September 26, 2005

I just finished putting up five jars of quince butter. This seemingly odd statement illustrates a running thread in my life–I go off on tangents. My life to date results from a series of tangents. Four years ago at Halloween, there was a dessert party at my workplace. One of the staff made a culinary masterpiece. I inquired, and learned that I was eating a quince and almond tart. I asked for, and was given, the recipe. The memory of this tart stayed on in the back of my mind. Three years ago, autumn plant shopping commenced. I bought a pineapple quince tree. I couldn’t tell you a thing about them, except that they made quinces and I needed quinces to make quince and almond tart. I considered myself lucky, since I already have 50 or more almond trees and thus the other half of the main ingredients were already at hand. It never really occurred to me to find and purchase the item. Why buy a jar of jam when you can spend $15 extra and get the tree? This last spring, the tree flowered for the first time, and quinces grew. Green, apple-like things. It took two hours online to decide when they might be ripe. There is much disagreement whether to make preserves from ripe versus slightly underripe quinces. They were yellow-green as of last week, so I picked some. I used 8 to make this quince butter. I learned the difference between jam, butter, preserves, sauce, jelly, chutney, and conserves. (Far be it from me to deny the reader the pleasures of discovery). First one had to peel and chop. And boil and then peel and chop some more. And strain and mash. And learn that a strainer is a poor substitute for a food mill (next tangent: go on eBay and bid on antique food mill). And puree and add sugar and boil and stir. It turns out that eight quinces make rather a lot of butter. I have eight more quinces from the still very small tree. In coming years I forsee disturbing amounts of quince butter going into mason jars. I have my almonds, and perhaps tomorrow or the day after I will begin on the tart itself, right after I purchase some superfine sugar at the store. I may hand out a jar or two of extra quince butter. But don’t expect a slice of tart this year. I’m going to eat it. After all, I did wait four years for this.

The new Delaware chicks grow and sleep and sprout new feathers. However the poor Silkie chick has died. I found it drowned in an inch of water, after having fought for two days with some issues unrelated to the spraddle leg. It’s for the best, I have to say over and over “A bird that isn’t right will only grow a little older and die from developmental problems you can’t see or know about.” But it’s still sad to see a little life that struggled for its chance go and snuff it in the waterer. We admired the little bird’s spirit of trying to succeed. We buried it in the yard with some large daffodil bulbs. We’ll see the flowers in the spring and remember.

In other developments, we are dropping Home Depot like a hot rock for our re-roofing project. We received another bid that was about 60% lower, from a roofer who was personally recommended in glowing terms by friends of ours. Home Depot might have been worth the pricey bid, except that it turned out their salesman didn’t actually know some very critical points concerning modular homes that drastically affected many aspects of our contract. As in, they had to reneg on multiple promised items, thus voiding our agreement. I consider ourselves to have dodged an overpriced bullet at this point.

The used tractor we purchased has been brought to Yuba City and will be evaluated by the mechanics and ourselves Wednesday afternoon, to see where we want to go next.

A spectacular thunderstorm occurred here in the late afternoon and evening. A big electrical show and some rain, and most of all the clean and delicious smelling air. Time for bed, to drift off while sniffing those wonderful negative ions in the air….

September 23, 2005

We picked up the chicks at the feed store last night, 25 little yellow fuzzballs with a fleck of black here and there on top of their heads. They looked very robust and healthy. This was my first experience with mail-order chicks, and having them go to the feed store like this was the best of all worlds; they are picked up and cared for first thing in the morning. While we were there the store owner noted that one of the Silkie chicks from another order had a bad leg (spraddle leg), and said she’d give it to us if we wanted to take it. This bird isn’t sexed, so it could be a hen or a rooster. It is a black, smaller fuzzball, but definitely a Silkie. Lots of extra toes, and little fuzz all over the legs and feet. We took them home and got everyone in the brooder. I think the setup (which we have fussed over for days) will work well. We have 2 inches of sawdust over an inch or so of newspaper, with black 6 mil plastic around the exposed sides of the 4’x4’x4′ cage to keep out drafts. One permanent lamp for heat, and a second flood lamp on a timer to add extra heat at night. Food in a feeder tray elevated on two paving stones, and a suspended waterer hung so that it just touches the ground (can’t spill or get as much sawdust in the water). We added a cup of Gatorade to the water just for a boost (sugar, electrolytes). After everyone had something to eat and drink, we went to work on the Silkie. We took about 2 inches of Scotch tape and carefully split it lengthwise. We folded it over on itself and then wrapped that around the lower leg of the chick; same thing for the other leg. We gauged what was tight enough to keep the bad leg from sprawling, but loose enough so it could walk. We taped the tape into one piece, and trimmed everything carefully with some nail scissors. If all goes well, this can come off tonight. Chicks with simple problems like this can almost always be saved by some little intervention done right away. It immediately lets them stand and walk correctly, and in a day or so their little muscles take over and all is well. I guess many people just don’t know how easy of a fix it is, or they don’t have the time.

And, I pretty much wasted the rest of the evening watching them. New chicks are better than an aquarium. They race around, they screech to a halt, they peck everything, they chirp, they fall asleep standing up and keel over, they pass out spread-eagled under the heat lamp. Very cute!

September 20, 2005

Don’t mind the dazed look in my eyes, it’s just……tractors. Roofs. Chickens. Flies. 218 unplanted flower bulbs.

We went out for a burger. That led to reading Wheels n Deals. Which in turn caused us to see the ad for a Kubota L3300 for $5600. Which in turn…..well you guessed it. We are the proud owners of…..we’re not sure what. It runs, it’s big, it even looks pretty good. It will be hauled off to Holt Tractor in Yuba City in a week or so. It needs a loader, and some miscellany. This will either be the deal of the decade or the stupidity of the decade, check this space for occasional updates.

Thursday 25 Delaware chicks are arriving. The shop is being converted into the chick brooder so they can all be comfy and cozy. I love chicks….so CUTE.

Flies are at their seasonal worst. I sit at work with one or three flyswatters in immediate reach all day long, and the same happens at home. I hate flies.

The garden is slowly looking better, as I am attacking some weeds every night. Major war between me and a huge fire ant colony that has set up near my tomatoes.

This coming Saturday is the last Farmer’s Market for the year. I am elated and sad at the same time….it was so much fun, and it was so much work…..well, it’ll be there next year and so will we.

The list of fall chores continues to grow and sound not-fun. But one thing at a time, it helps the whole look better, and that is satisfying. I have an internal debate running. I have an extreme circadian clock going on; when it’s dark out I pretty much don’t want to do anything except be sedentary. But so many projects need attention, I wrestle with forcing myself to work more hours after dark. Maybe that’s good, and maybe, what’s the point? I think winter and shorter hours exist to give us a break from the hard work of the warmer months. Then again, those projects don’t get done by thinking about them. We’ll see. I’ve learned that there are few jobs that cause the world to end, if neglected. I remember a ditty in Anna Sewell’s "Black Beauty" that I read as a child: "Do your best and leave the rest, ’twill all come right some day or night." Yup, something like that.

Lastly, we had a very enjoyable dinner with family recently. It was good food and company, and rather unique. Every item on the table, from the leg of lamb to the wine to the vegetable dishes, was either a product of our farm or that of another small farmer/rancher. Nothing was a product of commercial agriculture. It felt good to have that meal, and look forward to many more like it.

September 12, 2005

Unseasonably cool weather, it’s about time! After about two months of heat-mandated idleness, finally some long-neglected jobs have been started. Not that summer was entirely a bust. Our grape crop this year was sad–the heat resulted in uneven ripening and other problems on three out of our four vines. We at least got to try a Black Monukka (very good), but whole bunches to eat were right out. The Flame variety was a disaster, and Muscat of Alexandria wasn’t far behind. But the one grape we don’t like to eat, Golden Muscat, had itself a little bumper crop. This is a slipskin grape that assaults the mouth with a pineapple/sugar cane sort of flavor. Based on the taste alone, it really doesn’t taste like a grape. But the skin sort of gloms up in the mouth, making for unpleasant chewiness. So we learned last year, this is the one out of which to make grape juice. This year’s proceedings, aside from reminding me that I would like to own a grape/apple press, yielded about 6 quarts of juice. Very respectable. And the bottles which were left neglected in the refrigerator  fermented nicely, leaving me in turn with some fizzy sweet stuff which seems to be  mildly alcoholic. Either way, it’s good and I’m drinking the last of it as I type this. The whole process proved to be another path of discovery. It’s one thing to know that wine comes from grapes. It is another to discover by watching and learn by googling the internet that the fizz comes from yeasts which exist naturally on growing grapes, and that if you mash the whole thing up and leave it, chemistry takes over and guess what, you have accomplished what people have done for thousands of years. Hm, didn’t I read something about corn, rye and juniper berries…..?

The turkeys are all growing nicely, no major incidents. We still don’t know whether the Narragansett turkeys are boys, girls, or what, but they are becoming very good looking. The chickens are basically on strike, we probably are going to buy 25 chicks from the hatchery because egg production is in the toidy.  Right now we are somewhere between Delawares and  top-hat mix of hens, to be announced. In other animal news, there has been a coyote fest and both our cats  Mom and Darkness likely won’t be coming home again. We had them for almost 5 years, exactly. It’s a sad loss, but from what I’m hearing a lot of people are having predator trouble right now.

This weekend I made a partial list of fall chores. I try to alternate between huge jobs and easy ones, it makes the list seem more tolerable. Sunday I started one of the biggest, the maintenance of the berry hedges. I’ve dug myself a deep hole with this one, by planting what I think is more than two hundred feet of hedge. After nine hours, I am most of the way through one-third of the hedge. And, I am getting what I deserve for not doing this job the two preceding years. I didn’t understand what was supposed to be done, but I get it now. I let the canes get much too long, and consequently I now have to cut out long, old sections that have snaked and interlocked with every other long, old section. It’s something like a horticultural ball of yarn, after the cat has finished playing. Add in the gobs of dust, and the one plant with needle-like thorns everywere, and it’s just fun-fun. To be fair, this is the first year that the plants are established enough to send up robust, thick canes that support their own weight. These won’t need wrapping around every t-post and wire, they just sort of drape themselves. After all the cutting and pulling is done, there will be absolute cartloads of trimmings for disposal. These will be hauled into a big pile, and I’ll burn them then they are dry enough. The canes can harbor plant diseases, thus the bonfire.

I’ve been doing hours of research on greenhouses. The variety of prices, styles, materials, and options boggles the mind. There is dinky plastic crap for $100, all the way to conservatories in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think I’ve settled on one. It won’t be the Musee du Grand Peat Pot, but it should be a respectable structure that will give us decades of service and be an asset to the property and our farming efforts. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself when I’m swearing at page 32 of the assembly manual.

The roofers should come in a few weeks, and then the bowl can be removed from over the kitchen cabinet, won’t that be nice. We selected a sort of medium-dark brown. I won’t say that I like it, but it seems the least annoying color. It was better than forest green or white. We went online to the previewer, and the funny thing was they didn’t have an example that looked like our house and trim colors. Hmpf.

We received a complimentary copy of a magazine called Hobby Farm. I loved everything about it, the content is geared toward the scale, variety, and philosophy of what we do. But I admit to resenting the title. A "hobby farm", to me, conjures images of a wealthy retiree who loves to dabble in livestock and gardening. The ten-horse barn stands in the background, as do the white wooden-fenced lush pastures where the three impeccably groomed show cattle graze, while the glass conservatory off to the side holds plump beefsteak tomatoes ripening in March. Oh, and the retiree is surveying his realm from the deck of his trusty golf cart. While he points out to Arthur the caretaker all the little tasks that need tending. Anyway, "hobby" just trivializes the very hard work needed to try to do this, on top of a 40 hour a week job. I love what I do, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been, but hobby–my foot. emoticon