Monthly Archives: December 2010

What didn’t make the resolution list

The long term goal is to be as self sufficient as possible.  However, I know myself well enough to admit that there are certain creature comforts I’m not going to give up, regardless of how at odds they are with my desired lifestyle.  I spend so much time talking about what we are doing or what we plan to do on the farm, it’s only fair I admit to what we’ll probably never do.

Fruits and Veggies I can’t grow: I can’t help it, orange juice is my coffee.  And a fruit smoothie isn’t the same without bananas.  And my child loves pineapple.  I will never grow any of these things in Virginia, but I’m not willing to give them up either. What I am willing to do is only eat strawberries in June (and raid my freezer and jam shelf the rest of the year), and likewise eat seasonally all the other fruits and veggies we can grow here.

Exotic food stuffs: Will is an insufferable human being if he hasn’t had a full pot of french roast by 10 AM.  I’m a tea drinker myself.  Will’s a vanilla guy and I’m all about chocolate.  Add to this an assortment of nuts and spices and we’re back out of the realm of the locavore.  Sure I can grow my own chamomile, and forage for black walnuts, but there is no way I’m roasting barley and pretending it tastes anything like coffee.

Baking soda and powder: Nothing at all natural about either, but they are just too convenient to give up.  Sure, someday I’ll try and use natural yeast as a bread starter, but I won’t be adulterating my muffins, brownies or cookies any time soon.

The internet: I can’t quit you.

Skin care products: I use local bar soap and endeavor to make my own cleaning products out of vinegar (not that I made the vinegar, but baby steps), but I’m still a touch vain and after an adolescence riddled with pimples, you’ll have to pry my face wash from my cold dead hands.

Disposable diapers: When Alston was a baby, we used cloth diapers through a service, but once he started walking we’ve been all about the Seventh Generation disposables and wipes.  And it really is so much easier.  I’d like to think that I’ll go back to cloth when we someday have the next one, but now that we live too far away for the service, the prospect of using my own washer kinda grosses me out.

L.L. Bean and J. Crew: I hope to learn to knit, but I’m never going to make my own clothing.  In fact, I’d jump for joy if I could even sew my own curtains, so it’s a safe bet I’ll never make a pair of shoes.  We try to avoid buying things made in China, and go for made in the USA whenever possible (hurray for Carhartt, Etsy and American Apparel, not to mention All-Clad), but I don’t refuse to buy Alston a copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon if I can’t tell where the book was printed (and I admit to my occasional lapse of will power, like my Hunter boots).  Although I must say, avoiding Made in China is the best retail diet you can go on – it’s saved me hundreds of dollars of impulse shopping.

Wine, Beer and Booze: Virginia may be an up and coming wine region, but when it comes to wine we break our Buy American rule and head straight for France and Italy.  It is our indulgence and as wine is what brought Will to food which is what brought us to farming, I can live with the hypocrisy, assuming my glass remains full of Bordeaux.  As for beer, I’m sure we’ll home brew, but there are so many great microbreweries out there I can’t imagine us depending exclusively on our own stock.  Booze, well, I just don’t see how life in the country would be possible without bourbon, or at least I don’t want to.

Paper convenience items: We always use cloth napkins and real plates and cups (even opting for rentals for parties instead of disposables).  However, when it comes to items of hygiene, I’m not even willing to switch to handkerchiefs instead of Puffs with Lotion, so you won’t be surprised when I say using recycled toilet paper is the only concession I’m willing to make on that front.  We have dialed down our use of paper towels, but I don’t know if we’ll ever eliminate them completely.

What about you, when thinking about going more green or being more self sufficient, are you sneaking a Snickers bar into BioSphere2?



Just this week, our New Hampshire Red rooster decided to start crowing.

Alston refers to him as cock-a-do-dooooo.  I think it’s great, but my bedroom is also the farthest room from the chicken coop, so ask me again come spring when the windows are open.

Far off into the future

Thinking about 2011 has me thinking about 2012, 2013, etc. because I’m a compulsive planner, even if I rarely stick to those plans.  The day I found out I was pregnant with Alston I made a spreadsheet to figure out how old I’d be when he graduated high school.  It’s like being OCD and simultaneously lacking any motivation for follow through.  But it does mean I’m a sucker for a good list.

In that spirit, here’s a list of things we’d like to tackle in the not too distant future, but that I suspect are already off the docket for 2011.

Animals: We definitely want to get bees, but we’ll probably wait until the apple trees and soon to be planted berry bushes are more established so they have plenty of flowers to pollinate.  I’m thinking 2012.  At some point, we may also get into rabbits (for meat, of course), although that may necessitate building a different, larger chicken coop, making this a longer term endeavor.  I’ve been told rabbits smell pretty awful, but that if you keep their cages on shelves in your coop, the chickens will scratch their poop into the straw bedding, breaking down the ammonia more quickly and resulting in some pretty rock star fertilizer for the garden.  If we had more land, we might talk goats or even a dairy cow, but shy of a winning lottery ticket, I think our 5 acres are maxed out when it comes to ruminants.

Fruit trees: I would love to add a plum, peach and cherry tree to the mix.  The biggest delay is not knowing where to put them.  We can’t put the cherry in the pasture, as cherry wood can be toxic to sheep, but I can’t figure out where else is sunny enough to ripen fruit while avoiding adding a shade tree to places where we plan to grow vegetables.  I think after another year of living on the farm I’ll have a better sense of the sun patterns.

Grain: We are leasing an acre across the street, and we don’t yet know what to plant there.  For the sake of 2011, we’re more concerned that our own 1/3 acre garden may be more than we can handle, but thinking longer term it would be pretty cool to start to grow some of our own animal feed.  Unfortunately, most things involving grain seem to be more tractor dependent than potatoes and tomatoes, so this may stay on the back burner until Craig’s List decides to offer up a reasonably priced, well loved John Deere.  Until then, it looks like we’ll continue to purchase our corn, barley, field peas, etc.

Grapes: My husband is quite the wine guy, which is why most people ask us where we’re putting in vines.  However, our real interest in growing grapes isn’t fermentation, it’s a source of sugar.  I’d love to be able to press our own grape juice and use it to sweeten jam in lieu of cane sugar.  The grapes suffer from the same lack of a clear home as the fruit trees, but I suspect when we clear out some more brush between our yard and the neighbors, a trellis will make the perfect property line.

Solar power: Wouldn’t it be nice to be energy independent?  Or at least have solar panels as back up instead of buying a generator?  These are cost prohibitive right now, but a girl can dream…

Cutting garden: I love having fresh flowers in the house, and I’d love to grow my own.  However, I should probably make sure the veggie garden is fully functional before I spend time cultivating cosmos and sunflowers.  It took all of my willpower to avoid ordering spring bulbs by the score this fall, but I should wait and see what’s already in the ground around here.

So what’s on your wish list?

Polar Bear Club

Look who decided to take a dip…

Leave it to my ducks to wait until we get a second snow storm and all but 8 feet of the pond are frozen so solid I can walk across it to test out their webbed feet.  Of course, we are elated.

First [duck] eggs!!!

Last week Wednesday, Will discovered our first duck egg:

So far we’ve gotten an egg a day, with the exception of this morning when we got two.  Which, of course, meant time for omelettes…

Will likes to use the Julia Child method of shaking the pan to make them wonderfully fluffy.

What a wonderful breakfast.  I’m looking forward to more of these.

Of course, after we found the first egg, we had the terrible thought that inevitably some fox would eat all the ducks, making that one egg the most expensive of all time.  But let’s not think about that.  Let’s scroll back up to the picture of breakfast instead.

2011 – An Outline

In an ideal world, here’s what next year should look like…

January: Return Zeus, the rent-a-ram, to his rightful owners and cross our fingers that all the girls are preggo.  Hopefully collect our first eggs from the chickens.

February: Start fencing off the woods from the pasture in preparation for moving the pigs, assuming we have one of those wonderful Virginia mid-winter warm spells to thaw out the ground a bit.

March: Move the pigs.  Borrow a tractor (?) and finish the tilling job the pigs started in the garden plot.  Plant early veg, like peas and greens.  Plant blueberry bushes.  Prune the raspberry and blackberry canes.  Plant more raspberry and blackberry canes.  Figure out where the herb garden should go.

April: Take one of the pigs to slaughter.  Hopefully all the ewes will give birth to our first “crop” of lambs.  Egg production should be hitting full stride.  Plant even more veg (potatoes, onions, carrots, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, etc.).  Plant strawberry patch.  Move the New Hampshire Reds to the lower chicken coop along with the rooster to try and ensure we have some fertilized eggs (and hope one of the gals gets broody and I don’t have to buy an incubator). Plant the herb garden.  Find a new summer home for the guinea hens.

May: Harvest our first veggies (lettuces and greens).  Still more planting (tomatoes, peppers, etc.).  Find a boar for the remaining two pigs to shack up with.  Hatch out our first chicks, to be raised as broilers.  Order day old turkeys and maybe another pair of geese plus one from the hatchery, so we have birds for the holidays.  Build a home for the turkeys.

June: Now the veg starts to come in wonderfully.  Buy a flat or two of strawberries for making jam (as we won’t have any until the following year).  Begin the great weed battle.  Breed the chickens again.  Harvest raspberries.

July: Process our first batch of broilers.  Start in on canning pickles and early tomatoes.  Likely buy a pressure canner and a chest freezer so we can put up veg for the winter (and sell the rest to the restaurant).  Hatch out the second batch of broilers.  Harvest blackberries.  Buy a bushel or two of peaches for jam.

August: Be completely buried in vegetables.  Never want to see another zucchini again.  Become a canning black belt.  Welcome our first piglets to the farm.

September: Process our second batch of broilers.  Harvest beans and peppers for drying.  Reconfigure the basement to double as a root cellar (for butternut squash, pumpkins, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, etc.).  Plant winter crops (greens).

October: Secretly thank the gods for the first frost, marking the end to the heroic efforts involved in maintaining a 1/3 of an acre vegetable plot.  Buy several bushels of apples for pressing into cider.

November: Take all the lambs to slaughter.  Enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner that includes our own turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, greens, pumpkin, butternut squash and eggs (in the pies).  Move the pigs back to the garden plot.

December: Borrow Zeus again to knock up the ewes for 2012.  Enjoy our own goose for Christmas and force jars of jam and pickles on relatives in lieu of real gifts.

2010 – Laying the Foundation

It seems like every year there’s one big thing that gives shape to my life.  In 2005, Will bought the restaurant.  2006 was the year of the wedding (ours and 5 others).  2007 was all about work – Will bought a second restaurant, I took on a new role that handed way too much responsibility to someone my age and busted my butt to prove worthy.  2008 was all about being pregnant and welcoming Alston into the world.  2009 was the great transition to our new lives as parents – me going back to work, Will trying to run the shops from home while tending to the babe.  2010, as you may have guessed, was the year of the house.

But, because we couldn’t stop at mere homeownership, we dove face first into low level homesteading by acquiring way too many animals way too quickly.  Let’s recap, shall we?

June 2: Close on house, Watson is the only critter component of this family of four.

June: How many rooms can you paint in three weeks?  Turns out the answer is 6 plus 6 closets, assuming you also refinish the hardwood floors and renovate your kitchen, but only if you have friends as amazing and helpful as we do [read: thank you]. Day old chickens and ducks arrive; take up residence in our basement.  Oh yeah, and we officially move in on June 30.

July: Ducks and then chickens move from the basement to the shed to the existing chicken coop while we build more permanent housing.  Will finishes the duck house, ducks move in, won’t use the ramp to enter said duck house.  Won’t swim in the pond.  Plant 2 raspberries, 2 blackberries, and one fig tree.  All 27 chickens and most of the ducks killed by a stray dog… the day before the electric fencing arrived.

August: 3 replacement ducks and 30 guinea hens arrive.  We agree to purchase 2 (which eventually becomes 3) pigs once they are weened in 8 weeks.  Will lines the pasture’s existing 4 post horse fencing with hog wire.

September: Replacement chickens arrive.  Hoop house is erected to serve as their permanent home within the confines of the fenced pasture.  Guineas moved to pre-existing chicken coop which is refortified multiple times after a few more run-ins with nature.  Purchase 5 Border Cheviot lamb ewes.  Pig house is built and electric fencing installed in preparation.  Alston starts preschool.

October: Pick up three Tamworth piglets.  Adopt two cats to ward of mice from the stockpile of animal feed now living in our basement.  Throw a farm party to show off the petting zoo that is our lives and play with our newly acquired apple press.

November: Foster (probably permanently) a breeding pair of Toulouse geese.  Pre-existing floating deck is converted to a run in shed for the sheep.  Pick up a rescue Great Pyrenees to guard the pasture.

December: Borrow a ram to mate with our ewes, bringing us temporarily to 6 sheep.  Build a house for the guineas in the old chicken coop.  Plant 16 apple trees.  Collect our first duck eggs and along with a glass of homemade cider, savor the first tastes of success.

By the end of our first six months on the farm, we have 29 chickens, 6 ducks, 15 guineas, 6 sheep, 3 pigs, 2 geese, 2 cats and 2 dogs.  Will built a duck house, chicken coop, guinea house, retrofitted run-in shed and pig house.  We planted 21 fruit bearing trees/bushes that should produce in years to come.  It was the year of the house alright, but not just the 1903 farm house we happen to inhabit.  In 2010, we’ve tried to turn our measly 5 acres into a home for the 68 of us.

I suspect the theme of 2011 will be reproduction/production.  Here’s hoping next year’s recap includes lambs, piglets, chicks/ducklings/goslings (we’ve hatched ourselves vs. bought from a nursery), and more vegetables and eggs than we possibly know what to do with.  If I don’t at some point write a post about being absolutely sick of canning, I’ll consider myself a failure.  I guess the more optimistic way to put it would be, won’t it be great to have next year’s Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas goose be something we raised ourselves?  To have a whole hog bbq for our farm party and have that pig be ours?  To have a freezer full of tomato sauce from my own garden and not my CSA subscription?  Yup, I’m ready for 2011.