Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Picture This

Greening pasture

That brown indicates shade, maybe keyline issues.
The cherry tree is coming to life.

Rhubarb looks like a disgusting brain when it's first opening.


Happy transplanted cabbage.
Unhappy onion, planted too early, crowded until transplant.

Happy onion, planted later, waiting for the soil to warm.
A row of peas :)

Hoop house with barley planted as a last minute cover crop.
Tidier garden fence

Row of gooseberries
Violet in poor condition, but well-confined.

Lilacs ever closer to bursting open.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

While I Was Away

I have been much too busy outside, or trying to get outside, to do a blog post. I'll do one of just pictures next, but I have the energy this evening to report and no pictures.

First, we rebuilt the cow fence last weekend. Violet was pushing and pushing against the only post that did not have an offset wire, and the thawed, sandy soil pretty much gave up the post. We bought a panel gate, set a post and ran the offset wire around the entire paddock. (An offset wire is an electric wire that keeps cows off a fence.) We also put the bale of hay she had torn into inside the paddock, and miracle of miracles, she's eating it. It's the same hay she had only been picking at when it was doled out; I guess she just wanted the whole bale. Sure, there's waste, but I kind of don't care at the moment. We can use the wasted hay in the garden, and I am happy to deal with the waste if she will just eat.

I also set 7 posts around the big garden and got my poultry net looking tidier. I fence the garden instead of the chickens. It turns out poultry net does a better job keeping chickens out of an area than in an area, and the garden does not object to fencing in quite the way the chickens do. I do not like how the poultry net looks as garden fence, but it's easy to mow around, it's easy to put up, and it's the fence I already own.

The children and I figured out if we doubled up on reading and math, and do mostly oral follow ups, we could finish school by the end of the coming week. WOOHOO! Don't get me wrong- we like school, but we also like when we're done with school for the summer. Now is the time to be outside, not laboring around the kitchen table.

We also weeded and mulched about 95% of the big garden. This is the 60' X 60' garden that was new last spring and just kind of limped along all summer, as I never had quite enough time to get it settled. Surprisingly, my half-ass care kept the weeds back pretty well. The end farthest from the house had the most grass, but what mulching I had done even made this not too onerous to pull out. It has been somewhat tedious, but the garden looks fabulous and is ready for some plants. We'll finish weeding it and mulching it this week, in between ballet and library groups.

I distributed lime on all the pastures. That was heavy work. I used the tractor, but I still had to get all the lime into the spreader. I figure I moved a thousand pounds twice that day.

I got a couple of beds in the house garden ready, as well. I transplanted one tray of onions that was not looking so great. The soil was cold, but the onions were done being crowded. I can see that none of them look worse, and some are definitely showing new growth. The leeks and shallots are not objecting as strenuously to the cramped quarters and the tray of onions I planted almost two months later than the first trays looks fabulous. I'll start all my alliums later next year and I'll thin them.

Today, I transplanted the early cabbage. It was looking great, because the trays have been in the hoophouse the past week. The plants definitely like that surround sunlight better than what they get through the windows. Still, today was a leaf day, the soil was almost 50, and the cabbages were not going to be happy in the tray too much longer. Tomorrow is a fruit day, and I hope to plant peas in the garden and start the tomatillos.

I sprayed milk on all the pastures today. It was a few days later than I really wanted to, but I'm sure I'll still see a benefit. I only had 1.5 gallons to spare for all the pastures, but supposedly it doesn't take much. If we find ourselves with more milk later, I'll do it again. The optimum time is just when the grass is turning green, and boy has it done that this week. I swear you could sit and watch it happen without even being all that patient.

Ezra and I also planted 18 berries. One of my friends was placing a last minute order, and she suggested it might make more sense to buy more gooseberries and currants than to move them again. I was easily convinced, as I did not relish the idea of digging them up yet again. It turned out the bare-root bundles were twice the size we expected, so I got 10 gooseberries and 10 currants. I decided to put them in the big garden. I put a row of gooseberries at the top end of the garden, away from the drive, thinking that since they're perennials they might slow water down at the top of the hill. The currants I planted in the north end of each row thinking they might offer a windbreak. The last two currants Ezra is going to pot up as a present. I think the berries will make the garden look prettier year round.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spring's Immeasurable Surprise

These were taken with an Ipod, so forgive the quality.

Empty birdfeeder to make the yard less inviting to bears

Lilac budding

It is so hard to see because the sun was so bright yesterday, but there are little baby garlic shoots in all that hay.

Johnny Jump Ups Blooming

This is a weed I have much love for

Everyone helps in the garden.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What We Teach- Literature

I remember reading about Don Quixote and the windmills when I was in high school. It left almost no impression, except I felt once again something was a classic because no one would enjoy reading it.

About two years ago, Ezra read this version and laughed his head off. He could not wait to tell us the many ridiculous things Quixote and Sancho had been up to. He was so delighted that when I saw an inexpensive copy at Bear Pond a couple of months back, I picked it up.

The book is hilarious. The introduction explains something about it being the first modern novel, which seems like something that should have been included in my high school visit to La Mancha. I am not able to defend that particular statement about it being the first novel, but I can tell you that it is full of jokes and scenes any reader will recognize from one place or another.

It isn't exactly a page turner, all the same. Many (maybe most) of the paragraphs span more than a page. However, once you surrender to the story telling, Cervantes wants you to have a good time. His story is rife with irony, surprising situations, rank cynicism, and scatological humor. I found myself talking about the book at dinner and at our library group.

Then- I found myself having to take the book from Ezra who plunged into the 18th century translation with the same delight he gave to Martin Jenkins' version. As of this morning, I am also sharing my book with Phaedra, who could not put it down when I called her for lunch.

I am not really sure what this all means; I'm not sure what we're teaching in this. I just feel a bit like halo-polishing as my 13- and 11-year-olds delight in a cumbersome classic. Whatever we're doing, this one looks like it's working.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


We bought part of a pig, and we happily take any lard anyone else passes on. So, today, the children and I have put 5 gallons of lard in the freezer. Donuts anyone?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Everyone Likes a Job

At least I think so. And I have found a good job for Nico.

First, you should know that rat terriers were bred to be a poor man's all purpose dog. They were supposed to be excellent family pets, although their tolerance for children is not limitless. They are good at killing small mammals- think rats. And they are supposed to be good at herding.

Nico has shown an amazing patience for family life. He can get a potty mouth when he feels he is being handled too much, but he has not offered to bite anyone in retaliation. He DOES nip hands when he's excited, but never with the intention to hurt. He mostly wants to sit in a lap when he's inside, so much so that one could think he's a couch potato. However, if anyone is going outside, he will beat them through the door and follow them wherever they are going. He is the perfect companion dog.

As for killing small mammals, I believe I've reported before that he takes care of any moles that happen into our yard. The cats tend to kill the mice and shrews. Fortunately, I have no idea if he would kill a rat, but I like to think he would.

I have seen many signs that he is willing to herd, but it has often been a frustration rather than a help. He gets so excited when we're moving chickens around that he will run them every which way. I know if I could train him, I could teach him to drive the chickens the direction I want. With the cows, he has been a little help. The cows are not afraid of him, but if he darts in at just the right moment, he can push them down a lane they had been balky to move along.

Last summer, we realized that he is much better than we are at chasing the chickens out of the barn-like structure where we store hay. I worried sometimes that he might try to get a mouthful of chicken, but he never did. And the more often he is called on to do the task and given a command to stop doing it, the calmer he gets executing the herding of chickens. With the thaw, the chickens are now ranging over the entire property. We want this for the most part. However, I do not want them in the yard or in any of the gardens. The flex-net we're using around the garden was pushed down in a couple of places and I could not put it back up until the ground thawed.

Enter Nico.

He is quite smart and seems pretty able to figure out what we mean when we say, "Get the chickens out of the garden!" Then, he's so delighted with himself. Also, the more he often chases the chickens out of the yard, the less likely the chickens are to keep coming in the yard, as they have many other places to go. Interestingly, the result is not that Nico then chases the chickens every time he sees them; he really seems to grok that he is only to chase them when we say so. He seems quite pleased to be called on for this job, and a working dog is less likely to give you other trouble.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Count

On Saturday, I saw the first robins and heard the first "cheeseburger" chickadee call. This morning, I heard the first frog. The snow continues to recede. I smelled the evidence of a skunk passing through Saturday evening. I haven't heard a snowmobile in a week. The snack stand opens in another week.

Now She's Eight

 Born ready to engage.
Always happy and on the move.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What We Teach

Sylvie has many rough days. Partly, it's her, but sometimes I'm very aware that she actually occupies a difficult place in our family.

She's the youngest, but my own biases against "babying" mean I probably often ask more of her than I should. Add to that a faltering awareness, "Oops! I just asked Sylvie to do a chore the other two did two or three years older," and you can see a girl might be confused.

Also, her brother and sister watch her every move and comment on everything she does. Sometimes it's loving and sometimes it's not, but I imagine it's tiring all the time. At breakfast this morning, she explained some childish misinterpretation of the world that as her mother, I knew she would figure out for herself. I knew that these things actually mean she's working it out and she'll get to a better understanding later. I knew to just listen and maybe ask a question or two, then let it go. But her brother and sister jumped on her for thinking something so OBVIOUSLY wrong. I felt a little sad that they yanked away her slow dawning of understanding, and I also knew that it probably happens more often than I realize.

The list of sleights goes on and on, and truly, she gives as good as she gets, just in different ways. So when I got home from an outing this afternoon, and I heard just how AWFUL Sylvie had been and I looked at her kicked-dog expression, I just ignored it. I told her she WOULD have to go with me to take Phaedra to dance, but she could bring a book along for me to read to her. Then, we dropped Phaedra off, and I took my animal loving bit of sunshine to the animal shelter. We looked at puppies and talked about all the things they do at the shelter to try to make the dogs' lives better. We fed treats to a few of the dogs who seemed eager to greet us. We looked at the cats and moved very quietly to disturb them as little as possible.

Afterward, Sylvie was her bubbly self, but calm in the middle. All her frazzled ends had been smoothed, and that was more important than reviewing again the list of all the little things she does that drive her siblings crazy. She felt loved which meant she could give back a little to the rest of us. Now, if I can just remember this lesson tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

First Sight

by Philip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, their lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike snow.

Just a poem on this early April day when the arriving spring is hidden once again beneath a blanket of snow.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Separating the Calves

Last weekend, we decided we would start separating the calves. The "calf stall" has been turned into a brooder coop, but it can still work to hold calves who are pretty small. The convenience of separating the calves beckoned with each milking. First, it means fewer bodies moving around during milking and no one trying to nurse while I'm milking. We also switched to milking once a day, and that is what ultimately led to our locking the calves up overnight.

What happened is that we went from getting 3/4 of a gallon per milking to a quart or less. This is fine. It means the calves were able to take all the milk that Violet makes. The bargain between us and the cows is that we take some of that milk, even if they COULD drink it all. In a dairy, my understanding is that calves get about 1.5 gallons a day. When we weaned Gusto last year, we were getting 4 gallons a day, so I feel pretty comfortable taking more than a quart of milk. A quart of milk feels like a waste of time.

We're getting calmer each time we're faced with this challenging cow situations, and I feel pleased with how easily we've gotten everyone in the routine of being separated. Around 7:00 pm, we go down and gently cut the calves from Violet, pushing her away from the shed and trapping them in the shed. Then, we open the stall, guide them in, lock the door, and let Violet into the shed. It's been remarkably easy. I'm wondering if the calves are cooperating more because there are two of them, but no one has seemed as stressed by the separation as the previous calves have been. In the morning, we do our milking chores, and I do not at all strip Violet's udder, leaving milk for the calves. When I'm done milking, we let the calves out of the stall and they spend the day with their mother, munching hay and nursing.

My only concern is everyone's condition. The calves look skinnier to me than our other two calves, but they are 3/4 Jersey, and the other two were 1/2 Brown Swiss. Also, they started out smaller. They look plenty vigorous and are obviously growing, so I'm not worried about them, just aware. Violet is looking less full-bodied than usual, but still rounder than other Jerseys I've met. It's kind of hard, because dairy cows ARE actually bony-hipped and such. I'm staying attuned to her condition. At the moment, she looks much better than she did the first week after the calves were born, but her hips look less fleshy. Before, I would have told you that she had more flesh than a dairy cow cow often has, so I'm still not sure it matters. I figure if she does not continue to lose fleshiness then we're fine. If she keeps looking less and less good, then we might have to separate the calves a bit more to give her body a break, or maybe we'll wean them earlier.

Violet weaned Chappy at 13 months, and we weaned Gusto at 5 months. We know how to do it, and it has its own difficulties and benefits. For now, we'll just stay aware.