Tag Archives: Farm

Something To Crow About

A black shadow crosses over me.  It’s early, I’m sitting in my rocker sipping coffee, and I look out the window into the cloudy Midsummer morning.  What are those crows up to now?

Ah, I see it, between the hoop house and the former strawberry garden, plucking the guts out of a mouse I saw Garfield kill.

The actual word for a group of crows is a murder of crows, and a small murder swooped onto the farmlet this month and has stuck around.  According to myth and lore, crows are all about seeing the magic in life.  They stir things up, and insist that you notice the coincidences, the serendipities, the mischief.

The crow sees me stand up and flys away with half of the mouse carcass.  It lands on the lower pasture gate, between the two fake Great Horned Owls we installed earlier this spring after an eagle might or might not have killed Blackie the Chicken.  Owls are a crow’s biggest predator, but these smart, magical crows know plastic when they see it.

The crow launches and flaps up the hill to the corner of the goat barn roof, drops the mouse and leaves.  This makes me laugh out loud.

I date the crows’ arrival from the cooked wishbone I discovered 3 weeks ago in the goat’s water trough — surely a magical sign heralding the arrival of the 32 Cornish Broiler meat chicks we are raising to eat.  Crows are omnivorous, too.  The crows are watching us raise these chicks, and all is going remarkably well.

Two week old Cornish Broiler chicks.

No deaths and the chicks now, at two weeks old, a quarter of the way through their lives, are huge and resemble ostriches with their large legs and feet.  The Bearded One likes to say they’re bred for their drumsticks.

They run and semi-fly around the new, bigger brooder when I come into the hut to fill their feed tray.  They are voracious eaters.  We refill their food tray a half-dozen times a day.

The crows hang around the goats a lot.  At first I thought the crows were here to glean the goat’s fleece for their nests.  It was a big surprise to us that the goats shed at all.  I thought they had to be sheared, or the fleece just stayed on the goat forever.  But no.  They shed it and rub it off on the fence where I have gleaned a bag full, which I’m going to try to sell.

The likelihood of a buyer seemed remote at first — it’s such a messy, dirty tangle — but all of a sudden I’ve heard of several people, including a woman who owns a knitting store up in Port Gamble, who might like to buy it.  Or at least will know what to do with it.  I feed the goats their dry cob ration and hay and head back to the house for a morning of inside work.

Later in the afternoon, I’m weeding and the Bearded One is up in the just-finished meat bird pen putting tools away, when the crows start screaming at each other.  “E — E — E— E —E!”  Short, staccato bursts of noise.

New meat bird coops. No roosts.

I read that crows are in the songbird family because of their voice box structure, but they don’t actually sing.  That’s an understatement.  They caw loudly.  Up and down the scale, all the while focused on that “E” sound.

The Bearded One and I both stop our work and listen.  “E — E—E—E —E!”  Back and forth it goes, on and on.  Urgent.  The Bearded One says, “ChimpanZEES in the TREES!” and I laugh hard.  He’s right.  It sounds just like an excited Cheetah in the old Tarzan movies.  We return to our tasks.

It’s been cloudy all week, the weeds are thick, and I’m starting to inhale the evening bugs.

“Do you want to see a sight?”  It’s the Bearded One calling to me from the barn.  I don’t hesitate.  What have they done now?

The Bearded One is pointing at something on the ground next to the goat’s water.  The goats stand nearby.  They don’t want it.  I open the gate and try to absorb what I see.  It’s whitish and about an inch wide and six inches long.

“Fresh bacon,” he says, and I realize he is right.  Clean, raw, right out of the package.  I couldn’t make this up.  I am enchanted.

“We’re saved!” the Bearded One says.  “Manna from heaven.  There’s something to crow about.”

…just one word…Plastics

I scroll down the Greenhouse Megastore webpage to buy a gigantic 24’x55′ sheet of UV tolerant plastic for our eco-friendly, “green,” sustainable hoop house, and Dustin Hoffman appears to me, poolside in the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” receiving the secret to success in modern America.

  • MR. McGUIRE:  I want to say one word to you.  Just one word.
  • BENJAMIN:  Yes, sir.
  • MR. McGUIRE:  Are you listening?
  • BENJAMIN:  Yes, I am.
  • MR. McGUIRE:  Plastics.
  • BENJAMIN:  Just how to you mean that, sir?
  • MR. McGUIRE:  There’s a great future in plastics.  Think about it.  Will you think about it?
  • BENJAMIN:  Yes, I will.
  • MR. McGUIRE:  ‘Nuff said.  That’s a deal.

The movie was about questioning the values of society and the company man, but plastic still means garbage to me, as well as phoniness, lifeless conformity, materialism, and corruption.  The Bearded One adds that it also means clean, safe, hygienic survival.  I laugh nervously.  I need to get over it.  A quick walk around the farmlet and I am prepared to be a little more honest.  Plastic is with us and we love it.

Garbage can plastic

We are not about to let any good plastic get away.

Wood pile tarp

Clear barn roof

We also love “plastic” baling twine.  It’s some kind of polymer, I feel sure.  It’s orange and extremely strong and durable.  We buy it in enormous spools, and we use and re-use it.  Plastic isn’t BAD, is it?  It’s an oil product and therefore a part of our planet’s ongoing focus on resource depletion and environmental stewardship.  But I’m old enough now where I know cutting all plastic out of my life just doesn’t make me or the world better.  Am I rationalizing?  “Is plastic natural?” I ask the Bearded One.  “Is a 2 by 4 natural?” he replies.

Twine trellis -- raspberries, marionberries, and boysenberries

We no longer need chicken wire for the hoop house because the orange twine will do just fine.  The fancy greenhouse plastic cost $200, which was actually a bit less than I thought, so we are still hovering in the $500 range for our 30’x10′ hoop house.

The doors are in now, too.

I jumped the gun on the planting last week.  It’s still too cold.  It was 28 degrees on the deck this morning, and we’re still using the space heater at the kitchen table.  We’re not only an “outlying area,” according to the weather people, we are also the Convergent Zone.  Yep, the Convergent Zone is our property.  Neighbors have commented how the temperature dips when they walk past our place.

Outlying animals

So, as sunny as it has blessedly been a few days this week, I’m still just weeding and sifting moss out of the soil.  I did put in the sweet peas like I said I would, though.  I’m considering laying a plastic sheet over them at night.

Like I should have done with the poor asparagus.  But I still had plastic block back then.  The news is that our asparagus has drowned.  We planted the gnarly, octopus-shaped root clops in the two inner circles of the Rings Garden two years ago.  The male spears and female ferns came up last year in late March.  This year, I waited and waited, and no little purple spears.  Asparagus likes it dry.  We are just too dang wet, especially since I didn’t cover the bed over with tons of straw like I did the first year.  Honestly, though, I only planted it because Barbara Kingslover did in her funny and useful book and website Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Asparagus is a rare perennial vegetable, but neither of us has ever craved it.

Live asparagus roots look a lot like this, but this one is dead.

The hoop house plastic should arrive within the week, and I’ll be able to plant practically anything!  This makes me happy, and I will embrace the plastic film with my whole heart when it arrives.

It was our younger Twenty Something daughter just two weeks ago who used the word eyesore regarding her fears about all that plastic, and so we’ve been pondering how the plastic will wrap around the ends with little if any cutting and nailing on the arch itself.

Low tech model of hoop house plastic

Our Twenty-Something son called this week from college to tell us he’s changing his major from Architectural Engineering to Civil Engineering.  He wants to be outside, not inside, he said.  He used the words environment and water systems, and I think he even said ecology.

I feel proud and a little goofy.  I want to walk him out to the hoop house and show off our cutting edge ecological miracle.  Focus on the superb do-it-yourself, low-tech solution to no sunlight.  Help point him forward into his newly chosen field.  “I want to say one word to you.  Just one word…Plastic.”

The Boys and the Bees

Daylight Savings Time has started and we were still a bit stunned on Monday when we left, late, on our daily walk.  I slept in because it was dark at 7:00 a.m.  The Bearded One dreamed that a bear was chasing him, and he was pondering the episode at breakfast.  It’s spring and everything is waking up.  Time to eat and mate and pollinate!

“Got somethin’ for ya.”  Our neighbor, a Scandinavian-accented 75-year-old man, waved us into his driveway.  He has a small orchard and last fall had promised us some Mason bee tubes, and here they were.

The gift of bees; we put the cookie can in the black planter nailed to the stump for rain protection

The males will emerge from the mud-packed tubes first and wait for the females.  Then they’ll mate, the males will die, and the females will do the pollination work in our fruit tree orchard, three circle gardens, and berry trellises as part of their nest building.  I know this because our neighbor left us instructions in an envelope with the bees.  We used to have peach and apricot trees too, but we had to dig them up from leaf curl.

Bare branches still on the fruit trees. Plum, pie cherry, Spartan and Granny Smith apple

The female bees pack the tubes like this:  pollen/egg/mud/pollen/egg/mud/pollen/egg/mud.  There can be 10 eggs in a tube, all set to feed on the pollen in their little cell through the winter and emerge next year.  They’re called Mason bees because they’re mud workers.  They don’t make honey, they are not aggressive, and they don’t have much of a sting.  They’re all about getting pollen and they’re good at it.

Her furry legs are the main attraction. She can pollinate 1,600 flowers in one day.

I will keep watch, and, as farmers do, I will count.  When did I do that last year?  And the year before?  How many seeds in how many rows, how many poles in how many holes?  Calendars are very important to gardening.  Time springs ahead and falls back, it takes big leaps and giant tsunami gulps and never flows like sand through the hourglass.  This Sunday we’ll celebrate the Spring Equinox when the length of night and day will be nearly equal everywhere on the planet. 

When we got back from our walk, 6-year-old Hansel and 4-year-old Gretel (not their real names) from next door came over.  “We’re making cupcakes,” Hansel said breathlessly.  “We need to borrow an egg.”  Gretel smiled. 

“One egg coming up,” I said.  I am a good witch, and they were not afraid to follow me into the house.  They’ve been here before several times with their folks.

I opened the refrigerator and thought about offering them two eggs.  They both looked at me with large eyes.  They were on a mission, and they wanted just one egg.  Not two.  To offer two would confuse and dilute the moment.  Two would have been a pain in the butt.  Sometimes you don’t want more, and I decided not to risk messing them up.

“One egg?” I said.

“ONE,” Hansel said, holding up his index finger.  “For CUPCAKES.”  He took the egg, they both thanked me, and then they raced out the door and down the steps.  We’ve lived here for four years and watched both of these kids growing up at what seems like a furious pace.

“Time changes everything,” my younger Twenty-Something daughter said to me as she arrived later that afternoon with her boyfriend.  She was talking about her brother maybe changing his college major, but her words resonated across the landscape.  We lose track, our gauges break, we fall in love.  The two of them held hands and kissed, yet appeared to be interested in the as-yet-unconstructed hoop house.

$250 of hoop house supplies -- lumber, zipstrips and zipstrip tool, braces, hinges, guy wire, and hemp rope. The special plastic and chicken wire will probably be another $300.

The Bearded One's contribution on the hoop house this week

Then the two lovebirds headed for the trampoline, where they jumped and laughed and the boyfriend did so many sequential back flips that we all gasped.  We even forgot to count.

The Farmer and The Sacrum Should Be Friends

 It’s been a humbling week on the farmlet.  Nothing much has happened on the hoop house construction.  We are both trying to get this aging thing and its requirements through our heads, but the Bearded One hurts the most this week.  He carried 20-foot long poles down the hill by himself and skronked his back.  He also karate-chopped kindling with his foot — he is a 55-year-old man, by the way — until his knee hurt.  The only thing moving fast around here this week was stem cells.

He left this explanation for me on the kitchen table.

Karate Kid

“The Farmer and the Cow Man Should Be Friends” is a song from the musical “Oklahoma.”  One of the biggest thrills of my life was seeing my now 20-year-old son playing the lead role Curly in his high school’s performance of “Oklahoma” two years ago.  He sang “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” to the packed Seattle University Auditorium and I was in utter shock.  Who was that grown-up person?  My husband cried, although I didn’t notice because I was transfixed.  I was very sad about this later because I’ve never seen my husband cry.

"Curly" channeled his Uncle Gary, a real-life Texas cattle rancher and wheat farmer, to get the accent just right

Anyway, “The Farmer and the Cow Man Should Be Friends” is about land usage in balance with nature and other humans.  It’s really quite poignant.  “Territory folks should stick together” they all sing and dance….in fact, the song specifically prescribes dancing with each other’s wives and daughters as a way to ensure peace.

Aside from that, though, fences are what help on the range, and they’re also what we’re using to keep our chickens and goats safe from the coyotes, weasels and cougars.

Fence trench to prevent predator digging under; Ruby watches the big screen

It was this chicken coop that helped inspire me to write an article about self-publishing, A Free-Range Writer, published this week to much lovely clucking.  One of the cluckers was Nancy Rekow, publisher of  “Minnie Rose Lovgreen’s Recipe for Raising Chickens,” a delightful 32-page, illustrated, originally self-published book.  Minnie Rose knows chickens and how to keep them happy.  We don’t want to create a war zone, where we curse the coyote even as we intrude into the wild.  We want to create a place of peace, where all can flourish.

So I admit I’ve been a bit grumpy toward my sweetheart this week.  The partner of the injured is affected, too, as she says Poor Sweet Baby, ties his boot laces and does all his chores.  The stages of injury might even parallel the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  We’re both at acceptance now, for this round, but let’s face it, getting old is frustrating.  I read once that aging cells copy themselves like photocopies of photocopies, getting grainier and more illegible over time.  My jaw clicks with every bite.  My hip sockets are genetically wimpy.  Each day we ask each other, who’s got the brain today?

Because there is nothing harder than doing nothing, we went into Gig Harbor to Costco and several hardware stores on Sunday.  The gas lines at Costco — for $3.56/gallon — were stacked five and six deep, reminding us both of the 1973 Embargo.  And how fragile are our country’s supply lines.  As we shopped, we heard many times how high prices were.  I stocked up, sort of, with 2 bags of sugar and 4 of flour.  We bought supplies for constructing the hoop house, which has, by the way, become a full-fledged project with lots of parts.

We went to 3 stores before finding the nifty, but pricey, tool that helps tighten the zip strips -- hardware bling is expensive

Jobs are always bigger deals than you first think.

Especially when you expand the hoop house to 35'; I'll provide a brief cost accounting next week

We’ve also decided to hire a neighbor’s kid to help with the huge, ghastly fencing rolls.  Better to pay him than the doctor.  Avoiding the doctor is central to living cheaply and richly.  So, no lifting anything away from the body.  No kicking out.  No twisting and bending simultaneously.

I’d also like to say a word for the nap.  I’m fer ’em.

On the way home from Costco, we were both feeling wiped out.  My husband started telling me about a cartoon he’d seen on PBS about an old couple coping with the husband dying of old age and cancer.  The husband had written his wife a love note every day for decades.  PBS radio aired their interview (which is the sound to the animation shown on PBS TV) and then he died the same day.  The widow received thousands of letters from people who’d heard them on the radio, and in her old age apparently she reads one each day in lieu of his love notes.  I didn’t understand the ending at first because my husband had choked up.  I looked over and saw that his face was flushed.  His eyes were swimming.  He was crying.

It’s actually been a pretty amazing week on the farmlet.

The Fava, the Sun, and the Holy Goat

Note the cedar branch building materials all laid out for the hoop house.

“Teeney tiny” is Texan for less than three acres.  My husband and I were both raised in Texas, but I’ve been up north now for 32 years, him for 17.  He still has an accent, and it comes out in print now and then when he chimes in.

Our farmlet is just 2.5 acres, and half of that is forest.  My husband is a retired lawyer who still has law firm nightmares, but mostly he dreams of motorcycles and endless outdoor projects.  I am a free-range writer and an empty nest mother of three Twenty-Somethings.  We have a dog, Ruby, and cat, Garfield, and together we are living cheaply and richly.  This blog will be about our chickens and goats as we acquire them, and our gardens…the Fava, the Sun, and the Holy Goat, as my husband put it last summer when we were working in the Circle Garden and feeling particularly grateful.

We’re Boomers in our mid-fifties.  As a generation, we’ve had it good, from the 1960s-70s hippies and the Awakening, to the 1980s-90s yuppies and the Unraveling, to this 21st Century Crisis where our job now is to support the younger generations.  It’s no longer about us, and we need to stay out of trouble.  Hence this weekly blog, just because we are still here and trying to be loving creatures.

To borrow from “The Red Green Show” and to slightly revise its men’s club prayer:  I’m a Boomer, But I can change, If I have to, I guess.

Ruby was playing Congress today

I’ll try to post faithfully on Thursdays.  Next week, the building of our hoop house!