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.

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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!

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5 Things I Learned at the OGS

After a February tease of spring, the first few days of March have been a soggy, chilly flashback: crummy conditions for tromping around the quad of UNC-Asheville for the Organic Growers School, as we did last weekend.  Fortunately, most of our classes and workshops were indoors, though there was a point where I found myself barefoot in a parking lot, in the snow, stomping in a frigid pool of mud (for a build-your-own wood-fired oven class).  It took all day for my toesies to thaw out, and they are still a little Oompa Loompa-looking – stained orange by the Appalachian clay.

This was the 18th year of the spring conference, which tells you something about the priorities of this region.  I know I’m a nerd, but I absolutely love being on a college campus.  I love the sense of possibility and opportunity.  I love being surrounded by people who love to learn, who practically worship learning, and accumulate ridiculous resources to do so.  Libraries, computers, labs.  I also love sitting in a lecture hall, listening to someone talk about the minutia of an obscure topic within a sub-sub-specialty that is his/her life’s work.  Wacky experts are so cool. And they abounded at the OGS – mushroom experts, bee experts, flower experts, manure experts, chicken experts, blueberry experts.  In other words, the OGS was right up my alley.

T had a slightly different experience – he’s not really a by-lecture learner; hands on is more his gig.  (The OGS did offer a few hands-on (and feet-on) workshops – T did the one on artisan bread baking, and actually got to use a clay oven like the one I helped build.)  I think you also have to be careful what classes you choose.  My impression is that the courses at OGS are designed for the lowest common denominator.  If you’ve already spent a lot of time on the internet or reading books about a topic like, say, gardening in a low water environment, the OGS class on the topic will probably just be a review. T is always on web looking up his interests, not to mention doing a number of farmy internships, so some of his classes were a disappointment.  That being said, he did get to rub elbows with some big names in permaculture, got some inspiration, and brought home a tasty wood-fired baguette.

Fortunately, I don’t know much about much when it comes to organic gardening, so everything was new and delightful.  I started with a class on growing small fruits, and did three classes on insects: attracting beneficials, native pollinator habitats, and beginning chemical-free honeybee keeping.  My wildcard class was mycoforestry – mushroom growing – which was the geekiest of all, and WAY over my head with details.  I walked out thinking, “I’m not sure mushrooms are going to be my thing.”  But, I have to admit, it is the class I’ve been thinking and talking about the most since. And then there were the other-worldly infrared time-lapse videos of fungus growing in a Petri dish – eye candy for a science geek like me. Here and here are something similar.

Anyway, I thought the best way to go about sharing what I learned is to just focus on the big take-home messages, which might seem like no-brainers, but are not often put into practice, even by serious organic farmers.  Sorry I don’t have any photos.  I may get a few from another participant, and will update this post with them if I can.  Here goes:

1. Don’t poo-poo the ornamentals – With the rising popularity of “edible landscaping”, it is easy to think that the traditional flowerbed lining your driveway just isn’t cool anymore.  Case in point, the small fruits instructor actually issued the decree, in an exasperated tone, “Don’t plant something that flowers but doesn’t bear fruit!”  To be fair, I think he has a particular beef with the ubiquitous Bradford pear – which isn’t one of my favorites either (is it just me, or do those trees STINK?).  But, (forgive me small fruits expert –for your class was very interesting and informative), I think this attitude risks seeming snobbish, and is one reason some people are turned off by organic advocates.  We have to incorporate things we love into our gardens, or we won’t want to be out there at all. More importantly, a diverse selection of beautiful, non-edible plants brings all kinds of benefits to your (or your neighbor’s) food garden: including pollinators, fungi, birds and predator insects.  I remember H & M had a wonderful variety of flowers in their vegetable garden that made weeding around the bean poles so much more pleasant.

2. Wait and watch – This applies to almost everything: planting, building, spraying, medicating. We just react too fast, and I’m no exception.  I’m incredibly impatient and just want my gratification now, thank you very much.  But the message this weekend was ‘slow down.’   Have some faith that Mother Nature can take care of a few things, given some time.  In a healthy, balanced garden with a diversity of plant life, beneficial insects may be able to take care of whatever is eating your broccoli.  Don’t bring out the ‘big guns’ until you are really sure you’ll need them… Don’t build your wood fired oven or bee hive till you know which way the wind blows on your property…  A strong beehive will often be able to purge itself of mites without chemicals… Watch how the water drains on your property and plan your veggie beds to make the most use of this.

3. Even bad bugs can be good bugs, except when they are very, very bad – That infestation on your collard greens might just be a smorgasbord with a big neon sign for predator insects.  If you kill off the baddies (even with organic sprays), at the very least you’ve destroyed the buffet that will attract the good guys, and you might have even killed the beneficials with friendly fire.  Give it a few days, and if the predator bugs don’t take care of the problem, then spray.  But – be sure you are spraying the right part of the plant at the right time – you might not need as much as you think. This all applies until you are dealing with the invasive, foreign bugs – stuff like Japanese beetles – in which case the native environment is not adapted to deal with that threat, and you might need to intervene.

4. Fungi are a farmer’s friends – I associate mushrooms with dead and smelly stuff, like rotten logs and cow poop.  But of course, the role of fungi in breaking down the detritus of the forest is very important in the ecological scheme of things.  And it turns out that fungi not only eat dead things, but also live in symbiotic relationship with other plants.  Apparently, in healthy forests, there are huge underground networks of mycelium, the root-ish part of mushrooms, which bring water, nutrients, and even medicines to trees.  Speaking of medicines, mushrooms are being investigated for their virus, bacteria and cancer fighting properties in humans.  They can also be used to remediate polluted ecosystems, to make dyes for fabric and paper, and a host of other practical applications.  Of course, as our forests are being destroyed for large-scale agribusiness and housing development, the mushrooms are disappearing too.  The mushroom guru who taught the class has taken a guerrilla approach to this problem: he mixes mushroom spores in with his bird seed so that they are spread all over the place.  He also puts it in the oil he uses on his chainsaw, so that every time he has to cut down a tree, the stump is inoculated with fungus.  As to being the farmer’s friend, mushrooms can be incorporated into wood chip mulch, logs that line garden beds, chicken coop bedding, and even straw bales.  The fungus can protect plants and animals from disease, and makes more nutrients and water available to plants.  Fascinating stuff.  This is all not to mention the big bucks one can make selling edible mushrooms to restaurants.  Mushroom-man told us he can sell some varieties for $20 a pound!

5. Incorporate natives – Go for diversity, but when you can, go for native diversity. Varieties that evolved in your region are more adapted to your climate, the insect ecology in your area, the companion plants and fungi, the hours of daylight you get, the water table, the soil content, and so on.  When possible, go really local, as in what grows well in your specific holler or neighborhood.  But even just regional plants, or North American plants, are a better bet than imports. I was excited to learn how many native  Appalachian small fruits exist – and discovered something called paw-paw, which is apparently god’s perfect fruit (calorie dense, with a perfect fatty-acid, carb, protein and vitamin/mineral combination).  The local idea can apply to animals and honeybees as well.  Local breeders have often created a hybrid chicken that is well adapted to the region’s climate; and bees split from a hive that has done especially well in a region may do better than mail-order bees.  Chickens and bees aren’t native to North America, but have been here long enough that there are adapted strains.

That’s my review of the OGS in a nutshell, for the stout-hearted reader that has made it this far.  I hope these ideas are useful and inspiring for you!  What gardening classes have you taken that changed the way you did things?  Are there any new methods you are trying this year?

Posted in Animals, Ethos, Garden, Nature and Outdoors, Permaculture | 2 Comments

Birthday

 

Carrot cupcakes with citrus cream cheese frosting.

March is my favorite month, my power month, because it brings with it the official start of spring, and my birthday – which I milk for all its worth, pretty much all month long. The month is made even more joyous because I also get to celebrate T’s birthday.  This we did last week, with a bunch of carrot cupcakes (recipe below), dinner out, and a movie (Rango – laugh out loud funny for adults and kids).  Our punk rock farmer neighbors (we’ll call them Sid and Sarah here) joined us for the cupcakes in the afternoon, and brought T some sprigs of forsythia and a jar of homemade chow-chow from last year’s harvest (apparently a Southern delicacy – a type of relish – though I had never heard of it).

We finished our mini celebration, and Sid returned to work outside while Sarah lingered with me on the back porch as I asked for advice about our chickens.  Suddenly, we heard Sid shouting for Sarah. Sarah hollered back “Just a minute!”, and continued to talk about the chickens, but Sid kept yelling, with some obvious urgency and alarm.  As this registered, we both froze for an instant and Sarah’s face turned white. Sarah leapt off the porch yelling “I’m coming”, and I followed quickly after her, thinking Sid must be hurt.  T bounded out of the front of the house as we rounded the corner.

Sarah reached the front yard facing her pasture, and suddenly reared back as she took in the scene. The energy in the air dramatically changed again as she exclaimed “Oh!  Its a lamb!”  I squealed and started to jump up and down while Sarah sushed me and said, smiling, “Let’s try to be calm.”  She slowed her pace and breathed deeply as she approached her pasture, but then she nearly swooned and said in a loud whisper “Oh my god! It’s TWO lambs!” In the 45 minutes that we were stuffing our faces with cupcakes, one of their ewes had delivered twins!

A little boy and a little girl, less than an hour old.

S & S mated their ewes with a “rent-a-ram” in the late fall, and 3 or 4 are pregnant.  Though they knew that the ewes might deliver any time in the next several weeks, Sarah had just told me earlier in the morning that they almost always birth in the middle of the night, often during a storm.  The theory is that they instinctively know that predators are less likely to be around if it is raining or snowing.  Sarah was already planning to set her alarm for the wee hours of the morning to go out to the pasture to check on the ewe’s every night this week.  Last year they lost a lamb (also a twin), who may have been stillborn, but also may have been neglected by the ewe, who may not have realized that she had two.  So Sarah wants to be present this year, if possible, for each “lambing”,  so that she can encourage nursing or bottle feed any babies that are struggling.

Though it was a little bit of a surprise to be greeted by the lambs in the middle of the day, Sarah did tell me that she had recently felt the lambs kicking while they were sheering.  Apparently they shave the belly and nether-regions to make the birth cleaner and help the lambs find the udder more easily.  The kicking was a surprise, and made S & S realize that at least one of the ewes was further along than they expected.  Just that morning they had moved the lambs from an outer pasture to one nearer the barn for the lambing period.  It may have been the move that stimulated her labor – or perhaps she delivered earlier than the other ewes because she was carrying two.

Little sister

We looked on as the little pair stood and stumbled about on tiny, shaking legs, and I marveled that they can stand and walk within minutes of birth – how must their brains be wired differently from human babies, who take months and months of growing and kicking and feeling around before their brains can make sense of how to use their legs?

Sister cautiously tries her legs

S & S investigate to be sure both lambs are nursing.

The delivery was so recent that the ewe was still passing afterbirth, and thin brownish umbilical cords still hung from the bellies of the babies.  Yet mama was already chowing down on grass, clearly trying to refuel, taking small breaks to check in with each lamb and help them both find the udder, to everyone’s relief.  We heard the ewe make a low, rumbling growl of a “baaa”, and Sarah explained that this is her unique call for her lambs.  She will use it from now on to call them to her; they will be able to recognize it out of all the other ewes, and she will always sniff the lambs to be sure they are hers before letting them nurse.  A few of the other ewes approached the lambs in curiosity, and mama wasted no time in head-butting them away, causing Sarah to croon “What a good mama, good girl, good job!”

Brother finds the udder while mom chows down.

Though they had invited me to participate, S & S were so moved and focused on their new arrivals, that after a few minutes I felt I was intruding on a private moment, and I started back to the house.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sarah approach Sid with her arms spread wide, and then lean into his chest with a long, warm and happy embrace.  Proud parents.  When I got back to the house, T joked “Its a good day to be born”, and I couldn’t agree more.

Mom and baby take a rest

So far, the other ewes have not delivered, though Sarah has been waking every morning at 3 am to check.  Brother and sister lamb are much more sure of their feet, and watching them pounce and play makes me chuckle.  Sarah says they’ve already gained a pound.

Oh yeah…the cupcakes.  These are a fantastic low fat carrot cake with the best frosting I’ve ever had – and they will forever be linked in my mind with this special day.  The recipe is below.  You might want to play with the amount of carrot – I thought there wasn’t enough carroty texture.  I think they might also be good with a 1/2 cup or so of shredded coconut mixed into the batter, though I haven’t tried that yet.  I like spice, so next time I might add twice the cinnamon and nutmeg.  But they were a hit as is, both last year and this year, with T and our guests.

Stay tuned…we’ll soon have more fun with baby animals – we’re getting chicks!  Also, T and I attended the Organic Growers School last weekend, and have lots to tell about that.

Carrot Cupcakes Recipe

1 & 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 & 1/2 cups carrots shredded (consider a little more)
1/4 cup + 2 Tablesp chopped walnuts
1/4 cup golden raisins
4 oz light or low fat cream cheese – the soft spreading kind works best
3/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
1 tsp orange and/or lemon zest
1 drop orange essence

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
Sift together first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl
In a separate large bowl, whisk oil, brown sugar, and eggs together
Add the applesauce, vanilla, and carrots to the egg mixture and stir well
Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the egg-carrot mixture
Stir in 1/4 cup walnuts and raisins
Pour into baking cups and bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, using a mixer, beat the cream cheese, confectioners sugar, zest, and orange essence until creamy.  When cupcakes are cool, dollop a tablespoonful of icing on each cake.  It may spread out on its own, or you can use the back of the spoon to smooth the frosting around.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 Tablesp of crushed walnuts and a bit of orange zest or shredded carrot (use a vegetable peeler to get a pretty thin curl of zest or carrot).

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Posted in Animals, Nature and Outdoors | 5 Comments

Late Winter Dose of Color, Inspiration and Hope

A dark and lovely specimen at the SE Flower and Garden Show

We’ve been blessed with a couple of weeks of unseasonably warm weather, which has everyone I know feeling cautiously jubilant that winter does end, spring does come, and its about to get really pretty and very busy around here.  Seems the forests and gardens are thinking the same things, and all are hoping that a frost doesn’t come along and ruin everything.  It is, after all, still February – another 3 weeks till the official start of spring, and probably 6 weeks till the last official frost.

Nevertheless, our Old Man Willow is now wearing a shear veil of chartreuse buds – which I swear occurred in just ten minutes while I had my back turned.  It was just last week that I told myself I had to take a photo of his silvery gray branches blowing in the chilly wind, because it so epitomized winter.  Look at him now:

Old Man WIllow decides to just go for it.

I’m pretty excited to see my bulbs are starting to come up, and the first crocus of the season just reared her little golden head.

An eagerly anticipated crocus, and her spider visitor.

Our garlic has sprouted, but so have some weeds.

More respite from winter came in a visit to the Southeastern Flower and Garden Show in Atlanta with my mom.  We had a blast, and left feeling inspired and eager to try some new things. I was really excited that many of the artists used edibles in their landscapes in really creative and attractive ways.  Ornamental cabbages are quite common in winter gardens these days, but I was surprised to see things like kale and bok choy among pansies and snapdragons. (You’ll have to forgive my amateurish photos – artificial convention center lighting, crowds, and a waning camera battery conspired to make these photos less artistic than I like).

A relative of Bok Choy with creeping thyme and pansies

Purple kale with snapdragons, pansies, and dusty miller

Mom, my personal garden guru, cautioned me that many of the exhibits, though beautifully artistic, did not use realistic groupings of plants – sun and shade lovers were sometimes placed together, and shrubs that get very large were being shown as low growing ornamentals.  But I loved the way that flowers and edibles were being thrown all together in an explosion of color.

Rainbow chard, peppers and flowers

Tomato plants and geraniums

Some gardeners argue that this crowds plants and depletes nutrients.  I’d worry most about the tomatoes, which in the southeast region are prone to blight if too closely spaced.  But there are some movements that advocate for this type of densely packed, slightly overgrown method of planting (see here and here, for example).  The plants mulch each other, so water is retained and erosion is slowed, and the flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects that keep the detrimental infestations at bay. It makes intuitive sense to me, and is so pretty – it transforms a farmy looking plot of row crops into a kind-of wonderland. But I’ve never actually tried it and so can’t claim with confidence that it works.

So I’m eager to try my hand at growing my garden in a more creative and aesthetic way this year.  It just amazes me how people can make art with just about any medium, including flowers. Here are a few more inspirations from the show:

A new take on flamingo yard art: this fellow is made of dried flower heads, petals, and leaves.

A little herb garden, with whole nuts in the shell as mulch, and trowel plant labels

I was utterly enchanted by this little fairy house (in the kids pavilion), and vowed to start making my own.

A chandelier with tulip flames

an easy way to do a living roof

Dog topiary

colorful containers

I always love to hear from you in the comments.  What is inspiring you as you plan your garden this year?  What harbingers of spring are keeping you going?

Next time we’ll have more news about the chickens!  Stay tuned…

Posted in Garden, Nature and Outdoors | 2 Comments