Sunday, August 30, 2009

All's quiet on the home front...NOT!

Last week might have been the busiest week of the year. We had a full house of Summer Wind Day campers (12 Woodland Elves to be specific) and their parents, grandparents and siblings wandering about. This doesn't affect me much, except for the parking issue and it is hard to snag an extra popsicle at the end of the day.

Becca, their fearless leader, kept the campers busy building forts and fairy houses, making magical lanterns and playing crazy games. And that's not to mention snacking on plums. (Thank you, Becca!) Many plums, "heavenly plums', so said the campers. One even wanted to plant a tree at her house. I warned her mother. A 600 pound plum crop can be a bit intimidating.

Two of our favorite campers, Lucy and Alice, spent the night on Thursday. This was very fun except that they wake up at 5 something in the morning and well, we don't. I took them out to feed the cows. They like waking up early too.

But back to the week. So we had the one girl finishing up camp, cleaning up the barn and getting the hell out of dodge and back to her real life, the life where she is writing a novel and NOT living with her parents.
And we had one girl getting ready to go back to college where obviously life is better than a summer spent at home where the biggest excitement was breaking your arm skating (well, and maybe getting a new boyfriend). She spent the week making desserts (black bottomed cupcakes and lemon sponge cake--yum!) and abandoning her room. Oops, I mean packing. She and her friend from up the road barely, and I mean barely, fit their two bodies and their stuff into an Honda Element. An Element without the backseat. An Element that can seriously haul a LOT of stuff. Their rooms are on the third floor of the dorms, no elevator. I wonder if they rethought their position on stuff when they were unpacking. Did you know it is almost impossible to go to college without nine pairs of heels? I didn't know this. It's a good thing I already have my degree since I don't own a single pair.

The other girl spent the week swimming in her own vat of drama but that is a story for another time.

Lastly, Aidan, fondly known as "the boy" diligently cleaned his room in an effort to make room for high school. He also shopped for shoes for these enormously long, skinny things he calls feet and finished enduring a LOT of testing. That last little comment meant we parents spent much of the week enduring hours of meetings regarding the test results and then spent many more hours in serious contemplation about what to do with what we already knew--very smart boy who has some significant learning challenges. We went back to the brain lady (she's working on undoing the snowboarding accident when the said boy fell off a cliff and knocked his noggin a good one). We had more meetings with teachers and counselors and speech pathologists and neuro-psychologists.

And did I mention that the garden was coming in strong.

Like, I mean, really strong...Just this week we picked gallons of plums, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. Smaller, yet still predigious amounts of kale, tomatillos, collards, carrots, potatoes, late strawberries, onions and leeks. We ate, dried, salt dried, canned, froze, pickled and sauced as much as we could every day. And sorry to say, it wasn't enough. there is still a BIG pile of produce on the counter.

Just yesterday Steve and I, with a little bit of help from Becca who was avoiding cleaning the barn, canned 49 (yes, count them-49) jars of spicy plum sauce, plum chutney and dilly beans.

We froze and dried two lugs of fruit. The day before it was 7 quarts of tomato sauce, and lots of blueberries picked and bagged for the freezer. Steve smartly rewarded himself for all his work with a delicious gluten free black and blue pie. I, on the other hand, had had enough of the kitchen and had some Ben and Jerry's. Did I say we were tired?

If just that was the week, I think we would have managed, but there was problem of the broody chicken who produced two beautiful chicks only to squish one when it was four days old. These things happen but unfortunately a very sensitive camper found the poor chick, who literally had turned her toes up. The chick had a lovely funeral complete with a procession, songs and a gravestone that reads " Here lies Sprinkels." I was asked by three different children to keep fresh flowers on her grave.

And then there is the cow who is now a full two weeks late having her baby. Is it time to induce? Do they do such things to cows? Do I need to call the vet or give her castor oil? Oh my. And the hay is giving Aidan hives, which makes it hard for him to do his chores. And squirrels beat us to most of the nuts--hazel nuts and the walnuts. I think we were too busy picking the plums.

The house is the dirtiest it has been in a long, long time and let's not even think about the weeds. The cat has been throwing up, the dog is in mourning because his girl abandoned him for college. And four campers of the small boy variety decided that jumping on the compost pile, the one with a dozen thoroughly rotten eggs hidden in it, would be a good idea. Days later, we are still recovering from the smell. Did I mention the flies?

All in all, it was one of those weeks that everyone is glad is over. Most of all, me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Joey's sucking on what?

It was quiet out in the barnyard this morning. When I went out at 9 am to feed Joey (the 6+ week old Jersey Bull calf) all the animals were still laying around. Brigid (the soon-to-be mama cow) and Gilly (her 17 month old first child) were on opposites sides of a fence backs touching. Joe, whose mama lives on another farm, was alone in the cow pasture asleep by another fence. Even the sheep, the early risers of the bunch, were still laying down under the barn awning.

I like quiet mornings when not much is happening yet. The stillness feeds something in me as surely as my breakfast does. As far as I can figure there isn't enough silence to be had.

We don't keep usual farmer's hours around here. Since we aren't farming for a living we figure it is just as good to feed everyone at 9 and 9 as it is to feed them at 6 and 6, or gasp, 5 and 5. I am sure that somebody who knows more about these things would argue but so far our leisurely mornings work for us. And nobody is starving to death out there so I figure it is working for the animals too.

Joey came to us by way of a favor. Though now, 6 weeks into this adventure I am not exactly sure who the favor was for. My cow mentor George has a beautiful herd of Jersey and Brown Swiss dairy cows who reside in that famous of all dairy towns Carnation, Washington. They are gorgeous girls, all well loved by George. Modern science allows him to make sure that 90% of the calves born to his herd are heifers (girls) that he can raise to be the new milkers. Joe, was part of the unlucky 10% destined to leave George's comfortable farm by way of the butcher. Unfortunately for Joe when he was born, George's mom was in the hospital for something ominous and his wife's mom was due to be admitted the next day for surgery. Feeding a calf that wasn't going to help out the herd added unnecessary work to an already chaotic situation. Hence the call we received that nice morning in late June..."You guys want a Jersey bull calf?"

Being a softie at heart (both for people and animals), I didn't take a lot of convincing. Steve took even less than me. Aidan, smart boy that he is and knowing that the lion's share of the work was going to be his, had a list of objections. Poor boy, we barely even listened.

From the outset, I knew that Jersey's don't make the good meat cows. They tend towards the scrawny side and take a long time to flesh out. Their meat is marbled with yellowish fat that is not well considered by the average American eye. But what the eyes don't know is the meat tastes wonderful and the calves are sweet-tempered.

Now that he is settled in on the farm. Joey is considered a happy addition by all concerned. Even reluctant Aidan has been won over by the sight of a happy calf dashing across the pasture for his bottle or a few pets. Every morning and night we feed Joe his bottle. It's actually fun. He's so appreciative, and grows so fast, it is hard not to enjoy the process.

Farmer George told us to buy a bag of milk replacer and start feeding him grain as soon as he would eat it. I couldn't do it though. We've done well with raising our other cows on grass and their mama's milk. It doesn't take too much thought after reading the ingredients of calf milk replacer to realize if you feed a calf that stuff your soon-to-be grass fed, organically raised meat is going to have its formatives weeks spent drinking GMO infused milk.

One look at that bag of milk replacer had me running to the store for real milk; which, trust me, is NOT the most economical way to raise a cow. At first I was buying organic milk but at $5.89 a gallon (and he drinks a little over a gallon a day) I quickly switched to non-organic whole milk from Costco that I topped off with a half a cup of cream to make it more like the cream heavy Jersey milk his mother would have given him. I get it, processed GMOs in liquid form, but somehow it was the compromise I could live with.

Joey likes his milk, so apparently it is a compromise he can live with too. I am sure he would rather have non-homogenized, non-pasturized raw milk sucked from his mother's teat, or worst case scenario straight from the milking room at George's. But George lives a half an hour away and his entire supply of milk is promised to Darigold. So we all have to live with this compromise. I do admit to calling George and asking via his message machine if we could buy fresh, raw milk for Joey. He didn't return my call, which I was sure his way of politely ignoring me when I do something that he thinks is crazy.

But getting back to Joey. Every morning and night we heat his Costco milk on the stove and carefully pour it into his bottle, which is almost the size of Delaware--see the picture which I can't seem to put here and is instead at the top of the post. Joey happily jugs our concoction down in about 47 seconds, stopping once or twice to catch his breath. By the end, his nose is covered in a creamy white froth and his doe eyes are the essence of contentment. Every once in a while he drinks too fast and chokes. But that doesn't happen very often. Usually he is done so fast he hasn't gotten his requistite sucking time satisfied and goes off in search of Gilly. Gilly though, is never far away as he is more than a little bit envious of that delicious smelling bottle we offer Joey day and night. "Where's mine?" his little baby cow eyes seem to ask as he looks at us from inside a giant cow sized body.

Gilly misses his milk a lot. We recently weaned him off of Brigid so she would be ready for her soon-to-be-born calf. We still have to separate them or he would try to nurse once again. So when Joey comes sniffing around hoping to 'nurse' for a few minutes longer on Gilly's sadly missing boy parts, Gilly is very indulgent. Who knew cows had such empathy. For awhile, Aidan thought that Gilly had grown an udder until he figured out what was what and became thoroughly disgusted. Oh well, life on a farm.

In the end, Joey is growing like a weed. When we got him he was the size of our dog Charlie and now (less than 7 weeks later) he is about the size of a six-month old deer. Here's a picture of him somewhere in between those two sizes. Gilly is on the ground next to him, guarding his privates from wildcat nursing calves.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weird smells and slug slime....

A couple of minutes ago, Aidan walked in the house and said "It smells weird in here." Yea, I bet it does. Silently, I remembered what I had been doing for the last couple of hours...blending tomatoes for freezer sauce, drying hot peppers for use later in the year, making the syrup for plum fruit leather, drying cherries and crisping the sliced cukes in salt water for making bread and butter pickles later today. With all those projects, I guess it was bound to smell weird. Hopefully when the smells settle down, it will taste good.

As you can tell, the garden is coming on strong right now. Just about everything is ready to eat, can, pickle or dry. Keeps a girl busy when she might rather be at the river soaking up the rays. Luckily, today is cool and rainy so the kitchen sounds just fine.

Earlier when I went out to the garden to harvest all that said produce, I knew it had been rainy because I saw about 157 slugs and their mothers. When it is hot, the slugs vacation in the forest but when it is cool and wet, they lounge in the garden eating beans and cucumbers and tomatoes and looking more like pigs than slugs. Ever seen a snout on an overfed slug? Trust me, it isn't pretty.

I try to be charitable about the slugs, figuring they have to make a living too; but sometimes their over-zealous appetites get the better of my cheery disposition. Like a couple of days ago when I went out to pick that gorgeous red tomato I had been watching ripen all week. I reached my hand out to pick it and my fingers went right through to the slimy front. YUCK! Those buggers had secretly been eating their fill from the back. Such a disappointment. Luckily for the larder, there are more tomatoes out there or I might have to complain.

I wonder, do the slugs have some kind of hierarchy to lodge complaints with? I can just imagine the unsympathetic slug king munching on a throne of bean plants (surely one of their favorite foods). "Sorry, Mam. You are gonna have to get by. A slug is gonna do what a slug gotta do." Munch, munch. Guess I should be happy that I already harvested enough beans to make a couple of batches of dilly beans and some dinner. They really are sharing my garden with me.