A Photo Journey of Adelaide’s Birth

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The morning was quiet and spring-like.  The birds sang brightly as the dawn arrived.  Isabelle was pressed against the wall of the lean-to and was quiet.  It was time.

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I made a strong tea of nettles, motherwort, red clover, and red raspberry leaves and poured it into her drinking water along with molasses.

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The chickens were maniacal in their calling as I waited and prayed for an easy delivery.  They were driving me mad as their cacophony seemed to rise with each contraction.

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"Why can't I come in?" Elsa wondered.

“Why can’t I come in?” Elsa wondered.

The lambs stayed quiet, face to the sun.

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The contractions increased.

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“A foot is sticking out!” Doug yelled and Maryjane and I came running.  One of my students happened to be there picking up herbs so she held Maryjane while Doug held Isabelle and I pulled lightly on the feet during a particularly difficult contraction.  We had called our friend, Jenet, who just went through a goat labor, to ask last minute advice and were as ready as we would ever be.  I thought she would throw the baby against the wall in her violent turn to release her but I caught her and lay her gently on the hay.

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Isabelle lovingly and dutifully cleaned off her infant.

Isabelle lovingly and dutifully cleaned off her infant.

We waited for another baby to arrive.  She was huge, we were just positive there were more infants to come but the placenta came an hour later and that ended our birthing session.

Just before the baby was born Doug had milked some colostrum from Isabelle and we had a bottle all ready.

Just before the baby was born Doug had milked some colostrum from Isabelle and we had a bottle all ready.

We are trading this beautiful little girl for Jenet's first female born in June.  I will have a Nubian and she will have a Saanen.

We are trading this beautiful little girl for Jenet’s first female born in June. I will have a Nubian and she will have a Saanen.

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Everyone welcomed Adelaide to the world, including our kitten!

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It is amazing how quickly they gain their footing.  Soon Adelaide was jumping on the couch with Maryjane, making her away around the house, and drinking bottles every few hours.  She stayed tucked under Doug’s arm throughout the night.  She is precious and it is bittersweet that she is going to her new home Monday.  I am thankful that mom and baby are well and a new miracle has joined this world.

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Welcome Adelaide!

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Ducks and Mushrooms (not a recipe!)

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The ducks are two weeks old.  They are growing quickly but are still adorable.  They look a bit awkward with their feathers starting to come in; like some strange skin disease is starting to take over.  I love how they don’t look straight up; they tilt their head and look up at me with one eye.  As if they are trying to figure something out or they are highly suspicious of me.

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They live in a swamp.  I tell you, people, no matter how many times I change their bedding it becomes a swamp in moments.  They can empty an entire waterer in no time at all from all their splashing and being rambunctious.  I wake to their constant chattering and their playful sounds as water splashes.  Then the next moment they will be curled up in one ball the size of a kitten sleeping peacefully beneath the red light.  It is endearing.

Soon they will be outdoors in their new coop.  The light will stay with them for four more weeks.  Our neighbors are adamant that they can go out now, that they are quite hardy.  I am more afraid of their cat coming by to have a snack.  I wonder how the ducks will react to the wild ducks in the pond.

For right now they are indoors, tucked away in their anti-cat fortress warm and happy.

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I took a class three weeks ago on growing mushrooms.  The endless supplies of boxed ones from the store were not yielding anything and I am clueless at identifying mushrooms in the wild.  This class would be my first step into the fascinating world of mycology.  I will do a more complete article on this soon.  What I learned in a nutshell was that the fabulous teacher heated straw in a pot to a certain temperature, added wheat that had been taken over by the mushroom spores, and we packed it into bread bags.  The instructions were to keep it around 65 degrees for three weeks.

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65 degrees?  I scoffed to myself.  My homestead hasn’t been that warm yet!  Inside the house it registered 55 degrees.  I moved it to the greenhouse.  55 degrees and a mouse took a bite out of the corner.  He apparently didn’t care for the flavor because he didn’t stick around.  Back inside aimlessly searching for anywhere warm, I looked over at the ducklings.  Next to the duck nursery we put the box holding the spores.  Tucked in next to the warm fowl and near the red lamp, it is perfect.  And the mycelium is spreading all over the straw.  This week it will move to the counter and will try to fruit.  I cannot wait to explain this magical world of mushrooms, much bigger than having slimy mushrooms on your pizza, mushrooms are needed for our very survival!

In the meantime, though, I am going to dream of oyster mushrooms growing indoors….and parmesan and pasta…but not with duck!

Firewood, Trucks, and Guitars

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Just a few homesteader necessities!  When Doug’s sister said that her beautiful crab apple tree had finally fallen over due to a storm we didn’t waste time getting down there to retrieve the wood!  Wood is necessary on a homestead with wood stoves. This year we would like to not use the propane (hello heart attack when you see the bill and it doesn’t even heat the room) and not freeze our booties off.

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Now in order to get the wood we needed a truck.  We gave our truck to Emily and thought we could go without one.  You should have seen us packing hay and straw bales in the back of the Chevy HHR we drive.  It has been a patient farm car but it is not meant for this type of lifestyle so with our tax refund we bought a truck.  Mind you it is in the shop again but when we get it back Friday it is going to be one heck of a ride.  I love it.  The HHR is being bought by someone who lives in the city and is excited to have a smart looking smaller car.

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I have fallen in love with my guitar.  I have played lots of instruments but never with this type of passion and sense of fun.  I am trying not to be so serious about it.  I ask my teacher (who I think might be my daughter’s age) a million questions and he says this week my homework is to learn to comfortably strum.  In 4/4 time?  I ask.  Just strum.

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My goal is to play the local town fairs next year and play at my own festivals this year.

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So, I am strumming away on this lovely homestead with my big truck and piles of wood and potatoes to be planted today and the grandbaby coming over.  ‘Tis a good life, my friends, a very good life.

The Day the Village Died

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A week ago we became suspicious.  They had been flying here and there and buzzing in the trees fine a few weeks ago.  I meant to get into the hive on the next nice day.  The last really nice day may have been Easter and I didn’t do it.  What made us wonder about the health of the hive was the fact that there were so many dead bodies on the front porch of the hive that a few were having trouble getting in and out.  The icy wind kept howling and the temperature wasn’t quite right at all this past week so I just moved the door minimizer and used a stick to move some of the bodies out of the way.  I suppose we were too late at that moment.

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The air was cool yesterday morning as I gathered dandelion flowers.  Doug came out and resolved that he would look in the hive.  It seemed too cold but we had a dark feeling about it all anyway.  He suited up and opened the roof of the hive and began to pull off each slat.  Each empty slat.

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Each slat had an empty honey comb on it.  The closer he got the front we noticed the heavy combs were black.  Not sure what that means.  The combs were empty all the way to the front of the hive even though we had left them nearly twice as much as is recommended to get through winter (17+ frames after we decided to not get any honey).  Apparently not enough.

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It was a sobering sight to see six inches of dead bees across the bottom of the hive, piling out onto the front step of their village.  The nanny bees died where they stood, stuck to the comb surrounding the last small section of brood.  Died in place as if a great disaster in this medieval kingdom brought their lives to a stop in a just second’s time.

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The hive was so prolific for most of the winter that they must have eaten more than a smaller village would.  I should have checked earlier to see if I should supplement sugar water.  Perhaps I could have saved them if I had checked on Easter.

There is no place for procrastination on a homestead.  I should know this by now.  Whether it is checking a bee hive, getting the produce harvested and preserved, getting a free load of wood to the house before someone else takes it.  Homesteading is all about timing.  One can so easily miss the window of opportunity.  In the busy months of homesteading one ought to be prepared to be up until one in the morning canning, or drop everything to drive to Denver in a broken down truck to get precious wood, or be up at dawn watering the gardens.  This life runs our schedule for the next three seasons and this loss only reminds me to pay attention and focus on each task as it calls.

Next time I will not use the top bar hive.  I will buy a traditional Langstroth hive.  There are so many more colorful, comprehensive books on the subject, and many more bee keepers to ask.  Most folks didn’t know how to answer my questions because the top bar method is just not that popular.

Well, if life is all about learning, and a homestead is its own classroom then I have learned valuable lessons this week.  But at the expense of a beautiful village.

Preserving Spring (freeze and pickle asparagus then make some dandelion jelly after eating the leaves!)

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One of the very first crops of spring is asparagus.  We enjoyed a few dishes of roasted asparagus and I preserved the rest for asparagus cravings in July…or December.  If one can find asparagus in the stores during those months I would highly question its origin, how old it is, and the flavor of really fresh asparagus isn’t going to be there, so what’s the point?  By preserving what is in season one can enjoy the flavors any time of year.  Here are a few ways to do so after you have enjoyed your fill of fresh.  Just snap the bottom woody part of each spear off by bending it until it cleanly breaks.

Freeze it!

Cut up asparagus into the sizes you desire.  I like one inch slices to put into frittatas or stir fries.  Have a pot of boiling water ready and one of ice water.  Throw the pieces into the boiling water, let it come up to boil again and a minute later remove the asparagus and place it in the cold water to stop the cooking.  Now, line it all onto a cookie sheet and place in freezer.  In thirty minutes transfer to a freezer bag.  This prevents the asparagus from sticking together in one swell lump.  Not ideal for retrieving a scant half a cup for cooking!

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I also freeze whole spears.  Since these I will roast I do not want to blanch them.  I will eat them before they lose their flavor.  So, I freeze them on cookie sheets for thirty minutes then transfer into a freezer bag.

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Pickle it!

Place right sized spears in quart sized clean, warm canning jars.  In each jar add 2 cloves of garlic, 1 Tablespoon of dill (dried as fresh isn’t ready yet), 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed, and a 1/4 teaspoon of ground mustard.  These additions can be altered, removed, or things added to fit your taste.  They do not change the time processed!

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Now fill the jars half way with red wine vinegar (to learn how to make red wine vinegar click here) or apple cider vinegar and the rest of the way with water.  Leave a half inch head space on top.  Clean the rim and apply the lid.  Place in a large pot of boiling water so that the water covers the lid.  Boil for 20 minutes adding 1 minute per 1000 feet above sea level that one’s homestead is at.  I round up to seven.  So, I will boil the jars for 27 minutes.

Remove jars and let sit on counter overnight.  The jar should have sealed.  Label and place in pantry until July.

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The other crop to preserve right now is dandelions.  The leaves can and should be eaten in salads, smoothies, soups, and with roasted veggies.  The flowers will become dandelion jelly today.  Click here to find out how!

Hurray for spring vegetables!

The Gushing Grammie and Mini-Farmgirl

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We have the great honor of babysitting our granddaughter, Maryjane, five days a week during the day.  Many of you know our sweet Maryjane in person and many of you know her through my writings.  Some of you were there when she was born, peeking through the computer screen at our newborn.  She has stellar parents who work hard and go to school so we lucked out to be able to watch her.  It is one of the joys of homesteading and making our own schedule.  We live with less, but we have time.

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This little girl has the most adventurous spirit.  She brings out the fun in us too.  I have found myself pretending to feed my “horse” while we are driving and picking our imaginary horse carrots from the front seat.  She wants to play music.  Any platform at all from umbrella stands at restaurants to real stages will find her atop them singing.  She dances suddenly and smiles unabashedly.  Then throws a mighty temper when she doesn’t get her way.

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She loves animals and is a compassionate little girl, brushing the hair from your face and kissing you if you are sad.  She notices everything in her little world.  She is a great gift to this life and I am so very thankful for her.  She makes this farm all the better.

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The moment she entered the world I had the oddest sensation that I knew her.  Like we had been sisters or friends running through woods together in a past life.  I knew her soul instantly.  Perhaps I just knew her because she came from my daughter.  I do not know.  All I know is that this is the greatest job that Doug and I have had yet.  And when the others have children we are getting a van that reads “Grammie and Papa’s Sittin’ Service” and will drive around town to pick them all up and bring them back to the farm!

What to Plant Now (4 weeks before last frost. Hallelujah!)

It’s approximately four weeks before the last frost date.  As I sit here rather cold this morning again, I am sure post-frost date is going to feel pretty darn good.

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I used to plant everything May 12th.  Which of course endured one last frost.  I planted all the seeds for cold crops and summer crops.  No succession planting, no spring, summer, and fall plantings, just all in one shot.  Now I know a little better.  Still learning, I assure you, but I know in order to get those cold crops to finish growing they need to be planted strategically.  And anything under the ground loves a little time in the spring to get started.

Here is a modest list of what you can plant now.  Remember, only cold crop seeds and underground crops can be planted now.

4 weeks before: radishes, parsnips, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Alaskan or English peas, snap peas, snow peas, and asparagus.

This year I started the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in a greenhouse to see if they grew any faster this year (we have a rather short growing season) so they cannot go outside until after the frost date now.

2 weeks before: herb plants, flower seeds, herb seeds, strawberries, lettuce mixes, and more of the above seeds to stretch your season!

May 15thish plant the rest!  In July plant everything above again for yummy fall treats.  You’ll miss radishes by then!