Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tomato Delivery

I got REALLY carried away with starting tomato plants this year. Let's skip right over all the pictures of things growing lushly in the greenhouse to how things look currently: tons and tons of almost-root-bound tomato plants that need homes spread out over every conceivable surface both inside and outside the greenhouse. Between the three gardens on the property up here I've planted 20 tomato plants. Of course, the crazy person in me wonders if that is enough... THIS year I plan to preserve tomatoes! Last year I said I would, and had 5 healthy bushes, but we ate every single tomato fresh, and I was left with zero jars of anything tomato. But this is the year of tomato sauce, tomato paste, salsa, sun dried tomatoes... 20 plants should be enough, right???

The plants we couldn't fit have been given away to people, and today Titus and I made our final delivery to the next door neighbor. He (Titus) was very excited to hear I needed his help and that it involved his tractor. He was not excited to hear that he would have to drive SLOWLY down the driveway with the precious plants in tow, and that he was not allowed to purposely crash into anything on the way there. Boy did it feel good to get those things out of here!

Our trusty side-kick came along for the trip, limping along because he jammed his paw into a thistle plant before we left. Stepping in thistles is one of his spring-time traditions, though he's getting pretty darn old and these things are more difficult to recover from. He's taking a nap in the dirt next to some dust-bathing chickens right now.

It was nice to make an event out of The Tomato Delivery, rather than rushing around and cramming it in between errands. It is so beautiful outside these days - almost completely spring-like except for the slight chill in the air. The flowering pear tree that grows where we park our car is dropping showers of white petals down so thickly that it feels like snow when the wind blows. Too bad those blossoms smell like a huge pile of dirty socks - every time we get in the car the kids say "It smells like a dead animal around here..." and start looking for a dead chicken. Too bad, as well, that my children can so easily identify the smell of a dead animal. Hm. Another beautiful word picture ruined.

Things are very exciting and busy around here. Lots of planting, building, bird-netting, and waiting, as one of the hens is sitting on 6 eggs that should hatch next week, and one of the rabbits is due to have a litter the week after that. Spring is one of my very favorite times of year, so much to do, so much to look forward to. And of course, Easter. This year I feel especially full of tearful gratitude when I think about what Jesus did for me, for you. So grateful for joy and peace, and loving our simple little life.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Brussels Sprouts Harvest

Perhaps you remember the Brussels Sprout Tragedy that happened around Thanksgiving time. Happily, in August I had also planted two tiny brussels sprout seeds in a different area, as back up. (I've had enough garden failures to learn not to put all my proverbial sprouts in one basket.) I have been patiently waiting for the stalks to resemble the beautiful things I have purchased at the grocery store or farmer's market. However, yesterday I determined that they were as good as they were going to get and decided to harvest them before something else did.

The stalk was short and the sprouts were tiny, some of them beginning to open up, but they were almost completely aphid-free and tasted delicious! As with every other vegetable, freshly-picked brussels sprouts have an entirely cleaner, more nuanced flavor than the ones you buy in the store.

These were just so fresh that I couldn't bear to put them in the oven, so last night we had our first ever raw brussels sprout salad. The recipe needs a little tweaking so I won't publish it until I've perfected it. But I'll just say this: shaved brussels sprouts plus parsley plus celery plus apple plus some-sort-of-dressing-that-DOESN'T-have-too-much-mustard-in-it plus toasted almonds and avocado = delicious! I have one more stalk out there in the garden and I have a feeling I will be bringing it in the house soon.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chicken Doctor

Please forgive my rare appearance here on the ol' blog. I like to post something a few times per week, but this has been a doozie of a week. We began with Strep Throat and ear infections, progressed to allergic reactions to antibiotics, threw in some Pink Eye, and capped it all off with a literal flying leap from the top of Grandma's stairs, resulting in a broken 4-year-old foot. You're welcome, Kaiser. Anywho, I have been doing much less farming than I would like, and a lot more health care.

As the kids and I pulled into the driveway after having Titus' leg casted, we noticed one of my dad's hens, an old Pompadour who has always been at the bottom of the pecking order of his flock, milling about our yard. The two flocks tend to stay pretty separate from one another, so we wondered why she had left those other bullies in favor of ours. Moses quickly noticed that she had a long piece of twine tangled around her legs which was preventing her from taking full strides. She has always been a docile hen, so she allowed Moses to pick her up without much difficulty. The hard part was getting that twine off her dinosaur leg. It was so tangled in little knots that were digging into her skin, and I was so afraid of accidentally nipping her with the scissors, that it took about 20 minutes for me to cut it off. She sat placidly in Moses' lap the entire time, occasionally pecking the scissors curiously or peering up at my face through her mop of white feathers. It was a very nice moment. In my experience, helping animals on the farm usually involves pinning them down and working as fast and desperately as you can while they panic and try to escape, the end result being that everyone involved feels a bit traumatized. This, on the other hand, was a calm moment, and Moses and I could both tell that the hen appreciated our help. When we were finished and set her free, she didn't even go running off, but stayed near us, happily scratching and pecking up bugs.

Strangely, Madame Pompadour never returned to my dad's chicken coop after we untangled her. That night she didn't turn up in the nightly head count, and the next morning she could be seen happily wandering around the sand pit on the opposite end of the property, far from any other chickens. She didn't return to the coop that night either. The next day, I spotted her down by the edge of the pond where the grass is greenest and lucky chickens can even find baby frogs to eat. Her shiny black feathers and funny white poofy head made quite a contrast against the green grass and sparkly water. It was a beautiful sight. She looked so happy down there, though it was curious to see her all alone. Even bullied chickens like to stay with the group. She seemed to need some time to herself, though, and spent the entire morning scratching and pecking around the pond.

That afternoon, my dad came over to tell us that he had found her lying dead at the edge of the pond. Nothing had killed her; she seemed to have died of old age. Moses and I were both sad to hear this, but I also felt a soft touch of happiness as well. I was glad she decided to wander over to our house when she needed help, glad to have untangled her and have a chance to hold her a bit. I was proud of her for having such a good death - she had removed herself from the flock, which is natural in animals who know they are about to die - and gone to the prettiest spot on the property where she could live out her last days in peace. I'm glad I got to see her pecking around down there, and happy that this is a place that chickens (even the ones who end up on our table) get to roam free and enjoy themselves.