Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Surprise chicks

This morning when I went to let the chickens out of the barn I heard loud chirping.  I couldn't tell if it was wild birds or if it was coming from the barn.  After a little searching I found a tiny fluffy chick on a shelf about 7 feet off the floor.  More chirping led me to another chick between some boards to a stall door.  I took the chick down from the shelf and put it with the other.  That seemed to make them happy.  The mother was up in the barn loft sheltering some other chicks under her wings.  It appears there were 5 chicks in all, unfortunately I just found one of them dead outside the fence.  The other 4 look pretty sturdy and busy, looking for bugs and other food.  I'm guessing they're close to a week old from their fluffiness and behavior.  They've ventured pretty far today without their mom.  I wonder how I didn't know the mom was sitting on eggs for the past 3 weeks.

The video below shows the mom all fluffed up with her wings spread.  I don't know if that's her posturing to keep other chickens away or a place for the chicks to come hide when they need to.  I'm assuming the rooster with her is her partner.  It appears they're talking.  "Oh, aren't we so lucky?  Look what we made.  Shame what happened to little Festus."  We have 4 roosters but this is the one who stays near her.  He was in the loft today when I was looking for chicks.  I think he was warning me away.  Colleen, this is one of your roosters.

I kind of like that it was a surprise and I wasn't watching and waiting.  I hope these 4 survive and are all hens.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What I did for love

Sure, you probably know the song from Chorus Line.  I didn't know this song till I met James.  The only musicals I knew were the ones my parents had the albums for - The Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady. Oh how I loved singing along with them.  I also knew Mary Poppins, and other movies I'd seen as a child.  It wasn't till James and I married, I fell in love all over again with musicals.  I love when James and I sing show tunes at the piano.  He's got a beautiful voice and I join him with my untrained one.   I'm getting off topic here.  This is not what this blog is about.

Today I did something I do all the time but hadn't even considered doing before I was married.   This is just one of many things.
You might wonder what this is, yes?  It's ziploc bags hanging on the line to dry.  I made wine this week from fruit that needed to be used.  It had been in the freezer too long and we needed room for this year's fruit.   What was I to do with the bags after I'd emptied them?  Throw them away?  That's what I would have done 27 years ago but somehow I've fallen into the habit of washing out plastic bags and reusing them.  As I did this I was trying to think of other things I do because I've been influenced by time living with the same person.  How much of what I do is "me" and how much is "we"?  It's hard to tell anymore.  Sometimes I think my beliefs are my own but then I wonder how I've changed and what I've done for (or because) of love.

I'd love to know what picture James would post of what he does because of me.  James?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

That's a lot of bull

I don't always follow the rules.  I know I should but sometimes I gotta go with my instincts.  What do they say?  Rules are made to be broken?  Maybe one day I'll pay for it but I hope not.

Owning 2 bulls now I think about things I've read and caution I've been given.  Bulls can be unpredictable.  Yes, I understand that.  I just have to hope I'm smarter than they are and that my bulls love me so much that they wouldn't want to hurt me.  I know I'm not supposed to treat them like I do my other animals but it's hard.

Take Papa.  When he came to live here he was a typical bull, wary of humans, cautious with me and a bit pushy with my other animals once he figured out he could boss them around.  All except Keri.  Keri is everyones' boss except mine.  Little by little Papa has come to trust me.  He watched me pet and scratch Raisa, Windsor, the goats, donkeys and dogs.  I mean, he Watched.  I could almost see the wheels turning in his head.  I knew he wanted the attention too but was afraid to let down his guard.  If I came near him he'd lower his head to show me his horns.  Papa has lived here 6 months now and is part of the farm family.  He no longer shows me his horns and is very happy to stand for a rub down and scratch.  He's very relaxed and chews his cud while I massage.  Some days when I 'm scratching him he lowers his chin to the ground and seems hypnotized.

I've read that Jersey bulls can be a handful.  I hope Franklin is a laid back Jersey bull.  At the moment he's a rambunctious bottle baby who acts like he's starving for both food and attention.  I'll wean him in 3 more weeks and hopefully he'll calm down shortly after so he won't be pushy for food.  I swear he's grown 6 inches in the week we've had him.  He's very long legged.  He's shiny and healthy looking and still just as adorable as the day I saw his photo on Craigslist.

Like a toddler, everything is in his mouth - gates, fingers...

 Milk face
While I'm on the topic of bovines, Raisa is looking quite plump.  I'm sure it's not her baby bump yet.  I think she's just getting plenty to eat.  It's hard to believe cows can put so much weight on eating salad.  This picture doesn't really show how wide she really is.  She's not due till September or October.
The flies seem to like Windsor's fluffy coat more than Raisa and Papa's shiny ones.
They rub their heads against each other to remove the flies and scratch themselves.
This is a good time of year for livestock.  They're all fat and sassy.  Hopefully my bulls won't be too sassy with me in the years to come.  So far, so good.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Wheat and more wheat

I know I've blogged about this before but it's what's happening now at Elk Cliff Farm.  James plants winter wheat as a cover crop for many of his gardens.  Last fall he planted more than ever.  Come spring he has to decide what he's going to do with the wheat.  His options are to pull it out, cut it off or till it under the soil.  I'm not sure I understand cover crops very well but each year I learn a little more about them.  This is how I understand it.  The wheat is planted to feed nitrogen to the soil. (see edit below). It also helps retain water and prevent weeds from taking over.  This year's lesson for me was about mycorrhiza.  It's like a web of fungus and roots underground that work together to improve the soil.  The plant above ground feeds the roots and fungus underground and vice versa.  It keeps spreading throughout the garden and makes for happy future gardens.  Ok, that's really not a good description but I'm not a very good student and that's the best I can do.  Ask a real gardener if you're interested in the real scoop.

What he chose to do with much of it was cut the tops off so we can use the wheat berries for flour for bread, pasta etc.  Then he cut the wheat straw off with a scythe and mowed the rest with the lawn mower so it was close to the ground.  The roots remain in the soil and he plants between them.  Did I say that we cut the wheat heads off with scissors?

This is what the garden looks like after the wheat straw has been cut down to a few inches.  James says the ground is pretty loose between the rows so all he has to do is hoe between them and plant.
Next the wheat heads are placed on a tarp and danced on.

This breaks the wheat berries out of their shells or chaff.  I separate what straw I can and scoop up the wheat and chaff and put it into a cooler of water.  There the wheat berries fall to the bottom of the cooler and I can remove the chaff and other unwanted stuff.  I wash the wheat pretty well then dry it on a large countertop.  When it's dry I pack it up and put it in the freezer till I'm ready to use it.

It's organic  seed, grown organically and processed manually so I wonder how much different our wheat bread is from what you buy at the store.  Neither of us has problems tolerating gluten and we wonder if someone who thinks they're gluten intolerant could eat our wheat and not be bothered by it.  We have 16 more garbage bags full of wheat to be cleaned.  I've done 6 so far.  I'm figuring we'll get about 77 lbs of wheat this year.

When I'm done my job the clean up crew comes in.
(edit) I've been corrected about the wheat feeding nitrogen to the soil.  I should have written
Winter wheat plantings help recover soil fertility by essentially dredging up nitrogen and other nutrients that have leached into deep soil layers. As winter wheat grows, roots absorb these nutrients and move them internally toward their aboveground leaves. Tilling winter wheat into soil in spring places these nutrients in the root zone of new vegetable plantings. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quiet Please

This blog post has nothing to do with farming, homesteading or cute little animals, so sorry about that.

I know most of you think I'm cool and have my act together.  Or maybe not.  My immediate family and good friends know how weird I really am and for some reason love me anyway.  At least they put up with me.

Since I was a child I've been sensitive to sound.  My sisters and mother can attest to this.  It's gotten worse as I've gotten older.  I know many people don't like to hear people chew with their mouth open or crack gum, etc., but I don't mean that kind of noise, though things like that can send me into a rage - a quiet one in my head that makes me want to cry, and I have.  I mean things other folks don't even hear.  My "triggers" are things like the sound of someone typing or clicking their pen, utensils tapping a plate, sniffing, foot scuffing, rubbing of pages in a book, loud breathing (sometimes soft breathing) throat clearing, finger tapping, nose whistling, or just plain whistling in general.  My list is very long.  There's a name for this neurological disorder.  It's Misophonia, which means hatred of sound.  I didn't know there was a name for it until last year.  I had no idea there were other people (lots of them) who also struggle with this condition.  We don't usually look like this, but this is how we feel when all we can focus on is THAT SOUND.

I wish I could explain it to you better, the feeling of anxiety when experiencing one of these triggers, which are often coming from the person or people I love most.  When I hear these noises I want to bolt - leave the room - get away as fast as I can - put my earplugs in.  Fortunately for me I'm married to someone who is understanding and patient.  James tries really hard not to make these noises but there's no way he can know what it is that makes my skin crawl because he doesn't suffer from it.  He'd have to be the quietest person on earth to not irritate me.  I recognize this is my problem and try not to give the evil eye when James is tap tap tapping his plate with his fork.  Anyone else wouldn't even hear the tapping.

Along with the noise there's also sometimes a sensitivity to movement.  Things like someone shaking their leg, thumb twirling or hand movements.  I know it sounds crazy.  I used to think I was crazy and perhaps I am a bit. I'm ok with crazy as long as I know I'm not alone.  There are forums and discussion boards, blogs, Facebook pages related to misophonia and, while they don't fix anything, they help me to feel better - like many people are working toward the same goal - finding a way to fix this.

One of the folks on the sound sensitivity forum is a filmmaker.  He's producing a film called Quiet Please.  He's hoping to raise awareness of the disorder because he (and I think his daughter) have suffered with it for a long time.  Here's a link to the trailer for his film.  It takes a while to load on my computer so you may have to pause it and let it load to watch it without interruption.
https://vimeo.com/131611608  I think he did a great job and I can't wait to see the full film when it's done.  This trailer explains way better than I can what it's like to struggle with misophonia.  Maybe someone reading this will say, "that's me", and feel better knowing what they're experiencing has a name.  He also has a fund raising IndieGoGo website for the film in case anyone feels so inspired to contribute or wants to read his story and what he has to say about the disorder.  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/quiet-please#/story

Next blog will have to do with farm stuff, not crazy stuff.  Well, maybe my farm stuff is sometimes also crazy.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Driving cattle

Our station wagon attracted some attention yesterday.  One vehicle even slowed down so they could change lanes and get behind us to watch a calf being driven down the highway.  By the way they were acting, you'd think people have never seen this before.
I still haven't given him a name, though I keep calling him Franklin.  I've also thought of naming him Howie, after my dad.  I don't think Dad would mind.  Franklin/Howie is a little Jersey bull calf.  I also thought of naming him Trenton but that name is harder to yell.  He was such a good passenger and spent most of our hour and 15 minute drive lying down in the back watching cars go by. He seemed very relaxed.

Did we need another bull?  Of course not.  We only have one milk cow so it's silly, really, but I couldn't resist that cute face I saw in the Craigslist ad.  Perhaps we need a Jersey girl too.  Franklin/Howie won't be old enough to breed for another year.  He's only one month old.  We're bottle feeding him goats' milk for at least another month.  He'll drink milk out of a bucket too but it's hard to keep Rex out of it.

He's living on the opposite side of the fence from the other cows and adult goats.  We separated the little bucklings from their moms yesterday too so Franklin/Howie has them for company, along with Rex to protect them.  We'll be getting lots more goat milk now that the kids are off their moms.

Newcomers are always greeted by the others and it didn't take long for them to discover the new addition.

This morning he was no longer exciting and the others aren't interested in him.  I had a scare when I went to feed him.  I called and called but he didn't come and I couldn't see him anywhere. I took a lap around his field and was getting panicky.  Finally I discovered him lying down all curled up in tall grass.  I was so relieved.  I thought maybe he'd jumped over the fence. Or maybe gotten in with the pigs and had an unfortunate accident.  Lots of scenarios went through my mind.  I guess I don't know enough about calves yet. All I know is he's a real cutie.  I may be sorry later on that I got a bull that was a bottle baby.  He's very friendly.  Maybe he'll be gentle like my other cows.  Even our bull, Papa, now loves be brushed and petted and he doesn't make me nervous anymore.

I love his MOO

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This Old House

Our house was built in the early 1870s.  We're the 3rd family to live here.  I've never really been a history buff but I do like to hear stories about our house and the other families who preceded us.    Occasionally a relative of one of the other families stops by to see the house or reminisce.  We were told by an old-timer around here that his grandfather helped build the two over two brick structure.  He slept in the train cars by the river and came up to build the brick right here from clay on the property.  I don't know if that's true or not but it's what we were told.  The house was built by Colonel Anderson as a wedding gift for his daughter. Our son Adam is engaged to Melissa Anderson.  Perhaps she's somehow related to the original owners.  That would be a coincidence, wouldn't it?  Colonel Anderson's daughter and her husband (I should find out their names) had a son, Miles Poindexter, who grew up to be a US senator for the state of Washington.  When he retired he returned here and died in this house.  We're told every morning he'd jump in the bitter cold Elk Creek behind our house.  Again, I don't know if this is true and it's hard to imagine, but it's a story we've repeated since we heard it.  It looks like the unsmiling Miles is holding an IPhone in this picture.  Kind of a handsome guy, huh?
The next owners were Leonard and Beulah Cash.  We never knew Leonard but we met Beulah (then 93 years old) when we bought the house and got to know her better in the 3 or 4 months before she moved away.  She was a charming, witty and funny lady.   She could also be sarcastic, which is one of the reasons I liked her so much.  I wish I'd met her earlier.  I think she and I would have been good friends.  That's her on the left, sitting next to her sister.  When she laughed I couldn't help but laugh with her.
The reason I'm blogging about my house today is because once again I'm pealing back layers of history.  Layers of paint that is.
Mrs. Cash lived here for 50+ years and probably touched this door frame more times than I can guess, especially in her final years, as she was blind and probably needed to touch things as she moved about. Because she was blind, the house was in disrepair and it took us more than 2 years to fix up before we moved in.  There were holes in walls, ceilings, leaks in the slate roof, etc.  We've been in the house maybe 10 years and it needs updating again.  I just couldn't put another coat of paint over this door trim.  I have a feeling the windows and other doorway in this room will get another coat when I tire of stripping this entryway.  Patience is not my middle name, that's why I didn't do this the first time around.  There was too much else to do.  In the picture below on the left you can see where I washed a small section of baseboard.  The 40+ year old gold wall-to-wall carpet had already been removed.  The picture on the right is a partially stripped fireplace mantle and a hole in the bricked up fireplace with ashes spewed across the dining room floor.  This was not a nice surprise, though I did laugh when it happened.  I didn't know what else to do as the sledge hammer gave way to the grey dust that went everywhere.
The plaster was falling off walls and ceilings in the bedrooms so we removed layers of wallpaper and paint and tore down lots of plaster and lath.  We leveled the ceilings and then put beadboard up.  

The bathroom underwent a major transformation.  We removed the front wall, made the doorway smaller, removed the tub and built a shower pan, chiseled out 4 inches of concrete from the floor and installed heat (it had none), then tiled the room.

The kitchen also needed a complete overhaul.  The refrigerator was in the hallway because it didn't fit in the kitchen because of the wood cook stove and electric stove.  Much plaster was chiseled from the walls, which were wire brushed to expose the brick, then sealed.  The linoleum was removed and a new/old (reclaimed lumber) floor was put in.  Most of the walls in our house are solid brick so we had to add outlets in the kitchen by cutting grooves in the wall for the wires.

The outside also needed lots of attention.  The leaking slate roof needed to be replaced.  It had been tarred over so individual pieces of slate couldn't be inserted.  We chose a copper roof instead.  The front porch had to be jacked up so we could replace the rotting sills (?) that rested on the columns and put beadboard in place of the vinyl ceiling.
The back of the house was much more fun than the rest of the improvements because it wasn't a necessity.  We removed the overgrown ewes and put in a patio, brick oven, bbq pit, cupboards, countertop and pergola.  It was a big undertaking but very gratifying work.

As I look at this last picture I see a tired outdoor kitchen that needs attention.  That's how I feel as I look around our house these days.  I see work.

When I was in PA recently visiting my family I told them I'd like to build a small home from scratch.  My one sister seemed surprised that I'd like a new house.  It's not that I don't love this old house.  I do.  I just wonder what it would be like to live in a lower maintenance house.  I truly am thankful that our house is so solid and I appreciate the workmanship that went into it.  I even like the way our stairs are worn thin in the middle of every tread from all the feet that climbed them in the past 140+ years.

It's fun to dream of a new house but I'd hate to leave this farm.  I kind of like the idea that we're leaving our mark on this home for the next owners.  Maybe they'll somehow stumble upon my blog one day (if there are still blogs then, or internet) and see these pictures and learn a little bit about the 3rd family to live here.  I wish the Poindexters and Cashes had kept blogs or journals for me to read.  Maybe I should print out these 6 years of blog posts and hide them somewhere for people to find.

I just killed an hour writing this blog when I could have been stripping paint.  I guess it's not going anywhere -- And neither am I.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grooming Baxter

I've never groomed one of my dogs, nor took them to a groomer.  My boxers had short hair and rarely even got baths in all their years.  Though Keri could use some serious grooming, there's no way she'd stand for it so she lives with dreadlocks on her backside and looks awful.  Rex is just as messy but I haven't attempted grooming him yet.  Maybe I will now.

Today I decided to shave Baxter.  He was such a good sport.  Yes, he was nervous when he heard the clippers turn on but he seemed to settle down and I was able to finish the job as best I could.

What a handsome guy.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Learning - Feeling empowered and inspired

This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  James recognized this and gave me my space as a good husband does.  It's 6:30 PM now and I'm in a much better state of mind.  Don't you love how that happens? I'm sure James does.  All it took was some time making cheese, watching a cooking show and using what I learned from the show to get ideas for our dinner using food we grew right here at Elk Cliff Farm.

Lately I've been inspired by two Netflix series,  Chef's Table and The Mind of a Chef.  Unfortunately Chef's Table only has 5 episodes.   I love this show.  It really makes me want to cook and make our dinners look as good as they taste.  James works so hard in his garden and his vegetables should be displayed beautifully on our plates.  It goes without saying the animals we raise for our table also deserve respect.  They really deserve a fine chef but James didn't marry one so I do the best I can.  A recent meal here was Roxie bratwurst cut into thirds and placed in nests of homemade pasta with a cheese, goat milk and mustard sauce with caramelized onions, served with fresh strawberries, asparagus and spinach.  Not nearly as pretty as the meals prepared on Chef's Table but to us they taste like a million bucks because we know where it came from and how it was raised.
Because we have so much wheat getting ready to be harvested, I'm trying to use up last years' wheat so we have space in the freezer.  I made a bread that is almost all our own wheat flour.  The recipe called for honey or maple syrup so I used Elk Cliff maple syrup and it turned out delicious.  Very soft for a whole wheat bread.  I love seeing wheat growing in the garden.  Look how brown our grass is.  We're finally getting some much-needed rain this week.

I also experimented with 100% whole wheat pasta.  Last night we had beet whole wheat pasta made from our wheat, free range chicken eggs and beets.  It looked much prettier raw than it did cooked.  Much of the pretty purple cooked out in the water, which was disappointing.
Tonight's dinner is Elk Cliff pork ribs, peas and corn bread made from glass gem corn James grew last year.

Besides feeling inspired, I've also been feeling empowered because of some things I've been forced to do.  I'll begin with our tractor, Betty Ford.  We've been doing some grass cutting in the field with our finishing mower.  We probably need a bush hog but since we don't have one we've been pushing the limits with the mower.  Unfortunately the belt broke before I was done mowing so I needed a quick lesson on replacing it.  I've had to do this on our riding lawn mower recently too.  This mower however, was a bit more challenging.  There were way more wheels and the tension spring was much bigger and tight.  Here's the diagram for putting the belt on.  It has wheels going different directions and the belt has to make 1/4 turns and 1/2 turns.

Getting the belt on the wheels wasn't too hard but re-attaching the tension spring was.  It was so tight it had at least 8 inches to span to reach the place it should connect.  I tried lots of tricks, to no avail.  I called my tractor repair guy to see if there was a special tool.  He said no and gave a few suggestions.  Finally I hooked my riding lawn mower up to the spring with a tie down strap and stretched it that way.  Tada! It worked.  I was so proud of myself.  My excitement lasted all of 30 seconds when I realized a tractor tire was flat.  The next day I pumped the tire up only to find the valve stem leaked and tire fluid (calcium chloride) was leaking out.  Adam taught me a bunch about valve stem removers and letting air out of tires, etc.  What we didn't know about was the different sizes of valves and about the fluid.  I contacted a tire company who came out to the farm and replaced the valve, filled the tire with what had drained and then gave me a lesson in tractor tires.  Since I have a front loader on my tractor he said my tractor would be useless without the calcium chloride in the tires, which creates weight.  Gosh, I could go on and on with what I learned about tractor tires (just ask James) but I have so much more to write about.  

Next, our dishwasher.  It hasn't been cleaning well at all.  We were washing everything well before putting it in the dishwasher, otherwise the top rack would still be dirty.  It was getting frustrating so I Googled "dishwasher not cleaning".  It led me to this video on Youtube, which was exactly what I needed.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZojUCnQifs  Oh my goodness, I embarrassed myself with how much crud was in our dishwasher, even though there was no one there to see it.  Seriously, disgusting.
The video was under 9 minutes long but it took me between 2 to 3 hours to take ours apart, clean it and put it back together correctly.  The great thing about this video is he tells you how to put everything back together so you don't have to remember how you took it apart.  I removed lots of sludge, a piece of a hard plastic straw, a few inches of a chop stick, a chip off a plate, several small chicken bones and other things I didn't recognize.  I ran a big load today and it appears to be doing the job it should be.  Hooray!

Something else I'm excited about is the drapes in my living room that I made out of drop cloths from Lowes.  I'm not the first to do something like this, as evidenced by a Google search for drop cloth curtains, which is where I got my ideas.  The base of our rug is an oatmeal color which matches the color of drop cloths.  
Working with drop cloths requires a person who doesn't expect perfection.  There are many flaws in them.  They shrink unevenly, and may have stains (I don't know where they come from).
They have sewing flaws and seams in unexpected places.  They also shrink a lot and took a long time to iron.
I got carried away with the drop cloth theme and made stenciled pillow covers.

I also made a bedspread stenciled with salamandars.

That's probably more than you wanted to read about but because I'm in a good mood now it was easy to get carried away.