Permaculture … on steroids

When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl,  I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.

Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists.  When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.

So it stands to reason that after Jomar  introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.

Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.

A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.

So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.

I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.

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The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.

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If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.

Meat, fish, etc  gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.

And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. bone-brothThe best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously.  My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.

When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.

By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.

We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.sassy

Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .

The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping  and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.

It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.

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Not Feeling the Rooster Love…

If you know me, you know I love my chickens. It’s like potato chips. I can’t stop getting chickens. When I walk into the farm store and see those fluffy little bodies, I know that I NEED at least 6 or 8 more.

In spring we purchased what was called a “straight run.” We did this because they were so darned cute, and so darned cheap. Straight run meant that you get what you get. You may get hens, you may get roosters, but there’s no guarantee as they aren’t sexed beforehand.

Out of the 20 or 30 chickens we got, 3 were roosters. And what magnificent roosters they turned out to be. Lovely, regal glistening black boys with almost iridescent plumage. I walked down every day with my basket of goodies, my egg apron, and chatted with Rooster Cogburn, Black Bart, and Brett Maverick. We communed. And I loved them.

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Two weeks ago I bounced my way down to the coop to say hi to the brood. Called the boys by name, and with over 30 hens, don’t have the energy or creativity to give them their own personal monikers, so just normally shout “Girls, I have some treats for you!” All of a sudden, something bashed into the back of my shoe. I turned around and just saw chicken eyes. Nobody said anything, nobody did anything and I figured that because I was in the middle of the mosh pit, someone inadvertently stumbled into me. Hard.

A few days passed and I was down at the goat pens bending over trying to fill up water buckets and out of the corner of my eye, a mass of black feathers came hurling at me, slamming into my right knee with claws out. What the hell? What did I ever do? I wasn’t even looking at him. I was just bending over turning on a water faucet.

I pulled out my chicken books, took to the internet, researching why my precious baby would turn on me like that. One site said that roosters may not like your shoes. So I changed my shoes. Still wary, I made my morning stroll to collect eggs. Black Bart gave me the “rooster eye” but I spoke sweetly to him, promised to throw out some corn scratch and passed by with no incidence. The operative words being “passed by.” As soon as my back was turned, I glanced over my shoulder to see Bart with his neck feathers  on high alert, and with wings flapping, as he started running after me.

I have to say, I just don’t run. It’s just not a good look for me. And I’m not the most graceful  or coordinated athlete.But run I did, like a screaming banshee up the driveway (the long, uphill through gravel 1/4 mile driveway) stumbling and looking over my shoulder, yelling for my husband to rescue me from the beak of death.

My husband, being ever so supportive, said ‘why don’t you just kick him out of the way? That’s what I do.”

Seriously?  A whirling dervish of midnight black feathers, crowing beak and talons drawn comes flying at the back of me and I’m supposed to #1 actually see him coming from behind and #2 try to spin around and kick him? When I had to pay soccer in junior high PE I missed kicking the ball. Every. Single. Time. What makes him think I could actually hit a moving target that can also fly? Aside from the obvious, I’m not big on using my body to ward off anything. I mean, I can’t even kill a bug by stepping on it. I have to physically remove my shoe and hit at with the shoe not attached to my foot. I get grossed out swatting at a fly with my hand. Yeah, I’m a girly girl. And not apologizing one bit for it.

“That’s it” Brad proclaimed. “I can’t have you scared to go down to the chicken pasture. I have too much to do already. The rooster is going to be butchered tomorrow.”

Oh no. Nonononono. I would work something out. I searched the house for an appropriate anti-rooster defensive weapon and spied a small chimney broom. Perfect! I would simply circle the area around me, front and back, with the broom to create a sort of rooster safety zone. After all, I’m an intelligent, college-educated person. I can come up with a solution. Putting a chicken in the pot is akin to hitting control-alt-delete on the computer. It’s the last resort. And I’m too savvy for that.

Roosters are not stupid creatures. The broom worked somewhat, but I would have to swat at him constantly, always walking in circles because he’d flank me, and I was afraid to stand still. If I did, he’d charge. So I had to hop around, spinning the broom in one hand while I simultaneously opened up the nest boxes and held the lids open with my head while collecting the eggs with my other hand. All the while swooshing the broom and screaming.

After two weeks, I decided, OK, this is NOT working and I’m NOT going back down there. I’m over it. Done. Not only that, but he was also being aggressive with my sweet little hens. The most popular of which bore a huge bald spot on her head. I guess no means no, except if you’re a rooster. So … RIP Black Bart …

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It was bittersweet. It was nice knowing you, but you just had to go.

Yesterday I gleefully walked to the mailbox, passing the chickens strolling the property. They always run up to greet me, and cheerfully I asked how their day was going. They were all smiling their little chicken smiles, Rooster Cogburn and Brett Maverick joining along. I passed the crowd, down the end of the drive, and heard a scrambling of feet which sounded more like a charging herd. Turned to look and saw the dust flying and … the neck feathers of a rooster up in attack mode, charging after me.

Holy shit! We convicted the wrong criminal!  I felt SO guilty. I’m a pacifist! What did we do?

It’s been 4 days and I’m dealing with it. Especially since Brad turned him into some mean (pun intended) tamales. I guess I can live with myself. Pass the napkins, please.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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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.

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

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Big hairy spiders…
Wolf-spider

Bugs that blinked and glowed in the dark, and clung to the mosquito netting around your bed…
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Walking sticks that were the size of your head
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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

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My house

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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 …
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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 …

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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…

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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.

Halloween Confessions

I was born to a clever woman. My mother was crafty and creative. Which unfortunately skipped a generation in me. Every Halloween Mom dragged out the old Singer, and set up to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

Unfortunately, I was a child of the 50s and 60s. Whilst now I appreciate the detail work of her authentic Hungarian gypsy costume (complete with bangles hanging off the skirt and vest), what I really, truly wanted was “normal.” Being not so much, I felt that a costume like “everyone else had” would help to nudge me towards a bit of normalcy. I mean, really, I didn’t want to be a circus rider, I wanted to be a princess. With a plastic mask. And with the prepackaged, cheaply sewn, tacky material came a rhinestone encrusted tiara. Sigh. Halloween Perfection!

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Mind you, I’m the child who was disappointed when my parents were buying their first house, and they didn’t choose a home with a rock roof. The height of modern design in my book. AND – if you added a rock garden, I’d be in 60s heaven …

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Basically, what I’m saying is that, as a child, I had zero taste. With the exception of wanting to be what everyone else in our white bread neighborhoods deemed to be “normal.”

Fast forward to adulthood. My sisters and my mother embraced the whole Halloween thing. As adults. They’d dress up, drive around town in full regalia. For me, I hated dressing up. I hated adult Halloween. I worked in a creative field (advertising) and every year the agency would have a costume  and pumpkin carving contest. People would go all out. And costumes were “required” to show spirit. Our department (print advertising) was especially competitive. As such, they hated me on Halloween. I’d show up in jeans and a sweatshirt. “Where’s your costume?” they’d ask. “I have it on. I’m Susan On The Weekends.” It didn’t fly.

When I married my first husband, I bought tickets for us to go to a Renaissance Faire. He was so excited, and asked “are we going to dress up?”

Huh?

“No, um, I don’t think so. We going to the faire, not participating in it.” Undeterred, he dragged out a jester’s costume with tights. Tights? My new husband liked to wear tights? OMG what fresh hell had I landed myself in? I told him “you can wear the tights, but you have to walk 10 paces behind me and never reveal that you know me.” He left the tights at home.

The following year he stated that we had to go to the company Halloween party. The company he worked for was NBC. So we HAD to dress up. Out came his tights, and I stared sullenly at my closet, picking a big blousy top, pirate style, that was popular in the 80s. Put on some pants, wore a scarf on my head, and stood by the chips and onion dip for most of the night,

When I had children at home, Halloween was spent taking my kids to houses with the greater chances of having Baby Ruths, Butterfingers and 3 Musketeers bars. My kids? They got the Sweet Tarts.

Back then, the parents stood on the sidewalks while the kids walked up to the houses and rang  the doorbells. The “clever and creative” parents carried bota bags. Nowadays it’s a whole event. If you don’t, as an adult, dress up as the living dead, complete with makeup created to look as if your skin was dripping off your skull, you were an epic fail. Parents with children would have a whole theme going. If you had a storm trooper, as a father you best be chewbaca, and as a Mom you’d best coil your hair in true Princess Leia fashion. It’s all about the theme, baby …

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So I thank the heavens that Brad is just not into donning a fantasy persona every year on the 31st. We have the best of both worlds. We live in the country, in the farmlands of Washington State. We have one neighbor with children. Which means we buy one bag of candy. Give as much to Little Bodie and Baby Carson as they want, then we get to eat the rest, wearing our best “Brad on the Weekend” and “Susan On Her Way To Bed” costumes. And not sweat over how creative and clever we can be.

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But, wouldn’t you know it … here in the Washington farmland lives another Creative Mom. I’m having sweats and flashbacks. And desperately looking through ebay for a plastic princess mask for next year.

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.

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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.