40 degrees!

God bless the Sun!  It’s so fine to see the hens happily pecking about the yard, all of them alive and well and just fine.  OK, so, I fretted a bit too much. I’d rather err on that side.

As for the new dog, well, my dear strong spouse has encouraged me to buck up and accept what we started. It’s a terrific life lesson, so I said, “I’m in” and we’re off, to train an old dog and a boy (and clearly me too) about forging relationships and making commitments.

Some nights are not fun nights

The wet snow is pulling down large limbs.  A huge branch fell on the studio.  It only hit the porch with no damage to the building as far as we can tell, but the tree is forever changed.  We’ll see in the morning the extent of the storm’s impact. The heavy winds and bitter cold have yet to hit. I am shaking inches of wet snow off sagging dogwood branches as I travel the property tonight in the dark. The sheds are collapsing under the weight already, and we’ve been out there for an hour shaking off wet snow from the tarps. I came in to warm my hands and eat some chocolate, before heading out again.

I am ashamed to admit it, but with the sagging tarp roof, some of the hens got wet.  Worried, I turned to the chicken forums where the general consensus seems to be that as long as there is no chilling wind, they should be okay.  I am heading out to hang tarps now around the pen, which is something we usually do every winter but it’s been in the 70s and, well, I used the tarp for the ewes then didn’t put it back.  Yes, I broke a system we’d set up. This behavior is quite defeating for those around me; they find it puzzling and frustrating. When I was a child, my Dad would call it robbing Peter to pay Paul.

On the up side, chickens are relatively hearty animals, and I did fill their crops tonight with plenty of grain, as well as give them fresh straw to rummage in before they flew to the rafters to huddle as a group.  I am still concerned though, and will check on them through the night (since I’ll be up anyway to let the new dog out).

New dog?  Um, maybe. She’s here on a trial basis at the moment. Just to add a whole new level of stress to the day, this newly adopted shelter dog (picked her up twelve hours ago and have ten days to decide) is now launching her German Shepherd/Husky chest and paws up onto the kitchen counters to see what’s available.  Oh my goodness I am coming unraveled!

I hate it when I feel like a bad farmer, but I know this is part of the process for every farmer.  This is how we learn where the holes are. Four inches of wet snow, followed by freezing temps and ice, on top of a string of soaking rains and just after a string of days in the 7os makes for, well, a challenging dance with the environment to say the least.

On a good note, the ram and ewes are on dry beds of straw, and the ducks decided to hole up under the house. The cat is sleeping on his heating pad, the other dog is in his crate fast asleep, and the children are in their beds. Some of the night is in order, more to follow.  Off to tarp the walls!

To morning, sunlight and thawing!

 

 

Making Things

Today I took out the kids’ material for what were to be Christmas pillows. I set my Mom’s vintage 1950s Singer on the kitchen counter and filled with emotion and excitement.  After months of delaying this joy, I was about to embark. But, as with all journeys, there are often a few last-minute hurdles.  What followed was a one-hour conversation/on-line-search. There was Mom on one end, in frigid Wisconsin where she reported, “It’s too cold to snow” and, me on the other, here in a balmy, rainy Carolina. The salamanders looked on as we researched and located the bobbin case needed to get the 500 series back in operation.  Mystery solved and sewing window closed, the material went back in the box, and I placed an eBay order for $12.95.  The case should be here by the 18th.  I am excited to start sewing again, and this time, with a real machine instead of my daughter’s toy machine!  Maybe someone will want to sew while at camp.

. . .

Last night, after the kids went to bed, I took out four barrettes, glued grosgrain turquoise ribbon on them, and strung the glass turquoise beads my daughter gave me for Christmas into a matched set of Mom and Daughter hair pieces. This morning they were waiting in the cotton-lined box that had held the bead gift.  My daughter looked and said nothing, but I could see her eyes shining. I couldn’t resist teasing. After all, it was her idea to make matching barrettes.   “Close your eyes and hold out your hand.”  She did, and said, “I already saw them.”  I placed her finished barrette in that small palm and hugged her.  She looked down and a slow smile escaped.

Some girls are like that: quiet, reserved, and not wanting anything made too blatant.  I recall feeling that way about boys I liked. Saying their name aloud would put a hex upon my hopes. For the most part, I’m an extrovert, but I am very grateful to have a daughter who reminds and teaches me about the secret inner life of young girls. I am so looking forward to seeing the girls exploring and connecting this summer, and seeing my girl mix in with them. She is very serious about camp.  She brings up a new issue every day that we need to consider, and repeatedly they are thoughtful concerns for the increased happiness of the participants. She is thrilled to share her life and home. That makes me deeply happy.

Summer Dreamin’

Hubs just finished a quick one-page website for me so I could spread the word about camp. (See link at top “Camp”)  I am getting soooo excited for this summer.  Today we bought supplies to make soap. (These things must be practiced, after all.)  Taking down the Christmas wreath wasn’t half as hard with crafting ahead. Plus, I used the berries to make a heart.

Just dreamin’…

 

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Marble

My daughter named one of the three salamander larvae we collected today “Marble” because they are Marbled Salamanders. Their little gills are miraculous. We will release them back into the same vernal pool where we found them, though collecting in general is frowned upon and releasing is also due to the introduction of disease. However, we have taken precautions, will not handle them at all, will feed them the obligate species we collected from the same location (copepods, fairy shrimp) and will only have them in captivity for a couple of weeks. We found them in a wet spot/puddle on the side of the road that I’ve noticed has standing water for long stretches of time. Ah the magic that hides among decomposing leaves in wet spots. My girl kept saying things like, “This is so much fun”.  “Let’s stay here longer.”  I’m so glad that even though she’s growing up in this family, where studying the natural world is called “work” for her Mom, she still finds wonder there. There are plenty of times when I hear, “Mo-om, we do NOT want to go fishing!  We fish ALL THE TIME with you at your work.”  (You could substitute “hiking”, “camping”, “fire-making”, “river walking” or “outdoor cooking” and I’ve heard them all over time.)  That’s not a bad problem to have,  Still, I was really happy the three of us got to muck about together today.  The sallies are on the counter, blessing this house.

January Thaw

It comes every year, tricking trees and critters, hinting of Spring before February blows in.  The forecast this week will bring up a lot of conversation about our warming trends. We have a string of days in the 70s ahead. There are good rains and thunderstorms coming, along with luscious, warm afternoons. We won’t light the wood stove again for several days at least; that preserves the winter wood stash nicely. The hens will pick up production most likely. The redbuds might pop early and then face a frost, which slays me. The fruit trees will make adjustments. The salamanders might congress early.  Stores could respond with a Spring garden push. I’ll likely catch the fever, and try to identify and clear a broccoli and greens patch that will somehow be chicken free. The repercussions are too many to name.  Suffice to say, it matters to everyone.

Today: High of 59F; tonight 55.    Fri: 72; 55       Sat: 72; 57     Sun: 72; 59     Mon: 68;  52     Tues: 57; Low 41     Thurs: 54; 32     Fri: 54; 34     Sat: 54; 34     Sun: 54; 32     Monday: 50; 32

Stains

As we ramp up the egg business, I am puzzled about how to convince the hens to lay in the clean straw-bedded nests provided them rather than the warm red clay. It’s tough to wash red clay stains off green Americauna eggs. In the customers’ dozens, I keep replacing greens with lovely browns, and putting the “ugly” eggs in our side of the ‘fridge for the family to eat.  But, it’s a bummer because green eggs are such a treat for folks. That’s an on-farm problem. We will entice them into the straw. However, it led me to reading a bit about the grading of eggs.

Apparently, our stained eggs would never be graded. I think 1/32nd of the egg can have a stain. Any more than that, and they must be labeled “stained” or “dirty” or something similarly awful sounding. Who wants to buy such an egg?  So, though we exceed Grade AA standards on every other score, primarily because of freshness, we still seem to “fail” when measured against the large scale agriculture hens. That our hens get out in the sun and enjoy bugs and freedom is irrelevant.  If we do not pass the “stain” test, we cannot make the grade. If we do not make the grade, we can’t call them “fresh”, even though they are far fresher when they reach our customers than any egg on a grocery shelf.

Fortunately, a lot of folks intuitively and essentially ‘get’ that small farms cannot (and should not) compete with, or be measured against, large farms (not that they’d want to be.)  Even if we ‘know’ this though, the details and “whys” are sometimes fuzzy. The “stains” rule is one of those details. The egg industry has made it illegal for me to call my eggs fresh.

I can hear the market caller:   “Stained eggs!  Get your stained eggs!   Backyard chickens lay where they think best, in their own nest! ”  And along with that one, a sign saying “Newly laid’ NEVER JUST “Fr*sh!”   Discerning customers will raise an eyebrow when someone mentions “organic”.   Knowingly they’ll ask, “Yes, organic eggs. And, are they stained?”

Ah well. We sell gorgeous, healthful eggs, with high-standing orange yolks. We enjoy them daily at breakfast, and that is enough reward.

Sleeping

Today I walked the land at Screech Owl to see how the creek level was doing in this dry spell, and to look for salamander egg packs or larvae.  The branch was dried up, there were no vernal pools and the water in the main creek was milky colored from white clay.  The water sat quite still between the banks, but at least there was water for folks to drink.  It was extraordinarily quiet in the woods. Only one or two frogs sang, and on such a warm day. It gave me pause.

As I edged through the briars, they seemed to move out of the way.  There are days when the briars don’t seem to want me in the woods, or, that I don’t seem in the right spirit to move peacefully through them, and there are days when I am made welcome.  Today was one of the latter.  A particularly thick briar patch had just gently eased open at my touch into a clearing when my foot stepped beside an intricate gold and brown patch of color. I stopped. Ah!

She, or he, was fast asleep. The round shell of the box turtle peeked out from the leaves where she snuggled in to rest through the cold time. I squatted with her a while, and named her “Two Stripe” for the markings on her carapace.  After a long while, I began to wonder if she was alive, so I softly stroked her.  She didn’t open her eyes, but she curled her toes. Satisfied, I eased away, very grateful for her presence, and fine with not knowing if she was a he. It was not worth disturbing her just to answer a science question. There will come a time when we will meet again, in a warm season, and I can sneak a peek.  Box turtles do not stray far from their homelands.  She calls Screech Owl her homeplace now.