Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Of muck and melons

Let us all raise a cheer for the s.o.'s new truck. Yesterday it allowed him to carry home lumber from the lumberyard. Today it enabled us to pick up a load of free composted horse manure for my poor benighted squashes, melons, and pumpkins.

The riding stable where we got the manure was called Sunnybrook Farm. And unbelievably, the owners' daughter turned out to be named Rebecca. Talk about a storybook childhood! Rebecca, in jodhpurs, directed us to the best, most rotted pile of manure, and we shoveled a heap of it into the truckbed.

We need the manure oh, so badly. This year I planted all the cucurbits in a new section of the garden--an area that had not been dug in previous years. I dug in as much Black Kow as I could afford at the time, but of course it was not enough. The soil, overall, remained hard red clay. The squash plants were not thrilled. They have grown slowly and grudgingly.

They are also playing tricks on me. I don't know if it's cross-pollination or what, but the zucchini plants (which are next to the yellow crooknecks) are growing 50 percent green zucchinis and 50 percent yellow ones. That probably has nothing to do with anything, but I thought I'd mention it.

After this evening, the tricks may continue, but the grudging growth should be a thing of the past. I dug in generous amounts of horsey compost all around the plants, then watered it all in liberally. I expect rampant squash.

Speaking of which, the only cucurbits in the old section of the garden are my Picklebush cucumbers. They're thriving. Some of them are already mini-gherkin sized. They will start coming fast and thick soon.

I had a "moment" this evening while I was watering the garden. I was just standing there, looking at the new moon and watching the chimney swifts tweeting through the sky. The s.o. was nailing plywood panels onto the chicken house. I pulled a couple of Parmex carrots, hosed them off, and ate them. Suddenly the feeling washed over me, how it was a perfect, perfect evening and I wished it could last forever.

I don't remember experiencing these knock-you-down moments of pure unadulterated joy in the past, but lately they are more and more common. I must be doing something right.


It is the last day of the Eat Local Challenge, and it is the first day that I am eating our own homegrown blueberries at breakfast. There are only a couple of them that are ripe. The rest are resolutely green. Still, our blueberry bushes are weeks earlier than the ones at most of the area's pick-your-owns.

This week has been blissfully fruity. We have eaten tiny, early plums, peaches, and nectarines from south Georgia, thanks to one of the local guys who resells State Farmer's Market produce out of the back of his truck. Also, I have stolen and consumed still more boysenberries from the pasture across the street. And now this!

Until this week, there hasn't been much fruit available. We picked strawberries one time, but when we tried to go back for more, they had run out. And anyway, as much as I love strawberries, I get tired of them if I eat too many in the same week. Which is a problem, because they have been the only option. Both the s.o. and I have been ready to beat someone up for a piece of fruit...especially a banana.

Now, fruit abounds.

We might still go buy some organic bananas.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

Ugh. I love summer and everything, but temperatures in the mid-90s are miserable no matter how you slice it. I got up early to avoid the heat and planted purple-hull peas among the sweet corn rows.

It's dry as a bone out there, so once again we had to water the garden. I want to automate the watering process somehow. I have never been satisfied with the water distribution I get from soaker hoses, and I need something more movable and adjustable than a drip irrigation system, so I am considering hooking up a battery of sprinklers to a timer so that at 5:00 AM...fsssssshhhhhhhh! They kick on. Anything has to be more efficient than me standing out there in the heat with a hose.

Today I saw two hummingbirds either fighting or mating, I'm not sure which.

Tonight there were suddenly fireflies where there hadn't been any before. Unfortunately, there were also suddenly Japanese beetles. Time to put out the trap!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Extreme silliness

Well, here they are in all their cuteness. The turkeys are very friendly and want to investigate the camera. Meanwhile, the ducks keep gargling up big billfuls of water and joyfully shaking it in every direction. It is amazing how distinct their personalities and their abilities are from the chickens'. (Or maybe I am spending too much time in the poultry pens!)

P.S. The dogs would like a word with whichever turkey keeps going EEP EEP EEP EEP EEP EEP, because it is making them extremely anxious; it is the canines' sworn duty to inform the humans whenever there is unauthorized wildlife in the house!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two and a half weeks old!

The Chix. How I love them! Look how much they've grown.

Yes, those are my feet in the photo. Last week a couple of friends came to visit, and one told me that in order to really get the chickens to bond with me, I should get down on the floor with them. So I fashioned myself a "sit-upon" out of newsprint (because, really, who wants to sit in chicken litter?) and started spending some face time with the poultry. Before long they were picking starter crumbles off my feet, and a few of them started to stand on me while they were eating.

One chicken has taken it one step further. She's the dark one--the least barred of the Barred Rocks--in the right foreground of the second pic. Her name is Nadia because she uses me as a balance beam. I can put my hand in front of her, and she'll hop up on it. She likes to roost on me, and she's never scared off when all the other chickens are spooked. I can move her from place to place, balanced on my hand. She waits for me. She thinks I'm hers.

So I am especially fond of Nadia.

But all 27 of the chickens are happy and healthy. I am so pleased. I wish the Mille Fleurs were not so shy, because they're really worth seeing. Their colors are vibrant, and they're feathering up like crazy, especially on their (oversized) feet. At first I thought they looked like hobbits, but then the s.o. likened them to club kids, mopping up the floor of the bar with their long, floppy jeans. They really deserve a better tribute than that, but it's so funny I can't think of them any other way.

P.S. See Our Little Penguin Friend in the background of both photos?



Monday, May 22, 2006

A weekend of good eating

Well, summer seems to have started in earnest. On Friday a heat wave rolled in, and all of the sudden our chickens are being maintained via a delicate and rather wasteful balance of heat lamp vs. air conditioning. It'll only be a couple more weeks before they can live outside, though.

Saturday we worked hard all day in the office and garden, then scuttled off to Athens to go to dinner. We saw a couple of bands play--one of them being the excellent Lake City. Everyone we knew seemed to be there, which was good, because we don't show our faces in town very often and it's nice to make the most of it when we do.

Saturday it was more work around here, then a blissful, pork-centric potluck dinner at a friend's house. Among our crowd, potlucks border on the ridiculous. I seem to remember downing a barbecue sandwich, an ear of grilled corn, two ribs, a piece of butternut squash lasagna, a skewer of grilled vegetables, a slice of watermelon, a serving of rhubarb crumble with whiskey butter (made by a visiting friend), and a s'more. And of course I also did a little "quality assurance" on the dishes we brought.

The s.o. and I made two contributions: first, a giant batch of vegetable samosas made with our own peas and carrots; and second, a fruit cobbler.

For the cobbler, I brought out the very last package of frozen 2005 blueberries. But when I looked at the recipe, I was a cup or two short of fruit. So I sneaked across the street to pick some of the berries along the edge of the horse pasture. We've decided that they're boysenberries, right? Well, I got a heaping cup of them, and there are plenty more yet to ripen. The combination of blueberries and boysenberries brought out the best in both. Cobbler is all the sweeter with purloined fruit!

Now I feel as though I need Food Detox. Or maybe just some herbal tea.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Small victory

I did it! I managed to get three of the chicks--two Barred Rocks and one Mille Fleur--to eat out of my hand!

The chicks make me so happy I can hardly contain myself. They have such wonderful little personalities. And, increasingly, humorous hairdos.

Don't go into the light

Just a quick note to let you all know I've posted some recipes here.

I have some things I'd like to post here as well, but I'm crazybusy right now because yesterday I unexpectedly lost a half-day of work after I went to the optometrist for a checkup and they dilated my eyes. "Sure, you'll be able to drive home," they promised. Well, um, no. I have pale-blue eyes that are sensitive to light even in the best of times. The dilation practically made me into an albino. Even with my sunglasses, I couldn't walk outdoors without screeching in pain. I had to spend a couple of hours in a dark bookstore coffeeshop, unable to read even a magazine (oh! the torture!), and then I eventually drove home squinting, developed a colossal headache, and had to take a brief nap when I arrived.

By 1:30 p.m., I was back at the computer, trying to adjust the brightness of the monitor. By dinnertime, I was able to venture outside in order to water the garden. Fun! Light-eyed people of the world, be warned.

On the bright side (no pun intended), I think my new glasses are going to make me look like ADA Alexandra Cabot. Or so I believe after my somewhat blurry, squinty trying-on session.

Monday, May 15, 2006


I found these blackberries at the edge of the horse pasture across the street, while I was walking to the meat-n-three at the crossroads to pay the water bill.

I had to blink a few times to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. Isn't it a bit early? Why are they ripe on May 15?

Finding these blackberries (which were delicious, thanks for asking) prompted me to take a gander at our own berry patch. It is progressing as I expected: the berries are tiny and green. But wow...I don't think I can convey the sheer enormity of the blackberry patch we have on our property. We are talking millions upon millions of berries.

July is going to be fun!

Duckling disaster / turkey trauma

I just spoke with the nicest woman on earth at McMurray Hatcheries. She sounded genuinely horrified that our ducklings and turkey poults haven't arrived. She shared my sadness for the poor little birds that are likely dead or dying in the wrong post office, somewhere out there. She said they'll try to find out what happened.

I want to emphasize that we have had a really good experience with McMurray overall. Their customer service is fantastic, and our chicks arrived in extremely good condition. I would still recommend McMurray, because I honestly don't believe the turkey/duck situation is their fault.

In light of the discouragingness of the mail problem, the s.o. and I had contemplated the idea of asking for our money back and leaving the turkeys and ducks 'til next year. But the empathetic woman at McMurray seemed eager to make things right for us, so I went with the flow. A new shipment of ducklings and poults will go out a week from tomorrow.

Maybe the extra time will be a blessing. I suppose the bright side is that we will have more attention to devote to these vibrant, wingy little chicks, who are so full of good cheer. They can now fly--not enough to bounce themselves off the chicken wire at the top of the brooder, but definitely enough to pounce on each other from above.

In unrelated news, we are set to pick up a nuc of bees from our instructor tonight! Send good buzz, please.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Around Chez 10 Signs

Well, no turkeys and ducklings yet. I hate to think what's happening with them. Were they shipped late, or did they get lost, or both? Will I be called to the post office to receive a box of dead or dying birds? God, I hope not. If they never come, I may just ask for my money back in lieu of reshipping. The s.o. and I will talk it over.

But the chicks, at least, are healthy. They have doubled in size and have grown teeny little wings. They flutter when they run, trying to achieve a little bit of lift. I find it absolutely incredible that they can grow these long, fully developed feathers overnight!

I managed to get a bit done in the garden. I pulled up all our Chiogga beets because they had gotten huge and I was afraid they would bolt if I waited any longer. I am cooking them as I type this. This is my first time growing Chioggas, and I'm already a huge fan. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

Where they had been, I dug in some Black Kow and planted my long-languishing tomatillo seedlings. I also dug some manure into the spot where my first batch of arugula had been (before it bolted and was summarily removed to the compost heap). I put my Goldgelber purslane seedlings there. I don't know yet if I'll like purslane, but I bet I will. It's one of this year's experimental crops.

Two days ago, I finally planted our okra seeds.They haven't surfaced yet, but I expect to see them poke through the soil soon.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Chix rule

Hi! Our owners haven't received their shipment of ducklings and baby turkeys yet, so they asked us to pose for some more gratuitous snapshots. But we are unphotographable. We see it as our mission in life to scramble out of the frame, turn our tails to the lens, and generally look blurry.

We are doing our best to grow wing feathers. We are growing them pretty fast, and in fact one of us keeps trying to flap up to the top of the waterer. No success yet, though.

Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are:

• 5 Barred Rocks (black with white markings and wingtips)
• 4 Black Langshans (big, chubby, and black with yellow bellies)
• 4 Buff Orpingtons (Easter chicks)
• 4 Speckled Sussex (brown and stripey with cream-colored bellies)
• 4 Partridge Rocks (we are wearing tiny mink coats)
• 2 Mille Fleur bantams (tiny teddy bears with fuzzy round heads)
• 2 Black Japanese bantams (our owners only ordered one of us, but the lady at the hatchery lost count)
• 1 Black-tailed Gold Japanese bantam (tiny round Easter chick)
• 1 penguin-y mystery chick that is probably a Cochin bantam...the owners' hands-down favorite

The food is good and we take lots of naps. We will keep you posted about our plans for world domination.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A quick update

I'll make this short and to the point, since I'm having a crazy week! Here's what's going on on several fronts:

Bees - On the advice of a friend, we combined our two hives so that they might have enough strength to push on through, maybe with the addition of a couple of frames of brood to repopulate the colony. But the situation had gotten pretty dire by then, and the reorganization didn't seem to "take." In fact, it looks as though our one remaining queen (darned if we know where the other one went) might have led her followers off to greener pastures. But never fear, we are getting a nuc (a small box of bees with brood and stored food) from our teacher later this week, and we'll start again. Also, our friend is on the lookout for a swarm for us. That would get us back up to two hives.

Sheep - Still missing. Every day when I go outside, I hope to see them, but they're not there. It's been nearly a week, so I think for the sake of my mental health, I have to write them off. (Of course, if they do turn up, we will be delighted to see them!)
Meanwhile, Green #8 (cleverly named "Ocho Verde" by the owner's daughter) is still being boarded on our behalf. We think we will wait until our original target date of mid-July to get him, so that we will be better prepared. His owner has also mentioned that he may also be able to get some ewes for us.

Chicks - Very cute and growing fast. They have the same hilarious narcoleptic tendency that all babies have. They're walking along and...oops, fell asleep standing up! Several of them have a habit of falling asleep with their heads in the feed trough. When they're not doing that, they're running around at amazing speed, jumping over and on each other, pecking and scratching for food, and gargling their sugar water.
The ducklings and turkey poults were slated for arrival anytime from yesterday through Friday. I really expected them to show up today, but they haven't yet.

Infrastructure - The s.o. has our charming chicken house mostly built. I will post a pic when it's done. He has also cleaned out the greenhouse and installed landscaping fabric inside it so that it's no longer a mass of weeds. It looks gorgeous.

Garden - The rain has helped immeasurably. It's time to tie the tomato plants to their stakes. Several of the plants even have tiny tomatoes on them. I am still running way behind on certain crops; I haven't even planted okra, and I need to hurry up and plant an outdoor row of green and/or wax beans to follow up the ones in the greenhouse.

Eat Local Challenge - I wrote a post today on the Eat Local Challenge blog on the topic of regional cuisine. Also, don't forget to check out my ELC diary here.
My friend J and I went to the Atlanta Midtown Whole Foods and to the DeKalb Farmer's Market yesterday. We got all kinds of good stuff, from Georgia cheeses to Florida-grown Chinese celery to hot pepper jelly to locally milled whole-wheat flour. We may possibly have fallen off the wagon briefly when we had Vietnamese food for lunch.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Life goes on, especially when you ordered it on the internet several months ago


"Jamie, this is N."

"N, I thought it might be you!"

"Can you hear them?"

peep peep peep peep peep

"I'll be right there!"

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Derby Day dinner

I love a challenge. And I love two challenges even more.

As we participate in the learning process that is the Eat Local Challenge, we are also continuing with our everyday lives. And in the South, the Kentucky Derby is a special day--a day that deserves a special spread of food.

Here's the all-local menu:

• Our own homemade brawn (AKA head cheese) on locally made bread with Sauer's mustard

• Our own asparagus baked with Duke's mayonnaise and the only un-Southern ingredient, a bit of Parmesan cheese

• Individual shortcakes (made with Logan Turnpike Mill whole wheat flour, Southern Biscuit flour, and organic N.C. milk) with local strawberries and Georgia whipped cream.

And of course it wouldn't be the Kentucky Derby without mint juleps! I harvested some sprigs of mint from our herb garden, and we scared up a bottle of Tennessee-distilled George Dickel whisky.

But what else is that in the picture? It's a four-pack of Wake N' Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout from Terrapin Beer Co., Athens, Ga. It's brewed with locally roasted Jittery Joe's coffee. I don't know what it's going to taste like, but I thought we'd better sock some away for later on this weekend.

Friday, May 05, 2006

An ELC field trip

Check out my latest Eat Local Challenge post, in which I get myself into the good kind of jam!

And join me as I indulge in a little black humor. Heh.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bad luck streak in dancing school

The vet visit did not go well. Cordele and Ila got so scared when the vet and his assistants tried to catch them for their vaccinations that they rammed big sheep-shaped holes in the wire fence of the pen. Cordele was actually bleeding from the top of her head. Then, after the vet finished his job and left, we re-spooked them by mistake. They vaulted the electric fence and disappeared into the forest.

Have I mentioned that our property backs up to a 3,000-acre hunting preserve, which backs up to the Oconee National Forest?

So we are kind of in an ill mood. Okay, REALLY in an ill mood. Okay, VASTLY, VASTLY in an ill mood. This week is turning into a chapter from a James Herriot book, only without any of the funny, heartwarming parts.

We are exhausted and cranky and muddy and briar-pricked from searching.

On the bright side--and trust me when I say that I had to look hard for a bright side, but hey! that's my Pollyanna nature--I got to talk to a lot of nice people while I was out canvassing the neighborhood.

So if the sheep come back tonight looking for corn, great. If Animal Control finds them, great. If not, maybe we will have some decent fencing and some common sense accumulated by the time we get sheep again. Rookie mistakes suck. And they are expensive.

Crap crap crap crap crap crap crap.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

While I wasn't looking

Look what grew! I don't mean to brag--and I shouldn't, because I had pretty much nothing to do with it except for giving it water and a little fertilizer--but isn't this the most perfect little specimen of a vegetable you've ever seen?

Why don't the insects like kohlrabi? One row away, they're making a hash of my mustard greens.

Here's what's ripe right now:

• Sugar snap peas
• English peas
• Asparagus
• Arugula
• Chard
• Collards
• Carrots
• Lettuce
• Beets
• Sorrel
• Mustard greens
• Cabbage (green and red)
• Green beans (in greenhouse)
• Wax beans (in greenhouse)
• Purple sprouting broccoli (just about done)
•Lacinato kale (also just about done)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Good times, bad times

Today's post is brought to you by the fine folks at Maxflex. No, not really, but it might as well be, because we are thrilled to bits with our portable electric mesh fence. And Cordele and Ila, although somewhat baffled by the Unknown Thing That Keeps Shocking Them, are glad to have the freedom and the fresh grass.

We really like having the sheep around. They're beautiful creatures with nice personalities. They're very scaredy--think Watership Down on hooves--but on the other hand, they've started associating my presence with food, which makes them much more affectionate than they were at first.

The sheep have an appointment Thursday morning with a large-animal veterinarian, partly just for a checkup and partly because they're being harrassed by flies that might be nose bots (okay, here's a link, but when you find out what they are, you'll want to scrub your brain to get the information back out). The vet is the same one who works with Green #8's flock. Sheep are pretty much unknown around here, but this vet seems to be eager to work with more of them and increase his knowledge.

Our Pakistani neighbor who has a large flock of goats came to visit. He brought his stepson. He and the s.o. talked about electric fences and ruminants for quite a while, and our neighbor won the "first human to be zapped by our electric fence" prize. It was pretty funny. I consider it a rite of passage, sort of like breaking a bottle on the front of a ship.

We do have some very bad news. Last night the s.o. checked the beehives, and there is not nearly as much progress as we thought there would be. There's no brood yet. And since bees have a lifespan of about 40 days, the clock is ticking. We have a feeling that the colonies may be doomed and we'll have to start all over again. Worst of all, I think it may be my stupid fault for not feeding them enough. The bees emptied the quart-jar feeders really quickly every time I put them out. I tried to keep up, but I couldn't always. I should have gotten some hive-top feeders and poured in gallons at a time. But I just didn't know, and now there are consequences.

This led to a lot of glumness (the s.o.) and tears (me) last night. Now I am just disgusted with myself. It's a big confidence killer--I keep thinking, if I've screwed this up, what about all the other animals that will be depending on me? But I need to stay rational and just keep doing the best I can. In the meantime, our beekeeper friend is coming to visit on Wednesday. Maybe there is still something we can do.

Anyway, I am feeling very delicate about the bee situation and would rather not rehash it. So can we talk about sheep instead? Thanks.