February 7, 2008

Today this farmer is stuck home sick. Too much on my mind, no wherewithal to do much about it. The greenhouse is in great shape. My new seedling heat mats arrived (shipped from New York, manufactured in Petaluma, CA….more on that later) so all I have to do is feel well enough to sit down in there and plant seeds in the trays.

The row crop garden looks good. During the days of marginal illness earlier in the week, we sowed a quadruple row of carrots in one of the planting beds, noted that everything survived the rains, transplanted hundreds of parsnips (no idea if you really can or should transplant them, but we did anyway), sowed more radishes, and noted that in a week, all the turnips and half the beets should be rotating out of the greenhouse and into the garden beds. Oh, and we also observed that the transplanted asparagus crowns are beginning to send up some spears. Disagreement ensued over whether it is a good idea to harvest spears from 4 year old, just transplanted crowns. I don’t know, but I’m going to eat a few….
We have two hundred broiler chicks arriving from the hatchery in 6 days, and the clock is ticking as to where we are going to put them. We have a tent that we can use to house them, but nothing else can be done this weekend until the chick brooder is made ready. I’m already concerned about the weather, chicks need to be kept very warm, and I doubt there is too much the US postal service can do about that. When chicks get cold they develop…the runs…and when they get the “runs” it can literally seal over their behinds, making necessary functions impossible….I have spend many a time un-gluing chick butts under warm running water, and the thought of two hundred of them…I just don’t want to think about it. This project will, if successful, leave us with many dollars of revenue as well as good meat to eat in the freezer around the beginning of summertime. We ordered all roosters, all heavy breeds, but none of what I call “Frankenchickens”. Frankenchickens are what are mostly sold in stores, and they are the Cornish Cross breed. These chickens are designed to go from cute fluffy thing at day one to over 6 pound hulking splay-legged monster that can’t walk in just 6 weeks. Good friends decided they’d try this breed last year; who doesn’t like the thought of a meat project being over with in just a month and a half? But after the heartbreak of chickens that couldn’t stand up to move out of their own manure, and having chickens whose legs would break under their own weight, they vowed “never again”. This is the hidden price of where food comes from, when Foster Farms and Tyson are the source. Older breeds grow slower and put on weight at a pace that takes more like 5 months, but to us it’s worth it in humaneness and decency. So we will receive a mix of birds like Black Australorps, Light Brahmas, Dark Cornish, Turkens….
I continue to read Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, and am amazed at what I’m learning. For those who don’t know, this is a well-known author whose family decided to challenge themselves by agreeing to eat, for one year, only what they could raise themselves or what could be purchased locally. I can’t recommend this book enough. We have had the opportunity to set ourselves along a similar path of the “local food” movement, but this book highlights things that never occurred to me. Like the impact I have on struggling small farms when I choose to spend my food dollar on out-of-season produce from far away even though I know it costs petroleum and resources that are dwindling (just like how my new seedling mats travelled a round trip from coast to coast…but I bought them where I did because they were sold at the best price in New York…it makes no sense). How much more I could be thinking about preserving/freezing/canning the bounty of each season instead of just letting it slip away into the compost pile. How we as American consumers, who demand high quality and safety in nearly every area of life, allow our tax dollars to subsidize an agricultural system that floods the market with cheap calories devoid of nutrition, sustainability, and good taste because we are unwilling as a nation to pay for what it actually costs to produce good food. How the cultural identity of modern American food could be summed up as “fast and mediocre”. And how I have bought into the idea that making cheese is dangerous and difficult, even when I know that every farm wife did this for centuries. I’m going to be sending away for a cheesemaking kit so I can start learning how to do this at home. One hour from milk to mozzarella….

Our cute little girl kittens continue to grow. They are still cute. Mostly. But only one of them is a girl. The black and white one has gone from being “Wednesday” to “Gomez” (we’re on an Addams Family theme here). And as for “Tish”, well, our little gal has issues. She is adorable playful, and affectionate, and has already caught and demolished two rodents. However, she is, how shall we say…..Windy. Eau d’litterbox. Flatulent. This little cat will crawl into your lap and emit farts of such stomach-turning potency that any Rottweiler would be put to shame. I’ve never had a cat that did this before. I didn’t even know cats were capable of this. Just one more of the joys of life around here….

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