Notes From The Art Farm

Part journal, part pressure valve, part blog. Sadie reveals her farm trials & lessons!

Poor Blanca

February9

I came home to an empty chicken feeder at the front door and a note from my roommate that said, “I found this in the back yard, see email for details/picture”.  Its kind of horrible, but I’m laughing my ass off…

Blanca with her head caught in the chicken feeder

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Spring Songs

January18

It is halfway through January and already I can hear the songs of springtime at the farm.  Croaking tree frogs, hungry lambs, finches and robins calling to each other… Our winter was a little disappointing this year and I hope it doesn’t mean we’ll have swarms of bugs this summer.  I just hate bugs. 

My goats are NOT singing yet since they are too fat and lazy to even get up to eat at night.  They are very pregnant.  This month they can lounge and order “stall service”, next month will be a different story.  If I were a betting person I would wager 7 baby goats are on the way.  WAY more than I’d like, but less that are possible.  Poor Blanca is the biggest.  I’m not really sure what is inside that belly of hers.  Last year she had twins, but both died – one still born and Little Joe who was premature, but stuck it out for about a week.  She wasn’t ready to be a mama last year anyway.  But she was an excellent milker all season!  I’m hopeful she will have better luck with her kiddos this year, but they are only a means to an end.  I WANT THAT YUMMY SAANAN MILK!!!

It is the first year kidding for Coco and Crema.  Crema is probably *technically* too young, but I’ve been giving her loads of food to make sure she gains enough weight.  Coco is looking large.  She has always been my most healty doe – and the most beautiful.  Such a beauty.  I can’t wait to see what her kids look like.  The sire is a bit of a scrappy little grunt.  Hopefully her line is stonger.

And Carmen.  What can I say about my sweet Carmen that I haven’t said a hundred times before.  She is such a good girl.  Last season she had some problems with her delivery and raising her kids.  Blanca ended up nursing them for most of the season.  I didn’t intend to breed her this year, but nothing can stop horny goats from getting together… so here we are ;)  I’ll talk to the vet this week about her symptoms and see if there isn’t something we can do to help her out.

Once we have all the funny babies delivered I’ll get some new chicks to play with as well.  I always think I have enough chickens, but I always want more in the spring.  This year I hope to find some interesting banty varieties.  They are little and make little eggs – like a quail egg (for the foodies out there) but a chicken.  The other chicken experiment this year will be to see if I can hatch any eggs myself.  Well not MYself, obviously… I’ve never had a rooster before so this year I should be able to let one of the girls go broody and see what that brings.  We’ll see what the girls think.

With new babies and spring planting come visits to the farm – my favorite :)  Let me know if you’d like to come meet any of the new additions.  Weekends only, please. 

Sadie

Goats and Apples

January5

I bought goats for my farm because I thought they would be a great little group of employees. They could eat all the stuff that grew too big while I’m at work and in the process give me some good fertilizer for the nitrogen-baron fields. Except that the goats don’t really do that (turns out sheep would have been a better choice) and mine were almost completely un-tamed when I bought them. So Lola, Rico or Dulci have been on my farm in a fenced 2 acre field for almost four months and I haven’t been able to get within three feet of them the entire time.

Things are getting better though. They are talking to me when they are hungry and for the most part will let me be in the stall with them at breakfast. The smart kid at the Yamhill County Fair told me what I needed to do to get them back into shape – physically and attitudinally. It involves restricting their freedom and food availability. The trick is making sure they know you are the “boss of them”.. according to a 9-yr-old’s 4H exhibit. Okay, not exactly my style, but the blackberries are growing quickly and I’m feeling like a reject ’cause my goats are the only ones in the entire universe that aren’t friendly.

The other day my goaties were giving me some sass so I threw a few apples into their area. They started gnawing on the golf-ball sized drops but couldn’t bite into them. I cut some up and threw them in, too. For being as flighty as they are, Lola didn’t even flinch when I accidentally clocked her in the head with one the pieces. I gave them some alfafa cubes and blackberry vines that night to see what they liked. Those little piggies ate everything I threw in there! I am quietly hopeful that after it cools down a bit more I can get them locked up in the stall for a couple of weeks and finish the job. The journey of a thousand days…

originally posted 08/23/05

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The Feedstore

January5

My new favorite place is the Wilco Feed Store in McMinnville. Besides being ENORMOUS and full of tools I need, the people there make me silly happy. Lately, I’ve been dropping in there a lot. I pull up in my big pick up, park sideways across two spaces (no power steering) and wander in to buy the one part or piece that will help me finish my project.

This weekend I came in wearing my dirty jeans half soaked from the leaky spigot project (turns out that replacing a shut off valve on a pipe while the water is running… not the best idea). The old woman flower-waterer gave me the MOST disapproving look when I walked past her. I actually laughed a little on my way by. All the while I walked to the back of the store for the 1/2 inch – not 3/4 inch – fitting, and all the way back to the register I watched the other shoppers, who were all trying not to look at me.

What I love about the feed store clients is we all have a common look to us. We all come in there between noon and four – when its too hot to do anymore fieldwork – with our clothes and faces covered with dust. Usually you can see streaks on the face where sweat has been wiped off, and handprints on the jeans where the sweaty hands were dried. One guys I saw had so much dust in his hair it stood straight up and looked like a powdered wig. My favorite guy wore his hat in the field, but took it off to come inside. He had a pronounced dirt line halfway up his forehead and spotlessly clean glasses.

I am approximately 40 years younger than these guys and a woman, but those are pretty much the only differences between me and the other customers. The expression on all our faces is a cross between exhaustion, pain and sleeplessness. We nod in a neighborly fashion as we pass in the aisles. Periodically we engage each other idle conversation or exchange ideas for irrigation or tool selection. When I tell them how my pants got wet they laugh a little and shake their heads. Like zombies we stand in line and sound like dumb hicks at the checkstand asking about the price of chicken feed and t-posts. My people.

Originally posted 09/06/05

Borderline White Trash

January5

My family would never describe itself as white trash. Nor would most white trash people describe them that way, but there are definite – shall we say – habits the Wilsons and Danforths have that put us in a questionable light.

  • We eat brie, but we eat it with our hands. In fact most food eating is done with our hands if given the choice. When I was younger I prided myself on being refined and growing beyond this habit, but since moving out to the farm all of the “refined” has fallen to the wayside. I was recently half way through the second course at a very nice restaurant when my sister had to remind me to pick up a fork.
  • Pick-ups are for using, not for showing. I don’t think I have voluntarily washed my truck in over four years. At some point the windows get too dirty to see through and the gas station bug-juice wash just doesn’t cut it any more and I have to get real with the hose and sponge. That happens about once a year.
  • Laundry and dishes should be cleaned for company, but not for family. Okay, so undies and socks get washed regularly, but things like shirts and jeans can really go for much longer than most people think. The jeans I’m wearing right now, for instance, were washed about a week ago and after I scrubbed the ckicken poop off the right thigh this morning, they were as good as new.

I clean up pretty good, but I have to admit, the moments I enjoy the most are driving in my ’67 Ford truck down a dirt road while eating Cheetos and smoking a GPC Light, or cracking open a cold beer before (and after) mowing my three-week tall dandilion lawn… barefoot. Hell Yeah!

Originally posted 08/26/05

Teen Girl Squad

January5

I never thought I would have so much fun raising chickens. When I picked up my little chicklets on April 1st the entire dozen fit in a small cardboard box. Today, four months later, they are practically full grown hens and I couldn’t fit them in a box if my life depended on it.

The three golden pullets are nearly identical, *I* can’t tell them apart anyway. They are all named “HennyPenny”, aka. “The HPs”. There is one Barred Rock I’ve been calling “Dot” cause she’s so all-American, and the four Auracanas are names “Six through Nine”. That is the order in which they enter and exit the hen house. Interesting enough, that is also the order of their coloring, light to dark. Together they are my little Tean Girl Squad.

There is a lot of chitter chatter with my Girls. Every morning starts with a, “Ooo.. now are you going to give us some of that yummy chickie scratch? How about some grapes? Is that a bug, I just love eating bugs. I left you a pretty little egg in the box so you had better give me a nice treat. Did you see what Six did a second ago? She is so bossy…”

This morning Dot left me her second egg ever. It is small and freckled – just like her. It is also much lighter in color than the others. She is still working out the kinks of new motherhood… it had two yolks and the shell looks like old person skin; all wrinkled up around the top and bottom. She’ll figure it out in time, I have no doubt.

Originally posted 8/26/05

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What You WANT vs. What you GET

January5

The farm has taught me that no matter how much I want to do or get something, there is a 90% chance I won’t get it. For instance, a few sunny days in a row would be wonderful so I can mow the lawn and dry out the basement. Every morning I wake up, check the weather, cross my fingers, do a sun dance, say outloud three times “I AM SOLAR POWERED” and still… rain.

This is a good lesson for anyone; the art of rolling with the punches. It brings creative thinking, patience and a kind of zen few people have. In the past two months I have had a leaky roof, flooded basement, wormy cats, a dead goat, broken cars, over-budget projects, weeks of overtime at work and countless other small disapointments. Solutions to all problems were found, alternate plans have been made. But it does wear on the soul a little tiny bit.

The hardest part for me is when something looks like it will be what you want, but turns out to be something entirely different. Whether it be a job, a lover or a bright ray of sunshine peeking out from behind a gray rain cloud. That ride of indifference to hope to disappointment is the most challenging part in this place so far. A few people I know have decided to cut the “hope” part out so they never feel the “disappointment” part. It makes much more sense to me now than it ever did. But how does one keep from being stuck in the numbness of indifference for too long?

Nightlife

January5

So.. about coyotes. When I moved out here I assumed there would be many wild and dangerous creatures around. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t seen anything but a rather large White Owl and a few Red-Tailed Hawks. My neighbors Ahti and Lena told me there were a pack of coyotes (pronounced KY-otes) in their back yard all the time. That isn’t especially surprising since they live on 300 acres of un-fenced flat land just at the base of some of some large, treed hills. Since I hadn’t truthfully heard an alive coyote in my life I asked if the dog noises I somtimes hear might be coyotes. They laughed and said, “Dont worry, you’ll know them when you hear them.”

The very next evening the fire alarm in town went of around 3am (its the kind of town where a siren goes off at the station, the volunteer firefighters drive into town, then go to the fire). Apparently, the coyotes took the sound of the siren as an invitation to sing-along. There were at least 10 of them and it sounded like they were right outside my open bedroom window. They howled, yipped, barked and growled at each other for about 2 minutes. In that short timeframe here’s what I did:

  • awoke and bolted up in bed so fast I got a little dizzy
  • thought, “where are my cats? did I lock the chicken’s door? do coyotes eat goats?”
  • realized the side gate was WIDE open from mowing the lawn that day
  • criticised myself for not having bought a shotgun yet
  • pondered how well that one yelping sound can freak the crap out of a sleeping person
  • committed to improving my animal security (and buying that shotgun)

I sat there half-asleep in bed for 5 minutes or so before I heard the new kittens under my window make a kind of growling noise. It was their first night out after having been locked in the basement for a week (post-spaying) and I still sleepy and had decided they were being eaten by the noisy predators. So I jumped out of bed like it was covered in thorns and ventured outside with the conviction of a woman who just spent $150 on vet bills.

If there were any coyotes out there, I’m sure they were struck dumb by the sight of this crazy woman in her tank top (no undies) wandering around in the middle of the night with a flickering flashlight in one hand and baseball bat in the other muttering, “I hope I don’t get eaten by wild dogs, I hope I don’t get eaten by wild dogs…” The gate closed with much difficulty, and the kittens scurried back to the basement with some encouragement. Needless to say, I didn’t get much more sleep that evening.

I haven’t heard them since, but I find it a little un-nerving knowing they are out there. At the same time, it is humbling knowing there is a creature so closely among us who, when given the chance, could take me down without even breaking a sweat. So the cats begrudgingly sleep inside now and the goats and chickens are penned up nightly. Art Farmer – 1; Pack of Wild Dogs – 0

Originally posted 09/15/05

Sweet Corn

January5

My grandparents had a corn farm. There were lots of other things grown there at different times, but while I was around, there were three main things. Corn, grass hay and tulips. The boys did all the haying and the tulips happened while I was in school, so most of my farm memories have shucking, selling and flossing in them somewhere.

They staggered the planting and planted different varieties so we were selling corn out of our farm stand in Beaverton from mid-July through late August. 12 ears for $1. From 8-5 the OPEN sign was at the sidewalk. People would park in the front field and sort through the wire baskets full of ears to find just the right ones. Some like them small and sweet, some like them older and starchy. Most people would pull back the husk and inspect every single ear. You wouldn’t catch us complaining. There is nothing worse than getting the kind of corn you DON’T like.

Grandma and the grandkids did the selling, and Grandpa picked. When we needed a break from the sun, we just put out a coffee can with a hole cut in the plastic lid for people to make their own change. And if the baskets were empty, just a few honks of the horn on the old Plymouth, and within minutes grandpa would emerge triumphant from the south field with a wheelbarrow of full baskets. Now that’s fresh corn!

If your family grows and sells sweet corn year after year, for 2 straight months, your whole entire life, you either grow to love corn – or you hate it. And my family loves it. We really can’t get enough of it. We wait for corn season with the impatience of small children. I have, on more than one occasion, picked immature ears and ate them raw in the field because I just could not stand waiting a minute longer! When we were little, Grandma would boil up a huge stockpot of fresh ears for dinner – maybe 10 and a time – and we would eat them with silent reverence, huddled over the kitchen sink. There just wasn’t any time for plates or talking. Though you might hear the occasional grunt of approval or give each other a mutual nod of understanding.

Once you get a hold of the good stuff, here’s what you do:

Peel the husks back away from the ear a section at a time. If you leave some of them attached at the bottom, you can grab them and the stem like a handle and break it off clean to the bottom of the ear. If that doesn’t work, carefully cut off the stem.

You don’t have to get too picky about the silks. If some of them stay on the ear, they will boil off. Cut the top off if there aren’t any kernels – it will help you fit more in the pot!

Boil in salted water to your preferred done-ness. I do it for 5 minutes, my mom goes 10, grandma goes 20 minutes. It you like them more crispy, boil less. If you have braces and need to cut them off the cob, boil longer.

After boiling – this is an important step – drain off the hot water and submerge the ears in COLD water for 5 minutes. This cools down the ear so you don’t burn your mouth and it keeps the kernels from shriveling up while you eat your first three ears. Warning: if you leave it in the cold water too long THE BUTTER WILL NOT MELT!!! Unthinkable.

Butter is absolutely required for the full corn on the cob experience. You got to swirl it around on top of the butter stick until the thing is deformed the butter is just oozing over the surface of the corn. Don’t be afraid to get sloppy here. I usually recommend one stick of butter each so as to encourage double-dunking J A little sprinkle of salt is pretty good, too though not required. A little cayenne can give a nice kick as well.

If you have more corn than you can eat at one meal, its better to cook it all up at once (the sooner the better) eat what you need, wrap the leftovers up in saran wrap or a ziploc and save them in the fridge until you’re ready. A minute or so in the micro (still loosely wrapped) and it will be as good as new. If you leave them uncooked, the sugars will convert to starch in a few days and it will taste like the corn you get at Chili’s. Not good and not right.

Goat Containment

January5

This has been the weekend of fences. The goats are officially out of control and are being CONTAINED in a new-and-improved goatie run. The other was fine, but didn’t allow for any grazing. Since that seemed like a terrible waste (and cost) I’ve been letting them run amok in my back yard. Fun for me, but very destructive for the back yard.

Being goats, they were very interested in what was going on so, I had plenty of company out there. With their help, we expanded their little run area to a whomping 125’x75′ palace. I even arranged the fallen tree into a “mountain goat” play structure.

I’ve got one more day of work before it starts raining again. With my primary eaters now locked up, I’m starting to plant the orchard today. Would work on the wrapping the fence down around it first, but my hands are killing me from yesterday’s adventure. Thanks to mom for listening to my temper-tamtrums, and thanks to neighbor Clint for the fence tensioner. It works great!

Originally posted 04/16/07

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