Garlic Scented Moving Boxes

Growing and curing garlic was a first for me this year. I don’t really count the time I tried to grow garlic in the sandy, depleted soil we had in our yard in New Mexico.  I think I may have set a world record with those microscopic bulbs.

2011 Garlic Harvest

So Last October I was excited to plant both hard neck and soft neck varieties.  There are lots of sites detailing how to grow garlic, when to harvest and how to cure it (here is one example), so I won’t go into it here, but I will say it is really very easy.  My plants were affected by a mysterious leaf fungus that neither S nor I could identify after lots of research, but fortunately the bulbs were spared and I hung several dozen on my back porch to cure.

Hang garlic in a cool, dry, well ventilated spot for a couple of weeks to cure.

I waited a bit too long before pulling them out of the ground, and some of the bulbs had already lost their outer paper coating and started to separate.

This is how the garlic should look coming out of the ground.

Here is a bulb that is too mature - I should have harvested a week earlier.

Well cured garlic bulbs should keep through the winter if they are stored properly, but these naked, separated cloves won’t.  They are perfectly good for eating, though.  Unfortunately about 50% of my harvest was like this, so it wasn’t a matter of just tossing the few bad ones in my next stir fry.  I thought at first I might just plop them all in a big jar of olive oil and stick this in my pantry.  But then I read that garlic and oil at room temperature is a recipe for botulism.  I hated to just throw the rest in the compost, so I’ve been trying to find ways to preserve them.  Poor mom got put to work when she came to see the farm for the first time, peeling the last little bit of paper off the cloves. When I’m not at work or unpacking from our recent move, I’ve been peeling, roasting, mashing, chopping and freezing.  It turns out there are myriad ways to preserve peeled garlic (check out tips here and here).

Roasted garlic cloves spread out for a quick freeze before bagging

Mashed roasted garlic ready to freeze

My freezer is full of about any type of garlic product you could ever want – whole frozen cloves, frozen sheets of finely chopped garlic, whole roasted cloves, and ice-cube trays of mashed roasted garlic and very garlicy pesto.  I’m going to try to dehydrate some next and make my own dried garlic flakes and powder. Now I just need to find a ton of garlicy recipes so I can make use of all this stuff this fall and winter.  I’m thinking soups and stews.  We’ve already used some of the roasted garlic on a pizza, which took it from average to spectacular.

But it doesn’t look like there is any hope of clearing the smell out of the house any time soon.  Good thing T doesn’t mind.

Posted in Food, Garden | 2 Comments

Rooster Finds His Voice

Remember these guys?

Rooster C., Mae, Zoe and Hennie in March

Well, here they are now:

Rooster and Hennie in August

Zoe and Mae in August

We’ve been having a lot of fun watching our little flock of chickens mature this summer.  For a long while, even after they reached full size and plumage, the birds still made little chick-like cheeping noises.  I was eagerly awaiting the more adult clucking and crowing, both because I love the sounds, and because they signal egg-laying is not long off.  Finally, T and I were sitting in the living room one day when we heard a funny noise in the back yard, sort-of a cross between a meow and a hoot.  I thought it might be an injured cat.  I looked out the window, and to my surprise the sound was coming from the rooster. He looked as surprised as I was, seized by a strange convulsive urge to holler.  T and I were so excited, we were like parents whose child has just spoken its first words.  Our little chicky, all-growned up.  T proposed we write a children’s book: “Rooster Finds His Voice”.

Here’s a funny little video of his early crow.  I love how he runs away afterwards, as if he is embarrassed about this new development:

Our second, accidental rooster started the pitiful hooting only a couple of days later.  But then things started to get ugly.  Two maturing roosters is too many when you’ve only got four hens.  One rooster is usually dominant (S says the alpha rooster has some kind of hormonal-pheromonal release that suppresses the development of the beta rooster), but rooster number two was not lagging far behind.  They began fighting, over food, over the hens, and for no reason at all.  Instead of doing their roosterly duty, watching out for the hens, finding them food, and ushering them into the coop at night, our roosters were stealing food from the ladies and terrorizing them (ganging up on them to mate in rapid succession) so that the poor girls wouldn’t go in the coop at night.  The hens started wandering off to different parts of the yard in the daytime, avoiding the roosters all together, which defeats the purpose of having a rooster in the first place.  I don’t blame them a bit.  Neither T nor I had any warm fuzzy feelings toward these jerks.  They were nothing like our beloved foster rooster, the mellow John Henry.

Here’s a video of the roosters trying to intimidate each other:

So, when S & S asked us to help them process a few chickens over a weekend, we included our alpha rooster in the bunch.  We roasted him with some of last year’s frozen pesto rubbed under the skin – which was possibly the best meat I’ve ever eaten.  Roosters don’t have much white meat on the breast, but those legs and thighs were rich and savory.

After culling the big meanie, we noticed an immediate difference in our flock.  Within one day, everybody was meandering peacefully together about the yard.  We’re calling the fellow Rooster Cogburn, and the ladies Zoe, Mae West, and Hennie. I still can’t come up with a name for the last hen.  I’m happy to report that Roster Cogburn has a fully fledged cock-a-doodle-doo now, and we’ve started getting our first eggs.  The very first one was about the size and color of a large green olive. They are so cute I don’t want to eat them, and they are piling up in the fridge. Gotta dig out those quiche and souffle recipes!

Our first egg of the season

Many mini multicolored eggs galore

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Chapter 3 – A New Hope

The view from our mini farm.

Those of you who have been following along from the beginning will have heard us refer to our recent transitions as “phases” of the master plan.  Phase 1 was leaving our jobs in New Mexico and moving to Western North Carolina for a life-changing farm internship with the inimitable H & M.  Phase 2 was a baby step into a rental and a simple, (mostly) frugal lifestyle on the farm of our new dear friends S & S.  Phase 3 was what we were aiming at the whole time, the vision that sustained us through all the changes – a little homestead of our own, where we could grow food and raise animals, start a new family closer to our old ones, build community, live more sustainably, and pursue lower-stress, more fulfilling work.

Well, that is a lot to cram in to one phase, and really, phase 3 is probably going to be the phase with no end.  But, the beginning of phase 3 can be officially marked. We’ve spent months exploring hundreds, maybe thousands of miles of rural and suburban Western North Carolina.  We’ve seen two or three dozen properties: fancy modern homes with rather large yards, rustic cabins perched on steep slopes, 10-acre holdings with 1920’s farm houses, vacant pastures, and mobile homes with goat pens.  We’ve been on the emotional roller coaster of love at first sight and dashed hopes (don’t even get me started on flood plains, asbestos, power transmission lines, highway noise and church parking lot light pollution).  We sat in the car for hours and hours, searching, dreaming, laying plans, bickering when we found ourselves tired and hungry and stuck in some rural holler, getting sore rears and stiff necks and search fatigue.  We schemed with friends – maybe we could do more if we pooled resources?  We devised nutty bargains with the universe.  All this is the reason we didn’t grow anything this season except the garlic we planted last fall, and the reason you haven’t heard much from me in months.  But I am thrilled to announce that we are now the proud owners of a beautiful mini-farm!

Our new pasture and barn.

Our new place is so different from our original vision that it took some time for me to realize that it is actually a better fit for us.  We began our search big (5-10 acres) and far from town (30-45 minute drive).  The little place we ended up with is just 1.5 acres, and within 10 minutes of downtown.  Though we are sacrificing some of that country peace, wildlife, and space, we feel like we’ve chosen a more realistic and manageable size for our interests.  We’re excited to develop an urban-farming model, and the proximity to town will help us build community, pursue other interests, and find supplemental work, without having to be in the car all the time. I had no idea you could find such a large piece of land so close to a city in the eastern part of the U.S.

Farmhouse

Moving is always bittersweet, though, and I felt rather wistful about leaving S & S’s farm, both for the peace and beauty of the land, and the close friendship we shared.  I’ll miss hearing their lambs bleat when I open my front door, seeing the wild turkeys meander up the road, watching the firefly light show every evening, hearing nothing in the mornings but the rooster’s crow, the rushing creek, song birds, and distant rumbling thunder.

Morning at S&S's Farm

Still, we’ve got a lot of nature and a lot of food-growing potential for being only minutes from an urban center.  There are blackberries and wineberries, plum and apple trees, a pond, walnut and choke cherry trees and a pasture.  We’ve been busy, busy, busy with unpacking, new home owner responsibilities, and planning for fall and even next spring.

Plum trees

Once we get settled, I hope that I’ll be able to write more often about what we’re doing.  We’re going to take our time developing a plan for how to use the land, but we’re day dreaming about wildflowers, bee hives, dairy goats, outdoor pizza ovens, blueberries, pear and peach trees, lawn games, hammock swings, rabbits, fish in the pond, and of course, a large herb and vegetable garden. Stay tuned, and be on the lookout for a change in blog venue, and maybe blog title, sometime in the near future.

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Morning Drama

Lots happening…too busy to write much these days.  Hope to have some good news to share soon on the farm-hunting project, but I don’t want to jinx it.  Till then, I wanted to share a few fun photos:

My favorite part of our coop is the little window Taylor put in. I love to watch the birds watching me as I close them in for the night, or let them out in the morning.

Our chickens are a curious lot. Here they are watching S&S's cat, Tikla, hunting moles in the weeds across the street. They watched her for a good 10 minutes before running off in a tizzy when she finally pounced.

We have a resident wild turkey family in the holler. Here is a hen escorting one of her chicks down the road early in the morning.

No matter how quietly I approach, I've scared this little family off every time I try to get photos. Once the spooked chicks flew up into a tree, and their parents had to call them back down, while fighting off another intruder turkey. I love these little early morning dramas in our front yard.

 

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One Ridge, Four Seasons

Hard to believe, but next week T and I will be celebrating the end of our first year in Western North Carolina. Three of those months were as interns with H & M, and nine were in our rental on S & S’s farm.  Here’s what it looked like, from one vantage point, in a nutshell:

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Gettin’ Busy

Thousands of tadpoles have appeared in a nearby spring.

I’m sorry for such a long delay in writing.  Like everything else in nature, we have been incredibly busy with the emergence of spring.  Our main task has been shopping for our own mini-farm, a process which  has been a real emotional roller coaster.  We’ve seen a few promising places, though, so I hope to have more to report on that soon.

Meanwhile, I’m very proud to report that all of our chicks survived the first month – much of which was still very winter-like – in the cardboard box that served as their brooder on our back porch.  They have now moved into the big coop, and are “imprinting” there for 5 days before we allow them to start ranging in the yard.

 

Our chicks explore their new home. Look at how the rooster is checking me out with his chest all puffed out.

It has been really fun and interesting to watch them grow and change, both in appearance and behavior.  They are pretty much bonafide chickens now, only in miniature – fighting, scratching, flying, and roosting.  Watching their adult plumage fill in has been a treat – they are going to be really beautiful birds.

We were mistakenly given two roosters, and were a little concerned about one for the first several days.  He just seemed so puny and lethargic compared to the others.  But we’ve since learned that when there are two roosters with a small flock of hens, one becomes dominant and releases hormonal signals that actually suppresses the development of the lower ranking male.  The difference in appearance and behavior was evident even at 1 week, and has become more prominent as they have aged.

 

The runty rooster is smaller and still quite downy, and less assertive. He is usually crouching low.

 

The dominant rooster is bigger and bolder, with more adult wing and tail feathers. He is often socializing with the others and sticking out his neck.

The foster chickens have gone home.  We do miss John Henry and the girls, and their delicious eggs (we won’t be getting eggs from our girls for another 3-5 months).  But we are relieved to have our bird responsibilities reduced a bit.

 

Chinny, the orphaned guinnea hen, liked to spend time around our foster flock.

Since I last wrote, S & S’s ewe’s have birthed another set of twin lambs, and TWO sets of triplets!  One of the ewes is a black sheep, and she had one white baby, one black baby, and a BLEND!

The calico lamb.

The first set of twins is growing up fast! They look HUGE compared to the new triplets.

Around sunset the lambs get very frisky. Watching them play is one of my favorite things about my day.

The newest triplets are all white, and for some reason much more talkative than all the rest of the lambs.  Check out the video to get a sense of the noise we’ve been hearing daily ever since they were born:

S & S also hatched 24 ducklings.  Their little flat beaks and webbed feet are so cute I can hardly stand it.

ducklings

Our chicks hide in the nesting box of their new coop, afraid at first to explore. Look at how their feathers are changing!

Posted in Animals, Nature and Outdoors | 1 Comment

Baby Things

Our chicks explore their new home under the warming lamp.

It was still dark out this morning when the phone rang, jolting us out of a deep sleep, even though we had set the alarm for 30 minutes earlier (darn that ‘spring forward’).  It was our neighbor, S:

“I’m at the post-office, and I’ve got our chicks!  They are awake and chirping, and I’m bringing them home now.”

T and I stumbled out to the back porch where we had set up the “brooder” – really just a big cardboard box with strategically placed plastic tarps (to protect from blowing rain) and chicken wire (to protect from predators).  We flipped on the red warming light, hoping it would be up to 90 degrees by the time S returned with our baby flock.  I filled some shallow dishes with some food and water, and we fussed with the brooder in the morning chill until S pulled into our driveway.

I was surprised when I first learned that chicks can be sent by mail.  S explained that just before they hatch, chicks eat the last of the yolk sac, and then use all their energy to break out of the shell.  They are then so exhausted, they pass out for 3 days – a perfect shipping window.  They arrive hungry and thirsty, but not knowing yet how to eat or drink. To help orient them, we dipped their beaks in the water and food as we placed them in the box.  They are as light as a cotton ball in your hand.  Still learning to use their unsteady little legs, they stumble around looking sleepy and drunk.

our lone yellow chick

I must admit, I got a little stressed out in the week leading up to their arrival.  They are so tiny and vulnerable, and everything I read on raising chicks seems to have a section titled something like “Top 10 Reasons Chicks Die.”  There are predators to worry about, temperatures to regulate, wind and rain, leg diseases, dehydration, pneumonia… I insisted we put the brooder outside (a lot of people do this in their bathtub) – but that made everything much more complicated.  It caused more than a few arguments with my dear, patient husband, who is much more laid back and easy going than I.  Now that the chicks are here, I’m a little more relaxed, though I’ve still been checking on them more often than strictly necessary.  I can’t imagine what I’d be like with a human baby…

Our chicks are two heritage breeds, Silver Laced Wyandottes (picked for their small combs – so they don’t get frostbite in our cold winters) and Araucanas (picked for their multi-colored eggshells).  Somehow we ended up with two males – which won’t work with only 4 hens – and I’m not sure what we are going to do about that.  Anybody want a rooster?

In other baby news, two more lambs were born over the weekend – both males.  We’ve been watching them from our front window as they practice head-butting each other and search for their mothers among all the other ewes.

momma and baby

And let’s not forget the other babies we are nurturing – our little veggie seedlings, fittingly started on Valentine’s day:

Baby Greens

I’ll try to update often about the how our babies are doing!

Posted in Animals | 2 Comments