November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving has come and gone . Apple/almond pie, pumpkin pie, sauteed cardoon, sauteed mushrooms with parsely and garlic, spiced cider, two of our own turkeys, cranberry sauce from scratch, and a layered apple/squash/potato dish called Pommes Anna. Our farmer neighbor who was able to eat with us after working all day on our field brought a lovely sparkling wine, and a good time was had by all. Sometimes I have to step back and realize how odd our dinners are at home. No one sits at a table. We fill plates with food that is all laid out at the table, and then eat from the comfort of armchairs, sofas, etc. We hold our plates in one hand or in our laps. This custom is a permanent remnant of my time spent sailing, where eating at tables didn’t happen. The tables moved, the food moved, and spilled….what was the point? At our house the tables usually stand still, but the happy habit remains. One of the birds we ate was a year and a half old. She was full of fat, and I think we may have invented the self-basting turkey. Tasty! We improved our processing time considerably while still doing all my nitpicking rituals to ensure food safety. Live bird to refrigerated turkey in under one hour, not bad.

Definite arrangements have been made to acquire some breeding pairs of Beltsville White Midget turkeys, we will pick them up in Gold Hill, Oregon in early January. The thought has crossed my mind how in the world we can keep these birds all segregated by breed. Sooner or later some overhead netting will have to be installed to contain them….or something. Every day at our farm is an avian free-for-all. Flapping, running amok, rooting in the garden, having little turkey fits about imaginary problems in the yard, pigging out on fallen almonds….they’re outta control.

We completed significant work on our treehouse. The walls are sheeted and a roof is on. Next comes cutting out windows, the wood from which I want to keep on hinges to act as shutters of a sort. Also paint. When this will occur with the current rainstorm, who knows. I do know that this won’t be a fun paint job; the exterior is 8 to 15 feet off the ground, and our ladder really isn’t tall enough. Time to buy an orchard ladder or ask around, since I refuse to fall out of a tree.

Our new old tractor (old new tractor?) will be delivered Friday after a long and convoluted saga. After we decide we’ve learned to drive it, the next stage will be deciding whether to keep it. Them. We may like two, or we may decide to sell and use the sale of both to pay for a newer used bigger tractor. Or a bigger new tractor. Or something. Confused yet? So are we Smiley.

A purple echinacea bloomed last weekend. I love finding something I forgot I planted suddenly flowering.

Seed catalogs are arriving. A new one came, featuring heirloom varieties I’ve really never heard of, sorted by ethnicity. There are Italian sections, Mexican sections, Mediterranean sections. Some of the Italian offerings are completely intriguing. White eggplants, curling pole beans, candy striped beets. This time of year really begins everything. The plotting, the planning, the pondering what will be grown in the coming season. Our new farmer friend has a simple, yet well thought out, system for trellising tomatoes and peppers. Next year we want to grow several crops by rows, and not so much the schizophrenic system I’ve used to date. I like my schizophrenic system, but using it has become too time-consuming for the mainstays I want to sell at the Farmer’s Market. I am very glad to meet someone that already knows effective, sustainable methods for growing plants that aren’t difficult to copy or adapt. I always have to reinvent the wheel a little bit, but as the scale increases, the time available to tinker decreases. Our back 5 acres or so will be leased to aforementioned farmer and planted in almonds. Heavy equipment (or, heavier than anything we possess) has been out there for days beginning to grade, trench, weed, dig out crappy trees and old rootstock, burn debris, etc. It’s as if a long and annoying problem is disappearing away. This will be a great learning experience and may eventually generate a bit of income too.

There is so much to work on right now.  I want to make signs (to advertise our turkeys by the roadside), there is work to be done on our computer so I can make labels to attach to packages and jars of products we have made. I have chipotle salsa to make. And turkey soup. And lemon curd, all the lemons are ripe on the tree. It felt VERY cold last night. When it’s cold and dark, I don’t want to do anything but be in 1) the hot tub 2) in front of the woodstove 3) in bed with the cat, reading. This tendency seems to interfere mightily with accomplishing anything of a physical nature. Well……..I always did procrastinate. We have a used woodstove in the shop that needs stovepipe. The idea was to heat the shop so we could tolerate working on winter evenings. This task should be upgraded in priority, or I may not set foot out there until April.

That’s all for now!


November 18, 2005

Our lives have been so busy! This installment will qualify as the Great Turkey Update. I recently joined an online forum for people who raise heritage turkeys. This has been an amazing experience! In a matter of weeks, I have been able to make contacts near and far. We met and have already visited one amazing person who raises an impressive flock of unusual poultry. Their farm had Spanish Blacks, an extremely showy black (duh!) turkey. We traded a pair of Royal Palms for a gorgeous Narragansett tom, who we have named Ishmael. Today’s Narragansetts descend from the turkeys our pilgrim ancestors would have known, so we’re striving for names of old New England.We also met a farmer from southern Oregon, from whom we will be purchasing one or two breeding pairs of Beltsville Whites. In January we will travel that direction to pick them up at the farm. We hadn’t planned on this, but they are really a find. Beltsvilles are a sort of miniature turkey, and are very rare and difficult to obtain. So, by one means or another, we are gearing up to really raise turkeys next year, three breeds! We very much hope to be one of the many farms supplying the growing Slow Food movement, and the consumer demand for heritage turkeys to eat.

And, speaking of eating, it’s almost that time. Since it is important to breed for good characteristics, a certain Royal Palm hen that is a terrible mother will find its way to our dinner plates. And maybe a young tom as well….we’ll see.

Fall chores fit in somewhere. Digging out plants that are shot, rooting for the odd tomato or eggplant that somehow is still growing, digging up peppers to save for winter, planting seeds, planting bulbs, saving seeds,spreading hay, weeding, burning piles of unwated this and that, making grapevine wreaths, cleaning up for winter, repairing machinery, winterproofing housing and feeders for the animals…….all in our spare time.

Xerxes the wonder chicken is back inside. In less than 2 weeks I have tuned out his morning crowing, a new record. He looks good this year, almost….not ugly. The summer outside seems to have made him a little more robust. We allowed him outside time on the weekend until we found him fighting with 3 toms and 4 turkey hens all at once. Roosters are a study in attitude. Xerxes doesn’t care how big he is, because in his mind he is an elephant and they are ants.

Last tidbits: Our new/old tractor still hasn’t come home. Maybe someday Smiley We have a new roof now, so no more leaks. The caved-in section of ceiling still needs some work, we’ll get there. The Delawares continue to grow and be cute and friendly. We are sad for gimpy-leg chick, her left leg is useless. I wish we could do something for her, but it seems to bother us more than her. During the next week we will work on our treehouse some more, picking up where we left off last year. Our friend Robert can build anything, and construction happens when he is around. Conversely, no construction happens when he is not. At least, not of the treehouse variety. And, the price of sheet lumber is ridiculous. Good thing we have free exterior paint from my mom and dad! That’s all for now, ’till next time!

November 2, 2005

I hate standard time. Overnight our world is taken from daylight and shunted into the long dark of winter. Coming home in the dark. Checking animals in the dark. Trying to do this and that in the dark–and cold. Partly, it’s the price we pay for having to drive 40 minutes to get to and from work. But it seems puzzling–I’ve always heard that the time changes were invented to help the farmers. If that’s the case, why only help the farmers for part of the year? And if you get right down to it, no farmer that farms full time cares what the clock says. Sunlight is sunlight, and you start and end your day according to when it’s light. Perhaps it’s not meant to be understood.

This last week I joined an online group having to do with rare turkeys. I have been amazed to find so many other farms and ranches, some of which are very nearby, all involved in the same pursuit. Everyone seems great and we can’t wait to make some new friends who also wake up to gobbling every day.

Last weekend the poultry yards were worked on some more. The Delaware chicks continue to grow well. They are each about the size of a cantaloupe now. We found one that has a terribly deformed leg, it has no joint stability at either the hip or hock. The little bird seems to be getting by okay, but sooner or later she will need to be culled; we can’t have her breeding. Loads of hay are being spread around in the garden. Seeds are being processed for next year, and the last items of produce are being gathered into the house. Firewood was delivered today and will be stacked soon enough.

A very sad thing happened last weekend. Our oldest cat, Socks, has been declining in his faculties for some months now. He seemed healthy enough although we guessed his kidneys were not working so well. Saturday during the day, as we worked in the poultry yards, Socks came over to the fences, pacing back and forth. He usually never strays more than a few yards from the house so this was very unusual. He seemed to enjoy the sunshine, and we took him back in with us near dusk. Saturday after dark we set up our telescope to look at Mars, and we noticed that he walked outside. We didn’t know until it was too late that he had kept walking. We guessed that he walked off to die. We haven’t found him, and doubt we ever will. He was with me for exactly  eighteen years, he jumped into my open window one day when I lived in Davis and was going to school there. Animals have no means by which to say "I’m done with all this", but it seems he found his way. This leaves us with three cats, which by our usual standards is very thin. More will come in time, they always do. Goodbye, Socks.