Maine Fiber Frolic 2017 Poster
MOFGA Common Ground Fair Poster

december flew by

It’s definitely true that as we age time flies by faster and faster. This past year went by so fast! And the time since Thanksgiving…well, I don’t know where the heck that went. All of a sudden, it was Christmas!

It’s been a really crazy month especially weather-wise, and I think that must be part of why December is a blur. One day of clearing snow ran into the next until we didn’t have a clue what day it was and the temps were brain numbing. We just tried to keep to the routine of chores. Jim brought hot water from the house to the animals and we prayed they would be OK. The chickens are always most at risk when the temps are lower than usual. We had a bunch of frozen eggs and a little frostbite on one of the rooster’s combs but otherwise they did pretty well.

what a mess!

The first big snowstorm took out our livestock greenhouse. It had survived many heavy snows in the past so it wasn’t even on my list of concerns. Thank goodness our rams’ access was on the uphill side and their pen was sturdy enough that it held the roof from hitting the floor. It was a great relief to see their faces peering out from under the wreckage.

the survivors — Reece & Cole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that, there were the ice storms that plagued so many people as they moved through the country. Even just a short distance from us, friends were without power for days. It sounds like they’re all up and running again now. All in all, we were extremely fortunate. We never lost power and had a really lovely Christmas with our immediate family. For the first time in about 20 years, we didn’t host Christmas Day celebrations so our morning was relaxed. I even spent some extra time visiting with the sheep. It was warm enough to take my gloves off and get some pets and ear rubs in, too.

Our Christmas gift to ourselves — not by choice — is a new furnace which is being installed as I write. We knew this day was coming so it’s not a big surprise, but we’d hoped to get a little more time out of the old one. We sure do hope all the claims of better efficiency and more heat to the bedrooms upstairs are true! And if we can jump on a tax rebate or something, that would be nice.

 

EllenG — enthusiastic eater

 

got any apples?

 

 

 

 

 

 

snowy chickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a few days away from the New Year. Wishing everyone the best!

 

not a good week

Sometimes amidst the beauty, wonder and entertainment factor of this farm, up pops frustration and misery…the kind that makes you put off the walk out to the barn in the morning for fear of what you’ll find. The kind that can make you dissolve into a weeping lump followed by primal rage. That’s the kind of week it’s been.

Bad Chicken – not afraid of the snow!

Handsome Mr Bad Chicken

Our long standing and beloved group of free ranging chickens have been completely picked off by a predator. Amongst them our oldest gal, Bad Chicken, who we had begun to think of as indestructible. And her man, Mr Bad Chicken. Clara the Wonder Chicken succumbed to her injuries last night…poor baby. In all, five hens and their rooster…gone after several years together.

Clara the Wonder Chicken – a beautiful Buckeye

 

Ameraucana members of the TDU.

We tried to keep them safe once we realized what was going on, but this was a hard group to corral. They existed because they’d “flown the coop” and they lived the good life of total freedom…choosing where they’d go…sometimes even visiting our neighbors’ bird feeders…and roosting where they wanted to at the end of the day. Our efforts weren’t very successful.

There’s a very different feel here now. No greeters when we walk out the door. The voice of Mr Bad Chicken is missing. They were a terrific Tick Removal Unit and they entertained us with the occasional egg hunt.

All very sad, but we have to be thankful for the memories.

Moving on, we turn our attention to the remaining chickens behind the electric fencing and making sure those fences are ramped up. It’s not unusual for predators to surface at this time of year as they get ready for migration or turning in for it the winter. I’m just saying, not excusing. We’ll be watching…

 

what’s been happening

Just before shearing last year, I gave up on this blog Farm Journal.  Getting photos into posts was such a pain in the neck that posting just wasn’t fun at all.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed because the good folks at WordPress have streamlined the process.  I’m giving it another try…

The ewes get to eat indoors the day after shearing.

Shearing in March went off without a hitch.  Thanks to all who came to help out, we zipped right through the woolies and then enjoyed some good food and down time together.

In early April, our first batch of meat birds arrived and then, after 2 lambless years, we welcomed lambs to the farm.  We’d really missed all that cuteness.

Candice bonding with her newborn lambs.

Our ewes did a great job and gave us tons of cuteness but one of the lambs suffered a broken leg at 3 days old and ended up in the house with us for 4 weeks.  By the end of the first week, Margaret (she got a name when she visited my spinning group) was leaping out of her playpen…cast and all. There was no containing her!  Eventually, we let her have the run of the house (wearing a diaper) and she would go into her playpen when we went to bed.  She learned to eat hay in our living room…I don’t recommend that!  Skye tolerated her and Gemma was happy to have a playmate…the cats mostly avoided her.

Little Margaret's big day out...no more cast! YAY!

Today she’s part of the flock but she’s the first to greet us at the gate and is quite the character.

The critter count was growing… piglets arrived in May.  We parked them in the shearing pen where they had lots of bedding to root in and could learn about fences.

The piglets get acquainted with their nipple waterer.

Throughout the Spring months more meat birds arrived in batches of 50 and 75.  We’ve become big fans of the slower growing old-style birds that thrive on pasture.

In June we were running everyday to stay ahead of the grass.  There was so much of it that we were moving the sheep every couple of days sometimes.

After the winter, there's always fence to be fixed and we're managing to stay just ahead of the sheep!

We could almost see the lambs growing if they stood in one place long enough!

We had fun at the Maine Fiber Frolic weekend…always great to see old friends and meet new ones!  The piglets outgrew their pen and moved into the woods where they have tons of space to roam and root and wallow and play.

Once they were well muddied up, they investigated their new digs.

We joined a budding Farmers Market right here in Bristol so for the rest of the summer, I was easy to find every Saturday morning.  It turned out to be lots of fun and I think it was a good beginning. Hopefully, it will grow and become a fixture here in our town. Put up some strawberry-balsamic-black pepper jam.

Skye in one of his favorite places.

July began on a sad note.  We lost Skye to prostate cancer.  There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t think of him and miss him.  We still expect to see him rounding the corner of the barn after his walk around the farm.  Although Border Collies aren’t supposed to be guardians, he always checked our boundaries and we wonder now whether his absense will make a difference here.  We’re grateful that Gemma got to know him at least for a little while.

We had a bit of a dry spell mid-summer but it turned right around and the grass came back pretty well. Put up some tomato puree and bread & butter pickles.

Ewes and their lambs loving the grass.

The grass is growing like crazy and the lambs look great!

By September, some of our lambs and all of the pigs were ready for the butcher.  Emily came to shear some of the lambs on a stormy day.  Thank goodness for the generator and an adventurous crew.  I don’t think the sheep noticed the power outage!

A number of our lambs and a couple of our adult ewes and rams went to new homes as breeding stock, too, so they’ll be making lambs and beautiful fiber for someone else.

Shearing lambs by headlamp during a power outage. Emily is such a trooper!

Farmers Market was winding down but SOAR and NY Sheep & Wool Festival (Rhinebeck) were coming right up.  The start of October was a little crazy with Jim at SOAR and me at NY but we managed and had a good time, too!

Our first customers at Rhinebeck. Happy spindlers!

And then our attention was turned to breeding time.  Which rams would get lucky?  Which ewes would be with which ram?  All the ewes were checked for body condition and internal parasites. Then they got pedicures and nice clean coats. Bartok and Cole met the girls in mid-November and by Christmas, it was all over but the waiting.  We finished our Good Eats page…phew!

The holidays were quiet and very enjoyable with our boys and grand-dogs visiting.  It was so low key that I forgot to take photos…but maybe Jim posted some on Facebook.  Santa brought us an iPad which I’m really liking.  I’ve already moved a couple of magazine subscriptions over to it. Saving some trees is nice but really, not having that paper coming into the house is wonderful!

It took winter a long time to get going but it’s here now and we actually have some snow on the ground. Coasting along now waiting for shearing and the arrival of lambs.  This is a good time for playing with fibery things.

 

 

 

the between days

I love the days between Christmas and New Year!  It could well be my favorite week of the year.  I get a lot done and, if only for a short time, I feel somewhat organized.  I might even have time to do something new and different…or something that’s been put off for lack of the good chunk of time it requires.

The pile of mail that lives on the kitchen table is gone and we can actually eat there.  The kitchen counters are uncluttered except for the plates of goodies we’re grazing.  The Christmas tree has settled into its spot where it greets friends who come to our door. When we take it down, the room will look as though something is missing.  I really prefer the tree to the chair that usually lives there.

Chores get done of course, but at a different pace and with less time taken out of the day.  That’s because we’ve “winterized” and everyone is close to home making chores more streamlined.

The blizzard that dumped on us earlier this week was a gift of sorts.  There wasn’t any point in trying to shovel or clean up.  It snowed most of the day and the wind was wild!  So after wading through knee high drifts and sledding hot water from the house to all the critters (all Jim’s doing!), getting hay out to all the sheep and clearing a small spot for the hens to come out into for their scratch and warm water, it was back to the house for a nice relaxing day.

We read and napped, we ate cookies and drank tea…and nursed sore calves and thighs.  We enjoyed an effortless dinner of Christmas leftovers and watched a movie.  Even Gemma got in on the laziness of the day and spent most of the afternoon napping with Skye.

snoozing dogs

lazy afternoon snooze

skye & gemma

I'm awake now...let's play!

Not wanting to hurt ourselves, we’ve been working on the snow removal in stages…there’s a lot of it!  The days have been sunny and unseaonably warm so we’re getting some help from Mother Nature and it’s fun spending time outdoors.

snow hens

The hens venture out into their newly shovelled yard.

On Thursday our spinning group, The Salt Bay Treadlers, made a field trip to Portland and what fun we had!  We had a fabulous fresh pasta lunch at Paciarino and then dropped in on the Port Spinners and joined them for a few hours of spinning at the Portland Fiber Gallery.

pasta lunch

The Salt Bay Treadlers enjoy some yummy fresh pasta at Paciarino in Portland.

spinners

We joined the Port Spinners for an afternoon of fun.

Before heading home, we did a little shopping at Terra Cotta Pasta Company in South Portland…laying in some comfort supplies for the rest of the winter ahead.  

Happy New Year!

Ninety + Days…

On Columbus Day weekend, I heard myself saying to some visitors, “We have a farm blog.  Well, actually, I haven’t posted for a while.”  After they left I checked… July?!  O-MY!  Then I was bogged down with preparing for the trip to Rhinebeck.  And then there was…well, who knows…just days that go by.  Believe me when I say I’m not sitting around sipping champers and eating bon-bons!     

Before we get into the holiday crazies…I bring you August through October  in review…not in any particular order —

The little layer chicks I brought home from Maryland in May and their more local buddies got a new home and just loved being out on the grass.  At first, we kept them in their hoop house and moved it daily.  But once they’d learned that this was their “home base” we let them out to forage and moved the house every third day.  This turned out to be a really nice way to raise the hens.

chix hoop house

The chix learning about living on the land.

Jim gave me a Flower CSA Share for my birthday so every week there was a beautiful bouquet of flowers in our veggie CSA bag.  What a lovely gift!  Big points for the hubby…

CSA bouquet

Fresh flowers every week!

The Ranger chicks grew really well on the pasture — just as we’d hoped.  Thank you Rangers!  Yum!

oven ready ranger

chicken ready for the grill

We had a couple of wild storms. One of them took down what was left of one of our ancient sugar maple trees in the front of the house.  So sad that it’s gone.

maple tree down

The end of our ancient maple tree.

 That same gust of wind opened a fairly wide path through our oldest stand of lilacs, too.  Fortunately, the lilacs will regenerate themselves over time with careful pruning.  This made us feel a little better…

rainbow

rainbow over the barn

We participated again in the Maine Fiberarts Tour Map Open Farm & Studio Weekend.  My friend, Penelope, came on Saturday and kept me company.  I was here alone as Jim had gone off to NY state for a week of T’ai Chi Camp. It was a fun weekend with a number of people stopping by and was especially nice to be “stuck” in the studio — I actually made some progress on a project I’ve been working on. (more about that later) And Jim had a wonderful time at camp.

Jim got tired of hearing me bitch complain about the “coffee dust” that covers everything in the kitchen every time he grinds his beans.  He drinks a lot of coffee…he grinds a lot of beans.  So…he made this screen.  He really believes that it works and keeps the dust loacalized.  He’s not wearing his glasses or doing the white glove test (that’s against the man rules) but hey! he’s trying.  And the whole idea is just so Jim… lol!

grinding coffee

Jim's absolutely awesome coffee containment system

 The hearing protection is for real.  He spends a lot of time around loud equipment so he lives with those yellow pillow-type-earmuff-things draped around his neck…or on his ears. You wouldn’t believe where I’ve seen him with those things on…     

We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with dinner at our favorite lobster shack.  This was the view from where I sat.  I wish I’d thought about taking a picture of the lobsters before my hands were full of butter…

view from MBLC deck

View from Muscongus Bay Lobster Company deck.

Earlier in the summer, I made some strawberry-balsamic-black pepper jam but didn’t take any photos.  I haven’t made much jam so I was a little nervous about the process.  It was fun, though.  We haven’t tried it yet…only made a few jars so we’re saving it to be enjoyed at Thanksgiving with some fabulous cheese from our friends at Ruit Farm…and maybe (if we don’t die) we’ll give some away at Christmas. 

We were gifted a ton of green tomatoes (thanks Greg & Aaron) so I made some of our favorite relish.  It’s pickled rather than sweet.  We shared it with the tomato growers and have enough to keep us happy til next year…and maybe some to give, too.  I also put up a few jars of pickled veggies with multicolored cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers and chunks of green tomato.  I added a couple of sprigs of fresh tarragon to the normal pickling spices & garlic.  Looking forward to trying these.

pickles etc

cooling jars of pickles and relish

Our CSA grower, Rosey, offered us some ripe tomatoes.  She cautioned that they were “sound but should be put up very soon.”  I took her up on 25 pounds and went to work on them immediately.  I just love the Italian “tomato squashing  machine” that Jim and I bought when we were first married and had a huge garden.  You put the washed, quartered tomatoes in the top and it spits out the seeds, skins etc separately from the juice and pulp. It took no time at all to process about half the tomatoes into sweet, juicy pulp. I was tempted to just drink it right down!  But I let it reduce to about half its volume in the crock pot overnight.

cooking tomatoes

first batch of tomatoes cooking down

The aroma in the house was amazing!  The next day, I repeated the process with the other half.  Now we have a nice stash of tomato puree in the freezer to be enjoyed during the dark days. 

The Common Ground Fair was great — it never disappoints!!  YAY for MOFGA…we are so fortunate to have this organization to work on our behalf.  I took a couple of fleeces from our crossbred sheep and one that I’d debated keeping for myself (silly me!) and put them for sale in the Fleece Tent.  The one I was going to keep, Hazel (aka NoTag), I decided to show as well.  It won a blue ribbon in the natural colored, longwool division!!   Honestly…Hazel is a beautiful ewe but is the most unfriendly/uncooperative sheep we have.  The blue ribbon is making me like her more but all our applause and sweet talking isn’t making her warm up to us.  She still won’t give us the time of day.  I wish I could put a photo of her here but she’s not big on photo taking.  I’ll keep trying…

Rhinebeck (NY Sheep & Wool Festival) came and went.  The weather was typical… from the drive down in the rain to the damp, raw days in our booth.  But as always, we had a great time, saw lots of people we only see there and we made new friends, too.  I didn’t get out of the booth much and forgot to take photos when I did…

Our May hatched layer chicks began to lay eggs and what beautful eggs they’re giving us!  Yes, those dark eggs really are that dark…

colorful eggs

colorful eggs!

We said good-bye and a very big thank you to our Berkshire X pigs in early October.  They grew beautifully and are providing us and a bunch of other families with delicious, heritage breed, old world pork.  If you try this type of pork, you will never be able to eat “the other white meat” again.  If you’re my age, you’ll probably recall the flavor of this pork from your childhood. YUM!