Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Years Eve

Well, the sun is shining this morning and it's 2 below 0 -- more in keeping with the season than the temperature has been these last few days. More snow is expected by this afternoon. Tom bought in some more wood yesterday so we are ready for it.

Today is baking day for the holiday dinner tomorrow. I like to cook a day ahead because the flavors of the food cooked have time to mellow. Tom is baking bread rolls in his bread machine, and later I will make a pineapple upside down cake in Great-Grandma's cast iron skillet and black-eyed peas, of course, for good luck. Since everyone is supposed to be on some sort of diet restriction, our meal will be much simpler than in the past. We will have ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, bread rolls, and the upside down cake for dessert. My dad is coming over to eat with us and I am sure we will have a nice day. The only person missing will be our soldier girl in Afghanistan.

After tomorrow, it's back to work in earnest. I will get back to cutting wood posts and getting the poultry housing in order. Yesterday Eddy and I started shifting stuff around in the basement so I can put together the brooder. And last night I ordered more seeds from Baker Creek and blueberries, hops, sweet potatoes, and grapes from Miller Nurseries. I still have my Fedco and St. Lawrence Nursery orders to send. Mostly herb seed from Fedco this year, and from St. Lawrence I think I will get some sumac to plant on the berm out next to the front driveway, two more Golden Spice pear trees and two apple trees -- one Northwest Greening and one Honeygold -- for the expanding orchard area in the field. I hope I am more successful this year in starting the herb seeds! I am really looking forward to creating a nicely filled medicine wheel herb garden. The hops section should take off this year, too.

On one of my Yahoo lists there is a thread running where people are listing their top 5 projects to complete for the coming year. Easier said than done when it comes to projects! You just never know what will happen. With that in mind I would like to: 1) tighten up the fence and finally build a good gate for the field; 2) get the well put in the field (haven't managed to get that done yet but I am still positive imaging it); 3) succeed with the free-range poultry and egg production trial; 4) improve succession planting and increase general veggie production; and 5) finally build a garden storage shed so we can park the van in the garage again.

New veggies for this year include Turkish Orange, Pandora Striped Rose and Malaysian Dark Red eggplants; garden huckleberry; wonderberry; Senposai greens; Golden Self-Blanching Celery; Golden Giant Amaranth; Philadelphia and White Ice Box radishes; Navet Des Vertus Marteau turnip; ground cherry husk tomato; Rouge D'Hiver, Rouge Grenobloise, Dark Lollo Rossa, and Paris Cos lettuces; Giant Musselburgh leek; Snowball cauliflower; for tomatoes there will be Vintage Wine, Italian Tree, Brandywine Red, Large Red, Lemmony, Green Gage and Indian Moon. And, of course, I will have my usual veggies. I think this will be a great year! (And if Tom doesn't plant his garden area over by Dad, I'll fill that up, too! ;)

May everyone have a safe and happy holiday, and may 2009 be a better year for us all!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fence Posts

Finally made it outside today and chopped down my first tree. I got three fence posts out of it and started a pile for the smaller branches for Ed and I to break up next summer and put in the kindling bin. As long as the temperature is not too cold, I will try to get out every day and cut posts. Once I get the hang of cutting down the trees, the job should not take too long and I should get more posts finished per day. I will need to get Ed out there to help me haul the posts up by the wood pile so I can load them into the truck fairly easily next Spring.

I was thinking about the duck house. I think I will cut 6' and 5' posts, space them 2' apart, and bury them 1' down into the ground, then use hammer staples to attach some 4' woven wire to them. I have a fair amount of top grade woven wire left over from when I put up the fence in the field. I'm sure it will be enough to go round for a duck house. I'll make a little door I can bolt shut at night, and buy some plywood for a roof. Hay bales will be a good insulator outside the wire. I'll lay 1/2" hardware cloth over the ground to prevent burrowing critters, and a good layer of wood shavings should make a nice bedding. Four nest boxes should be enough. I think a similar house will be good for a brooder house for the hens. I know New Hamps tend to go broody, and that is a trait I want since the price of day-old chicks is skyrocketing. I would sure welcome being able to hatch replacement stock.

We are still on earthquake watch here. Tom probably thinks I'm nuts as I've taken just about everything off the walls and secured them. Today is the first day in almost two weeks that I've seen any birds. The methane smell outside is stronger though, and I am still getting waves of dizziness and ear ringing. I do think we are still in for it.

Well, time to throw another log on the fire. Take care!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Woke up this morning with horrid pressure in my frontal sinuses; my ears are ringing and boy, do I feel nauseaus. Got an e-mail from my friend, Kim, in DC and she is in bed with aches and pain, and Tom has bad body ache today, too. Normally I wouldn't think much of it -- after all, we are in our 50's and cold weather doesn't bring out the best in us -- but I follow George Ure's web site and today he has a posting from the ALTA report from HalfPastHuman and their web bot's linguistic data about massive twin earthquakes occurring any time now. I have read the window to be December 10-12 or December 9-18 depending on where you read on the Net about projections. I have also read that odd colored water and suddenly low water levels are signs of impending earthquake. Don't know if that is true, but I have noticed our well has been having fluctuating water levels this last week, and yesterday while I was outside brushing the snow off my plastic covered garden boxes, I noticed a slight methane odor in the air, very unusual for this time of year, especially since the temperature has been so cold that the marshes are well frozen. Whether or not the web bots are right about the twin quakes happening, the Old Farmers Almanac information about earthquakes indicates that this full moon (on the 12th) combined with the tides is astronomically a highly likely time for an earthquake to occur. And FEMA has issue a catastrophic earthquake warning for the New Madrid fault area. There are differing possible locales being tossed about for these events. I guess all anybody can do is take the pictures off the wall and batten down the hatches -- which is what I'm doing.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Feast of St. Nicholas

When we were kids, on the evening of December 5th we would carefully shine our shoes and put them all in a row, largest size to smallest, on the living room coffee table before going to bed. In the morning on the Feast of St. Nicholas, we would find our shoes filled with candies and dime store treats -- gifts of Little Christmas from St. Nicholas. Being children, it was hard not to get excited about Christmas coming, and celebrating Little Christmas was a sure sign that Santa was coming soon. I suppose my parents looked forward to some early Christmas season joy, too, as they always seemed happy during Christmas season.

This was also the time of year when Dad would pack up the old station wagon with his M-1 carbine and hunting clothes and leave for the Big Woods of Wisconsin where Grandpa and Grandma still lived on the big farm and all the uncles annually congregated for hunting season. Then, a week later, Dad would return home showing off a deer AND a Christmas tree strapped to the top of the car. All the neighbors would come over and admire Dad's cargo, and Dad would casually light his pipe and tell everybody his hunting tales. Later, he and Mom would work all night in the kitchen to butcher the deer, wrap it in freezer paper, mark the cut, and store it carefully in Mom's white 27 c/ft. Montgomery Ward freezer.

And while we were at school the next day, Mom would put up and decorate the Christmas tree. We couldn't wait to go home and see all the shining silver tinsel and bright fuse-busting light strands that burned our fingers if we touched them and that drew out the essential oils in the tree boughs and made the house smell so good. We knew there would be venison for supper.


We are now celebrating our 4th Christmas season in Wisconsin, our 3rd in our new house. It has been unusually cold for this time of year, but Tom and Eddy bundled up and found a nice Christmas tree to cut down and drag back to the house. Tom and I set it up in the tree stand and let it thaw out for a day, then the next day I decorated it. We like balsams because the needles don't drop the way they do on pine trees. Eddy likes to help decorate by hanging candy canes on the branches. I play Cristmas music on the computer to listen to as we decorate. A cup of hot chocolate for us with a shot of Peppermint Schnapps and marshmallows is a great ending to the day.

Today was very cold and snowy again, and the wind was whipping the trees all day. No birds or animals were in sight. The bird feeders looked lonely swaying in the wind. It felt good to be inside. Lara wanted banana nut muffins for breakfast, so after I made those I decided to bake two loaves of rye bread (I like baking bread by hand) as we were just about out of bread. Tom started a fire in the wood stove early. Everyone picked at Christmas fudge and chocolate peanut butter cookies. Ed and I exercised down in the basement, and I chewed on Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Manual again. I got out the 2009 Old Farmer's Almanac and figured out when we will have 10 hours a day of sunlight again at our location, and it comes out to be around the last week of January, so I will plan to seed onions, leeks, and carrots after the new moon in January out in the high tunnel. We will try some lettuces and radishes and see how they do, too.

Here are some wintry pics for you of dawn from the living room window, snow falling, and my garden boxes -- holding up so far but I think I'm going to add a top purlin to give the hoops a bit more strength.

I ordered the chicks the other day for March 1st delivery. I am getting 50 New Hampshire Red pullets from Mt. Healthy Hatchery in Ohio. They will go in the chicken coop. Because I ordered 50 chicks, I got 25 more (cockerels) for free, and as I am going to try my hand at Herman Beck Chenoweth's Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing model, I bought another 100 cockerels for $36 to fill one skid. So that's 175 chicks all together. And I got an early order discount on top of everything. That's a pretty good deal. Shipping cost $27. I think I will stop in and see Bernie at the Fifield Feed Store and see if he can mix me up some feed according to the recipe in Herm's manual and find out what that will cost. I was really torn about not getting more Dominiques, but I told myself I have to learn to be more business-minded. By getting a dual purpose chicken breed, I can cut future poultry costs by hatching my own replacement stock. New Hamps give a cleaner carcass than Doms because they don't have dark pin feathers and therefore should take less time to pick. They lay larger brown eggs than Dominiques and are slightly meatier. While not as good foragers or layers as Doms, they do forage and lay well, and they will set eggs. They are supposed to be docile birds. The ladies will stay by the house at the chicken coop where the nest boxes are, and the gents will rough it out in the field by the high tunnel. I will see if Brad the vet in Phillips can show me how to turn the boys into capons. If I am not overwhelmed with the chickens, I want to get some Ancona ducks and put them down by the marsh. We'll see how it goes. I still have to get out in the woods to cut wood for the skid, duck house, tomato trellis in the high tunnel, fence posts and hop posts. And with 50 layers I will need to make more nest boxes and add another roost in the coop. I plan on brooding the chicks in the garage, but if the weather is too cold, I'll put them in the basement like my sister does. I don't think I'll have any problem burning off extra calories this winter.

A big thanks to Bill and Linda Betz for sending the Thai basil, Asian eggplant, and hot pepper seeds. I can't wait to plant them. BTW, we got an e-mail from Sarah and she said she is sending you something but she would'nt say what it was, so be on the look out for that. Thank you for remembering her!

And another big thank you to the Butternut American Legion post. Sarah said she got your box and it was great! I don't know what you sent her, but she said she distributed all the "men" stuff to her section and everybody is happy!