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Archive for April, 2011

We devoted April to gardening; April is the time to ready for the new growing season here in the frozen north (ish), and it was one for the records. Twenty-five straight days of gloom and/or rain does not make even the cool-friendliest plants feel very friendly.

Gardeners sometimes have blinders on; they see what’s happening in their in their own space, under their own feet, and in that one little hole in the ground. It’s helpful, in our wealthy and diverse society, to put it in perspective. I may have lost my broccoli, but I’ve got a grocery store down the street and four farmers’ markets in walking distance.  I may have had a month without sun, but a tornado did not knock my town off the map, and a fire did not force me into a car with all my livestock, and my well did not go dry (all things that happened to friends here at Not Dabbling, and on My Folia).

I’m looking out my back door right now at grass so green it’s almost a religious experience. I’ll have a garden, and food, and a roof over my head and a loving, whole family. We’re just getting started every day.

***

I don’t know about Xan, but for me, Jennifer, gardening season brings out the frantic in myself. I feel like there’s always something to do and there’s never time to rest. It’s not until all of those little babies are in the ground that I’ve started that I can actually stop to take a breath – and that’s sometime toward the end of May. By that time I’m ready to start picking! I suppose that’s the problem of  growing our own and doing the best we can to be self-sufficient.

In the past I’primroseve felt like a failure because I’ve had crops that didn’t make it in one particular year, or three in a row thanks to late frosts or droughts. I’ve had to make difficult choices like cutting back my rosemary bush so hard that it looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, or whether to stay organic or add topsoil to my garden beds just for the quick fix. There are years that no matter how hard you try to make something work that the end result will be for naught. Then there are those seasons that turn out so perfectly and abundant that you can’t find enough people to share with, and yet to put a finger on anything you’ve done differently is impossible.

Gardening is what I do to escape the rest of my obligations and take time out for myself. I actually enjoy the hard work, mentally and physically. And regardless of the sunburns, the sweat, those failed crops, the gorgeous blooms that got eaten by the neighbors :insert critter here:, most gardeners with that same kind of passion will come back to it with open arms.

***

Ah, I have to admit I tend toward the frantic as well over here at Tanglewood. I spend all winter planning and plotting and when spring hits I am so overwhelmed that I run around like a madwoman, never quite getting anything done. I suppose in addition to being a frantic gardener, I am also a gardener is transition.

Over the last few years I have gone through a sort of gardener’s metamorphosis. I began interested in simply growing plants. I planted seeds, grew them, potted plants and sold them (or tried) at the local market. Now I find I have become a true gardener. I not only enjoy growing; I enjoy cultivating and tending, shoveling and weeding and hoeing. 


This month has shown me that I will never have “enough time” and I can learn to accept that. My list of things to do in the gardens will never shrink, and I will always be coming up with just one more thing to do before the sun goes down. Despite being a frantic gardener, I find my ever-growing list of tasks peaceful in some way. I revel in never finishing; finishing wouldn’t be gardening. It would be gardened.

***

What kind of gardener are you?

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Spring is truly in full swing, and I thought it would never arrive. The weather is consistently above freezing, the wild turkeys are doing their hilarious mating rituals in the woods, the thunderstorms have begun to roll in, the orchard is flooded, the horses are antsy… all the signs are there.

Wednesday night we had some intense storms and wind here in Michigan. My friends, who are expecting two foals, were waiting at the ready, making checks regularly on their broodmares as often livestock choose the funkiest weather to give birth in. Unfortunately they didn’t wake to find any little hoof beats; little did I know what would be awaiting me the following morning!

When I woke Thursday morning it was to the frantic baa-ing of our ewe who is not pregnant. She’s a very smart girl and knew something was wrong with her best friend. By the time I got to the barn I could see little toes and a nose, and within a few minutes there was a teensy tiny little lamb at my feet! I know I’m always doing livestock posts, but bear with me.

Oh my gosh! This has been a huge learning experience for me. The little lamb was strong right from the start. I couldn’t believe she was a female – and a spotted badgerface (creamy body color/black legs, head and belly) as well! She’s nursing well ever since she figured out the whole udder location thing – she was convinced mom’s face could feed her!

Now she’s running around the field wreaking havoc on the lives of the older ewes. She’s a little spitfire and her name is Brighid. :) I can’t tell you how happy I am that she’s a ewe – we had decided if we had a ram we would raise him to either sell or for meat, and after our other sheep lost her only lamb as a stillborn a few weeks ago, the thought of raising our only surviving lamb for meat was kind of depressing.

Anyway. I couldn’t help but share her with you, despite the fact that I already posted about her on my separate blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice.

She definitely has her father’s personality and her mother’s stubborn streak. Within hours of birth, she was demanding to play with both her mother and the other ewe. She would run up to them, mini-headbutt them in the face, and run away. Of course by running I mean she would scramble. Her legs are SO long and she definitely doesn’t have the hang of them yet!

Do you have any new additions to your home this spring?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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Poultry has become a big part of our life here at Unearthing this Life. When Hubby was young and in the Future Farmers of America and 4-H, he raised a large number of chickens. He even went so far as to grow much of the food for the fifty-ish birds he had.

fluffy butts

Fast forward about twenty years, and we decided to raise chickens again at my prodding. Like many others, I’d gotten tired of the seeming deception of the marketing of eggs. I also wanted the waste for my gardens since our soil is so poor. Also, we have a tremendous tick problem and so I knew having birds would be a boon to many of our “issues”. Hubby was hesitant. His memories of poultry weren’t necessarily positive. He was a ::cough:: rebellious teenager, and being tied down to such a huge responsibility wasn’t what he wanted. The birds stank, they were loud and obnoxious, he had his own opinions of the way things should be done and his parents didn’t listen much. Overall, they were a chore.

Last year I talked him into letting me start with eight chicks. He thought I’d hate them; having to feed and water them multiple times a day, cleaning out pens and coops, the obligation to a bird. I believed it would be an excellent way for our daughter to learn about where food comes from. What neither of us would understand until just recently, is just how much I would fall in love with chickens. Yep. I adore them.

chicken coop

We allowed our girls to free-range around our yard. It’s nice having eight acres, even if half of it is wooded. Our tick issues cleared up quickly, but so did my mulch. My gardens were a mess as well as our porches. The chickens ate all of my potted herbs and then had the gall to take dirt baths in the remainder. Unfortunately that wooded area on the side of the yard was an excellent hiding spot for wild dogs, and our girls started disappearing by twos. By the beginning of March, all eight of our chickens had been killed – even after we’d started keeping them in what we thought was a safe environment.

What?

chickens and whey

I actually cried for my chickens.

Now that spring is here, we’re starting a new family of birds. This year we have eleven chicks, including Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, “Araucanas” (Easter Eggers), Gold-Laced Wyandottes, and Buff Orpingtons. To keep the fluffy butts safe, we’ve hired, er, purchased some Guinea fowl as well. These loud ground birds startle easily and will help to warn the chickens of any oncoming danger. (Guinea fowl babies are called “keets”). Finally, I couldn’t resist a few broad breasted bronze turkey poults which we’ll harvest in 3 more months. We’re doing our best to stay as close to heritage breeds as possible. Any more poultry will come directly off the Slow Food USA, Ark of Taste list and be a heritage breed.

poult

birds

Thanks to my… impulsiveness… we’re working on a new design to house all these birds. First off, turkeys really shouldn’t stay with chickens because they can get an illness called “blackhead”. It’s not pretty, but it can be cured. It’s best to avoid it by keeping them separate though, especially if you’re trying to stay organic. Secondly, because we have so many birds, the coop we built for our eight last year won’t hold them all. Thirdly, guineas and turkeys prefer to roost in trees. Chickens will roost in trees as well, but they are better of protected by a coop or fencing since their natural defenses are weak and they can only sprint for short distances.

spoiled birds

Finally, next year we intend to begin raising our own production birds for meat. Our hopes were for this year, but we had to put it off one more year until we could deal with housing first. The design Hubby’s come up with is great, and I can’t wait to see it in action. It will allow the birds to pasture without being completely free-range and in danger. We’re still in process of building and painting as they’re portable permanent structures. When they’re complete I’ll be sure to share some photos. Our hopes are that the Orpingtons will be broody Mums for the chicks or eggs we get next spring so that we humans will not be emotionally attached to any of the production birds. Only the egg layers will have any kind of relationship with us.

So what does the future hold for us here? Well, a lot of eggs, poultry poop, and very few slugs, ticks and mosquitos. Perhaps even a few ducks and definitely more turkey. Hubby’s even begun to adore the birds and has promised to help take better care of this batch and the Kid wants to be Mommy to be responsible for the Wyandottes this year. It’s funny. I always thought I was a “cat person”. I never imagined I’d be a “poultry person”.

You can find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life blarging about living a modern life in rural Tennessee. There she homeschools, raises birds, keeps bees, gardens, and somehow manages to stay sane.

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The velveteen gardener

Gardening is a complex activity, and easy to out-source at many steps, from design, to installation, to seed starting, to care, to harvest.

Many food growers, myself included until just a few years ago, “outsource” their seed starting, buying nursery starts at various stages of growth (the bigger, the more expensive, but also the more reliable). There are plants, like peppers, onions, leeks, and tomatoes, that you simply can’t start in the ground in a place like Chicago with its late frost date and unreliable late spring freeze danger (well into May). We don’t have a long enough growing season, and small backyards like mine lose the sun to close-in buildings late in the season, shortening it further. Always in the past, I only started the easy plants that will grow anywhere direct from seed– peas and beans and turnips.

So what makes a “real” gardener? Garden walks and competitions often disqualify anyone who has had a professional plan and/or install a garden, except for hardscaping.  Can you be a “real” gardener if you let someone else start your seeds? What if you have someone else take care of it, even if you do the planning and management? Do “real ” gardeners know scientific names and whether a seed needs light to germinate? When I started journaling my garden on line at MyFolia I initially developed quite an inferiority complex because everyone else seemed to be a “real” gardener (my definition, not theirs!), despite the fact that I’d been gardening since most of them were in diapers.

In the last couple of years my day job has gotten smaller and my garden bigger, so that I now have enough time to go the extra mile and seed start indoors. I also can’t afford anymore to buy nursery starts. I guess I’m a “real” gardener now due to time and necessity.

At Folia, where this essay first appeared, the consensus was that a “real” gardener gets his or her hands dirty, so I guess I qualify. But I think like our old friend The Velveteen Rabbit, a gardener becomes real, not through her methods or involvement, but through the love she feels for her plants, and the feedback of friends; through the flowers in her vase, and the food she shares.

Visit my “real” garden at MyFolia.com. Check out some real garden tours (including mine) at MySkinnyGarden’s virtual garden tours.

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There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.

- Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder)

On Friday night Mr Chiots and I watched the PBS special A Sense of Wonder about Rachel Carson. It was the perfect Earth Day viewing, I really enjoyed it. I think that the repeated refrains of nature is one of the things I love most about living in an area with distinct seasons. I feel like I appreciate each season all the more because I know they’re temporary. Each season brings with it a different feeling, mood, view and taste. Now that spring is here, we’re enjoying fresh greens, asparagus, morels and all the lovely tastes of the season. We’re enjoying the feeling of spring, the crisp mornings and evenings, the warm afternoons, the dampness in the air, the fresh earthy smells that start to fill the air after a winter devoid of any smell. We’re enjoying the beauty of color in the garden again through the flowering bulbs and trees.



***

Although I’m not a believer, the Easter greeting of my childhood still rings for me on this day. It is how my mother and grandmother always greeted each other on Easter Day.

Christos Anesti” and, in response, “Alithos Anesti”  (Christ is risen, Indeed He is risen)

This little guy was waiting for me this morning

Xan

***

Sorry for the late post. I’ve been desperately scrambling to get stuff done outside before the terrible weather hits this week. Fortunately we were gifted two days of unforecasted sunny weather and I was able to get potatoes and asparagus planted, raised beds filled and raspberry beds prepped for the arrival of our 30 new raspberry bushes.

***

What are you enjoying this spring?

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Earth Day!

Well folks, it’s Earth Day, today.

Hopefully.

You see, I’m setting this up ahead of time to automatically post on Earth Day because we’re trying to use as little electricity as possible today. Ideally I’d like to be spending my Earth Day with my toes in the dirt and my head in the clouds…

Unfortunately if the forecast was correct, I am probably sitting in the house, whining about the rain and either reading a book aloud to Jeremy while he draws or banging my head against the wall.

I don’t really expect to make it all day without electricity, no. We have baby chicks that need their heat lamp for survival, and I probably shouldn’t leave my raw goat’s milk in a silenced refrigerator all day… but it’s a start to just unplug everything for a few hours and to avoid the computer for as much of the day as possible.

In addition to attempting to go without electricity, I’ll be running around between raindrops to plant our new cherry trees. We have two of them to plant: Bing and Black Tartarian. Hopefully the weather will break long enough that I can get them in the ground, and hopefully the temperatures will hold so I don’t have to wrap them up in old sheets to keep them happy at night!

Spring has finally sprung here at Tanglewood Farm. The pussy willows are covered in their dramatic yellow pollen. The squill are nodding in the breeze. The gooseberries are getting their itty bitty adorable leaves.

It’s exciting to see all of my perennials yawning back into life – especially the perennial fruits and veggies that I always forget about! The current and blueberry bushes seem to have doubled since last year and the raspberries are thick and strong. We still don’t have any asparagus emerging from their wintery beds, but there are onions and garlic just starting to peak above the soil – some where they planted, and others in mysterious new locations (thank you squirrels!)

One of my favorite things about spring is the emergence of new grass for the livestock. Our sheep got to go out on their grass pasture for the first time yesterday and in order to acclimate them to such lush greens I only allowed it for an hour or so. After luring the ewes back into the barnyard, Gertrude was SO upset that she could no longer get to the grass that she stomped around the whole yard, all four feet at once… *Plomp plomp plomp* she stomped on the ground like she was making a statement. When I laughed at her antics, she stopped, stared at me, and then proceeded to do a sheep cartwheel… I kid you not. She lept into the air, her hind legs over her head, and flipped sideways like a gymnast. I’ve never seen anything like it, nor do I expect I ever will again.

How are you celebrating the Earth today?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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I get asked this question a lot, but I find answering it would pigeon-hole me – almost brand me.

Organic Formal Sustainable Straw-Bale Orchid Greenhouse Conventional Succulent Mulch Forager Guerrilla Potager Traditional Medicinal Rock Cactus Citrus Hydroponic Grass Compost Farmer Shrubbery Mushroom Orchard Ornamental Herbaceous Native Community Container Roof-Top Indoor Drought-Tolerant Vineyard Landscape Allotment Moss Urban Terrarium Houseplant Master Bonsai Hobbyist Bulb Earthworm Lunar Aquatic Arborist Companion Berry Heirloom Seed-Starter Edibles 


Strawberry Hat
moss
echinacea
grape
columbine
peach blossom
pea tendril

I’m not one to be branded.

You can also find Jennifer blarging away at Unearthing this Life where she attempts to keep up with the realities of a big world in a small, rural town.

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