Thursday, November 19, 2009

Weather wimps and the new agriculture...

I have to admit being a weather wimp these last couple of days. It's been raining and raining and raining and after a few days of it, I decided I was headed inside for awhile. It has been Kaitlin's days off and I didn't have anything pressing to do and besides the boy was sick, so I decided the couch was the place for me.

This is not all bad. I caught up on the lightning strike paperwork (yes, there was a pile of it) and caught up on almost all the phone calls I needed to do--new cows, yes; sheep shearer, no. I wrapped and boxed almost all our far away Christmas presents. I kept the fire roaring so the house could heat up (yes!). But none of these things excited me near as much as finding this blog by a soil scientist who wants to make farming as cool as rock'n'roll. He's my kind of guy. I can't wait to sit down with a cup of tea and read this entire blog.

I get that I am weird but I am still going to like it. Michael Astera rocks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back from the dark (and rainy) side of busy

Gosh, it has been crazy busy around here. In a good way, but busy all the same. We've had a wwoofer here for the last ten days and she is keeping me on my toes.

Wwoofing, for those of you who don't know, is a great exchange of energy between people who are farming and people who want to learn about farming. By offering to teach and supervise (and feed and house) someone when they are learning, I get a volunteer who will work on the farm for 25-30 hours a week. Here's a picture of our wwoofer Kaitlin hard at work!
This is our first experience with the wwoofing program and so far, it's been great. Wwoof stands for willing workers on organic farms, and Kaitlin sure fits that description. Just like most wwoofers she travelled here from far away. (Kaitlin is from the coast of Maine.) In case you are interested, you can learn more about wwoofing by clicking here .

So far, in the last week Kaitlin has shoveled manure from my friend George's dairy farm (stinky!), double dug two and a half very large garden beds (which you may remember entails digging a hole three feet deep, adding tons of organic matter and manure and then refilling it), made a biodynamic preparation, finished the property line fence with Steve and mixed up seven trashcan-fulls of chicken food. And that is just some of the stuff she has done. Here's a bad picture of one of the holes she dug in our
absolutely dreadful weather. Seriously, in the last week, we
we have experienced deluge after deluge, a ferocious windstorm and an icy snowstorm and Kaitlin has experienced them all first hand.

It's great to actually be accomplishing THE LIST. Even if we aren't the ones doing all the work. (Maybe BECAUSE we aren't the ones doing all the work.)

Kaitlin is in Seattle today on her day off exploring the city. When she's back on Friday it is on to building compost. And she thought digging holes was hard work!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hunting Brocolli in the Dark of Night

I just harvested what I think will be our last brocolli of the year. And of course I forgot that it was going to be dark by five, so I was out there by the light of my cell phone trying to pick the teeny little florets in the pitch dark. Whoops.

There was just enough for one last homegrown stir-fry with brocolli, collards, kale, and swiss chard from the garden. Wish Steve would hurry home so we could eat it.

We have been eating absoultely DELICIOUS brocolli from these plants for six months. Prodigious producers, seven plants first delivered way more brocolli than we could eat (big bowlfuls EVERY day). I couldn't think of enough ways to eat brocolli. If anyone dropped by, you can guess what I gave them. The food bank, yep gave some to them too.

After a few weeks of brocolli overload, we found our rhythm. The brocolli produced just the right amount for us to have a brocolli centered dinner a couple of times a week. This went on until the end of September. The more they produced the right amount, the more I fawned over them.

Then October came and the brocolli slowed way down. First it was one dinner a week, and then lately it has been one dinner every 10 days or so. From the looks of the stalks tonight, I think what I picked today will be the end for this growing season. This picture was in early October.

I feel like I ought to have a memorial service for those trusty plants. They really were BEAUTIFUL at their peak. And honestly, I have never had better brocolli. But what is even more exciting, Aidan finally figured out that he liked brocolli so I didn't have to hear the "Oh, Mom, not brocolli," chorus whenever I served it. I don't know if that was because of the brocolli or the fact that he is a 14 year old boy who basically eats anything that doesn't move. Whatever the reason, I was happy to have a happy brocolli eater around.

You maybe wondering what kind of miracle plants these were. I wish I could tell you there came from some amazing organic seed that I bought from a little organic seed farm in Oregon and grew in teeny pots on my windowsill. But, to tell you the truth, I picked them up cheap one day in March when I was wandering through the plant section at Home Depot. The seedling tray had eight plants, one died and the others went on to live a glorious life. Hybrid, non-organic, super producing, delicious brocolli. Go figure!

ps And here's what's for dessert. Gluten free-dairy free peanut butter cookies. Lucky boys scored tonight. umm. They are even good without all the ingredients that are usually in there. Phew, I get worried sometimes when I have to leave too many crucial things out of the mix.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Excellent Question

Somebody just asked me why I don't just put a bull out in the pasture with Brigid and let nature take its course.

I would love (really love) to except:

1) I don't feel confident enough to handle a bull, and especially if it escaped.
2) It is hard to find bulls in these parts and even harder to find bull owners that are quick about picking up the bulls they drop off. So if we did get over our trepidation about dealing with the bull, we might be feeding it all winter, and believe me that would cost a lot more than a few visits from the AI guy.
3) We don't have a trailer for moving cows. It seems like we might want one if we wanted control of how long the bull was here.
4) I would feel horrible if my ignorance caused some kind of accident and somebody got hurt by the bull.
5) Having a bull around is WAY out of my confort zone.

I own that these reasons are mostly just me being fearful, but I think somethings are worthy of being afraid of. And in my book, until I know more, bulls fall squarely in that category. If only I could invite Ferdinand for the winter.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Making Progress--Warning--graphic cow description

It always feels good when I can strike one thing of the LIST. This fall it feels like I have been adding more to the list than I have been scratching things off. But today is a good day, a great day because I can scratch off GET BRIGID PREGNANT. (Not personally.)

You see, Andrew came yet again and we now have a bred cow. Or so we hope. Of all the visits, this is the one Brigid hates the most. She kicks and flings her body around trying to stop the process. It still amazes me how coordinated Andrew is. I know this is what he does for a living but still.

So here is how the AI process goes...The entire process takes 10 days. During the first visit he sticks the long plastic hormone implant inside Brigid and gives her a shot. Next visit he takes the implant out and gives her another hormone injection (or three, if she is flailing). But it's the last visit, where Andrew really shows his stuff.

First of all, you have to know that he drives around in a mild-mannered white pickup truck. Lifting the sides of topper (there is a better word for that but I forget it), he pokes around in these steamy cold containers that hold the vital juices of all kinds of bulls. You certainly couldn't tell by looking at the outside that he had special temperature controlled vats inside his truck.

We had our choice of Jersey bull--sexed or not, Angus bull or Dexter. Since we knew how she did with Dexter, we decided to try Angus and see if we liked that kind of mix. We knew we wanted her baby for meat, so Angus made more sense than Jersey. Each one of these decisions takes time and research because neither Steve nore I grew up around cows or knows much yet.

Once the decision is made, then Andrew fills the insemination syringe (extra long turkey baster?) with the appropriate stuff. This time it came from a bull named Above and Beyond. We secure Brig in the stanchion and he quickly puts syringe deep into her vagina. In order to guide it to where it needs to be he has to stick his other, very gloved arm up the other hole where you and I just don't want to go. From there he guides the syringe into place and releases it when it's ready. This is happening basically simultaneously. And all the while, Brigid is going ballistic and is kicking at him with both back feet and lurching around in the stanchion. Let's just say he has faster reflexes than an Olympic sprinter.

Andrew is gone in a flash and off to another farm where he will do this whole process again (and again). Last week when arrived at our house a bit late he apologized but said that he had just bred 53 cows that morning. Whoa. That's a lot of kick dodging. No wonder he is so fast.

The rest of the day, Brigid is a bit cranky. I don't blame her. I mean, not to anthropomorphize too much, but it does seem like a VERY invasive process on a non-consenting cow. Poor thing. At least I didn't humiliate her further by taking pictures.

Luckily, she loves being a mother.