05.19.2019

May skies from May happenings. A picnic, a beach hike, a couple morning walks.

April feels like a distant memory already. I think it’s mostly the chicks that are responsible for that. They arrived on the second of May, just after the weather turned warmer and sunnier. It’s less that there’s so much to do and more that there’s just so many bits to occupy your attention. We got layers for the first time, which are so different from the meat birds we’ve raised in the past. Which I knew, but it’s a different thing to know something and to watch it right in front of you.

We had one injury early on that meant we had a house chick for nearly two weeks while he recovered. A day or so in to the regular soundtrack of tiny chirping, I understood the draw of pet birds better than I ever had. After it was obvious that he was recovering but lagging his peers’ growth, we brought home a companion from the feed store and watched tiny chicken friendship unfold. As Dean was putting the finishing touches on the new coop yesterday, I had to call out, “Can I get your help? There’s a chick in the middle of the living room.”

We bought unsexed chicks so I’m watching raptly as they slowly feather out, trying to figure out who will grow up to lay eggs and who will grace the table.

Last night there was a giant owl sitting outside the new coop in broad daylight, plotting how he could get past our defenses (I assume).

So many tiny dramas of feed and temperature and housing and well-being, that’s the story of May around this homestead. You?

10.04.2018

Home.

We arrived just after sunset last Friday night. I set my two small travel bags down on the floor and exhaled with the kind of relief that comes from knowing that you belong right where you are, and you don’t have to leave anytime soon.

We walked through the house and assured ourselves that it was all here and then I sunk into that particular comfort of my own bed. By 6a the next morning I couldn’t stand waiting any longer, so I explored the yard by headlight to see how all of the trees and gardens had fared through a whole season apart (mostly just fine).

The trip home was a cross country drive. It was only the second time I’ve driven from coast to coast, the last one in the opposite direction not long after the end of my first long hike more than a decade ago. This time we were helping some dear friends move house, so the chariot was a 15-foot U-Haul truck. A bit of a transition for me who had resisted any driving for the first month off trail, but I can’t help but get a little romantic about any long road trip (and frankly, I was mostly a passenger). All the better with friends. And especially when it involves watching the season change quite literally before your eyes. I wouldn’t have guessed it but somehow the fall colors emerged more and more as we drove west.

The days since have felt disorienting – a whirlwind of organizing the chaos in the silverware drawer, re-folding all the towels, and generally putting everything back to just the way I prefer it; reconnecting with friends and neighbors and this place generally; long stretches of just needing to sit on the couch and stare out the window and slowly settle in. Discovering the little ways that we changed and things around us changed and how it all fits together slightly differently now.

It’s good to be home.

02.11.2018

The early signs of spring are popping up in all corners right now. I am delighted by these signs when I remember to get outside and notice them but between the moments when I remember are plenty full of gray and rain and the kind of desperate psychic hanging-on that is February.

But this bit of wattle fencing has been an unexpected balm. No, really. The simple act of constructing it has been so happy-making that it’s pulling me off the couch on even the gray days. I have a handful of elderberries that I started in pots last spring and need to get into the ground, but they’ve been languishing for lack of deer protection. Sure I could go with welded wire hoops like the ones that are littered around the rest of the yard, but frankly, I just can’t bear to see any more welded wire hoops. So after re-watching some Tudor Monastery Farm, I decided on a whim to try my hand at wattle fencing. We have an abundant supply of sprung maple and really, what could have improved about fence technology in five hundred years?

Well, my post pounder made setting posts a lot easier than the wooden mallet I watched them use, but after that it’s taken nothing more than a pruning saw and a hatchet. The weaving is the sort of thing that is hard to walk away from… you find just the right length or get just the right tension… and need just one more here and then one more there and then… I do not aspire to craftsmanship or beauty, I’m happy with functional and whatever materials are at hand, but even so, I really like the look of it.

Of course I’m still assuming that it will keep deer out but there are enough easy pickings to be had around here they don’t tend to challenge defenses too much. We’ll see. Now if I could just figure out how to construct a deer-proof hedge around the perimeter of the orchard, I’d be really smug about my sixteenth century property management.

Freezer camp

I took these photos last Sunday morning, when we got more early snow. Shortly after I returned from my morning walk, I tried to post them here and discovered our internet was out. The snow lingered for a few days but was still gone before our internet service returned.

Tomorrow we send the pigs off to freezer camp. Never easy, and I’m afraid I’m more attached to this batch than any we’ve had. I’ve been feeding twice a day for the last couple months, fretting over their rations and measuring their growth. Scratching around ears, patting backs, and ok, using a few well-placed knees to encourage a hungry pig that outweighs me to move aside. A few days of frozen hoses and troughs were a good extra reminder that it is time.

So tomorrow we’ll wake up with pigs, feel the complicated feelings that go along with raising animals for meat, and end the day with pork to process. It’s never easy, and I hope it never is; but in the end it’s mostly gratitude that I’m left with, and that’s a pretty good place to end up.

A bench, part 2

The bench that I built last summer, only to finish it just when summer ended, finally found a home. It is tucked up above the orchard under a big leaf maple. A spot to watch the sun rise over the far-off mountains or to enjoy the cool shade on a sunny afternoon. I finally moved it up there a couple weeks ago, and then properly leveled it a week later.

It’s a simple thing and it is giving me so much joy. Another perspective on this homestead, another excuse to just be outside, another reminder of how powerfully our environment influences our days.

I used to think that I excelled at efficiency, that I got things done. But I think I mistook what I thought I should be for what I was. I meander, I get distracted, I come back. Usually. It’s only about a year after I thought I would have that bench, but there it is, giving me joy. I’ll take it.

Homestead report: July 15

The homestead report feels… quiet for mid-July. Which probably tells you more about where I am than where the homestead is, but you knew that.

The pigs seem to be doing well. To my continuing consternation, they still shun pretty much all vegetable scraps. But they have caught up to where I expected on the grain feed schedule, so most of my anxiety about their eating has eased. Those two above are pretending not to like getting wet while standing directly in the hose spray, an activity that is good for some solid entertainment on any warm afternoon.

The herb harden is yielding a pretty constant trickle of small delights, like this trug of lavender. (And can we all take a moment to appreciate the beauty of that trug? A recent gift that I adore…) I’ve also been keeping the dryer running and stocking the pantry with lots of lemon balm and mint, chamomile, a bit of arnica and calendula, and the like. Nothing big or exciting, but plenty of goodness.

The vegetable garden is a very mixed bag. We’ve had some bad luck, and I haven’t had the energy to keep up with it. I think it’s time to re-evaluate our vegetable gardening enterprise, but I’m just at the point of recognizing that I don’t love it enough right now to pour in the hours of labor our current garden requires. While that sounds simple, it feels like a big messy tangle of ideas and expectations to unravel. So in the meantime, I’ve given myself permission to neglect the parts of the garden that just feel like a drag and spend what energy I have on the parts that I’m still enjoying. I brought in our first three zucchini this morning, along with a big haul of lettuce. The late-summer crops like squash and tomatoes are looking a lot more promising than the early summer ones (broccoli, peas, etc), so I’m holding out some hope yet.

It wasn’t a great wild berry season, especially compared to the bounty of last summer, but the trailing native blackberries, always a bit of a hunt and peck for a few jewels, are surprisingly abundant. Dean and I picked a few spots around the edges of our clearings this afternoon and ended up with maybe a pint to top our ice cream for a treat.

I think that’s about it for a homestead report. Nothing exciting, we have slipped into summer and while it feels a little quiet, there are all sorts of sweet bits.

Homestead update: 06.10.2017

It’s June, also known as “peak jungle” around here. Any novelty of spring and all its new forms of life is gone, but we haven’t yet reached a point of getting anything in return for our labors.

Chickenfest is only a week away, so I find myself mentally plucking them and trying to assess how they will compare to the gallon ziploc standard. I thought I had given up trying to guess chicken weights after the year when I was sure we had a batch of giants and they turned out to be pint-sized, but I can’t seem to stop myself. For the record, they look small to me, but I’m sure I’m biased by the fact that our hatchery order got messed up, so we ended up with all females a week later than I planned. All will be revealed in a week.

At least the chickens seem to be doing their part by eating every speck of food we give them, which is more than I can say for the pigs. We somehow ended up with a batch of pigs who are picky eaters. They have shunned pretty much all the vegetable scraps we have tried to give them, and are eating less grain than I expect. They are just as social as our past pigs, though, which means that they will eat more if one of us is standing next to their trough. Which has left me in the unfortunate role of a caricature of an Italian grandmother, hovering over the food telling them how if they really cared about me, they’d show it by eating more barley. And then nagging them to share nicely.

I don’t even want to mention the garden, but I will briefly. About ten days ago, some local ravens discovered our garden. For several days, they visited to pull plants out of the ground. They didn’t seem to eat anything, just pulled the plants up, roots and all if they could, or cut them off at ground level if they couldn’t. The first morning it was kale and lettuce, then the cabbage and chard, maybe half of our 150 or so onions, all the cucumbers… They seem to have moved on so I think we can salvage parts of the garden, but I haven’t recovered from the heartbreak of it enough to take stock of just what.

The herb garden, on the other hand, is full of all sorts of joy. From the mutant valerian (over 7′ last time I checked) to my first-ever arnica blossoms to the near-constant parade of bumble bees on the chives… Basically, I could list every single thing growing there and tell you how it makes me happy to watch it grow. So I rescind that comment about getting nothing back yet – the herb garden is giving out delights, which explains exactly why it’s my favorite these days.

 

Reassured that summer is on its way

A couple days of sunshine coaxed the lilacs open. And if you look again, you’ll see that the grass is actually taller than the lilacs. Which feels like a pretty good metaphor for the state of things. (They’re not especially small lilacs.)

This was the May weekend that I’ve been hoping for. Seventy degrees, sunshine, and no commitments beyond the homestead. I have a bit of sunburn on my arms, a few blisters on my hands, and stubborn dirt under my nails that even an extra-long shower didn’t dislodge. It is mildly uncomfortable to sit, walk, or stand and I hope not to kneel for several days.

I spent 5+ hours on the garden yesterday and another 4 today. Dean put in a couple-hour stint of hard labor each day as well. We still didn’t get everything done, but it’s a hell of a lot closer and for the first time in a few months, I feel good about the state of the garden.

Which mostly means that almost all the planting is done and the weeds aren’t too out of control yet. That feels like a pretty good definition of gardening to me… I almost finish one task before the next is overdue. Over and over all season.

We got out for a good bike ride this morning, which feels like another hallmark of the season. We just need a picnic on the bluff and I will be fully reassured that summer is on its way.

Also reassuring? The pigs are settling into being pigs…

Meet the campers

This homestead got approximately 400% more adorable yesterday. Somehow I completely forgot how tiny new pigs are and how endlessly entertaining it is to watch a tiny pig… well, do anything. Perhaps they also seem cuter because there wasn’t an intermediate step of cursing and chasing a remarkably agile tiny pig through the spring jungle. The whole transition was completely uneventful this year, and I’m only crossing my fingers and knocking on wood as I write that.

The most important part, of course, is that it is my turn to bestow names this year. I tried to convince Dean that since we couldn’t possibly top Kevin and Bacon, we should really just stick with them, but he was having none of it. Luckily there seems to be an endless supply of porky puns, so I think I’ve settled on Mia, Jon, Virginia, and Hamilton.

The top picture is minutes after they landed in their new digs, the second how when I greeted them first thing this morning.

And lest the pigs get all the attention, the chickens would like you to know that they are just fine, thanks for asking. They are ugly bird-brains, but I try not to hold that against them.

The bees also arrived last weekend, so we’re at full occupancy. The rest of the homestead report is more mixed, this endless cool and wet spring throwing wrenches in all sorts of plans. So let’s save that for next time, and go back to squealing at pictures of the Hams:

An incoherent jumble

Well, that’s a hell of a photo collection for one post. I’ve been meaning to write here for the last week or two, but every time I started to collect my thoughts, they would turn out to be an incoherent jumble of things I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Since that seems to be the state of things, it’s a jumbled list sort of post…

  • Today was the most joyful mail day of the year, the day the chirping box of chicks arrives. It feels like the official start of another season of homesteading. I’ve been slow to find my rhythm this spring, but after dashing out between rain showers every couple hours today to make sure the new crew weren’t too cold or out of water or starving for attention, I feel like they are already pulling me into the season.
  • I finished the toddler hoodie nearly a month ago, but never showed you the final photos. It was my first time adding a zipper and ribbon to knitting, and both took time but were easier than I expected. The hand-sewing complemented the knitting well, and I would definitely like to add more ribbon to reinforce sweaters. I was a little concerned the green and white ribbon would look completely out of place, but I think it works, and I love the charm of the vintage French design.
  • We marched for Black Lives Matter in Seattle last weekend and almost felt guilty for how enjoyable it was – walking through the streets of downtown with several thousand friends soaking in the sunshine and standing in solidarity on one of our first truly springlike days. Get out there for Science this weekend if you can!
  • Dean spent a week in Maine so I spent a week here on my own and figuring out what I was going to eat next. I had all sorts of grand plans for how I would fill the expansive hours and space of being having the house all to myself, but then spent about 90% of that energy on feeding myself. So when he left again after less than a week at home (to visit some friends in Oregon for several days), I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. He did leave me stocked with 3 1/2 bunches of kale raab, though, so I quickly settled in to a routine of kale and eggs three meals a day. Which seems like a decent option, if you’re going to be so repetitive. And just when the kale supply was waning, I went rummaging through the freezer and found a quart of leftover chicken curry from a few months ago. Victory!  So just in case you were worried, I think I’m going to make it through this week without resorting to popcorn or saltines (both of which I stand by as totally legitimate meal options, if employed sparingly).
  • “Make soap” has been on my to-do list approximately every weekend since mid-October, when I thought it would be nice to have a supply for holiday gifts. I am down to the final near-transparent shard of my last bar, so went to buy a bar when I was at the corner store yesterday. After picking up every single (local, handcrafted, beautiful) bar, I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on any of them so I came home and made my own. It took something like 30 minutes, dirtied a handful of dishes, and nothing about it was difficult or smelled bad or was in any way unpleasant, just like I knew all along. Of course there’s still the small fact that it should cure for a month before use, but I made a couple extra small bars that I think will get me through the gap. So there you go, I’ve managed to take care of feeding and bathing myself this week. I don’t know what more you could expect of me.

Level Up

While I was out at a knitting class this morning, Dean took delivery of our new tractor, which I’m pretty sure means we have leveled up at this homestead thing.

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I can’t look at it yet without a swirl of feelings that I’m still sorting out about spending out for it. But I am also really excited to see what we can accomplish with a tractor to help. There are ideas, some might even venture to call them plans.

Rendering lard

I took these pictures when we rendered a batch of lard a month or so ago, and then completely forgot until I was transferring some other images the other day. So you get a random bit of homesteadiness today.

I am by no means an expert at rendering lard, but I’ve done a few batches now, and it is pretty simple. This is the bag of fat as it came back from the butcher, in whatever sizes and shapes they trimmed:

The vast majority of the work is just chopping it up. A well-sharpened knife is key, and some patience. We have aimed for about a half-inch cube based on what I read, but I think finer would be better. (I’ve also heard from one person that you can put the fat through a meat grinder to chop it for rendering, which would be a fantastic labor savings. I’m tempted to give that a shot next year.)

Once chopped, add about 1/2 cup of water to the pot and put it over low heat. Stir as needed to avoid sticking; otherwise just let the fat melt. It always feels like it’s going quick at the start, but it takes a good hour or so on the stove to fully render.

The hardest part of the whole process is deciding when to call it “done”. Too early, and you’ll miss collecting all the fat; too late and the finished lard will smell more “piggy”. When I’ve made the call, I just pour it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into jars.

The remaining solids are your crackling:

And the clear fat will turn white and set as it cools:

That’s it!

I would have never considered stocking lard before we raised our first pigs, but I was quickly converted. It was the only part of the pig that we ran out of between our first and second pigs – and we were empty for a good six months. Our absolute favorite way to use it was making tamales, but it is also my go-to cooking fat for eggs, greens, popcorn… I swear it doesn’t have a taste, but it makes everything tastes better!

According to the butcher here, they nearly always have extra pork fat to sell for cheap if you’re willing to render it yourself. So if you’re the least bit curious or inspired, I encourage you to give it a go.

The week of pig

The mobile slaughter truck returned early Tuesday morning to take care of the last two pigs. I woke up relieved that the snow had held off overnight so that our driveway was passable. An hour later as we were cleaning the slush out of the nozzle on the hose and watching the skim of ice reappear on a tub of water as we stamped our feet for warmth, I was a little less relieved. They arrived early, before the sun was fully up, and I watched them work for well over an hour, until I couldn’t ignore the summons of my desk any longer. I walked up the driveway juggling an armload full of plastic bins – a couple liters of blood, a liver, a heart – that were deposited in the kitchen on the way to my desk. And so I began, unsuspectingly, the week of pig.

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After the slaughter guys were done and gone on Tuesday, we soaked and then brined the head. After work, we made the blood into a proper English-style black pudding.

Wednesday, we used a (fantastic) local facility to do all the cutting and wrapping.

img_1729 img_1732 img_1733Thursday, we were back to our home kitchen. We got the hams and bacons curing. I made a liver pate. And we simmered a pig head for many hours, picked it clean, and made head cheese.

Friday Dean did the final load of dishes and cleaned the kitchen. And we exhaled. We survived Pig Week 2016. We still have daily care of bacon to do, and smoking of all the cured parts, and lard to render at some point. But for today, I’m just breathing in the relief of having taken care of anything perishable.

It was overwhelming, and I underestimated how much we were taking on. I did not plan for Pig Week; I anticipated pig processing amidst the usual December bustle. In retrospect, I think my blind spot was failing to account for how many things in that scope were completely new to us. Do you have any idea how many ways you can turn pork belly into bacon? How crippling it is to think about a year’s supply of bacon at risk? Yes, I am fully aware that it would be difficult to take homegrown pork belly, apply salt and smoke, and not end up with something that tasted good. But “good enough” doesn’t seem like the right standard for bacon.

It takes so much more energy to learn to do something new than to do the thing – the reading about how to do it, deciding who to trust, which recipe to follow, doubting, worrying, finding the right tools and the efficiency of motion that only comes from practice. In the same span of days, I fought a cold, it snowed, and our kitchen faucet sprung an impressive leak.

And here we are on the other side, with a jam-packed freezer, pages full of notes for next year, and the first traces of learned memory engrained in our hands and backs. I love how much this homestead asks me to learn, and after weeks like this one, I can’t help but wish there was some shortcut to knowing.

And then there were two

dsc_4314And then there were two. We thought all four pigs would be gone today, but decided at the last minute to hold off on the girls because they were so much smaller. So just Wilbur and Zoro left in a truck yesterday. That’s one of them above, hanging next to someone else’s pair of alpacas.

Which means we have a few more weeks of daily chores and Daisy and Lambchop get a few weeks to enjoy life without bullies. It won’t be my first thought on the next dark wet morning, but I really am happy to extend the routine of morning feedings. Like so many things, I feel resistance to pulling on the boots and heading out into the weather most mornings but it’s rare that I don’t return feeling grateful for the ten or fifteen minutes spent breathing morning air and bantering with pigs. It always feels good to get outside first thing and lift a couple buckets, rinse some mud, scoop some grain. And then to give one of them a pat on the head as I head back up to the house, tell them to “have a good day, pigs”, and get on with the day’s agenda.

So for today I’m holding both the ending of pigs’ lives and the reprieve from the ending of our relationship with these pigs. Feeling satisfied to have raised those two pigs that will fill the freezers and feed the families of five friends. And feeling somewhat sheepishly relieved that there are still two waiting for me to deliver breakfast tomorrow.

Homestead update: October 12

dsc_4155The days just keep slipping by without my writing anything here and my last homestead update is from August 8, so let’s start with the basics, shall we?

The pigs are definitely the major ongoing concern of the homestead these days. Somehow after looking like they were never growing quite as much as I expected, they have become full-size animals. We are busy keeping them fed, managing the mud, and getting all the details arranged for their leaving us. Conveniently, the seasonal gluts and abundant gleaning has coincided with their peak appetite.

Our best score of late has been a regular ration of apples. We collect the drops from roadside apple trees in the neighborhood and the pigs love them. Every trip to the garden seems to produce a bucket of goodness for the pigs as well. Carrot and beet tops, cabbage and broccoli plants, the kale leaves that got tough before we got to them… best part of a pig’s day.

The garden mostly wound down early this year. Our backpacking trip the end of August coincided with the hottest weather of the summer and our late summer producers never recovered from the stress. With nothing requiring us to pick every couple days, it has felt like  the garden has been just sitting there, waiting for us to get it put to bed for the season. And yet, somehow, we just keep bringing in buckets and buckets of food from it. I dug the potatoes several weeks ago. The winter squash are just finishing curing and need to find a more permanent home in the pantry. The beets and carrots recently went into the bottom of the fridge for long storage. And after a couple batches of kraut and various kinds of pickles, I think the crock full of curtido (salvadorian kraut) is my final ferment. Unless inspiration hits again, of course, because we still have plenty of cabbage waiting patiently on the stem.

The herb garden has also been quiet of late. It looks an awful mess but there is good reason for that. Several of the annuals that I planted are good candidates for naturalization, so I’m leaving the plants to mature and drop as much seed as possible. Already the couple arugula plants I let go to seed yielded almost two cups of seed and a carpet of tender fall greens. I have visions of controlled chaos which I’m sure is optimistic but hey, I can hope.

I guess the final update is our own orchard harvest. I think we got a total of ten apples this fall, but it was the first ten apples we’ve eaten from our young trees which made them very sweet, indeed. I hope I never lose that feeling of being so rich for having fruit just grow on trees in my very yard.

A bench

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Fair readers.  That last post about that gradual “waning” of summer? I was utterly wrong. I can see now how I was ardently hoping for a (very) gradual transition to autumn and pretending that conditions indicated such but it wasn’t true and summer came to a very abrupt end about 25 days ahead of schedule. And if I’m being completely honest, it threw me into a bit of a tailspin.

So… let’s discuss a bench. Early this summer, when weeks of day job stress were wearing me down aided by the persistent June gloom totally overstaying into July, I was daydreaming about improving our outdoor living space. About having more places to BE outside during the summer, even when I had nothing to DO there. I decided that benches would help. Perhaps a bench near the garden, so that I would take more breaks to lounge there instead of just weeding until I was exhausted and then heading back to the house. Perhaps a bench at the top of the orchard to entice me up to admire the best view from our property. Perhaps a bench on the south side of the house to remind us how we’ll have a patio there someday. There seemed no shortage of demand for outdoor benches.

I found some simple online plans and had Dean pick up the materials I needed to make a pair. I was determined that would be his only contribution, not because he couldn’t make them better and faster than me (he certainly could), but precisely because he could.

It’s a natural dynamic of partnership, I suppose, but I feel especially prone. If Dean is more skilled than I am at some category, he becomes the owner of all tasks in said category. Which seems natural enough, but before long whatever skills I did have whither and die. Which can be less than ideal (for example, it turns out being able to feed oneself is handy). So I decided to reclaim basic carpentry and aim for lovable imperfect benches.

I jumped in on my very next day off and managed to get one almost-square seat frame put together. And then the reality of how many more urgent things I had to do hit and progress slowed to a crawl. Slowly, over the next month or so, the frame was finished (with help from Dean) and then the decking, siding, priming, and painting. It took until the middle of August, but I had a bench! Yes, somewhere in there one bench started sounding totally sufficient. I just needed to decide where it should live.

Before I managed to find its home, though, it started raining every day. So this weekend, we moved it out of the way where it can be a very bright blue reminder of the fleeting days of summer. But NEXT year, I will definitely sit a spell and soak up some extra rays of sunshine. Maybe I’ll even convince Dean to crank out its pair. Sigh.

Homestead update: August 8

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August. Sigh.

It doesn’t seem possible that summer can turn, on schedule, from harried to halcyon, but it sure feels like it has happened again. There are still three weeks left, I know, but so far, August has lived up to her reputation and I couldn’t be more grateful.

We’re bringing in buckets of produce from the garden and spending as much time in the kitchen washing and sorting and dealing with it all as we are in the garden. I snapped the two photos above on Saturday afternoon when I came back from a short stint weeding and watering and was taken aback when I noticed just how much things have shifted. I’m still bringing in the early summer staples of lettuce and greens and broccoli and the last of the peas, but the late summer crops are quickly coming on, the cucumbers and squash and a trickle of tomatoes. (And sunflowers, of course.)

Tomatoes are a bit of a gamble here and with all the cool weather we’ve had, it looks like a very light crop this year. Our 18 plants should keep us in fresh eating but it doesn’t look like there will be many (if any) for canning. On the other hand, the squash and cucumbers look better than any I’ve ever grown. I made 3 quarts of pickles this week and my pickling cuke vines are loaded so I hope that’s just the start. That’s the zen of gardening, isn’t it – always something heartbreaking and something gangbusters, more often than not right next to each other.

The pigs have also been enjoying some garden bounty – they happily fight over kale stems and broccoli trimmings and week-old lettuce that we didn’t quite get to. Pigs are fantastic at allaying guilt about food waste, they are so happy for any mix-ins added to their regular grain slurry or, best of all, a second breakfast of greenage. And they magically turn your tired vegetables and slightly moldy bread into tasty pork!

Garden and pigs, it feels like that’s a short update, but that’s about all the homestead news right now.

Chickenfest 2016

Max’s mama: “Max, where are the chickens?”

Max, age 2: “Fweezah camping!!”

It true, another chickenfest is in the books. Somehow, I failed not only to take any pictures of the big day but also to take any pictures of the chickens in the last month, so you just get a few words today.

I’m trying to soak in the deep satisfaction of competence. There is plenty of room to strive for expertise yet, but after five or six years (we can’t quite keep track) of raising and processing our own chickens, I can say (not quite comfortably, but I can say)… we can do both competently.

Yesterday was easily the smoothest operation for a chickenfest. There were plenty of factors working in our favor – a great crew, a smallish batch of birds, beautiful weather. But from start to finish, we knew what needed to be done next. There was no mental wish list on how we could make things work better next year. We finished a couple hours earlier than expected. We saved all the gizzards! And yes, the chest freezer is loaded to full capacity with plump birds.

I hope that I never stop learning and trying new things. But in this life I’ve chosen that is so crowded with things I wish I could do with more skill or efficiency or confidence, or at all… it feels important to pause and notice when something can be added to the “competent” column.

My bit and bob collection

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Ha! This shot I took right after pedaling through a massive cloud of bugs is cracking me up. I found these photos from a Saturday bike outing on the computer today and it was a bit disorienting – that ride was the beginning of this month but it feels like a hazy memory from another time.

In a way, I guess it was. It’s been an intense couple of weeks at the dayjob – nothing unexpected or indefinite, but a long and stressful couple of weeks nonetheless. I’m feeling the toll of it and noticing all the small ways I cope and adapt. My daily runs have been replaced with a few bike rides each week. I’m spending more of my precious free time reading in the hammock instead of getting out and about or tackling a project. Everything is getting a hard look through the lens of what is truly necessary, and I don’t even want to go near how much housekeeping I can decide is unnecessary.

One of my sanctuaries of the last couple weeks has been my herb garden. Because it’s right next to the house, I can escape to it for a few minutes anytime, as often as needed during the day. And as often as not, I have been grabbing my basket and a scissors when I go, collecting a little of whatever looks good and bringing it in for the dryer.

I know that lots of people have great success air-drying herbs but I never have here, so I rely on my food dehydrator. The size is fine for my small batches and by keeping the heat low at about 100 degrees, it doesn’t seem to affect the quality. When things are nice and crackly, I add each bit and bob to my growing dried herb collection. Most of these will go into tea blends, the calendula will infuse oil for salve and soap… and in the meantime, the jars make for some good eye candy in the pantry.

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Red clover

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Calendula, lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and sage

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Red clover, calendula, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, and sage

Homestead update – July 4

DSC_4059 DSC_4057 DSC_4086 DSC_4081 DSC_4080Oh, pigs! Equal parts charming and maddening. Impossible to capture a decent photo. These four greet me at the feed area every morning bleary-eyed with bits of straw stuck to their faces like pillow creases but grunting and squawking for me to hurry up with bucket rinsing and feed. them. already. I pour equal amounts of the same soaked grain into each container and inevitably one is deemed superior so that after everybody samples both, all four insist on jockeying for position in just one. Lampchop is still a bit smaller than the other three but she is the fiercest competitor for feed so I have stopped any fretting about her.

They are still small enough that it’s hard to imagine how they will turn into full-size animals by fall, but they are certainly not the little things we brought home anymore, either.
DSC_4066 DSC_4065Speaking of not little anymore… it’s hard to believe these guys were little handfuls of fluff just over a month ago. But Cornish Cross are bred to grow and grow they do. This crew is more than halfway through their training for freezer camp.
DSC_4073The wild berries have been crazy good this year, we must have had the perfect combination of early warmth and abundant rain. After a solid month of feasting on salmonberries each time I transited the driveway, they are finally trailing off but the thimbleberries have picked up right where they left off. And if you venture off the beaten path just a bit, the native trailing blackberries will reward you with sweetness and the red huckleberries are just bursting. There’s one patch of huckleberries I have picked each year for maybe five years now and it yielded three or four times as much as I’ve ever seen – probably somewhat due to more berries but largely I think just because the berries were giant. Mostly I prefer to just eat my fill of wild berries each day I can, but the red huckleberries go in the freezer for adding that special spell of the wild to winter smoothies.
DSC_4090And one quick shot from the gardens. This is elecampane that got knocked over in a rainstorm but seems to be happily blossoming at ground level. I’m really enjoying watching things grow in the herb garden that are completely new to me, being surprised by things like these fabulous blossoms.

No pictures from the vegetable jungle this week. Progress is being made on reclaiming it to a garden but I’m not sure you could tell just yet. A whole month full of rainy weekends means that we got woefully behind on the maintenance and the weeds exploded. Yesterday I excavated a row of tomato plants that were indistinguishable from the mass of green, if that’s any indication.

And with that, I think it’s time to get my work clothes on and head down for another weeding session. The morning clouds seem to be settling in rather than burning off today, but I’m a little sun-kissed from yesterday’s long garden session so it’s probably for the better.