I do not “Heart” Composting

I remember, quite clearly, a day in my 20s. I was driving, windows down, my 20-year-old thick long hair whipping around my head, sitting next to Karen, my best friend in the world as we headed down the 101 – from Hollywood to Malibu on another getaway weekend. We had the radio cranked up to the Golden Oldies, feeling that we would never be anything but the glorious, sparkly, glowing creatures we were at that exact moment.

We swore out loud that we would never, ever settle. I remember saying,”I don’t care what happens, I will always live in the city. I’d rather have a one-room flat in the city, then a mansion in the suburbs.”

Then I married Brad. I’m not going to say that our views were diametrically opposite. I wasn’t Hillary, he wasn’t Donald. But – while I was happily driving on the freeways of life, Brad was looking to take that country road home.

Brad wanted to buy a house. As in, you own it yourself. And all I could say was “Not even on a good day. If you buy a house, and the toilet breaks, you have to fix it yourself!”

You see, to me that is the worst of all possibilities. Your stove breaks? No problem. The baseboards in the bathroom are rotting? No problem. So many ants in the kitchen that they start walking away with the cutlery? Again, no problem. All of which, by the way, have happened in rentals in which I’ve dwelled. But having your toilet break down? That’s a big no, good buddy. And without the ability to march into the manager’s office and demand an immediate fix? Big problem. Not happening.

overflowing+toilet

Would never happen in a rental!

 

It happened. We bought a house – but it was in the city-proper. And, amazingly enough, the toilet remained intact for the 10 or so years we lived there. But with home ownership came a set of rules. Because, after all, it was ours. And we had to maintain it. No more “I think I’ll move because the windows are dirty and I don’t wash windows.” No more “oh, well, the bird ate the curtains, I guess I won’t get my security deposit back.” I was now tasked with crossing over into adulthood. A step that I was ill prepared to take. But one that Brad relished with gusto. And an enthusiasm I just couldn’t muster.

One day Brad walked in and ceremoniously placed an empty Maxwell House coffee container on the kitchen counter. “What’s that?” I asked. Suspicious, as always. “This is for the compost.” Uh-huh. Well, I knew what compost was, just didn’t really think it applied to me. I have a green thumb when it comes to houseplants, but I have my Miracle-gro. Works great, thanks anyway. I didn’t really care for a coffee can sitting on my fine, imitation wood Formica countertop.

But I gave it the old “one for the gipper.” Unfortunately, Brad’s idea of composting and mine were, in this case, diametrically opposite.

I watched the Food Network. I appreciated that chefs kept a nice big bowl next to them wh

rotten vegs

Compost. Need I say more?

ere their unused food scraps went. So that was okay. As long as it went away. Immediately. Brad’s idea was to ignore the coffee can as it stood on the counter, days on end, until it became a quivering mass of indecipherable glob that, once you opened the lid, induced the immediate gag reflex.

 

Truth be told, I didn’t compost. I said I did, but I didn’t. Brad would say “where’s the compost” and I would cheerfully reply “we don’t waste anymore. I use EVERYTHING for soup!” When in fact, as soon as he left the house, I shoved everything down the garbage disposal.

Since that time we’ve moved on. We created “Foggy Mountain Farm” – aka the Reluctant Farm – and composting has taken a new meaning, because we have a septic system and because of this, there is no handy garbage disposal. So EVERYTHING that isn’t edible becomes compost. And that compost is now a combination of what will decay and provide us with essential nutrients for our garden, and stuff that our totally free-ranged, pasture-raised chickens will inevitably peck through and consume with great relish.

Because I am who I am, a writer/journalist, I research. So I know things. And what I know is that chickens, unlike what Brad wants to believe, will not just “peck through what they want and leave the rest.” I know that avocados, are bad for chickens. I know that garlic, and onions, and Brussel sprouts can make their eggs taste odd. I know you can’t put egg shells in the compost without either cleaning each one out carefully, or popping them in the oven to dry. Because that, my friends, will cause chickens to cannibalize their eggs. Once they taste yolk it’s all over.

Chickens-Eating-Eggs

Bad chicken! Bad!

Brad is many things. A former engineer-chiropractor-now farm boy, but never, ever a researcher. Or one who checks things first. Unfortunately that means  he also doesn’t believe me when I tell him – “DON”T put that in the compost. It will make the chickens eggs taste funny then nobody will buy the eggs from us, and we’ll both have to go and get jobs working for someone else. And we both know we are too odd for that. Nobody else can tolerate us for any length of time.” It’s true. We have about a 2 hour use-by time stamp. And people start staring longingly at the door, planning their escape dialog.

Basically, Brad ignores me. He just dumps everything into the compost bowl under the sink, saying “For God sakes, Susan, the chickens will be FINE.” So, like a sleeper agent who’s been activated,  I have to dig through the compost when he’s not looking, to pull out the onion skins, the raw broccoli stems, the tops of the chives, and pick through the rotted salad for specks of cauliflower. Then hide it all under paper towels in the trash so he can’t say I’m being “ridiculous.”

So when I say I don’t love composting, it’s kind of an understatement. I hate it. I hate the smell. I hate the slimy feel. I hate having it sit there, overflowing, growing moss and mold underneath, until I finally have to grab it and put it on the side steps so Brad will either A. step right into it in his socks or B. finally decide it’s time to pick it up, put it in the back of his tractor, and drive it away from my kitchen.

I was the girl who wore cute shoes. Who danced with handsome men at midnight. Who’s greatest skill, aside from writing, was knowing how to find the best restaurants, and innately knew how to order the best thing on the menu. I was That Girl. And now I’m Compost Girl. Picking through trash and sniffing bits of tomato to be sure there’s no speck of avocado clinging to the skins.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goat Tales…

I’m not afraid of a lot of things. Speaking in public. Stinging things. Something stuck in my clothing. The Angel of Death. Liver. That’s about it. In the past, however, I had an abject fear of goats. Not a good look for a farmgirl, reluctant or not.

It started in second grade. My parents took me to some sort of amusement park that had a petting zoo.I was dressed the way my mother always dressed me – in shiny, squeaky patent leather shoes, anklets with lace on top, the obligatory plaid cotton dress with puffed sleeves and a little white apron thing that buttoned onto the dress. I tried to Google the whole look so I could share it in vivid, Kodak color, but it is so atrocious that Google doesn’t even archive it. And Google archives everything. Including how Venice Beach celebrated the Mardi Gras in the 1930s…mardi-gras-1

Scary. But not as scary as goats to a second grader.

Armed with goat chow, I was unceremoniously shoved into the petting zoo pen, to “play with” the goats. At that time there weren’t many other children in the pen and I seemed to be the one with the biggest cup of chow, because soon my 7 year old self was engulfed in goat faces and hungry goat mouths that probably hadn’t eaten for a few days so that the zoo keeper could entertain the masses and laugh behind children’s backs.

They not only devoured the chow in 10 seconds, chow that I was so diligently trying to hold over my head, they also started to eat the apron right off my body.

Flash forward to college. I was 20 years old and invited by my roommate for a weekend away from the dorm food and the rigors of university life. Lisa’s family lived in a private community and had acreage. Her father didn’t cotton to the job of mowing all that lawn, so he purchased … you got it … nature’s best lawnmower – a goat. Lisa invited me into the pen, and I joined her with trepidation. But, hey, I was a college girl, I would do anything at least once. Kinda. Unless it involved speaking in public, stinging things, stuff crawling around in my clothes, or liver.

As soon as I stepped through the gate and walked to the middle of what seemed to be a 10 acre yard, the goat took chase, jumping on his hind legs, head askew, eyes looking wild and feverous, in an attempt to butt us with his horns. I practically vomited on the spot.

So when my husband said that it’s time to add goats to the reluctant farm, I felt my knees buckle. This was, perhaps, my Waterloo. End of the road. Karma bitting me on my Kardashian. I felt kinda like I did as a Catholic schoolgirl when it was suggested that purgatory may not exist. I was banking on the fact that, while I didn’t think I’d maim or murder someone in my lifetime, I was also sure that I had already passed the “lily white” stage at age 8 and my only hope is that I could set awhile in purgatory. Where all the souls on earth would pray for me to eventually “fly up” to a more desired locale.

But I pulled up my big girl yoga pants and went with Brad to a goat farm. Where we bought a doe and a buck (please don’t call them “nanny” or “billy.” That is so not PC anymore. And yes, I was schooled by goat people). And because goats are social creatures and do not like to be alone, we bought 2 wether companions – one for the buck and one for the doe. A wether is basically a male without his, well, parts intact. One of the “companions” had just recently been “wethered” and he hadn’t quite “weathered” it well. Goat people do this sensitive job by basically wrapping what looks like a very tight rubber band around a male goat’s papayas. But until they fall off (which they eventually will, Brad promised) they have enough of their manliness left to still feel a bit of the mojo.

I was horrified when the two males started doing a savage dance straight out of National Geographic. Rising up and leaping into the air, connecting horn stubs as they jabbed each other on the head, and coming out all bloody and wild eyed. I was sickened. “And this is why we shouldn’t have goats” I yelled at Brad as I stared at the spectacle in horror. It was violent. And it was vile. I would have run away but I was frozen to the spot.

Eventually, as these things go when you are reluctant as I tend to be, I cam to realize that goats have their purpose. They are great at trimming the pasture grass. They have the best personalities – when they aren’t trying to kill each other. And, yeah, I kinda like them. A whole lot.

Now I like them even more. Now that we added two more. Two more that became part of the family 6 days ago. The result of when our doe and buck made hay 150 days ago.

IMAG1414

And now I have 2 kids. A boy and a girl. Two little stuffed toys I can pick up, hold in my lap, kiss on the little nose and totally love them up. I want more. I want a whole passel full of goats!

goats_cant_have_just_one_tshirt

 

 

I want to buy little pajamas for them, dress them up for the holidays, take them with me on my morning walk. I want them in the house. I want to live my life, forever, with goats.

 

goatwalk

I want us to breed more and more goats. To have these little lovies roaming around my pasture so I can run down and see their little faces and hear their little goat voices calling to me. And because we can’t very well breed our baby doe to her brother (Ick) or to her father (double ick) because we don’t want crazy eyed babies, I’ve begged Brad to bring me back to the goat farm, so we can get some more “breeding stock.” Because, people, I LOVE GOATS…

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Bugger Off!

I have  issues – insects are but one in long list. I’m intelligent, so I know that they have their place in this world (although with cockroaches, not so much), but I always wish and hope that coexisting doesn’t involve inviting the outside in. Nature Girl, I’m not.

My bug issues go way back  – to when, in second grade, a bee was flying about and I covered my face with my hands so that I wouldn’t get stung, and the bee was actually IN my hand.

Or when a friend told me that a praying mantis would show its “butterfly wings” if you nudged it with your foot. I did, but ended up with a praying mantis attached to my big toe like the jaws of life.

praying mantis

When I lived in the bush, in Fiji for 14 years, I struggled with coconut beetles …

ccnut beetles

Big hairy spiders…
Wolf-spider

Bugs that blinked and glowed in the dark, and clung to the mosquito netting around your bed…
beetle

Walking sticks that were the size of your head
strange-bug

And anything flying or crawling that would appear only in a nightmare. So it was with glee that I noted I survived almost 2 years in Washington state without nary a mosquito bite and no bugs that entered my house. Yes, there is an elk heard, big coyotes that look like wolves, and a resident porcupine, but nothing that I can’t handle. Until now.

My house has 3 Amityville Horror windows in it.

Amityville House

amityville

My house

2016-01-04 08.49.38

Not exact, but close. The top window is our bedroom. In that window, high up, I happened to notice a few spots. I went downstairs to get my glasses – because without them I can see about 6 feet and even that is sketchy. Found out I had some lady bugs (about 3) walking about my window. In my classification of bugs, lady bugs are almost welcome. I do not like bugs, but if I had to choose a bug that invaded my space, a lady bug would definitely be on the top of the list.

So I carried the three to my bedroom patio and wished them well.

A week later and I counted 10 ladybugs. But they were at the top of the window, much too high for me to reach. I didn’t worry, but told Brad to check it out. Not too high for him, but he seemed pretty nonplussed about the whole matter. I remained curious, but unconcerned as I cleared my mind and attempted not to make the Amityville/Susanville connection. But, try as I could to have temporary amnesia, I couldn’t help but remembering when we first moved in. The second upstrairs bedroom (with the OTHER Amityville window) kept collecting flies.  All dead. I’d sweep them up, and two days later, another batch would be laying there.

My sister gave me sage, told me to burn it in the room to get rid of whatever spirits tended to hover. I did, muttered a few “begone with thee” words, felt extra ridiculous,  and that seemed to be the end of the matter. Well, that and, of course, I keep that bedroom door close and never go in. That works best of all.

Now the ladybugs seemed to be moving about more noticeably, and one started its way down the cord to the blinds. On the high window – OK. Moving down to my actually living area – not cool.

Brad said “don’t worry, I’ll vacuum them up in the morning” so I let it go.

And it went … the “morning” turned into a week. At the end of which, I found one in the tub and – Holy Mother of God – on my pillow. So I said what I always say to Brad, the code that tells him he can’t wait for tomorrow because it’s that one last nerve that sends me from zero to lunatic in 60 seconds … “this is NOT working for me.”

He vacuumed. The 10 or so I thought I counted, were more like 40. Ten were visible. The rest were crawling around the high sills. But Brad got them all and proclaimed the room “Clean.”

This was Friday. It is now Monday. I just walked up to the bedroom and … like the Poltergeists – THEY’RE BAACK. I could see 20 – not just on the windows, but crawling on the walls, across the floor, on the window seat and pillows, and I found them crawling INSIDE my bathrobe.

I’m afraid. This is our farm. Our new “forever home” and it’s being invaded. By seemingly innocuous creatures – or so you’d think. Most people thing ladybugs are … cute …
baby_ladybug

But, en masse, they become sinister invaders, almost alien-like in their stealthy movements, occasional flappy wings, clustering like a virus in an undulating mass waiting to erupt …

ladybugs

It’s like a Stephen King novel. Like a 50s horror movie. Like a page out of Edgar Allan Poe.

But I can do this. Wild Reluctant Farm Woman in the Wilderness can handle anything. I’ve braved fish getting stuck in my swimsuit, barracudas leaping out of the water to nab a piece of cracker out of my hand, cyclones that ripped palm trees out of the ground and flung them miles away. I can handle anything.

Except – if birds start slamming into the windows, beds start rising off the ground, or Brad speaks in a scary monster voice, I’m packing my bags and moving to the city. But … I might have to take a chicken or two with me …

 

 

Give the Man a Tractor!

As I’ve said previously, my vision of our home on 16 acres that we purchased last year did not necessarily coincide with what my husband had in mind. I thought, Ok, maybe a 20×20 foot garden would be nice He had different ideas. So, I went with the flow.

And the flow kept flowing. Downhill. Into a big stinking pile.

After a couple of months creating an area that was less garden and more sprawling plantation, Brad says to me “I need a tractor.”

“You need a tractor for some tomatoes and green peppers? Why?”

“Because it will make things so much easier on me and my back.”

I know Brad works hard out there and when he plays the “back” card, I generally acquiesce. I know his back is not always in the best of shape, and if I make too much of a fuss, and it goes totally out, I’d never live with myself. So I made peace with myself that I’ll live with a guy who rides a tractor. And gleefully Brad set forth finding a tractor that would work for him, with a price that would allow us to actually keep the home and property for which the tractor was needed.

Luckily (maybe?) he had a buddy who had the perfect tractor. A buddy like Brad who “needed a tractor” because he was going to move to the South Pacific and wanted to use it on his property. He never moved, and so the tractor stayed in a shipping container, at his California home, for 5 years. Brad got a killer deal, and a payment plan.

All we had to do was pick it up. And for that, we’d need to buy a truck in which to haul it. Because renting a  U-Haul for the job would cost almost a much as the tractor itself. And so it started…

Bait and Switch.

Because we didn’t have the funds for both purchases, we opted for the barter system. We had property we didn’t want in Utah. A Utah man wanted it, and had a truck. The perfect truck.

We did the switch, Brad flew to Salt Lake City, met with a mechanic who gave the truck his gold seal, and the “good Christian man” who traded pink slip for property deed.

20 minutes out of Utah, into bum-flock Idaho, the truck broke down. It had to be hauled to the nearest town (a loose translation) where the mechanic deemed it dead as a doornail. Dead as carrion. Dead as our checking account because it needed a whole new engine.

“But now, really Susan, we have a whole new truck. So it’s not entirely a bad thing.”

Bait and Switch.

Hauling the tractor back from California to Western Washington, Brad basked in the praise he got in every corner outpost we stopped. Someone along the way would inevitably stop and say “wow, that’s a mighty nice tractor you got there. I remember riding one of those in oh 4.” Around the tractor trailer they’d circle, talking the merits of Kabota over John Deere … “you know, Kabota makes their own engines and parts, John Deere doesn’t.” As I’m furiously snapping photos on my phone and sending SOS emails to my friends on Facebook. Get me out of this hell I’ve landed.

I have to admit, as tractors go, this one was pretty. It’s a damn good looking man on a damn good looking tractor…

DSC_0426

So, when we get the tractor unloaded at the house, and Brad’s ready to suit up for his inaugural ride, I ask him, “hey Farm Boy! You gonna plow some fields?” And he says to me “I don’t have a plow.”

Hello?

“What do you mean you don’t have a plow? We’re going to be paying monthly on this beast until the end of times, and it doesn’t plow the fields? What does it do?”

“Well, we got a lawnmower attachment, and a shredder chipper that we didn’t even pay for – it was included in the price.”

Which is a big yippee except that we already had a riding lawnmower that came with the house, AND we had a shredded/chipper that Brad bought from my Dad.

“But these are bigger more powerful. I will be able to cut to cut the lawn so much faster.”

Because, of course, he has those all important corporate meetings to attend. With Neighbor Bob, Neighbor Les, and Neighbor Matt. So they can sit around, drink beer, and talk about tractors.

Bait and Switch

Last week Brad said that we “needed to” rent a rototiller. “But we have a rototiller” I said. “Yes, but it’s not big enough and strong enough for this soil.”

“But what about the tractor?”

“It didn’t come with a rototiller.”

Bait and Switch.

What exactly did we “need” the tractor for? “To move dirt.”

Ahhh. Moving shit. I get it. If you have a pile of shit in one place, are bored and need to move the pile of shit around to another place, you can sit on a tractor and be one of the guys. Makes perfect sense.

So far the tractor has moved chicken shit to the compost pile. It’s moved pig shit to the compost pile. And it’s moved goat shit to the compost pile. AND it’s moved the compost pile to several different locations. It doesn’t plow, it doesn’t dig post holes, it doesn’t till or scrape or do anything but allow movement of shit from one location to the other.

Because of this shit movement, I see my husband only when the sun is down. Because shit moving must be either A. fascinating or B. terribly important and time consuming. Coupled with the grass mowing and the leaf shredding, it’s a full time job. My husband went from gentleman farmer to shit mover.

And the other day he came home from the farm store with black suspenders.

I’m getting scared.

The Trouble with Piglets

My refrigerator is full of eggs. Lovely, organic eggs. But really, that’s all we can fit. I have about 18 eggs coming every day. I’ve thought of making quiches and freezing them, but why? I mean, why bother freezing them when I can make several fresh ones daily and not even make a dent. So we’ve just hung a sign outside our drive to hawk our “farm fresh eggs.” Which I guess means I can’t wear my fuzzy lounge pants all day anymore, and I”ll actually have to start brushing my hair in the morning. Otherwise, my husband is afraid I’ll scare potential customers away.

To go with all those lovely eggs, Brad has suggested we get some pigs. Bacon or sausage to go with scrambled or over easy.

So we went to a pig farm, and brought home two piglets. With a stern reprimand from Brad, that these are “meat, not pets.”

He says this because my 20 chickens are egg producing pets. They shall never find their way into my pot. So I am not to develop any kind of relationship with our “meat pigs.” “Do not engage in any kind of pet-based activity Susan. Because these will NEVER be pets.”

“I’m not stupid. I understand. I’m not going to get attached to pigs, for God sakes.”

 But, you know, I HAVE to feed them. Yes, they get grains. But I have to also bring them by snacks. Stuff that is left over. After all, we are sustainable. We don’t waste anything. It’s all about recycling, reducing, reusing. So, with that in mind, I brought down some tomatoes that were on the edge of rotting. I didn’t look the piglets in the eyes. I simply plopped a metal bowl in the pen, brushed off my hands, and said ‘there. Go eat.” And walked smartly away.

This went on for a week. Then I noticed something. The damn things were actually looking forward to my daily visits. They would no longer eat scraps that Brad tossed into their pen. They only wanted food fed to them by me, in their silver bowl.

And, I realized, they were no longer running away from me when I went into the pen. They were walking with me. And I committed a capital offense. I looked them in the eye.

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OMG are they the cutest things ever? They run around like little dogs, so excited to see me. The run in circles, clicking up their little hooves in joy. And they wait for me to put down their almost rotten tomatoes, so gleeful that I’m giving them treats.

So today I made them oatmeal, soaked in a little goat milk, with some chopped apples and a bit of flax seed for omega 3s. I mean, yes, their lives with us is only a short 6 months, but shouldn’t they experience daily joy for those 6 months? Really?

And, then, I pet them. They let me pet them. Between their little twitching ears, as their little piglet curly tails wagged back and forth.

I’m totally, unequivocally screwed. And I don’t know how I”m going to tell Brad

Name that Farm!

It’s about that time. Test garden is in full swing, I have 90 eggs in my fridge and that doesn’t count the 15 or so that I will be getting in today’s coop. We just got ourselves two piglets, are in the market for a couple of goats, and later next spring, a cow or two.

So, I’d say the farm is damn near a real “farm.”

It had come to Brad’s attention that we now have to trot our little selves down to the government offices and make ourselves official. But the question is, what do we call ourselves.

Plans for next year include building cabins/bungalows (only 3 to keep it manageable) and opening it up as a B&B Farm Stay. Keeping that in mind, I thought we should keep Reluctant Farm.It’s cute, it’s quirky it speaks to who we are.

Brad says no. Says Reluctant means we’re not totally in it all the way. “Who wants to visit a farm where the people really aren’t into it?” he said.

Well, I would. I would find a kindred spirit. We’d drink wine and laugh about the pig crap and goat crap and chicken crap and drink more wine and ignore it.

But – that’s me. He’s more staid. And thinks that “Sustainable Earth Farm” reflects more of our values. But truly, I have no values. You bring me chocolate, tell me you like me,  you’ll be my new best friend. And if you brought me a really good bottle of Pinot Noir, or even a cheap cab, we’ll be friends for life.

In an effort to be fair, I said I’d open it up to the public. So – public – please cast your votes. there are two choices, but to be honest, we would love suggestions. And in the “write in” section, please do NOT put Donald Trump…

Keep in Mind – Chickens, Eggs, Goats, Pigs, Cows, Bed and Breakfast, One Reluctant Farmgirl and a Gung Ho Farmer …

Reluctant Farm
Sustainable Earth Farm
Anything Else but the above two
Your suggestion please

AND – as a special prize, we’ll send you something if you come up with a winning name that we like better than ours. I don’t know what it will be, maybe a jar of jam or salsa (it’s totally good) but I feel compelled to give away something if someone is truly creative. Because I’m not. Creative. In any way, shape or form.

Much Ado About Poo

Everyone is excited about fair season here in Washington. Seems every other week there’s a county fair, state fair, city fair. But the best event of all is … wait for it … the upcoming Fall Fecal Fest. No shit. No, I am not shitting you. It’s a festival of poo.

It’s obviously a big deal because you can’t just go and purchase the doodoo, you have to put your name into a lottery. THEN you have the chance to purchase an alarming amount of zoo doo – ranging from hippo, giraffe, zebra or if you want mass quantities, elephant feces. If you want a big old pail – 4 gallons – you can only get it during the holidays, and it’s aptly named “Holidoo.” I’m rushing to the site right now to put my name on the waiting list.

New this year is worm doo. It’s more pricey than Holidoo – which goes for $20 for the 4 gallons. Worm doo is $10 a pint. You must be able to pan for gold in worm poop. All that excitement over excrement makes this former city girl’s head spin.

I am learning but I still cringe when Brad wants to take our truck and trailer over to the cow farm to get ripe manure. I think, dear God, the neighbors will shoot us if we cover our 16 acres in a steaming mass of … well, you get the picture. But no. They cheer him on. I keep trying to tell them “do NOT encourage him” but they think it’s a grand old idea and even encourage him to go to the sheep farm down the street, because sheep really make superior fertilizer.

I’m all over having a productive garden. I haven’t had to buy vegetables in a month. And I think that’s grand. I think Brad should make use of all the poo our chickens produce. And chickens do poo. Lots of it. But it’s all mixed in with straw and doesn’t smell. I’ve driven past the sheep farm. Sheep poo smells to high heaven. I just can’t get past that gag factor.

But poo has become a major topic of discussion around these parts. I am truly trying to assimilate, but there are some things I just can’t make myself do. I can’t call our creek a crick, and I can’t carry on long conversations about things that should remain unmentionable.

When we first “set aspell” with our neighbors after we moved here (it’s a year  since we moved to Washington country and started Reluctant Farm) our neighbor said “oh, I’ll have to make you some worm tea.
wormteaNo. Really, thanks but no. I mean, it’s nice of you, but please no. I really, really love tea. I mean tea is, well, my cup of tea.

my-cup-of-tea

Please please please don’t ruin it for me…

A week later we were gifted with a worm bin, from which to extract worm tea. I haven’t participated in the extraction process, as I truly feel my strengths lie elsewhere. Anywhere else. But Brad adores his worm bin, faithfully feeds it coffee grounds every day, and uses the worm tea for the garden.

So my visions of sitting on my veranda, sipping my elegant Lady Grey tea, looking out at the sunrise and rolling green hills on our property has taken a back seat to the harsh reality of sitting on the porch, breathing through my mouth because my whole front yard will smell like sheep shit.

Because Christmas comes but once a year, I have a scathingly brilliant idea for Brad’s gift this year. Because I love my husband like crazy. And yes, it’s bigger than a bread box …

holidoo

 

I’m SUCH a Nerd!

Wandering around the coop, my husband said to me … “it’s about time these damn chickens start laying some eggs and earn their keep. Otherwise, they are going to find their way onto the barbecue grill!”

I thought this was quite insensitive. I mean, what was HE doing at 4 months old? Blowing spit bubbles and pooping himself. “Well you know they are probably nervous and stressed. They see you stomping around threatening to turn them into tomorrow’s special, and it makes them anxious. And besides, my chickens are my entertainment. I pick them up and pet them and watch as they clap their little wings when I feed them pasta salad.”

It’s true. When he told me that all 20 chickens would probably not produce eggs all the time, and some would have to become stew or chicken stock, I understood. “This is a farm – it’s not a chicken retirement home.” I know the circle of life. I like Elton John and all, but he MUST also understand that there were one or two chickens that would live with us until their last feather dropped. And those were the two chickens who would automatically lay down by my feet waiting to be pet, picked up and loved. Who would climb on my back when I bent over.

Brad agreed – and went to get the tags so we could sort out which ones would live out their entire lives with us here at Reluctant Farm.

But a funny thing happened between that discussion and the day when we went to get the leg tags. I walked into the chicken run, and the chickens dropped at my feet. Not just my two little black and white barred rocks, but some whites, some Rhode Island Reds, and two more barred rocks. It was like they were all overcome with the vapors. And that’s when I realized … Chickens KNOW. They are spiritually, emotionally and soulfully connected to Mother Earth. Chickens know things we will never be able to grasp. And that’s when I said realized – we WILL become the first ever chook retirement home.

After this assurance to my girls, a few weeks later we did our normal routine of checking in the nest boxes. Starting at one end, counting – nope, nope, nope, nope … then all of a sudden – the skies opened and a golden egg appeared – not from a goose, but from my favorite barred rock chicken!

I swear, you would have thought Ed McMahon himself rose from the grave and knocked on my front porch with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes check for $1 million dollars. In fact, if he was on my doorstep I would have run him over looking for my camera to take a picture of our very first egg.

I think I took more pictures of that first egg than I took when my first baby was born. I had to get it from different angles …

Cupped in my hand to make it look bigger …

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In my Indian woven basket as an art piece …

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Nestled in a kitchen towel for effect …

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We were so excited we immediately scrambled it up for breakfast and shared one tiny egg between us.

When we’d run down every day to the coop to see if we have any other little gems waiting for us, there would be anywhere from 3-5 eggs daily. It’s the miracle of life!

The chickens were obviously not as moved about the whole experience as I am. Most of the time they seem a bit irritated that I keep raising the lids on the next boxes. They look at me and I’m sure they’re thinking … “hey, do you mind? I’m doing my business here? Can’t a hen get herself some privacy?”

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I kinda felt like I had caught someone in a compromising position in an outhouse. I’d say “oh, sorry” and back away.

So I skipped to my lou yesterday, with my egg basket, only to find SEVEN eggs. Seven. It was a new record! But now I have this …

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Yep, 20 eggs. And this is AFTER I gave a dozen to the neighbor. And BEFORE I go down to the coop this morning.

Now every morning Brad asks me “do you want me to make some eggs for breakfast?” And after omelets, scrambled eggs and three quiches, I’m a big egged-out.

I’m thinking of making a couple of angel food cakes. Maybe some soufflés. Lemon curd? Or maybe I’ll just leave a dozen on various doorstep and run away. Like a farm girl version of Kris Kringle.

With the eggs, the copious amount of swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers that are sitting on my kitchen counter, awaiting culinary creativity I just can’t seem to muster, I think I will, perhaps, drive to the city, see a movie, preferably a double feature, eat Baby Ruth and popcorn. Then when I come back it may all be a hazy memory.

Or a recurring nightmare, like the one where I can never find my house, or am sitting in my 8th grade classroom naked. Either way, there is no escaping Reluctant Farm.

You smell …

I love my hairstylist. I drive 40 minutes just to get my hair trimmed by Michele. She is young, vibrant, gorgeous – a tiny trim thing with bright green eyes and glorious blonde hair falling in waves down her back. The kind of person that would stop a man in his tracks, just to look at her. I would stop to look at her. And I don’t swing that way.

I mean, my mother used to say that I was “boy crazy from the womb.” And really, what kind of thing is “boy crazy?” That I turned into a raving lunatic and ripped my hair out by the roots when a person of the opposite sex entered the house? Followed them, drooling, from room to room?

I do know that as young as 5, there were two men I was in love with. One was my Swiss grandfather. Because he was quirky. He cussed and hid cigarettes in his left hand shirt pocket so my grandmother wouldn’t find them.

The other man I fell deeply in love with, at age 5, was Ricky Ricardo. No shit. I dreamed of Ricky Ricardo when I wasn’t dreaming of Mighty Mouse. That may also explain some of the bad boyfriend choices I made in my 20s. But that’s a whole different blog, one I would be ill advised to write with small children present.

Last month Michele was trimming my unruly mop, smiled sweetly and said “you have your own well, don’t you?” Wow – aside from being everything I would ever want to be,  she’s also a mystic. “Yes, I have my own well. How could you have known that?”

“Well, Susan, I can smell you.”

“OMG” I squealed.” I smell?”

Michele tried to backtrack and said “oh, really, I’m sure nobody else notices. I just notice every time I wash your hair. It smells like iron. But it’s really not that bad. Just, well, a really strong iron smell.”

I’m doomed. I don’t have much going for me. I have 2 bad ankles that consistently twist during inopportune times. Like when I walked into the Amphitheater in Hollywood during a Beach Boys Revival concert, hands full of drinks, and fell down the first flight of stairs, in a packed house.

Or when I was running with the dog, twisted my ankle, tripped, tried to get my feet back under me by running, but couldn’t do it in time before I slammed my head into the steel posts holding up our backyard gazebo.

Or when I went for a walk with my husband at our Fijian resort, stepped on a tiny coconut, fell on the gravel, hurt my knee and fainted when my husband tried to get me up. It took years before I could convince him that I wasn’t prone to fits, I didn’t have a life altering illness or any kind of communicable disease that had reached my frontal cortex.

I don’t have any kind of noticeable skill. I’m not clever or crafty. And I can’t fall back on my looks, because I’d be falling a long, long way. I have intelligence and a personality, which some may find attractive but sarcasm and smarts from a girl who trips in her own kitchen and smacks her face into the front of the refrigerator doesn’t quite cut it.

What I have are good hair (if cut right), good skin and strong teeth and bones.

And now I find that my hairstylist probably cringes and backs away in revulsion at the rusty nail smell I seem to ooze from every pore.

I smell. I don’t smell like a garden of earthly delights. Of  cucumber lime body wash. Or of  lemon basil body spray. Or even of the pina colada shampoo I used that morning. I smell like something that’s been putrefying for a year – since I started cleaning myself with the age old detritus that was lying in wait, in my well. The flotsam and jetsam that was streaming down upon my innocent self every single day for an entire year.

I smell.

And it’s not one of those “oh, she lives on a farm and has chickens” kind of forgivable smell. It’s one of those smells that you can’t quite put your finger on. Iron. Is it a metallic iron smell? Do I smell like a bloody piece of calves liver? Or like the undead?

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These are things I think I need to know. I asked my friend Bridget, and she only told me “you need to get a whole house filter Susan. You can’t get iron out of your body without a blood transfusion!”

BLOOD TRANSFUSION?

You mean I can’t just go to the beauty supply store and get a stronger scented lotion and shampoo? I have to actually pay to have someone clean out my blood?

I told Brad that we IMMEDIATELY need to get a whole house filter before my fingertips started falling off. And since I actually make a living by writing stuff, we’d both be broke, retire, and sit on the side of the freeway with signs saying “will sing for a salami sandwich.”

His advice? “You need to get another hair stylist.”

I’m so screwed.

What a Chick Wants …

I’m the first to admit that sometimes I can be a complete imbecile.  Basically,my skill set is pretty low. I’m not a jack of all trades.  I have very few talents, and the few that I have, I try to exploit mercilessly.

As far as anything to do with my new life at Reluctant Farm, I have to google it because I know nothing. So it is with my chickens. My husband prefers to fly by the seat of his skinny-ass Levis. For me, I want to be accomplished – at least in my mind.

Which brings me to chicken feed. When the chicks were little, they stayed in a big cardboard box in our garage with a heat lamp. We had the baby chicken feed, and then I read they could eat other stuff – so I would occasionally toss in some leftover lettuce. Once a mouse happened to crawl into their box, and they pecked it to death. So I figured they were probably not big meat eaters.

When they were finally big enough to go into the magnificent pen and coop that my husband built, I wanted to step up my game as far my interaction with the chooks. And I wanted to feed them the proper “extras” to make them happy with their new home with us and keep their lives in balance.

I continued to toss in some leftover salad stuff, and inhaled everything I could about what I could feed them, and what I should not.

The first evening after the first feeding I went out to see if they finished their snacks and every single chicken was dead. Laying down, head down to the side, dead as a doornail. I almost projectile vomited. What did I do wrong? All 20 chickens down for the count?

I ran down the hill to where Brad was busy with his favorite activity – riding his riding lawnmower. Swear, this man mows lawns incessantly. The grass is so well cut you need a magnifying glass just to see it. He rolled up the hill, and damned if every single chicken  wasn’t standing upright, looking at me as if I was the village idiot. I was. They were just sleeping.

Anyway, not to divert from the curious case of the Reluctant Farm Girl and how to feed the chickens, I began exploring culinary treats for my flock. And much to my glee, they loved everything. So I made it a routine. Every morning at 9 a.m. I would come down with my cup of Earl Grey, and their morning snack. It was the highlight of my day – a break from sitting in front of the computer writing, responding to emails and doing all the bookings and marketing for our resort.

I brought down yogurt and they circled it, a bit wary, but once one brave Barred Rock settled in, they all stepped up to the plate and loved it. As the weeks progressed, it became a ritual that the chickens understood. I’d stand on the deck of the house and call “Girls! I have treats for you!” and walk down carrying their brightly colored crocks with their morning treat.

It was amazing – I was the Rock Star. They would cluster around the gate, waiting for me to enter, running around my feet and looking up at me with their cute, one-eyed stare. I was their messiah, bringing messages of hope and manna from heaven. It got me going. Now I would not just focus on what we had for dinner, I would focus on how the chickens would like the leftovers.

Some things they turned their little beaks up at. Radish greens? No thanks. The can of bamboo shoots that I was going to use in some won tons, but I thought they tasted gross? They apparently agreed. But they definitely had their favorites. I brought out soft scrambled eggs, and they gobbled it up. Encouraged, I brought out the leftover rice noodles from my Pad Thai – and I was Katy Perry – they loved me unabashedly.

So I upped my game. Each day I’d come out with two crocks of treats – and I would announce to them what they were having. One day it was salmon carpaccio with an apple/lettuce salad, the next it was homemade potato gnocchi. I’d hide food from Brad just so I’d be sure we’d have enough leftovers for my girls. I made shredded zucchini with the squash I claimed was “too soft for us to eat” but was, in actuality, just fine – I had run out of treats for them and couldn’t face them without something luscious in my hands. I cooked oatmeal, emptied out the freezer of frozen peas, to which I added slivered almonds for taste. I baked 2 dozen bran muffins – we had half  a dozen, I froze the rest for the chickens.

In the early days Brad would toss  a few slugs over the fence as he passed by, and we were amused at how the chickens would shoot out of the coop and dive on the slimy snacks. So yesterday, in desperation, I thought, hell. I have nothing  –  but there are literally hundreds of slugs in the grass. I put on a glove, grabbed the crocks, and set out to pick slugs – 1 per bird. I mean, they loved the slugs and I forgot all about that! I no longer had to fret over what to cook or create to keep them adoring me. So I walked in, told the birds that they were getting slugs, which was met with more merriment, more running around my feet, over my feet, running in circles around me, ostensibly waiting for an autograph from “She Who Cooks So Well.”

I put the slugs down. They looked at the slugs, looked up at me, and started clucking. I can only imagine what they were saying. Probably along the lines of “You have got to be kidding? Yesterday you brought us swiss chard and cheddar quiche. The day before you brought orzo with basil walnut pesto. And today you are bringing us slugs?” They started pulling at my pants.  I am not kidding. They were grabbing my pjs with their little beaks. I was in a mosh pit.

I had to run out the gate before the mutiny took full hold.

As I sit here, at 11 a.m. I know that Brad ate all the spoon bread I made last night. The freezer is empty of zucchini bread and muffins and frozen corn. I’ve used all Brad’s Oatmeal. We only have 2 eggs in the house. I have several loaves of bread, and I have a can of tuna that was home canned by a neighbor. I’m thinking I can fool them into thinking it’s tuna casserole – which will give me enough time to run out the door before they notice I didn’t actually cook anything for them.

I am so doomed.