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Posts Tagged ‘outside’

I knew this phrase as a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but it was not until last year that I gained first-hand experience of its origins. Pa Ingalls wasn’t using diesel-driven tractors and rakes, certainly, but haying bears the same urgency it always has: get it up before the rain, or risk losing a portion of next winter’s feed.

front yard baled

This small pasture had already been knocked down last week, but the risk of rain was finally upon us yesterday, so brother-in-law Drew dragged the rake over it all to fluff it, then Brad finished up behind him with the baler. The kids went out to climb and play haybale tag only to be chased indoors after just a few minutes by the rainstorm that blew in.

running in

Brad and Max also managed to start setting out tomatoes in the veggie patch, following the rows created by planting the sweet corn. They didn’t get far before getting caught in the downpour, but it is at least a beginning.

tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, waiting on the porch

Max went to the patch this afternoon to check the plug trays left behind yesterday and found several cows; fence repair is now next on the agenda, before we set anything else out and absolutely before the corn starts coming up. With the fence wiring grounded out in several places the new calves are learning to come and go as they please instead of learning to avoid the fence like their mamas. They’ll be surprised (dare I say shocked?) after it’s all fixed and carrying the proper amount of current again. I’ll just have to hope it doesn’t take too long to sort it all out. You just never know what’s going to come up.

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I went to the Chattanooga Main Street Market in Brad’s stead Wednesday, quite the refreshing change of pace for me. Market was slow, allowing me to get oriented at my own pace and relax a bit into the rare experience of only taking care of myself for a few hours. I talked about the slow food movement to the video camera of some local college kids that stopped by. When asked about my interest in buying local, my first response was, how much time do you have? So many reasons!

That was the last slow day of the week, perhaps of the season. The mamas and babies have been divided into groups and breeding has begun. The heifers require a different bull and so will be artificially inseminated this year (AI’ed, for short). Gingerly sidestepping the mine field of jokes to be found here, my mother-in-law wrote the astonishingly large check for the good genetic material from a very expensive bull which will be delivered next week. The puns are simply unavoidable…

Fine. I’ll give you one bad joke, told by my sister’s husband when they were visiting last year:

Heifer 1 to Heifer 2: “I got artificially inseminated last week.”

Heifer 2: “Really?”

Heifer 1: “Yeah, no bull.”

Ba dum dum.

In the field it’s still too wet to disk the veggie patch, but the intern, Max, is here and has been building raised beds for behind the house all day. (I am overwhelmed with the urgency of staying on task and providing Things To Do.) Brad borrowed a tiller from his brother to turn the grass under in four-by-eight rectangles, then we’ll fill the beds with purchased and hopefully seed-free soil, peat moss (for aeration), and compost. These beds will be home to a smattering of the veggies and herbs we’re growing this summer, with back-door convenience so when dinner rolls around we can step outside to pick things without having to make a half-mile round trip. The first tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds got planted in the hoop house last weekend, already numbering over a thousand, and now that Max is here we’ll be preparing flower and herb beds and starting even more seeds– zinnias, red rubin and Genovese basil, cosmos, lemon balm– in egg cartons here. Baby chicks for meat and eggs have shipped and will likely arrive tomorrow.

tomato seedlings

Max builds the first raised bed

In the meantime my big kids caught some virus this week and are running fevers and feeling pitiful, missing out on beautiful weather today. Echinacea, peppermint tea, and skullcap and wild lettuce tinctures for them today, waiting for tomorrow already…

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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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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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Over fifty calves have been born now. Yesterday brought another loss, this time a new calf born the previous night that stumbled into a water-filled ditch and drowned. Losing one because of some birthing complication didn’t bother me, but this one left me sad and angry. After a successful birth it just seemed pointless, unfair. Today we had just one new calf and found another with half its tail chewed off by something. It was fine otherwise, which leaves us a bit baffled; if it was a coyote, how is the calf still alive? Did the mother attack the coyote? Is it possible the calf chewed it off, perhaps after injuring it somehow, or getting it caught in something? Implausible, if not impossible. But the coyote story is no better. How could the calf lose half its tail without getting dragged off and eaten?

The kids needed no encouragement to get outside this afternoon, with another day of springlike temperatures and the cacophony of frogs in the lowlands. It was harder to get them back in, even with hands and feet bright pink from the temperature dropping as the sun edged away from us in the west. Iris insisted on a picnic outside, so we brought out an old afghan crocheted by Brad’s grandmother to hold us and the coconut macaroons she and I made earlier today (simplest sweet ever: just coconut, honey, and a couple of egg whites). All three chased each other around and around the house, squirting each other with spray bottles of water and pretending the dog was a coyote that was going to get them. Later they transformed into bark-smashing robots, pulling chunks of bark off of logs around the fire pit and smashing the bark with rocks Brad brought up from the river. Fading light and the lure of dinner brought us all in, with the contrast in temperature making the kids finally realize they were wet and cold. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll find the time to work on my garden plans some more.

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