Spring and potatoes

…it is always nice to look forward to being a baby goat perch when your work is done. 

Spring on the farm is…a lot. We’ve been working long hours in the garden, preparing for the market, and getting ready for a fiber festival, but we still feel so behind! And then the days disappear and suddenly it’s the beginning of May. (It’s the beginning of May, right??)

Our task list is still long, but we’re feeling ok about it now and taking today as a “vacation” day, which I think most people would call a “weekend” day, even though it is Wednesday (is it Wednesday?). We’re discovering a weird thing about working for ourselves in an isolated way, which is that common contemporary schedules mean nothing to us. Days of the week, or even times of the day are mostly all the same. We eat lunch at 3 in the afternoon or 10 in the morning because we don’t have an employer telling us the time of our break. It has created very natural rhythms that feel good.

But… it also means we don’t have a defined work day. So, on one hand, I can still be in my pjs at 9:30, but am also working at 8 pm and have lost that defining line between work times and off hours. We’re trying to figure out how to make sure all of life isn’t work. So far, I think we’re doing ok. But when we make a plan to not work all (or part) of a day we’re calling it a “vacation” day, when I think it’s really just a weekend.

I’m not complaining! Promise. It’s exciting to want to be doing the work we’re doing and to not have it feel onerous. I’m just giving a long-winded excuse for neglecting you lately. I didn’t realize I was doing it! Time is different to me now that Bill is home always, and I’m still figuring out how it works.

For proof of our work, here’s some photos from last night’s potato planting. The sky was so beautifully blue and the air was just cool enough. Having sheep and goats grazing in the pasture right outside the garden really helped set the mood, too. And it is always nice to look forward to being a baby goat perch when your work is done.


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This photo was taken because I was being artistic. Not because I was tired and wanted an excuse to lay down. I’m not old. Just artistic. Also, the sky was amazing. And I wasn’t tired!

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Maybe it’s time for a vacation day…

Ten days in the life of a baby goat

Two healthy baby girl goats are in the hiz-ouse!!

Aurora and Georgina were born in the very, very early  hours of March 7 to our sweet Pandora. Their birth was fully unremarkable (we were sleeping), and Panny has been doing a fabulous job taking care of them. We noticed Pandora was in labor when I peeked at the barn camera/baby monitor on my phone, and when we made it to the barn both kids had been born. Within 45 minutes, the kids were standing and nursing and they’ve been growing crazy fast ever since.

Like most herbivores that generally live in big, open areas, goats are prey to many carnivores. It is important, then, that the newborn babies be agile quickly, in order to keep up with a moving herd and evade predators. By the time they are 24 hours old, goat kids start bouncing. They practice running. They spring up into the air from all four feet at once, and they jump on things. Constantly. It’s adorable. But, I think it also serves two useful purposes. First, it hones the kids’ agility. They are practicing evasive moves that will help them escape a predator. Second, they are demonstrating to any predators that may be watching or stalking the herd that they are fast, capable, and healthy, so maybe that wolf should think about chasing someone else instead. Play is fun, but it is also important in development.

We keep new babies locked in a stall with their mamas for 3 or 4 days, depending on the health and thriftiness of the animals, as well as the weather. The gate to the pen has open slats, and the other animals like to check in, but keeping the newborns isolated helps keep them out of trouble while they practice those gross motor skills, and it makes sure they bond sufficiently with their mama. Aurora and Georgina are the only two babies in the barn at the moment, but Pandora still smells them every time they are near her and especially when they nurse. She recognizes them by scent and wants to make sure no one else’s babies are stealing her milk.

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After a few days of isolation, we do supervised excursions out of the pen. We divide our pastures with electric fences and it’s important that the babies learn how they work. Goat kids, and lambs, learn by touching, sniffing, and biting everything. It only takes two or three encounters with the electric fence for the kids to learn to stay away from them. We want to be there when they are learning so that we can help them out if they get tangled in the fence, or end up on the wrong side of it. Bill and I work together to teach the kids about the fence with one of us being near the animals and the other standing next to the fence switch, ready to turn it off if needed. It is a little heartbreaking to watch the kids get shocked, but the fences keep predators away from the herd, and the babies need to learn to stay away. Plus, it only hurts for a second. (I’ve been shocked many times. Because I’m not as smart as a baby goat…)

When the goat kids are about a week old, they are usually fully integrated into the herd – sleeping and grazing along with everyone else. This afternoon when I went to check on them, Aurora and Georgina were sleeping in a hay feeder in the barn while Pandora was out eating the paltry pasture offerings with the rest of the goats and sheep. The kids woke up when they saw me and started bouncing around, heading for the barn door.

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But, since mom was way out in the back field, I encouraged them to return to their nap. I picked one up in each hand, noticed their bellies were quite full, and plopped them back in the hay feeder. They stretched and snuggled back to sleep. The sun is shining, but today is pretty cold – still below freezing in the late afternoon. If it were a nicer day, I bet the goats would be napping in the field. The kids seem to know to stay put when mom is away and I’m sure Pandora will be checking in on them regularly.

At this point, the kids are only starting to explore hay and grass. They pay attention to Pandora when she’s eating in the pasture or at the feeders, and try to copy her behavior. To me, this is as adorable as bouncing. There is nothing cuter than seeing a tiny baby kid standing at a feeder with enormous sheep and goats. It is going to be a while before the kids’ rumens develop and they’ll be able to eat hay, so for now, when the adults are eating, the kids spend most of their time jumping and napping. Soon, though, they’ll be munching on grass and burping up cud with the rest of them!

The last exciting milestone to discuss is the initiation of sheep surfing. I saw a precursor to sheep surfing this morning when Georgina was standing casually on sleeping Clara’s back. Climbing on a sheep that’s laying down is the first step toward jumping on a standing one. It may happen in the next set of ten days, and I hope to bring you photos when it does!

 

Spirit Vegetable

Last week, I was craving some pumpkin bread, so I pulled out my next-to-last North Georgia Candy Roaster and…well, roasted it up. 

There are a number of reasons why winter squash are my spirit vegetable. Their season is autumn, which is the best season. They come in a lot of different colors, many of them orange. Pumpkin cake and squash chana masala are delicious.

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Mostly, though, I love winter squash because they are so chill. Easy to grow. Easy to harvest. Easy to store. Tomatoes get cracky if they don’t like how they’re watered. Beans and stupid cucumbers have to be picked every 2 or 3 days lest they become enormous, inedible beasts. And eggplants…I don’t even know what the eggplants want except to spend their whole lives as two bug-eaten leaves that refuse to turn into a functioning plant.

But squash will grow through neglect. Weeds? Whatever – they power through. Harvesting? Whenever you want! A pumpkin will just sit in the sun and wait, hoping you remember to bring it inside before the first frost. And then you don’t even have to eat it right away! Winter squash will store for months and be at the ready when you’re craving some pumpkin bread.

Last week, I was craving some pumpkin bread, so I pulled out my next-to-last North Georgia Candy Roaster and…well, roasted it up.

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I love this heirloom squash. It is said to be the originator of pumpkin pie. The fruits are crazy fun to look at, but also so easy to use. Many squash are actually death traps. Trying to cut into a pumpkin or recalcitrant butternut is a hazard to my precious knitting fingers. Not our good friend the Candy Roaster, though. She has nice thin skin, but isn’t too delicate to store for a while (like Delicata squash can be). Her shape is conducive to cutting, and once cut, the seeds are a cinch to remove. I  have so much love for this rare, heirloom vegetable!

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…as do the chickens who get the seeds. And the goats who try to steal the seeds from the chickens.

I roasted the squash until it was tender and then divided it in two. Half the squash was cooled and then put directly in the fridge to wait a few days. Half was scooped into a bowl, blended with my stick blender and then immediately became pumpkin bread. I love this recipe from Dishing Up the Dirt because it uses honey instead of sugar, calls for whole wheat flour, and contains chocolate chips. It is my go-to pumpkin bread recipe now. I did make the vanilla bourbon glaze (because bourbon), but neither Bill nor I found it to be necessary. A few days later, I made Maple Pumpkin muffins with the leftover squash. Also delicious.

There is only one Candy Roaster (and one butternut) left in my squash storage for this year. It’s a good thing spring planting is just around the corner!

Knitting for Sanity

But, whenever I feel overwhelmed, I know that I can sit down for a few minutes, or a few hours, and return to the routine of knitting.

There are so many times when knitting has made my life more comfortable – handspun socks hugging my feet, or a double layer of shawls keeping my face warm when I work in the barn…the sweater customized to fit just how I like it.

Mostly, though, knitting has kept me comfortable by giving me a productive way to chill out. I take small projects with me whenever I go out and know that “waiting” will be a task expected of me – appointments, restaurants, Bill wandering through the hardware store pondering shelves and shelves and aisles and aisle of pipe fittings.

Knitting has been a key part of my sanity for the last few weeks, especially. I am comfortable with routine and predictability. Spontaneity tends to make me anxious. My library, for example, is only a few miles from my house, but I need at least three days of lead time before I’m comfortable planning a trip. To return books. It takes me three days to get ready to drive five minutes – in a totally straight line – and jump out of the car to plop books through a slot in a door. An event which involves actually interacting with people requires at least of week of mental psych up.

The last four weeks have been anything but routine. We’ve experienced disruption on top of disruption. Some were permanent (my husband was laid off as part of a merger at work – we’ve had nearly two years to plan for the possibility, so we’re ok), and some were temporary (I got the flu! And this extreme cold weather, which changes the farm routine significantly – and broke our pipes…and our furnace). But, whenever I feel overwhelmed, I know that I can sit down for a few minutes, or a few hours, and return to the routine of knitting.

Except when I had the flu. That was four days of sleeping and whining with a small amount of banana eating.

The repetitive motion of knitting is very calming for my brain and my body. The feel of wool soothes my soul. Beautiful yarn colors and lacy stitch patterns delight my eyes. And most importantly, knitting is a show of optimism for the future. Adding a few rounds to a sock, or finishing a sleeve on a sweater is a profession of faith that sometime soon, this knitted item will be used – hopefully during a happy time. I may be struggling with two weeks of single degree temperatures, but a lacy sock means that summer will come and there will be a time when 18 layers of clothing are not required. Perhaps, at this moment, I have the unwashed hair, and body odor of someone who hasn’t crawled off the couch in a week, but knitting on a sweater proves that I know some day I will be germ-free, take a shower, brush my hair, and (with at least seven days’ notice) leave the house to meet up with friends.

The last few weeks of 2017 were disruptive, worrying, and difficult. Knitting helped me remember that the trying events were temporary, and helped me stay sane(ish) as we were getting past them.

I’ve got delightful projects to share with you soon! In the meantime, please enjoy some scenes from the farm, which is firmly in the grip of winter.

Autumn Afternoon on the Farm

Today is the perfect, sunny fall day for lounging on the ground and taking 152 photos of the sheep and goats as they lazily chew cud and soak up the sun. I have to share it with you! I hope you can feel the tranquility and contentment from the simple pleasure of having nice hay, a safe pasture, and the smallest autumn breeze.