The Coffee Experience

IMG_5211-30Coffee is one of those things that is synonymous with farming, I think. The farmer coming in, covered with snow and stomping his boots. The tired farmer enjoying a cup in the evening on the porch with his family. The farmer and spouse sitting at a beat up kitchen table drinking a cup together before the day starts as they listen to the rooster crow and discuss what they have planned. Thats what I think of when I imagine coffee. And I love coffee. I love the way it smells. I love to see the steam rising out of my favorite mug as I sit and work in the morning. I love the fellowship when a friend come over and we share a cup. It makes me think of my Mother and Sister when I drink it as when we are all together we enjoy our morning coffee and visit. I simply enjoy it!

While I enjoy coffee, not all coffee is created equal. Different brands and different beans all create a different taste (and some my body can’t handle due to excess acidity). Whole bean freshly ground far surpasses pre-ground beans. The act of putting your coffee in the grinder in the morning and brewing that fresh pot is almost seductive. Strength of the brew also plays a huge part in your coffee. I love a deep, dark, thick coffee. Some like it weak, more like tea, but not me. A little almond extract, a little fresh cream from our very own goats, and a brew so dark you barely lighten it is my favorite.

The tools you use to make and serve coffee also play a part in how much you enjoy it. The process should not be rushed; it should be savored! For every-day I use a basic, ugly pot that I set up the night before, but it brings me no joy. Neither does the electric grinder. I found a lovely antique grinder that I sent my brother and his wife one year… now THAT is how you grind coffee! I have a vintage percolator from my in-laws that makes a pot of coffee extra special. I have a mug from my Momma that just holding makes me feel like I received a hug. Little things like this make the coffee experience so much more than just the coffee. Do you enjoy coffee? What special items do you use when you prepare and serve it? Do you have special memories attached when the aroma of a freshly brewed cup reaches your senses? Tell me about it!

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Who Works Harder?

IMG_8636-9We are cleaning up from supper tonight, or at least I am, and my husband bemoaning the fact that I am going to put some hours in at my job answering emails and I still have to do the evening chores. One child has taken off for parts unknown after the meal, the other sits at the table, forever the last one to finish, DH is on his computer, and I start getting ready to work (like for actual pay). Into this scene, my 9-year old says “Dad works harder than Mom all day and Mom, you should be done with your work and visit with Dad!”.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this sort of floored me. I waited half-halfheartedly for someone to say something, anything, but there was nothing. So, I got to work, put 30 minutes in, spent 10 minutes looking at my own farm stuff, heard complaints when people found out I had not done my chores yet, then donned my hat and coat and went out into the icy weather to spend an hour working in the barn. Came in, found the kitchen still a mess, finished putting food away, decided to leave the dishes for morning (I may still load the dishwasher, but hand washing is cheaper), filtered the milk, and sat down to write this.

Anyone else experienced something like this? Man or woman, what makes being the one that stays home with the kids less worthy (especially in their eyes?)? How does farming equate to not working as hard as someone who works in an office or drives around all day? I am not belittling any job here; the fact is, we ALL work hard and it takes all of us, in every family, to make things work. We couldn’t pay for our home or the myriad of other bills without my husbands job, but we couldn’t afford to eat without the work that I put in. The house would not stay clean and farm work done if the kids and I did not bust our butts day in and day out. Not to even mention trying to homeschool. It was sort of like being hit by a rock to have my child have this perspective of me and what I do (and not have anyone say anything different), particularly after I killed 3 roosters today, dry-plucked so I could clean and sell feathers for fisherman and crafts, been out in the cold checking on stock, been wearing myself out trying to balance working at meeting required responsibilities as a mother, wife, teacher, farmer and workforce member. I spent a total of 20 minutes reading a pleasure novel today, and thats the first time in over a week! So, yeah, I feel like I got a good knock upside the head.

Things never change. I will always work my butt off for those I care about and serve people that are not thankful and take me for granted and forget to really think about what I think and feel. I know there are many others like that in this world. Servers often end up in the middle of people that like to be served, its instinct for both types of people to find each other as servers want to serve, and those that like to be served will not feel happy with others of the same mind-set. It still gets frustrating. It still hurts. It still makes you want to selfishly walk away for a day and let everyone else take care of things. But you don’t. You stay, and usually quietly continue what you are doing, day in and day out. Sometimes you complain, but its your nature to nurture, and you can’t escape it. You learn to turn a deaf ear and set limits so you don’t go crazy. You learn to tune out those around you for brief periods to give your mind and body a break. And then you return to reality and life with a thud and go on. Sometimes someone says something nice and makes you realize you are valued and what you do is recognized. Sometimes you get a hug or a kiss with a thank-you. Sometimes you just don’t hear complaints. And through it all, you take moments to smell flowers, to bask in sunshine as you hang clothes on the line or to delight in ice crystals hitting your cheeks as you haul water through a storm. You snuggle with the animals, watch a movie with your family, eat popcorn and roast marshmallows. Its your life, and in the end you are still happy because you know, even if no one else does, that you did as much as you could for those you love.

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Waking Up To 2015!

IMGP1594 - CopyA whole new year is ahead! Can you believe it?! We made it through 2014, despite dire predictions of disaster. Sure, chaos is present, but so is peace and goodness. Sometimes the world I see reminds me of the story of Chicken Little. She was so worried about something possible and yet unlikely, and got so many others worried, that they missed the true danger right in front of them. Its sort of interesting to me when I look at current events and look at history because I see the same things happening over and over again. Kind of like living in a real-life “Groundhog Day” movie that spans thousands of years. So, as I look to the year ahead I choose to look at the little things that affect me day to day, the concrete, grounded things that I have some small control over. My resolutions for the coming year are very much home-based. They revolve around love, family and friends, around being wise and planning as much as possible while not letting myself and those around me become mired in the possible to the point that we forget to live for today. Money comes and money goes, wars rage and die, governments rise and fall, but through it all, humanity continues, and so does love and family and friendships.

Today I set my resolutions for the year, my plans if you will. These are the small goals that we set that should be achievable and help us plan our days. Last year I had these goals;

  1.  Create a garden that produces enough food to supply our families canned/frozen food needs for the entire summer and winter. A sub-goal to this is to only buy beans and rice and seasonings from the grocery store after June of this year.
  2. Create a sustainable source of meat on our own farm without relying on deer hunters for all our meat. A sub-goal here is to actually kill and process our first pig (THAT is a daunting task that I really don’t want to do but need to!)
  3. Install a working well pump with plumbing for the garden and install rain-barrels for garden watering and livestock needs.

Amazingly enough we accomplished all but the last one, and that was due to money. Due to the Health Care Reform Act we ended up taking everything we had and paying for health insurance since we were not eligible for any of the subsidized plans due to my husbands job offering family health insurance, even though it was more than we could pay. I am glad to have health coverage, but it put a hold on some plans and changed the course of things for our farm.

Now it is 2015. I need to find out what is important for this year and how to achieve it. So, here is this years list;

  1. Put aside some emergency money every month (which means I have to get an outside job and still continue to farm and homeschool, which I have lined up)
  2. Complete a gutter system on the barn for livestock and garden needs (its okay to carry over goals from last year :D )
  3. And a fun, yet productive goal; improve my photography and begin marketing it. My sub-goal here as I have already started on this main one is to make $100 off my photography this year. Last year I made a total of $2, but had to buy a new camera, so if you run the numbers it doesn’t look too pretty :D

I am pretty sure I can swing these goals this year. They are wise goals, productive goals, and are ones that benefit my whole family. They give me personal focus and challenge, and will give a sense of accomplishment when completed.

Tell me your goals! What do you have in mind for this year? Do you set clear, reachable goals for yourself? What goals did you finish from last year? I would love to have you share in the comments and then next year see what we have all accomplished together!

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The Reluctant Chickenista

Captain Munch

Captain Munch

Chickens on our farm have always been the lowly, replaceable stock. That sounds bad in a way, but truly it isn’t meant that way, its just that in the scheme of things, where I struggle to have enough food for my growing children and hard-working husband, chickens are pretty low on the totem pole. If they get sick, you dig a hole and bury them if they don’t get better. Hurt? You eat them. I have not really had the time to think a whole lot about a chicken hospital or quarantine pen, that is usually reserved (along with the energy used to care for sick stock) to the goats or pigs, who rate much higher on the food chain in quantity of provision and outlay of expenses. That is… until recently.

We have this hen, a little white americauna/mutt. She was given to us by a friend, along with a small flock of others. Not long after getting them I found this little hen with a bloody head and listless, she had been being pecked nearly to death by the other birds. I didn’t really want to mess with her, but my young son begged me to give her a chance, so I cleaned her up and chucked her in with the baby goats, far away from the other chickens. She healed and my son hand fed her every day. He named her Captain Munch.

Capt. Munch has been with us nearly 2 years now. This summer I was complaining because she is constantly in the garden and roosting in the barn instead of staying in the chicken area (where I had moved her after she healed and gained some size). I was telling my husband I was planning on culling any of the annoying birds that wouldn’t stay put when my son chimed in, tears in his voice… “You aren’t going to kill Munch… are you?” he plead. No, I am not going to kill Munch. That darned bird gets a free pass. My husband wants to use her in a “Chicken in Space” home video, she is my sons friend, and to be quite honest I like her company when I milk. So, each night, I pick Munch up and carry her to the coop, where she will promptly leave in the morning to raid my garden and nest in the hay in my goat barn.  And so the story of how I became The Reluctant Chickenista.

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Backyard Gardens & Hunger Relief

I went out to my garden this morning and was so pleased. It gave me such a sense of well-being and thankfulness to look out over the fall crops, still dripping from yesterdays rain. The cool air of autumn gently kissed my face and arms as I bent among the pepper plants weighed to the ground with their offerings, and the tomato vines sprawling across the ground. I looked out over the small peas and winter greens, the sweet potatoes nearly ready to be harvested, the broccoli and cabbage plants growing huge in the fresh, cool air. Near-by the chickens clucked contentedly in their run wile enjoying the chickweed I tossed in. I gathered 9 eggs this morning from my gentle hens, and one from the ducks, plenty for our needs.

As I walked among the plants and animals I thought about all the hungry people in just my town alone. I thought about all those struggling, and I thought about the waste in our culture. Our small garden provided more than we actually need so we bought pigs to clean up the extra and still provide yet another form of food for our table. Very little of our land is given to garden, and yet we have enough, if I had help, to feed at least half of the fresh food needs of 3 families, or 75% of the needs of 2 families. If a neighbor were to help with weeding and caring for the garden and plants and preserve some of the food, our garden could easily meet needs beyond our own family. Of course, they won’t. Most of the time I just have people ask for some of the free, effortless food growing out of our ground. Here is the thing, though; no one needs to go hungry! Between the wild plants (often called weeds) and the planned plantings, there is an abundance of food! In our little town there are hungry people. Some of those people are just users, but others are too old or too young or simply have no idea where to start in providing for themselves. I love the community gardens that have begun to crop up in cities and small towns, in country clubs and inner city government housing areas. Sadly, they are in short supply. Many elderly grow flowers instead of vegetables and children are not allowed to get dirty or play with worms in a family garden plot. It wasn’t all that long ago the government told people it was their civic duty to grow a small garden and provide some of their own food needs, but today most people are so busy they just say they couldn’t possibly have time, or the ability, to grow vegetables, yet they take expensive vacations, buy short-life electronics, spend evenings in front of the television.

It is my belief that all able-bodied persons have a duty to grow at least a little food. Maybe its just some salad greens, or maybe a tomato or two in a bucket, but everyone should grow something. I believe that everyone should have access to information on how to garden, and children should be taught agriculture and gardening from an early age, and even spend an hour a day helping in school or community gardens by the time they are in middle school. I believe that extra should be shared with those too weak or ill to garden for themselves; can you imagine what it would do to take a basket of fresh veggies to an elderly neighbor each day? How it would change their lives and improve their health? Can you imagine what it would do for our children to help pick those hard won foods and then share the bounty with a friends family that is struggling because their dad got laid off or their mom was ill? I realize there are picky, wasteful people out there, but I also think that if more people started growing their own foods that much of those traits would dissolve. We can’t let those that have forgotten what real food is, those that have forgotten how to be thankful for simple things and not waste them, we can’t allow them to stop us from sharing our knowledge or stop us from helping those in need.

Here is the point of all this; what are YOU doing to help others in your community? Are you only concerned with your own family, or do you reach out with your knowledge and skills and bounty to help at least one other person or family? If this never occurred to you, I would challenge you to find an elderly or down-on-their-luck person in your circle and see what you can do to help them. Take the a basket of garden veggies to the old widow in the carefully mended dress that your church is praying for. Offer to teach the struggling young mother with 4 children two houses down how to plant a kiddie pool with fresh veggies. And maybe even take them a cup of tea and sit and visit for a few minutes. It will be a blessing to you as well as them. And if, by some chance, you hit on a dud, don’t give up! Try again because we can only change the world in small ways, but the ripples from one small act can change the world.

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Fall Garden Time!

The leaves on the tulip poplar are turning yellow, temperatures go from miserably hot and humid to cool and breezy by turn, rains come and go. I was working in the garden and heard flocks of birds in the trees, you know, those really big, noisy migrating flocks. Ducks and geese have been flying overhead in migration formation and the bees are working hard at getting the last of the nectar of the year. Fall is almost here, with its cooler temps, crisp air and the smell of fallen leaves being crushed under foot. I love autumn, it is as wonderful as spring to me, my two favorite times of year. It also signals that it is time to get the last of my fall seeds in the ground so that we have a winter harvest.

This is our first year actually getting seed in the ground in time for winter. I have tried and tried, but it is often so hot and muggy that working outside is a major chore. We had a beautiful week of cooler temps that I took advantage of and got the ground ready and the first seed and plants in. Now it is time to finish the large beds of kale and mustard and root crops. I want to prepare some beds for garlic, move some blueberry bushes to ground the pigs prepared, and fix up a greenhouse so that I will be ready to get plants going for spring time. Here are some tips for your fall garden;

  • Plant things that don’t flower and like cold such as carrots, lettuce, anything in the brassica (broccoli/cabbage) family.
  • Its okay to use a slightly shaded area while it is still hot as long as the shade is from deciduous plants (ones that drop their leaves for winter). This is especially true if you live in one of the warmer zones of the nation.
  • Plant with the purpose of covering the soil and restoring it. Cover crops of plants that correct nitrogen and provide green “manure” come spring should fill in any gaps; things like winter peas, winter rye, and oats are wonderful.
  • Prepare snow protection plans if you want to harvest in the dead of winter; hoops tunnels, straw and cold frames provide shelter for more tender crops that will continue to grow with just a touch of protection.
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Dressing The Earth

I was working in my garden today, thinking about what I was doing and also thinking about how most people farm today and how I would explain what I do to people that want to learn. I thought I would share as it forms the basis for how and why I do things on our land.

While I hold no religious reasons for my views, I feel very in-tune with the earth. In my youth and young-adulthood I wanted very much to be a biologist, a marine biologist to be quite specific. I learned that it was hard to make a good living in that field so I wove a different path for myself, but that love of the earth and the life that makes it special never has left me. I have always tried to teach others about her, how to take care of her and how she meets our needs. I am passionate about the earth in a quiet, farmer kind of way.

So, getting back on topic, I was unloading leaf mulch into the garden, lining paths and plant rows with it. It was really hot outside, and the humidity was causing sweat to run off of me as if I had just come out of the pool. It was a struggle to keep my glasses clean as the sweat dripped onto them every time I leaned over to dump another bucket of mulch on the ground. I stood up and looked around. I noticed the sweet potato vines were looking a little dehydrated and made a note to water them when the sun went a little lower. We haven’t had rain in over a week and the plants are looking a little stressed despite the thick mulch that was laid around them. I thought about it as I went back for another load. I thought about how the earth, to me, was like a woman that demanded to be dressed. She longs to be covered in life, either plants or creatures, and they form the folds and creases of her garment.

This of course led to explaining to my invisible audience what I meant by that. It is pretty simple really; bare soil erodes, it washes nutrients away to a place where they eventually get caught up and a fertile piece of land produces food for the creatures that live on it. The earth doesn’t like seeing any of her creatures hungry and longs to fix those patches of arid land. So she grows grasses there to catch the soil. Their roots are shallow and they need little to survive, but they spread with vigor and quickly cover the soil. Their leaves provide mulch that harbors insects and eventually becomes the soil rich enough for other plants (which we often call weeds) to grow. These plants continue the process of restoring the soil and nurturing life, and act as a shade to make the grass leave space for larger life. A tree’s seed is planted by a squirrel, and then grows. It provides more shade and more trees grow. Eventually they create a dense canopy that shields the earth below from excessive wind and rain and continues to mulch it with leaves and fallen branches. Many of the “weeds” and grasses cannot thrive in the shaded forest except in pockets where a tree has fallen and the earth becomes exposed again and they have to begin to sew their patch upon it.

Using these observations I apply them to my gardening. My garden was covered in crab grass when we moved here, and I was a bit concerned that we would not get a good harvest for battling the grasses. However, I knew that the earth needed covering. I knew the soil there was poor and sandy with very little top-soil, the soil that is where things actually grow. So, my plan was to create, essentially, the environment of a forest but without the trees, because most of our food plants for gardens come in about the size of “weeds”. I tilled and removed as much grass as I could. I planted with care not to over-tax the soil that was there, giving my crops space but also wanting to fill in and shade as much of the earth as I could. I applied a heavy layer of mulch made from leaves and wood chips to hold the soil and harbor insects and microbes that would break that mulch down into nutrients for the plants. I planted things that grew down with things that grew up. As I approach the fall season I am trying not to disturb that rich bed that I made but instead add to it and plant in it. The grass grew in places, but most of the spaces that were carefully mulched remained fairly grass-free and the plants produced an ample harvest and were healthy enough to withstand bug invaders. You see, nature is amazing and will find a way to survive if given the care it needs. When gardening we need to be mindful not to strip the earth of her covering. We need to cover bare ground with heavy mulches and plant our crops in such ways that it shades the ground fairly quickly. We need to continuously build the soil rather than applying chemical fertilizers that create imbalance. If we dress the earth with life (plants and in the mulch microbes and beneficial insects) she will yield bountifully.

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