's bare root. Purple penstemon from a garden division

Our currants are ripening. We have raspberries.

While the bushes and brambles are fruiting, the new trees aren't making fruit this year. If they did we'd snip it off. They need more time to form their shapes. But they are leafing and growing. Most of the herbs are transplants from elsewhere and look pretty scrawny, but they have passed the moment where they might die. I even succeeded in transplanting a very young fennel which I will probably regret when it turns into a thicket of stems taller than I am.

There are three rows of 'retaining walls' we built out of the strips of turf cut up from the old lawn.  Stacked up five or six layers deep, it's now broken down in to fine soil and forms a long row of raised area that slows the water flowing down the hill and traps if for the plants. I planted it with divisions from plants I already had - sedum, aster, artichoke, thyme and other solid performers that will spread their roots into the retentive soil and hold it in place in the many rainy winters to come (I hope; this is at least the plan). These raised areas are the champions.

Artichoke has not been watered yet this summer!
Neither has the sedum. Just residual water from the swale-like hill structures

The trees are doing well too. They were put in bare root and I was worried they wouldn't make good enough contact with the soil. But as far as I can tell they appear to be expanding their roots into the soil beyond where they started. I'm especially proud of this shapely little quince. The persimmon appeared dead but I had already been prepared for that. They need a certain amount of heat units before they wake up, and transplants are often the last to start their first year. Now it's starting to leaf out.

I always include a pineapple sage in every new garden I plant. They smell wonderful. The leaves are nice in desserts and beverages.  More important from my perspective as a gardener, they also wilt immediately when the soil even thinks of getting dry and days before any other plants start showing stress. The are like living moisture meters; very convenient if you keep an eye on them. Late in the summer this plant will be about waist high and will suddenly cover itself with bright red flowers beloved by hummingbirds and also useful as garnishes.

There are still wide open tracts of wood chips.  Last fall I sowed oats, which died over the winter, fava beans which were mostly eaten by squirrels right after their first true leaves appeared (here's one that survived) and crimson clover, which made a miserable show but at least gave it a try. Wood chips aren't a great place to grow unless you're a mushroom.

There are spots where you can see the burlap bags we put down over the lawn, and there are a couple of places where grass and hawkweed have pushed through the layers of cardboard, burlap and wood. Here and there, a plant struggles with compacted soil.

But in this hotter, drier than average July, none of the plants here are showing drought stress and the soil even a few inches below the wood chips is rich, damp and squishy. I think the plants are digging it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A complicated goat season at Several Gardens Farm

This post has some sad and some happy parts, and some very graphic birth parts.

Last November, we brought Meggie and Lightning to breed with two bucks, and last week was their due date.

Lightning's story 

Lightning was due during Spring break. This would give Noah a chance to be with her, and me an extra reason to take time off that week.

We invited a school friend of Noah's to be there for the kidding. I thought if anything it would mean more to him than to Noah. He is a very gentle, sensitive young man; a guy who goes to a nerf gun party to be the medic.

We checked Lightning every 3 hours until she started showing signs of being near her term. Lightning has always been skittish but it was hugely exaggerated now. She needed rest and couldn't settle down if she felt like we were checking up on her all the time, so we tried to be discrete.

Once it was clear she would kid within 12 hours, we started just hanging out with her for a few minutes every hour. We didn't need to elevate her stress level but we needed to know what was happening.

I sent the boys to get some shut eye, warning them they might be wakened at any time of night. I set my alarm to go off every hour, and lay down to rest. At midnight, she was just as before. By one thirty, she was looking more relaxed (I just peeked at her, didn't let her know I was there. At two thirty she was lying down, at three thirty she was sound asleep, her head hanging to the side. At four, I was wakened by a frantic sounding goat's bleating.  I sometimes complain about Lightning being loud, but this was not a goat being too talkative; something was up.

I went out to find her lying on her side, clearly in labor. I saw a little nose and a hoof.  There should be two;  one hoof was bent back inside. I hadn't encountered this before, but luckily I'd obsessed over the Fiasco Farm kidding information and knew exactly what to do; get on a sterile glove, reach in, straighten that leg so the baby could slide out. It went easily, just like the instructions said it would.

A few moments later, a gorgeous little baby doeling was born.

A few minutes later, Lightning passed the afterbirth, and a few minutes after that, she began to push another baby.

The delivery was very fast; it happened while Lightning was busy teaching her little girl to nurse and drying her off.

But instead of struggling to get moving, the second kid lay weakly. She couldn't organize her limbs, and couldn't breath correctly even after we held her by her hind limbs to let all the birth fluids out. As she got clean, we could see that she had a poorly developed upper jaw, and had some other issues with her facial development.

While I was working on keeping her airway clean and getting her dryed off and breathing, David was calling our friend Julie, who woke up immediately (4:30 am) and began walking us through the steps to get her going, clear any goo that was still in her mouth and lungs.  There wasn't much but I did it, hoping to help her feel better if nothing more. It didn't seem to be helping.

There's a point where it's clear that treating a situation as 'normal' isn't working. Noah's friend was upset, and asking if we should bring her to the vet. He was respectful but very persistent, a real advocate for the little goat. But it was dawning on me that she wasn't going to make it. Lightning was ignoring her.  Her breathing was getting less regular. She was getting weaker.

I wrapped her in warmed towels to keep her temperature up. Though it was a mild April night, I could feel her getting cooler and breathing less.  A few minutes later - sooner than we could have gotten her to a vet, she was gone.

We stayed with Lightning and her healthy girl till we were sure things were  stable there; then went in and sat at the dining table talking. Noah said he was very sad but didn't have much else to say. His friend said he had to figure out a way to think about it.

I told him I was very proud of how he handled himself. He stayed present, spoke up for the little goat and quite bravely stood for his convictions that she should be saved, when I was letting her go. He showed a lot of courage, especially in being willing to stay when it got sad, rather than stepping away.

Then both boys asked for breakfast, and then went back to bed. I could tell they were so disoriented they were best off going back to sleep. I needed to be doing something. Fussed a bit with Lightning, did laundry (we went through a lot of towels and sheets). In the morning we had a funeral for the girl we lost, and the boys went out and marveled at Lightnings adorable little girl. I called our friend's parents and told them the night had been much more intense than even a normal goat birthing.

Meggie's story

Three days later, Meggie was a day past her most likely due date, and huge as a house. She was still her usual, quiet, somewhat detatched self, but maybe even a bit more quiet.

A year ago, over Passover at friends, we had committed to hosting a Seder that night. I thought, even when we bred the goats: 'What are the odds of her giving birth during a Seder?'

Yeah. The odds turned out to be 100%.

I was taking the day off from work. There wasn't really much to do with Meggie but distract myself and not drive her crazy. I checked on her a lot, but mostly to keep busy I got the dinner ready, set the table, and did other preparations for the dinner.

Yay, a pre-birth goat vulva!

I checked back on Meggie every hour or so.

Around 3:30pm, I saw a little clear fluid starting to leak out of her vulva.

I taped a sign on the back door asking Noah to come back and meet me when he got home from school at 3:45.

By that time she was pawing at the ground, frantically digging to make a deep bed. She cleared out the 5" of wood shavings to get down to the dirt.

Meggie, frantically digging herself a nest

Her back was starting to hunch up with a contraction. I asked Noah to time them. They were fairly strong, every one to three minutes, but very irregular. I don't know how often they should be. I mostly wanted something for Noah to focus on. He was fidgety and it was distracting Meggie.

By 4:00 there was lots of clear fluid, but no other progress for the next hour and a half.

It should happen any time now.

At 5:30, her water broke. More contractions. She was getting up and lying down, panting.

Then a bit of hoof appeared, only to go back in. At 5:30, guests began to arrive. Every time someone came or went, she got more freaked out. David went in to spend time with the guests and keep them out of sight.  Her contractions were weaker than half an hour earlier.

David started the Seder. Meanwhile, I was starting to freak out. I kept seeing one hoof, but no progress whatever, and Meggie was getting tired and losing interest. It was as if she had just decided to stop trying.

I called Julie and asked whether I needed to do more.

Yes. Reach in and grab both front hooves and start helping. "Like pulling a banana out of its peel" Julie told me. I thought it would be just like helping Lightning's baby with her hoof, but this was a whole different thing. The arm was pulled way back with one elbow tucked behind Meggie's hip bone. That goatling was going no where till the arm got unbent.

One hoof-tip. Kept showing and dissappearing.
My birth coach, when I had Noah, told me "no one wants to be the mom who asks for drugs or the mom who yells at people or the mom who poops while having a contraction, but you don't get to bargain and you don't get to choose."

I didn't want to reach into Meggie, but she not getting her kid out on her own.

David came out to hold her front end while I reached in and located the hoof, and started coaxing it forward. And pulled. And pulled. Whenever Meggie pushed, I pulled. I smoothed the head out through a cervix that was way too small for it. Meggie was not happy. She never makes noise but she was bellowing by now. I had no idea how hard you would have to pull. The diagrams don't really explain that part. And you have to pull at the right time - pulling when there isn't a contraction can hurt Meggie.

The kid wasn't being passive. It was pulling its leg back in as hard as it could. That was actually really encouraging. The kid was alive and healthy and had a mind of its own. I could do it!

I realized suddenly that "kidding" and "pulling my leg" are both synonyms for tricking someone. I wasn't sure if this made sense to me or not. It was just a turn of phrase I suddenly thought of at this moment.

Too bad there was no one to take a picture of the kid when his head first crowned. His eyes were open, he was looking around and as soon as I cleaned his nose, he was breathing. I must have snagged my finger in his mouth; he had a slightly bloody lower gum. But he looked so bright and curious, I knew he was eager to see the world.

Once his head was out, the rest of his very long, floppy body followed. He was HUGE!

And that was that. He was the only one in there.

I'm barefoot because I got so much bedding and straw in my shoes. And it's a warm April evening.

As soon as she saw him, Meggie's whole manner changed completely. She started licking him, stamping the ground, calling him, and looking for some water to drink. It was like nothing happened, and like he appeared magically instead of through several hours of hard work.

Her backside must have hurt like crazy. But she was happy as a lark to be with her new son.

This is what I bargained for when we got goats. Somehow the first few times we dodged any complications, and it seemed like the easiest thing on earth.

"goats have instincts" we thought "they just have their babies, no fuss, no problems. We try to be there so they will bond with us, not cause the mom needs us".

In Lightning's case, there was nothing we could do to help. We lost a kid, and Lightning and her other kid were never in any danger.

I think Meggie and her kid would have been in trouble on her own, though. I won't take this process for granted any more.

One thing I heard a number of times - first from the parent of the boy who stayed over for the kidding, then later David said something similar, is that this was very 'real'. The whole week of beekeeping and goat care and hosting events that don't go as intended has been very much about things right in front of us but often hidden.

Part of me thought 'well, isn't everything real'? But I know what they were talking about. Sitting in a pile of wood shavings at night helping a goat have a baby, and letting it die while I held it, did feel very close to things as they really are. We aren't full farmers - our lives or livelihood don't depend on the animals we take care of, though once in a while it's clear that they are interwoven.

Shared on : farm-blog-hop-

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why I love winter pruning

More than baby goats. More than harvesting the first big tomato. More than serving a meal of 100% farm raised food. I. Love. Winter. Pruning.
A bright, sunny Seattle winter day and a tree ready for pruning

This may sound like an unusual farm chore to be passionately attached to, but it's true. It is my hands' down favorite. I live just outside Seattle. Our winters are not very cold - sure, it freezes sometimes, but it's never unbearably cold. This year has been comparatively dry, bright and sunny. Enough to worry about next summer's water, but also enough to draw everybody outside. A dry day is a beautiful day and it's a pleasure to be out in it.

A tree in summer. Form obscured by leaves

A tree in summer really does resemble the lollipop drawings we did as kids.

It has a stem, and it has - well - a blob of green, leafy stuff on top.

And what is going on under those leaves is anybodies guess.

It's when the leaves fall and the branches are revealed that you know what works and what needs correcting.

But mainly I love winter pruning because it's all about the discipline of decision making. Every step and every cut is a decision, but the rules are simple, rational, and they set you up to make the right decisions most of the time.

The Safety rules: follow all of them all the time

If you cut off a thumb in a pruning accident, your best hope is to have a trained surgeon sew it back on. Medicine is wonderful, but it's better not to have that happen.
  1. Always know where your fingers are and where the sharp part of your cutting tools are. Keep them separate. If your hands are cold, don't count on your sense of touch alone. Your hands may be cold enough not to notice if a saw blade nicks them. LOOK at your saw and your fingers when you start to cut. 
  2. Use correct ladder placement. I use an orchard ladder with three legs. I always maintain a strong angle between the pole and the fixed legs, and never climb so my waist is above the top step. Whatever ladder you use, use it safely and move it as needed instead of extending your body weight away from the center.
  3. Know your tools and check them often. Keep pruner and saw sharp, clean, and if they fall, know where they landed. Check ladder before using. I wear gloves every time I prune.
  4. Quit when you get tired or too cold or when the sun starts to set. Have someone come check if you aren't good at calling it a day. Every time I have hurt myself, this is the rule I was breaking. Eventually I learned to obey it.

Pruning rules: follow them in order

Plants do have the  potential to replace severed limbs, provided their trunks remain intact and can carry nutrients back and forth from crown to roots. So if you make a mistake while pruning a branch, don't despair - next year, give the plant an opportunity to regrow the branch you wish you hadn't cut.

However, plants are sensitive until their wounds seal over. If you cut a plant the wrong way, it is left wide open for bacterial infection. So always prune to leave a collar - the ring of cells where a branch meets the next larger scaffold. The tree will grow a cover of bark over the cut starting with the collar cells you leave behind.

Always cut on a slant to let water shed off the surface. And if you have any reason to think the branch you cut was diseased, disinfect the blade between cuts using 10% bleach or rubbing alcohol.

Water shoots, inward branches, overly long or weirdly positioned branches, on a shapely tree
  1. Remove all dead branches. You may have noticed they were dead when the rest of the tree leafed out and they didn't, or you might notice now because they are light in weight, brittle, or their skin isn't green beneath the bark. Follow the branch down to living tissue, and cut to leave a living collar . Don't leave a projecting stump, just the collar. 
  2. Remove all diseased branches - ones with blistered, discolored or split bark or bark that is oozing sap, or branches where you noted unusually weird leaves over the summer. Disinfect the cutting blade with bleach or rubbing alcohol after each cut on diseased wood.
  3. Remove all damaged, broken branches as above. Our neighbors have a huge poplar that sometimes randomly drops branches. They can fall quite a distance and often break the limbs of our trees. So we do a lot of this one.
  4. Look for branches that rub against each other. One of the two must be removed or they will rub each other's bark right off. Keep the one that is stronger or better positioned. A well positioned branch points outward from the center and is held at about a 45% angle. 
    A branch rubbed bare by another branch crossing it
  5. Now for another decision. Find branches that don't make sense. Branches that point back in toward the center of the tree, or that hang downward, or point straight up, or are otherwise inharmonious. Remove them to their collars. Some trees make a lot of these, others seem to follow all the rules all on their own.
  6. You may have already done enough major pruning. But remember your goal is to allow light and air into the tree. So walk around it and see how much light comes in. Imagine the branches in full  leaf. Are branches crowding each other in one area? Will moist, fungal air be trapped among the leaves, spreading disease? If so, remove the branch that is least well positioned.
  7. Nearby tree shows stubby cuts. Tree in background shows water sprouts that turned into giant upright branches
  8. Now you can use your hand pruners to cut back water sprouts. These are young growth that points straight up. Usually you get a cluster of them around a severed branch. The tip of the tallest sprout sends a hormone down the branch that encourages lower branches to grow outward and bear fruit instead of competing to go up. So if you remove all the water sprouts, the tree will stop getting that hormone, and new sprouts will form. Ideally you choose 1/4 of the sprouts, in the best position, and train them to be future branches. They will replace the dead, diseased, damaged and funny branches you take out in future years.
  9. But how to choose? A well positioned sprout points outward and is strong but flexible. Your goal is that when it makes fruit, their weight will help pull it downward into a 45 degree angle. That's a strong enough angle not to break under the fruit's weight, and unlike a totally upright branch, it gets signals telling it to be fruitful.
  10. So do your best, take out most of them but leave some. Cut the ones you remove down to the collar, as usual. For the ones you are leaving, cut just the three or four buds on the tip, ending with an outward facing bud.
  11. Now look at your more established, horizontal branches. Remove those that have gotten much below the horizontal - those that are hanging down. Apples and gravity, ya know - they go together. Too many fruit on a branch can break it right off.
  12. You may see spurs on your trees, recognizable by their many knobby bunches of fruiting buds. Over time, they will grow side twigs with so many buds they make small, feeble fruits. At that point, remove the smaller, thinner twigs leaving only strong thick ones.
  13. Then walk around the tree again. Again ask if you missed anything. Or not. You can always prune again next year.

Being out under the sky, surrounded by bare branches that hide next summer's embryonic apples and pears, knowing that what I am doing will open the trees up to the flow of sunlight and fresh air, is a great feeling. It's time spend alone with my thoughts, but thoughts have a way of pruning themselves too - dropping the unnecessary, the loud, the worried and fidgety, and leaving nothing but clarity and space.

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the-backyard-farming-connection-hop-72 , 129th-wildcrafting-wednesday

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Family Chocolate Cake (by Noah)

     As many friends of our family know but most of our readers don't, our family has a recipe for a very delicious chocolate cake that my dad and I like but my mom has grown very tired of because we wan't it for every single birthday of ours. Yah it is that good so now many of you are probably dying with curiosity about the recipe for our cake. (well not the dying part but you get what I am saying right?)Ok well here we go are you ready for the best chocolate cake ever?!

Prepare 2, 9 inch diameter pans with wax paper on the bottom to reduce stick. Then preheat your oven for 350 degrees and get a timer set for 30 minutes (note do not start it yet!)

     1/3 cup butter OR margarine (note not both)
      1 2/3 cups white sugar
In a bowl with a kitchen-Aid

     3 egg whites Or 2 whole eggs (note not both)
Beat Until Smooth

      1 teaspoon vanilla
      1/2 cup sour cream OR yogurt
      3 square (3 oz) of melted unsweetened chocolate

Mix Together Well in Separate Container
      2 cups all purpose flower
      1 1/2 teaspoon salt
      1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Mix Together Well in Another Separate Container
     1 cup milk
      1 tablespoon vinegar (this curdles the milk making the cake slightly sour so if you don't like sour take this out)

Add the flour mixture and milk mixture a little bit at a time into the bowl with everything else. Then when that is done put 1/2 of the batter in each pan then start the 30 minute timer. Then take the icing and cover the top of both cakes with a thin layer of icing, stick them together cover the sides and you're done. (note don't touch the metal pans with your bare hands)

What is a cake without icing? That is even worse than bread without butter! Well when the cake is almost done start this recipe.

     1 cup melted semisweet chocolate chips.
Combine with
      1 cup sour cream OR 1 cup plain yogurt

By the way something you should try is putting a layer of cherries between the2 halves and double the icing recipe.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lawn to garden conversion: the fruit trees arrive!!!!

The words I'd been waiting to hear. "Mom, there's a box on the porch and it's bigger than you!

Since we moved into Several Gardens Farm, the front yard has always been a bit of a question mark for us. It's gracefully sloping green lawn looked nice until the first time David almost fell of the side while trying to mow. Anyway, we are farmers, not lawn people. We wanted it to grow. But it's steep and huge, and at first it wasn't obvious what to do with it. Over time, I had an increasingly strong vision of turning it into a pleasure ground where we would wander around eating fruit of a dozen varieties, while the scent of herbs and nectar providing flowers wafted up to us from the low growing cover at our feet. I wanted so much fruit we willingly shared with all the birds, and so many flowers we could hear the garden buzz when we went outside.

For more of the back story of grass removal and soil prep, see the lawn to garden conversion tab.

Yesterday the trees came in the mail.

Here they are, all wedged into the box that was taller and wider than me.

We got them from Raintree Nursery, where we have had excellent success in the past.

We loved their packing. All the trees were lashed together, with a small, delicate plant tucked into their branches for protection.

The smaller potted plants were bagged and taped together.

Then there were bags of shredded paper at the edges to soften any impacts they might meet along the way.

The plants were in great condition.

While I dug holes for them, I soaked all the plants in buckets of water.

I felt a bit silly doing it. To the left is the park across the street from our house.

The tennis court is underwater. We joke that we have a great park -it has a tennis court and a pool, all in one.

We've had lots of rain this week. After an extremely dry first half of the winter, precipitation was welcome, but it was still uncomfortably wet.

But you never know how dry the plants may have gotten in transit.

So I put them in to soak.

The trees stayed together.

Blueberries and other less spreading berries went into one bucket. The raspberries got another. Raspberries need a part of the garden where they can spread without getting in any other plant's way.

 My apologies for this horrible picture of the peach tree.

I planted it in the greenhouse. Peaches are very prone to peach leaf curl, which causes them to lose their leaves under damp conditions.

I am going to see if growing it under cover can give me a healthy, curl-free peach tree.

The olive is another experiment.

They do well in regions as cold or colder than Seattle, but they do like summer heat, which we aren't famous for.

I planted it near the south wall of our house, high up on the hill to give it the best drainage we have available.

Last summer we mulched the whole planting area with several inches of wood chips. They have been grow all through with white mycelia, the underground part of mushrooms and other fungus. Fungi in the soil is supposed to set up good growing conditions for trees and long lived perennials.

If so, we are in good shape here. The wood chips formed a mat held tightly together by all the mycelia.

After the peach and the olives went in, we planted all our big trees. Future big trees - here's Noah with a quince tree. 

It's roots are in a hole, waiting for us to fill in with soil. I am of the school of digging a hole just big enough to spread the roots out a bit.

I don't add anything to the soil when I plant, but I've been amending the soil to get it ready for the trees.

Once the tree is positioned, we shoved and scooped soil in around the roots, packing it in tight.

Soil can fluff up when you dig, and leave air pockets against the roots of your plants. Then they can't grow.

Watering is really important - even if you plant in the rain, as we were doing. It's also important to stomp the soil in around the new plant.

So we brought our hose out and watered everything in. 

Noah earned his name today. 

He worked on and on through the pouring rain, until we finally got a few sun breaks near the end.

More fungus. I know no one else wants to look at this, but seeing it made me happy. Our mulching worked. Our wood chips are being broken down, slowly and without heat or sudden bursts of nutrients, by the fungus that came with them or was already there. Jubilation!                                                          

In all, today we planted:

 2 Apple trees - varieties Bramley and Karmijn de Sonnaville
 1 Pear - variety Rescue Pear
 1 Quince - variety Van Demen
 1 Flowering crab apple tree, variety Pink Cloud
 2 Plums - varieties Schoolhouse and Stanley
 2 Sweet cherries - variety Black Vandalay*
 1 Pie cherry - variety Evans
 2 Nanking cherries - a bush cherry - total experiment
 2 Paw Paws - varieties seedling and Pennsylvania Gold
 1 Persimmon - variety Nikita's Gift
 1 Peach - variety Q-1-8 (I know, great name)
 3 Grapes - varieties Einset and Interlaken
 Assorted blueberries, serviceberries, raspberries, olive and white and pink currants.

*Note about Black Vandalay cherries. We sampled these at a fruit picking event, and all three of us, without consulting each other, decided they were our favorite. MUST. HAVE. THIS. CHERRY.

I'm personally most excited about the crab apple. It's a double flowering crab. I've seen what I think is the same tree in a park in central Washington, in late May, absolutely covered with bees of many species. When I stood back from the tree, I could see them flying in and out like a busy airport. I want this in my yard!

But we are also excited to have some varieties we've sampled and loved, and that are not available at the fruit stand. We'll keep you posted as the trees leaf out and the hill (hopefully) springs into life in a few months.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

The goat who couldn't leave

A bit of recent history, to establish the scene.

February 2 was a bright, cool, sunny day. I did a bunch of weeding, cleaned the barn and finally, months after the ducks are gone, I cleaned and aired out the massively overbuilt shelter they slept in.

Later that same, glorious day, the Seahawks won the Superbowl.

Everyone in the greater Seattle area went crazy.

Until a few years ago, our neighborhood of Boulevard Park was unincorporated, not part of any city. Old habits die hard, and folks in this neighborhood celebrate most big events with huge firework displays. It started midway through the third quarter and went on for hours.

The sky was a spectacle, with huge fountains, rockets, etc., and of course the noise that goes with it. I went out to check on the animals; everyone seemed calm.

The next morning when I went out to feed them, the hens and Meggie came running. And I heard Lightning's voice, but couldn't find her. Until...

How did she even fit in there?

There she was, peeking out of the duck pen. At first I thought she was being shy. Maybe the noise had scared her and she was reluctant to come out.


But soon it became clear that she couldn't get out the way she came in.

I tried coaxing her feet out, but her belly was getting squeezed and she was freaking out, in a confined area.

Trying to drag or entice her out seemed like a recipe for her getting injured.

There is a second door out into a little fenced enclosure. It's a bird sized door, about the size of a sheet of paper. But she tried several times to get through it. Sorry, dear, no.

At this point I was dearly regretting the massive size and overbuilding of this structure. It was designed as a portable 'chicken tractor' to be rolled from place to place, so that chickens always have new ground to forage. But like many things, we tried unsuccessfully to combine two incompatible qualities - solidity and portability. The enclosure is raccoon proof. But it is also so heavy, its wheels have buried themselves in the mud and it's going nowhere.

Luckily, there was one more option to try. The back of the pen has a third door, bigger, for cleaning. But it wasn't raccoon-proof, so we moved the water trough in front of it to block it.

 I love our water trough. It provides all the water the animals need for 9 months of the year. It stands under the downspout from the barn, capturing water and keeping the ground around the walls from turning to mud. A spout at the bottom lets us water the plants, or just drain it.

Unfortunately, for all its merit, the trough is a huge obstacle right at the moment. Nothing can get in or out without moving 125 gallons of ice water!

 I opened the spigot at the bottom. Usually I do that, then go do other tasks - sometimes for hours. I didn't like that plan. Then I took the big pump. It can drain about 2 quarts per pump. But that is still a really lot of pumping. Ultimately I bailed the tank out, bucket by bucket and finally flopped it over on its side. It took a lot of 4 gallon bucket fulls to drain that puppy!

And then - the lock was rusted shut.

Finally I was able to pry open the lock, dig the bottom of the door out of the muck and free Lightning!

Here she is, stretching her legs. Her body language is not as exuberant as normal. Her ears are down and her tail is tight against her legs. She was about as unhappy as I've ever seen her.
But I didn't realize until a few minutes later what the big problem was. She had been waiting all night for this.

My potty trained goat wouldn't pee in the coop and she wouldn't pee on the grass or the soil. It had to be in the wood chips. Once she started it was like she was never going to stop. I didn't realize how trained she was.

Now I have the door closed again. I would like to think that Lightning has learned not to do this, but she's a bit of a risk taker and I don't want to go through that process again.
Meanwhile, Lightning has already moved on to her next adventure. (This is an old picture but I had to run after extriacating her).

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