Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Rare Moment of Sadness

One of our ducks died today.  I found her peacefully floating on the pond.  I have dealt with the death of many animals this last year, but this one was different.  There was something so achingly striking about her broken, ivory body nestled among the lily pads.   I think perhaps it was the fact that the scene was so idyllic, and death seemed so blatantly out of place.  Death among natural grace and tranquility--the contrast was too strong.  In every experience I have had with death on the farm, it has been expected: it was either planned or amid an obvious crime scene.  It has not been gentle.  It has never reached its grasp into beauty.


Monday, August 19, 2013

The Study of Trees

I had one of my classic dim-witted moments yesterday.  Usually, these are commonplace in my conversations.  Duck Dynasty is a favorite in our home.  After discovering the show just one month ago, we have purchased and watched the entire first three seasons.  I find myself gleefully listening to Si Robertson's lack of articulation, which in turn makes me slightly concerned: you know it's bad when Si makes you feel more normal.  For example, my husband and I went out to eat for our anniversary Friday night. After many minutes floundering as I stuttered out my order to our waitress, Matt turned to me and simply stated, "You can't not be awkward."  It was a very romantic dinner ;).

However, my latest embarrassing moment had nothing to do with talking.  Sunday morning, I glanced out the window at the resplendent crest of trees lining our peninsula on the pond.  It's a slight addiction of mine: drinking coffee and watching the sun glitter across the crowns of the dark evergreens as it rises.  This time, however, I gasped. All my glorious trees were shrouded in the dreaded rusty-brown blight that is withering evergreens across the state.  I told Matt we simply MUST go to the store and buy bottles of horrible fungicide chemicals to spray all over the trees.  If we acted fast enough, we just might be able to save them.

Evergreens bordering our pond
After arming myself with two rather small spray bottles of chemical weapons, a mask, long rubber gloves, and layers of fungicide-repelling clothing, I dragged a ladder out to the peninsula and initiated battle. I managed to cover about half of the 20-30 ft tall tree line in just over a half hour.  Slowly, I noticed something.  Those brown splotches weren't dying needles, after all.  They were very clearly pine cones.

Which brings me to our nature study topic this fall: trees!  It seems I have nearly as much to learn as Aubrey does.  Nevertheless, I've always had a strong affinity towards trees.  Since my name means earth and sky, I suppose it's only fitting to be drawn to an object that stretches it's fingers into both.  I grew up in the woods, running, hiding, and riding horses beneath their windowed canopies. Their enduring bodies were an enigma: holding within such a mysterious combination of strength and frailty. That seemed to be a perplexity with which I could sympathize.    

I purchased a lovely book on how to teach the subject of nature study to children, Handbook of Nature Study.  This massive tome covers everything from farm animals to constellations, with charming descriptions, poetry, and lesson ideas for each subject.  I read the first portion on trees this morning and determined that I easily may have ended up as a botanist if I had read this as a child.  I love being able to choose books that are alive and fascinating to share with my daughters.

We have everything from chestnuts to cedars on our property, giving us a wealth of specimens to work with.  A fun idea I came across on a homeschooling forum was to pick two or three specific trees around the house.  The child then names their trees and follows their "story" through the seasons.  This would accompany the broader biological study of trees through field guides and the book mentioned above.  Only two more weeks until we get started!

I wonder if they like it--being trees?
I suppose they do.
It must feel so good to have the ground so flat,
And feel yourself stand straight up like that.
So stiff in the middle, and then branch at ease,
Big boughs that arch, small ones that bend and blow,
And all those fringy leaves that flutter so.
You'd think they'd break off at the lower end
When the wind fills them, and their great heads bend.
But when you think of all the roots they drop, 
As much at bottom as there is on top,
A double tree, widespread in earth and air,
Like a reflection in the water there.

- "Tree Feelings," Charlotte Perkins Stetson
(qtd in Handbook of Nature Study)

I helped a friend "harvest" pigs this weekend.  Just thought I'd throw that in there.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Amateur Attempt at Apple Butter

I forged ahead into the intimidating realm of canning solo this week.  Usually very reliant on my mother's help, this year I decided to act like a big girl and conquer it on my own.  One of our apple trees is now ripe, and I picked nearly 100 apples from it.  I used half to make apple butter, and the other half I saved for making applesauce.

 Following the simple recipe I found in my very handy Ball Blue Book, I quartered and cored the apples and let them simmer in water until tender on the stove.  I did not have to peel the apples because I would put them through a food mill in the next step.  This portion of the process was fairly painless.

I then put the put apples through my food mill, which pureed them to a delicious sauce-like consistency and removed all the peelings.  I added my sugar, cinnamon, and cloves to the puree and returned the pot to the stove to boil down to jelling point.  The kitchen took on a glorious holiday smell, triggering fantasies of Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, and apple pies.

This is the part I was slightly unprepared for: it took about three hours for the heavenly mixture to reach jelling point.  So, I finished the second half of my current fluff read*, ate three pieces of cake, and made a pot of coffee.  If you attempt this, you may find having some of these things on hand to be beneficial.

Turtle cake, one of my favorite things in life

Once the apple butter reached jelling point (rounds up on a spoon and falls off in sheets rather than drips), I poured it into my hot, sterilized jars, put the lids on, and placed them in a pot of boiling water for ten minutes. Around fifty apples produced just over 6 half pint jars of butter - which was a little disappointing after a total of 6 hours of work.  I probably won't attempt that again this year. However, it tastes like Christmas on toast and I got some good reading time in.

Apple butter and applesauce produced from 100 apples

*Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, my second fluff read "break" since picking up Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire again.  My first fluff read break was Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting.  I highly suggest checking both out.  Maybe not Gibbons, unless you're intellectually sadistic.  I may fall into that category.  


Friday, August 2, 2013

Farmer's Update

Our garden is bursting into life!  Most of it is from the vegetables (the pumpkins are especially happy right now), but the weeds are doing what they can to add to the effect.  I have finally given up the ongoing fight against them, as I think the veggie plants are big enough to hold their own now.  The weeds did have clay soil to their advantage, which was an excellent defense.  When I would attack them, they would simply break off above the roots and regrow.  Well played.  However, I have chicken poo and rotting leaves awaiting deployment this fall.  We'll see who will be the vanquished one next year!

Early June

We now have our first (and only...) CSA share up and running!  Our garden is currently producing broccoli, purple beans, peas, poblano peppers, carrots, swiss chard, and cherry tomatoes.  The cucumbers, winter squash, corn, and chocolate bell peppers seem to be nearly ready.  Half of my herb garden is doing well; the sage, oregano, and parsley are all surviving.  Thyme is dead (don't you love thymely puns!), and my basil isn't looking so hot.
Purple Beans!

Sadly, three more baby chicks were born and then expired in quick order.  The heartwarming verdict was "pecked to death by mother hen." We are currently in the process of moving them out from under the coop, which is a rather glamorous process.  One person remains on their hands and knees in the chicken poo and pokes at the chicks with a pitchfork, while the other ushers them into their new digs.  

Speaking of glamorous jobs, I mowed my second cutting of hay last week. And then it got rained on and was completely ruined.  Although, one benefit of mowing by hand is that (while it took hours of work) only the equivalent of a bale or two was lost.  Also, my arms are buff and I have thoroughly explored Tolstoy's literary exposition on the subject.

The cat is no longer in heat, which means she is far less annoying.  Unfortunately, she is celebrating by renewing her interest in bringing more live animals into the house.  This has included one thoroughly alive bird.  I am celebrating by making a phone call to the vet.  Enjoy those ovaries for the next few days, my feline friend.

As for the goats, they decided to play Houdini again.  I came home from a long day of running errands, arms laden with grocery bags, to find Cupcake peering quizzically around the corner at me, goat poop confetti covering the porch.  I soon figured out they were scrambling under a hole they made in the fence.  This was quickly stopped by a blockade of cinder blocks--quintessentially redneck fencing repair.

My kefir grains died.  Overcome by mold, it appears.  That was a somber discovery; my juice will be forever lacking a tart, milky flavor, and I'll actually have to make a sourdough starter for my bread.

Well, that covers the last week or so.  Not exactly exciting, yet never a dull moment :).