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Archive for March, 2012

Northerners may not believe me, but I’m late harvesting the chickweed already. Tangled mats of Stellaria media have been sprawling over my aspiring flower beds and all through the composting area of the yard for weeks. Life’s daily demands (feed, wash, rinse, repeat) interfered with sterilizing jars and picking and chopping, but I finally remembered to put some jars and lids in the stockpot to boil this morning. I have had vinegar tinctures spoil in the past, so for this preparation I cut no corners.  Alcohol tinctures are more forgiving, but vinegar extracts chickweed’s rich mineral stores more efficiently. (Also it will make a delightful vinaigrette by midsummer.)

more than enough

The basic process I learned from Susun Weed’s book Healing Wise is simple: fill a sterile jar with fresh plant material, then fill it with vinegar and cover.

all done

I may need to “top it off” in a day or two, then it sits out of direct light and the extraction takes care of itself over several weeks.

Double-checking the botanical name and the plant description, I found mention of a poisonous lookalike I had never heard of. While I doubt I would ever mistake chickweed it bears repeating that care should always be exercised when foraging and wildcrafting. The safety and potential benefits of nature’s offerings depend completely on accurate identification. Reckless harvesting of improperly identified plant material does not show a person is one with nature, it shows a lack of respect for nature’s power and diversity. I wouldn’t want anyone to hesitate to learn more about foraging and making plant medicines, but I also wouldn’t want anyone getting sick from “wild plant bravado.” So that’s my disclaimer 🙂

Now to wash, rinse, repeat again…

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almost all the seeds...

The deadline for hypothetical discussions arrived in the mail. We’ve been evaluating fields, gauging weed pressure, considering our available equipment and how to prepare the land. The tomatoes and peppers will all be started in hoop houses on the family farm, with much warmer soil to hurry them along. Greens will stay in yet-to-be-constructed raised beds by the house for easier maintenance and harvesting. Herbs and flowers also go mostly around the house, although various sunflowers and some of the zinnias for market will likely need to go in the field. Melons, squash, zucchini and all the beans will go straight in the ground. I still haven’t decided where to put the carrots. We’ll start seeds and begin our race against the rain, juggling equipment between farms on dry days and pacing with bated breath through all the wet ones. We should have more than enough to grow all we can eat, including enough to preserve for all our winter eating, plus copious amounts for Brad to take to market. I have ordered my pressure canner and some new books on alternate preservation methods that I’m eagerly awaiting. Here we go…

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The day of balance has arrived. Now we enter the quarter of the year when daylight increasingly overpowers night, when soil warms and living things of all kinds emerge from winter’s cocoon to fulfill their biological destiny. With the unusually mild temperatures we’ve been having much of the earth is already well awake:

 

dandelions

 

darling little unknown blooming vigorously on the south side of the house, with some clover and wild strawberry

 

dogwood

 

We sorted mamas and babies today. As a family operation, this was the real deal: my mother-in-law, father-in-law, all three sons and Roger all had jobs to do, first the sorting then the driving. They sorted the mamas into pens by their tags, then the calves one by one according to which group their mamas were in. Lastly they loaded the calves onto trailers and moved them to new pasture, driving the mamas along behind them.

Carter driving the calves

 

moving the first group of mamas

 

"What are you looking at?"

 

mama train

 

snack break in the hay barn

All this took most of the day. I of course kept the kids out of the way and took pictures. By next week my seeds and chicks will arrive I’ll be starting everything from Anaheim peppers to zucchini and tending thirty-something new baby chicks. Happy Spring!

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A few days ago my father-in-law and Brad were discussing moving the mamas around to get ready for breeding, “since they’re obviously done,” then Brad went out and found a new calf. This boy was well overdue judging by his size, comparable to others two weeks his senior. I’m amazed the mama didn’t have any trouble with the birth. Then last night another mama which we suspected was still pregnant had hers, so we’re up to 92 live ones at this point. Iris and Finn went out with Granddaddy for the tagging (although they stayed in the truck for safety). Naturally a mid-morning bubble bath was required after getting a few pieces of hay on their wee feet.

The weather has been tumultuous all around here lately, with every rain a thunderstorm and frequent tornado watches and warnings. This farm offers impressive weather watching, with the house on a high place and surrounded by so much pasture and long views. We can see storms coming from all directions here: Rome to the west, Dalton to the north, Jasper to the east (although we send rather than receive them from that direction), Adairsville to the south. Thursday afternoon the storms built up fast all around. Lightning danced through towering cumulonimbus and thick nimbostratus across the southern horizon visible from our kitchen and dining room windows, across the west visible from the veranda. I counted seconds, gauged distance from the thunder’s measurable travel delay. It all stayed far enough from us and eventually released enough energy to wind down, but it got a bit disconcerting to watch for a while.

If anything we were rewarded today, though, with simply stunning (and calm) weather. I’ll chalk that up to the luck o’ the Irish– gorgeous and warm, a day when I don’t have to dissuade my daughter from her precious pink flip-flops. Cousin Maddie came over to play and I had to dig out the sunscreen for them to go out! Spring is upon us, my seed order has shipped and I am soon to be neck-deep in more work than a team of professional gardeners could get done each day. At least it’s good work, and work of my own choosing. Always grateful for that.

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We auctioned off our yearling steers this week. For $1.44 a pound, we loaded all but one of them onto a truck headed for South Carolina. The one that stayed was bloated and required a visit from the vet to intubate his first stomach to relieve the pressure. Most likely he snuck some of the grain used to get them to follow the truck up to the loading area and then ran too much after eating. The man who won the auction didn’t want the heifers so we got to keep all of them as well. This way at least we’ll get to grow one of those steers to full grassfed weight and see what that may mean for this herd, and we’ll breed the heifers. We weighed all the yearlings earlier in the week before the auction; true to the Angus breed, the smallest (Isabel, our bottle-fed calf from last year) was still 560 pounds. So far, these Angus yearlings appear to grow better than other breeds our family has raised.

Our bottle baby seems to be doing alright. He waits at the gate every morning, eager to suck down his morning bottle, but finding him in the evening has been hit or miss this week. Last year we kept our bottle baby up in the pen all the time, but this steer wasn’t acting too terribly hungry in the evenings, so Brad decided to let him stay in the pasture with the others. Quite surprisingly Brad has seen the calf getting to nurse, although it isn’t likely that he gets away with it often. Iris is loving the steer’s tameness and getting to pet him every day.

bottle ready

He trots right up to whomever comes near for nuzzles and scratches behind the ears, until he determines whether or not a bottle is being offered, then in the absence of one he scoots off for something more bovine to do.

feeding 287

We haven’t had any new calves in a while now, and we suspect the mamas may be done for this season. If so, we have ninety live ones, two better than last year from the same herd. Ninety-two mamas out of 101 have given birth (we strongly suspect that 287 is a twin, the most common explanation for abandonment). In another month it will be breeding season again, and we’ll keep turning the wheel…

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It’s funny how twists and turns seem to cluster together. After the twins (who seem to be doing fine, Brad has seen them both nursing, sometimes together) we had an abandoned calf who is now being bottle-fed and, the same day, a mama with retained placenta. The abandoned calf may have been a twin that belonged to the mama with the placenta problem but we can’t be sure. Twins can be a physical cause for the retention of membranes but there are other reasons it could have happened. I was very concerned for this mama, as uterine infection can be extremely dangerous and with a cow’s anatomy it seems almost unavoidable, but after a couple of days she had shed all that she had been trailing and was showing no signs of illness. On we go to the next challenge.

The kids and I, along with a few other homeschoolers, visited a fellow homeschooling family with bees this week as part of our monthly “patch club.” The kids were much more interested in playing with their friends than learning about bees at first but couldn’t resist paying attention when the beekeeper (also a homeschooling dad) opened one of the hives and brought out the queen. We have kept bees before but we haven’t set up any hives at this farm, and we definitely are pitiful amateurs. I had hoped to include apiary mastery in my projects this year but with a slight nod to sensibility I have let that project go until another year. Attempting to grow absolutely all of our own food that can be grown in this climate is a hefty enough undertaking for one year, in addition to all our regular farming chores. And then there will be the chickens, and I haven’t given up on the turkeys yet…

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