Sunday, February 4, 2018


As we enter February on the farm we wipe the slates clean, reorganize, prepare for the coming Spring, and take rest when we can find it. It is a weird time between Winter and Spring, when the urge to grow things is strong, but the weather unpredictable. I mentioned before that the days have been beautiful, sunny and warm. As we are all working hard taking advantage of that I sometimes forget when I'm so tired that there are other "girls" on this farm who are working hard too in this weird off season, in between time.

The chickens began laying a little earlier than last year and are consistently giving 3-8 eggs a day. Roughly half of the hens are going to be 6 years old, the other half will be 4 this year. A chicken's peak laying period is around two years old, so by those standards our flock is old. Even if they stopped laying completely (there are 15 hens giving 3-8 a day, so someone isn't earning their keep), I don't have the heart to put anyone in the soup pot. They give us ENOUGH and that is all I ask. Enough for us; enough to share; enough to sell a few dozen to defray the cost of feed.

The goats too are giving plenty of milk; enough. Enough for cheesemaking and yogurt. Enough to drink and share.
Feta Curds

There is this fine line between too little and too much that I simply think of that happy place as, "Enough."  This week I've had enough time to read, enough time to cook, enough time to garden and that is all I can hope for, right? Enough.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Routine; By Rote; Muscle Memory; Automatic;

I've spent the last few days taking it a little bit easier. After Monday morning's wake up call about the dangers of working/farming when exhausted I've made an effort, but most days it is not realistic. There are things I just can't not do. Besides caring for animals which is pretty routine right now, I am nurturing the tiny seedlings in the greenhouse and the coldframes. This winter has been kind of rough...not for storms, but for big swing in temperatures from day to night. The greenhouse is requiring two to three checks a day because I regulate the temperature with a combination of heat mats, a tiny heater, and opening doors or windows or both. (The coldframes also require venting when it is very hot).
Spinach in the Coldframe.
One of the first times I successfully started seeds I forgot to vent the coldframe before leaving for work and came home to find them all cooked, melted from the heat. I called my husband blubbering and he thought a dog must have died because of the extent of my carrying on and we laugh about it now, but I took it hard. 

You see, planting a seed is the ultimate act of hope for me and I am so fucking delighted when they come up that I take my role as seedling caretaker pretty seriously. I check the greenhouse over and over some days, taking a peek under plastic sheets looking for the little green inverted U of the plant's neck stretching out of the soil.

Wee seedling in the greenhouse.

Eggs in my skirt.
Today I had to go to what I call my "paycheck job" which has lost its shine for me. I'm only doing it now out of the fear that someday I will need a job or worse a full-time job and my resume will be so dusty and defunct that no one will hire me because I'm too old and have been out of the game too long. Don't get me wrong...I'm not burned out. I try to do the best job I can AND I do love teaching and writing, but if you ask me what I do the way people are prone to upon meeting you for the first time, I always say "I'm a farmer" or "I raise dairy goats and sell soap" and then I add on, "Oh, and I'm a college professor."

In other words, I identify myself as a farmer first and a teacher second (even though I've taught for 20 years). This morning I left, arrived at work with my water bottle, my iPad, my lunch and immediately remembered that the morning's milk was still in the freezer chilling with the timer still set. I simply left before it went off, distracted by the off-routine morning. My mom rescued the milk, but later in the day I realized that the greenhouse was still closed and the temperature was rising...forecast to be in the mid-60s. I flashed back to my younger self, on my knees in the little garden at the roundhouse, sobbing because I had nuked the tomatoes in the coldframe...but this time there was no one to rescue me.

I grumbled and bitched about the "paycheck job" screwing up my morning routine and raced home the minute I released my second class. I went straight to the greenhouse. With a sigh of relief I realized all was well.

Rushing home meant I still had "work" to do...emails to send and attendance to report and when I later went back out to greenhouse to water and tuck the babies in for the night with their heat mats and plastic sheets, I realized that I'd don't get much out of my "paycheck job" anymore except the paycheck...yeah, I still like doing it, but given the choice I'd rather dig and water and talk to chickens or goats.

And on another note, we'll be creating some CHECKLISTS for leaving the house so I don't screw it up again. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Worn Out and Weary.

Blueberry awaiting planting in a big pot.
 I had intended for this Winter to be a time of rest and it has been to some extent, but several things are conspiring against me.

First, I have a farmhand M, who comes twice a week...on those days I've planned some big projects. We work hard for the whole time she is here. I feel motivated to get work done when I have help, so I work beyond the point at which I should stop. (totally not her fault, I should know better).

Secondly, I am seduced by the weather and longer days. It has been warm the past few days especially and I find myself unable to resist going outside...if I'm outside I should work, so I do.

Finally, it is just that time of year when there are lots of things to do to prepare for the coming season. I got the first round of seeds planted and now find myself going to the greenhouse at least twice a day to check the temperatures...those above-mentioned warm days mean that I'm in danger of cooking my seeds/seedlings during the day and fear freezing them at night. Add to that the drying out during the warm days and I find myself watering them twice a day too.
 While monitoring the greenhouse is not particularly physical work it is work and it adds to the relentless nature of working a farm...there is no day or time when I can just relax, there is always something to do. I am much better about taking time off in the afternoons during the Summer because the days are long and hot, but now I have a hard time resting with much to do and wonderful weather to do it in.

I have of late been complaining of never getting to do what I "want to do"...when I say that I mean sewing or quilting or generally messing around. While it is true that I don't get to do much creating, I love this life as relentless and exhausting as it is...that love is why it is so hard to take breaks. I have to remind myself that I get to garden and read, two of the most important things to me (though gardening is part of the relentless grind of homesteading too). To everything there are two sides; I get to see both, sometimes only because of my own attitude.

Not even sure I like kale...
 This last week was screwy and busy and the worst kind of jammed for me. I'm a person who thrives on routines and schedules, but last week I had to run errands on two days when I'm usually home. I had to do laundry on the wrong day and then we tackled a huge job (planting a new orchard of 10 trees) on Friday. Saturday I kept up the momentum; Sunday I was on a roll and worked all day and then I crashed...

All the running and planning and digging and hauling and dragging and raking and pulling and, and, and, got me. I've been tired for weeks, working too hard and not sleeping well and ignoring the demands my body was making for rest. Ignoring my own rules of routine and scheduling. And it got me.

This morning I looked back on the week and realized that I had neglected to do any writing last week. I had scrambled and stressed over normal chores and physically I had worn myself out and this realization hit me before I even went out to take care of goats this morning.

Cleared and ready for mulch.
 I dragged myself out to the barn. And it got me. Four of nine goats were still tethered, had been tethered more than 12 hours by the neck. I unhooked each one, hugging necks and apologizing and later realized how lucky I was that they were just stressed a little, because I could have come out to find them hanging by the neck dead. The collars we use are easily broken and I have no doubt they could each have broken loose, but got me.

I was so tired, I endangered my goats' lives. I made them stressed and uncomfortable. If I could fuck up something that I do 365 days a year, what else might I do. I'm exhausted, bone-weary and beating myself up.

I am hard on myself...harder than anyone else will be and I'm still learning how to live with the "new normal" that is fibromyalgia even though it has been about  8 years. I work too hard on days when I feel good and then it creeps up on me and it gets me and I fuck up and then I beat myself up so I stay weary in body and soul until it fades and I feel better and I do it again...another relentless cycle.

Today I had to make A Rule. When I make a rule for myself,  I can generally stick to it and since this is the Year of No it shouldn't be too hard.

No work between 2pm and chore time. NO WORK.

I've wanted a fairy garden forever and today during my 2pm rest, I painted a birdhouse for the fairies, I watched Netflix, and I'm writing this.

I have to do this. For me. To be safe. To be happy.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday: What I Read This Week

The Kindle represents Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking.

This week I stayed on my theme reading with Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up his House and His Act  and Declutter Your Mind(on the Kindle). For several years now, I've been trying to get away from clutter, pare things down. I've found that visual and physical clutter feels like an actual burden. The chaos in my space feels like chaos in my head. For example, I haven't been doing much (if any) sewing because the room; which is fairly orderly these days simply has too much in it. The sheer amount of "stuff" distracts me and sucks me dry. I cannot create anything there; all I can do is shuffle and sort things here and there and back again. It is a form of "decision fatigue" I think. There are too many unfinished projects and they are all vying for attention. I'm pulled in too many directions and it is stressful and overwhelming.

Because the farm is a 24/7/365 job AND because it frequently demands my immediate attention (see today, when I had to fix an electric fence because the girls kept going through it) lots of other things get de-prioritzed again and again. Knowing that the farm will many times demand my whole day I've been trying to create routines and systems that allow me some ease, some times; much of these routines also deal with NOT creating new clutter. 

For the last little bit I've managed to stick to a once a week cleaning schedule...yep, sometimes the farm gets in the way, but no matter what I always do laundry, sweep/vacuum, and clean toilets on Wednesday. I might not get to scrub the shower or dust or anything else, but laundry, floors, toilets get some part of each Wednesday. In general I've been training myself to put things away and create homes for things that generally just hang around on countertops and we have less clutter. It's working! Cleaning is is head is less overwhelmed when I think of what needs to be done.

Oh, for sure, there are still bad days when nothing gets done or little gets done, but I'm working on it. The biggest problem on a farm is that the work never really stops and you have to learn to deal with that. I try to give myself time "off" on Sundays, but this time, right now, while I write...this is my time "off" today. I've been working on electric fences all morning. This afternoon I have to start seeds in the  greenhouse (already a couple of weeks late on some of them). Sometimes I force the issue and do nothing for a day, or go shopping, or just generally agree to something that screws up my routine, but when I do I always pay for it. Always. So, I'm learning to say No to things that disrupt my routines. I say No to myself sometimes too, with a stern lecture about how much more tomorrow will suck because you will be doing two day's work instead of one if you don't do today's chores. It can be relentless and backbreaking, but creating habits and routines is helping. Another example, putting tools away when I am finished means that the barn/yard/greenhouse/garage stays tidy and easier to work in and around, AND I know where things are when I need them next. I haven't perfected this just yet, but I'm getting better.

Another area that I'm trying to create routines around is cooking...I don't mean I want a set menu, but I want to buy groceries on the same day, do some cook-ahead or prep-ahead on the same day, use my CrockPot on the same day...I feel like if I have a plan, I can stop fretting so much; stop making a zillion decisions every day. I've spent hours with my two new cookbooks: The Chef and the Slow Cooker and The Wellness Mama Cookbook

Tomorrow, I'm making a grocery run with a list, cross-referenced to recipes (yep, OCD!?!) so that I can put this slow cooker plan into action. If I slow cook on Friday, then there will be leftovers for the whole weekend. Less to think about, less to decide, fewer dishes to see where I'm going.

After months of non-fiction and self-improvement, I'm enjoying some fiction this week!! 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday on the Farm: Deep Mulch Method

 Since January 5th, I've had an apprentice/farm hand working with me. In the interest of her privacy I will just call her M. She has agreed to work in exchange for knowledge. I need help and she needs experience.

Last week, we began a new project. The goal is to build several long beds running along a slope we call "the side hill." After tossing around ideas, drawing pictures, and perusing Pinterest, I finally settled on a plan and M and I set out to build the retaining wall. First we cut stakes from cedar and pounded them in.
 Then we stacked logs behind them to create the wall. All of this cedar came from the back of our property...the debris left when we cleared the fenceline a few years ago.

We artfully arranged our logs and created the wall. Under the wall we places cardboard that will help choke out the weeds and grass under it. I find that the edges can be the hardest part to maintain when using this method.
 Today, we added a row of feedsacks to our cardboard in preparation for adding the deep layer of mulch. This method works with or without the cardboard/sack layer, so since we didn't have enough to cover the whole area we just used what we had. I've done it both ways and honestly, I don't think it makes much difference...maybe this bed can be the test (if I remember to compare the two areas).

We then, with the help of the farm husband, cleaned both boys' barns...three loads in the full-size bed of the truck. It took about three hours of cleaning, loading, hauling, dumping, but the end result was a deep layer of mulch (roughly 6-8 inches) over the whole of the space that I want to convert to more mowing "the side hill". (EDITED: I didn't really explain this...the thick layer of mulch blocks sun from the grass/weeds eventually killing it out. It then begins to compost. When you pull back the mulch you will find beautiful soil, weed feed, and the beginnings of good compost on top!)

When I explain this method to folks, I see skepticism sometimes, and once or twice disgust. True, we have a yard full of deep mulch beds which in reality are just piles of shit. Really, I understand how that might sound gross to someone. I also look at it everyday and I can understand how it might not be pretty to look at, but I see it a little differently.

I can no longer work like I used to and this method eliminates much of the back-breaking work that you would have to do to establish a new bed. If I were to build these beds rapidly, I would have to dig them out, removing the sod, then I would have to add compost and compost and more compost ("the side hill" is mostly clay). What that means besides a lot of digging is making lots of compost. To make compost I would clean the barns, moving the load into a pile to compost, then I would move the loads AGAIN to the bed. This method eliminates that second we go from the barn to the bed and let nature slowly do the work.

Admittedly it the dead of winter when all is gray and barren the piles of deep mulch are sort of depressing, but when I look at them I see potential and hope and the coming of Spring.

The finished bed might not be usable for up to a year...the speed at which it creates itself is dependent on the depth of the mulch, the moisture, temperature, but I can wait.
The finished deep mulch bed.
I no longer need things to happen now...I need them to be simple, gentle, frugal, slow. I just can't work that hard. I used to try to force it. "I need more planting space NOW," I would think and I would go out and bust out a few feet of freshly dug space and exhaust myself and take 3 days to recover. I've learned to do the least amount of work with the materials at hand. I've learned to turn waste like the barn cleanings and cedar logs into beds. I've learned to move things only once. I've learned to wait.  Now, slow is how I go and waiting is part of the game for me. I do my part, then ask nature to do hers and patiently I wait.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Farming in the Cold

The Water Wagon (new wheels have finally arrived).
The cold front pushed through around 4pm with a shifting, gusty wind that whistled and buzzed around the doors. The temperatures haven't dropped much, but looking ahead it will be Thursday before we are above freezing again; today is Monday. (We can usually count on being up to 4 degrees colder than the forecast temps). I've tucked all the goats in, they have deep bedding, and hay, and for now, liquid water. They will be fine. The chickens too...15 balls of feathers hunkered down. They will stay warm enough.

Tomorrow, we will begin hauling hot water in gallon jugs...8 jugs at a time, 64 lbs. we pull in a ragged wagon with two flat tires (new tires are ordered after the last cold snap, but haven't arrived yet). We will haul water up to four times a day until troughs thaw Thursday. I say "we," but many times that is just "me"...just me. A one woman army. 

We are blowing through our hay at an unprecedented rate...the hay we got for a good price and thought was enough. Goats need roughage to keep themselves warm...the munch, blurp cud, chew, munch, blurp, chew...this keeps them warm. We aren't stingy with the hay, we will throw more every time we go out with hot water, but the dwindling pile means buying hay, out of season, a few bales at a time, at twice the price.

I am milking two girls through the Winter...looking at the forecast of 12 degrees for Wednesday morning I likely won't milk then. I don't know, but can imagine that 12 degrees (minus 4 or so) might be dangerous for wet teats and wet hands. I'm not willing to risk teats and hands for a little milk, but production will drop accordingly and maybe it will rebound. Maybe not.

I've "weather stripped" the North facing door with feed sacks and stacked hay bales to block the wind pushing under the big double doors. I will struggle in and out of the barn in the next days bundled so I can hardly move…like that kid in Christmas Story. I will struggle to work wearing gloves, hands numb anyway. Then the gloves will get time they froze solid when I set them aside to milk a few weeks back. I will break ice by kicking troughs until it is too thick to break. I will do this over and over and over again until it warms up and clears out, but the next time the weather dips I'll do it all over again. 

And why, you might ask, are you telling us all this? Just a reminder that small farmers need our support especially when the weather turns on out something local this week. 

EDITED: I wrote this as a Facebook post on Monday….It is Wednesday and instead of the predicted 12 degrees it was 7 degrees this morning. I DID milk and it wasn’t terrible…the stray cat appreciated some warm milk when he came shivering into the barn. It is midday and the everyone is enjoying the sunshine, but the girls are hunkered down chewing their cud in the low spot mid-pasture that is sheltered from the wind. Tonight’s forecast is for 14 degrees (again, maybe minus four more for us, so 10-ish). The weekend forecast is for upper 60s, even 70s. The up and down is wearing me out.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday: What I Read This Week.

...on the Kindle: Year of No Clutter

Sunday is my "rest" day, but I usually don't really rest. So it is more "do what I want to do day," but I do generally spent the afternoon in guilt-free reading (or sometimes a Netflix binge or cartoons). Today was no different.

I worked until 2pm (the traditional 2 O'clock walk time) and then retired to the couch to finish the third book of the week: Year of No Clutter by Eve Schaub. I took a break this week from the serious, diet/health/food books steeped in science and research and instead sought out three memoirs.

I seem to be reading on a theme these days, and this week was no different. All three books are what I call Project in the author undertakes a project, sets a deadline, and writes about it.

Julie and Julia: one year to cook every recipe in a cookbook. Plenty: one year to eat a diet grown within 100 miles of them,  and Year of No Clutter: one year to get a hellishly cluttered room under control.

I love a project. A challenge. A deadline. I love to be "on a streak." After our No Spend Challenge, I'm itching to do another Project, but can't think of anything very unique...really, it has all been done. I've got my thinking cap on and I know I'll figure something out.