30 October 2011

Don't Pee on the Electric Fence

Well.  As my friend Broder politely pointed out on my fantasy football league (yes, even though I don’t have regular access to the internet and haven’t watched a football game yet this season I still do fantasy football), I haven’t updated this blog in two months.  It hasn’t seemed like it since life has been so busy.  Such is farm life I suppose.
Seeing as it is almost November and it was 30 degrees this morning when I woke up, it seems that winter is near.  The lead up to today was quite a whirlwind of activity.  Harvesting and harvesting and harvesting we have been.  My left index finger has a crack in it that won’t go away do to continued hard use and drier weather.  My lower back has seen better days but has been feeling better now that I pay attention to my ergonomics some more and get very nice back massages from Kate.
What have we harvested you might ask?  We brought in all the rest of the tomatoes about a month ago as well as winter squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatillos (to make salsa) before the first frost of the year in October.  We have also harvested all the delicious potatoes and have begun to be able to harvest parsnips.  Of course there are still leeks (my favorite) and carrots.  Most of the rest of the time I have spent is dealing with various animal chores, setting up animal pens, and as our friend Ross says farming is, “Moving shit around.” 
As you can imagine, I spend most of the rest of my time trying to do nothing, but end up doing more food preservation with Kate, going out somewhere nice like Monhegan Island (a beautiful place to visit by boat from nearby Boothbay), or having to do chores for myself that I have put off all week.  Well, I’m off to make winter squash burritos with guacamole, salad greens, and sour cream.  I will update again soon since the winter comes and things are calmer.  Go Giants!
Oh yeah, photo below and more coming from this fall.

22 August 2011

What it is

Not much time for introspection lately.  Most of my free time lately has been thinking about what is next for the future.  I am going to work on another farm next year.  Where I will be is still up in the air and depends on a few factors.  Continuing work on a horse-powered farm is my priority as well as being able to work together with Kate.  I would like to continue working for Jeff and Amy and am strongly considering it.  There are, however, other possibilities and what will be best for my development as a competent farmer in terms of education and experience play a strong role in my decision.

Despite my recent ruminations on the state of my future, I still love what I am doing and will continue doing it.  The constant drive for creativity, resourcefulness, deep knowledge, integrity, and ingenuity with a flair for the funky in farming keep pulling me deeper into sustainable agriculture.  My understanding and empathy for the tenacity of the small business owner has grown as I realize how a successful small business owner literally lives and breathes the ins and outs of their daily work.  There's nothing quite like putting hours of hard work into producing food and seeing people at market and CSA pickups enjoy and discover food with all of their senses.

If you don't have food, I don't know what you have.  Next time you cook a meal, take your time and enjoy the sight, smell, and texture of it as it gradually transforms from simple compounds borne from the soil, fungi, and bacteria to an amalgamation of subtle chemical reactions sending signals to your brain saying "Damn, this is good."  I truly believe that 95% of the meal happens before you actually eat it.  If you haven't yet experienced that first 95%, you should; it'll change the way you look at food.

24 July 2011

Where do Americans get their Calories? (Click for an interactive graph)

Cheap food has its price

Summertime…the livin’s easy

Sike!  The days have blended together and I lost track of how long it’s been since the last update.  What with animals getting out twice in as many days a month ago, my she-devil girlfriend Kate, and being in my friends Kevin and Jenn’s wedding last weekend in Sunday, I’ve finally settled back into a good routine and the farm has basically caught up with weeds.  The garden is certainly a sight to be seen.  Right now there are plenty of shell and sugar snap peas, new potatoes, swiss chard, some broccoli and cauliflower, scallions, parsley, basil, and cilantro.  Oh yeah, we have carrots!  How I missed carrots.  They are so sweet, tasty, and worth all the hand-weeding we had done two to three weeks prior to beginning to harvest them.
Let me tell you a thing or two about weeding.  It is hard, hot work since the best time to weed is usually under dry and hot conditions.  The reason is that despite your best efforts to pull and cut weeds, they can and will replant themselves if they still have roots available and are somewhat covered by soil.  This is even easier if it rains the night after you weed.  However, hot and dry conditions severely reduce the chances of weeds replanting because if their roots are exposed, they will quickly wilt and die.  Yes, many plants die in the making of even your veggies.  As Elton John once sang, it’s the ciiiiiircle, the circle of liiiiiife.

Leah and I also trellised the tomatoes this week, back-breaking work if I’ve ever done any.  It isn’t time-consuming but requires a lot of stooping to wrap string around trellis posts and picking up plants lying on the ground.  Glad we’re done with that task.  Enough said.
There hasn’t been much horse work as of late since it’s mostly cultivation and that is generally quick work.  Horses are fly magnets though and I always feel bad for them because they are out on the pasture with no shade and not too much relief from flies.  Carl left which is good because he was the super fly magnet.  Since he was the weakest horse and lowest on the totem pole, he had the most flies on him.  Last week he moved in with his owner Django.  In any case, what is cool is that the horses do have a pretty good adaptation to flies; Bill, Millie, and Perry stand side by side, head to tail so that when they swing their tails, they shoo away the flies on the neighboring horse’s face.  Evolution at its finest.
Sometimes I wish I evolved the ability to stay cool without sweating gallons of water.  Thankfully it has cooled off a little bit today.  This weekend I have to do animal chores instead of working or going to market.  It’s a good arrangement: I plan on hanging out, cleaning up around the yurt, and building a solar heated shower.  I’m excited for the shower!  There is also an ice cream shop in Wiscasset that has the best ice cream I’ve had ever: ginger ice cream.  It is made with real, fresh ginger rather than candied ginger.  Leah and I daydream about eating it after work on a hot day, which has been almost every day the last two weeks.  Speaking of which, I believe I will go have some now.  Adios!

12 June 2011

Gee Haw!

Can't take credit for the post title; I saw it on some kid's T-shirt.  However, horses have been on my brain every day.  I either daydream about working with them or dream about it.  On an eerie note, I had been talking to another local horse farmer named Donnieabout plowing with horses, got to see his different plows, and learned some of the differences in design, comfort and efficiency of them.  I mentioned that Jeff had told me that our plow's pole was made of pine, which is a soft wood that is light and therefore generally breaks pretty easily under heavy stress.  It's good for building houses and light furniture but not as durable as hardwoods such as oak, maple, ash, or cherry.  In any case, he forewarned me about poles snapping and possible flipping you over as the horses continue to pull the implement.  That was last Sunday.  Monday, I was plowing with Bill and Perry and of course, the pole starts to snap as I was backing them.  Thankfully this is a less dangerous situation and neither I nor the horses were hurt.  I very easily could have gotten hurt if I hadn't been aware.   Thanks Donnie!

Oh yeah, my parents were up here for a week!  We celebrated both their birthdays on the 2nd and 10th for my mom and dad respectively.  Lobster was abound and the Burchsteads were gracious enough to share their house nearby and have my parents as guests for a few nights.  I ate like a king then, and this past weekend when I had 2 and a half days off to visit them at the resort they were staying at for the rest of the week.  I got to fish with my dad on his birthday, eat some locally caught bass and perch, and experience some parts of western Maine.  All in all it was a good week.  My mom took some video of me plowing with them in any case and maybe I'll be able to post it at some point.  Until then, check out this stock video I found in the archives (of Google).

Buckwheat Blossom also has a second apprentice as of this past Wednesday as well.  Her name is Leah (I think that's the right version) and she is a Mainer.  It will definitely be nice to have someone else to help out on the farm even if she's only staying until the end of August.  We will be sharing the kitchen and outhouse at the yurt as well.  I'm excited to be able to switch off cooking meals if possible so that we can sort of come home to a meal rather than getting in at 7:30 or so and trying to hurriedly make a meal that will suffice after working all day.

Next week is the summer solstice, June 20th, officially the longest day of the year!  Go celebrate with some local produce and some friends while you enjoy the sun for hours and hours.  I will hopefully be going back home soon.  Keep you guys posted.  Hasta tarde mis amigos...

29 May 2011

It's Only Going to Get Busier

It was a wonderful week spent with my friend Beth.  She got along with the animals, except the Ram that I named Noodles cuz he keeps on Ramen me.  Beth also took lots of cool photos of various things posted on facebook.  Check it out!  She is a great photographer so check out some of her other albums as well.

This past week has involved discing and harrowing soil to prepare beds for the potatoes, winter squash, and onions.  I drove Millie and Karl(?) to do that.  Karl is out of shape and it was a hot day for once so he sweated up a storm.  Karl actually sweat so much that Millie was licking him for moisture and salt.  Sexxxy.  On a related note, the horses and sheep look much, much better after being put out on pasture.

One of these days I will take a picture of the pasture and how we graze them.  It's cool setting up fences and making daily decisions about how much pasture we will give them in order to graze the grass efficiently and evenly while not sacrificing the animals' nutrition.  Talk about intensive management.  Try managing how much an animal eats!

Other work included seeding tons of winter squash by hand and hand-transplanting about 50 trays of onions (about 30,000 individual onion plants).  It took the work of up to 4 people at a time over 3 days to finish the transplanting.  I did a quick calculation and it came out to around 50 hours of labor.  It would have been much longer if we hadn't used this system that Jeff found in a 1930's USDA publication about transplanting onions.  Basically we laid the seedlings in trenches made by a wheel hoe plow and plowed the soil back into the trenches after they were laid down.  As Jeff sang, "Wheel Hoe Power!"


Well, that's all she wrote for now.  I must be off to knit for a special someone who is coming to visit for a week in Maine this coming Thursday.  Real men knit. 

14 May 2011

We’re already a third through May!?!? Whoa.

As many may guess, it has been a busy month for me.  Needless to say, I am fully engrossed in agriculture of the sustainable variety.  I have learned a lot in the past few weeks about agricultural concepts in general, how hectic farm life can be, and that no matter how happy you are, seasonal allergies don’t give lick.
About 2 weeks ago, Jeff and I took many, many soil samples to send to Cooperative Extension.  This task is so complicated that I will put it in list form:
1.     Use a shovel to dig a profile of the soil 6-8 inches deep.
2.     Dump said profile into a bucket.
3.     Mix this soil with other soil from the same field.
4.     Walk in a zig zag pattern while repeating steps 1-3 until the field is covered.
5.     Put well-mixed soil in a baggie/extension box.
It is actually very monotonous but important to test your soil to determine what nutrients, micronutrients, and minerals it may be lacking.  What is, or isn’t, in your soil can make or break whether you have a good crop or bad crop of any given veggie.  Furthermore, a plant lacking in some nutrients will be less healthy and therefore more susceptible to disease and pests; just like us! 
However monotonous soil testing may be, it did give me an opportunity to get to know the farm better.  I could see which fields and pastures were rocky, which were heavier (have more clay particles), which were lighter (sandier), and which had more or less weeds.  All the information about soil structure, its previous use, and slope will often strongly determine what you should plant in each bed since the character of the soil may suit one crop over another.  For example, you wouldn’t want to plant carrots in rocky soil because they will turn out all crooked and gnarly looking.  They may taste fine, but won’t be marketable.  As a matter of fact, carrots like “muck,” which is a finer soil that is very high in organic matter.
More exciting that soil are the 18 lambs we had born from 10 ewes within a week and a half of each other.  All 18 were born without trouble and are pretty darn cute.  Pictures will be up soon (probably will be up courtesy of my childhood friend Elizabeth who is coming up this weekend and is an excellent photographer).  There are plenty of booster shots, extra vitamins, and supplements that we feed them to make sure they are healthy.  I had the privilege of giving them some shots as well as giving them a single earring.  These earrings are tags we put on them so we can tell each lamb apart and identify them quickly should something happen.
Tomorrow we will be training the lambs to the electric fence so they don’t hurt themselves and shock to death if they get caught in it.  Sound terrible?  That’s why we are training them to a small section of fence and monitoring how they interact with it.  What with how they like to chase each other around and hop in the air, they could easily goof and get caught in the fence.
Jeff and I have also been using the horses to pretty regularly work the soil with either a disc or a harrow.  These implements loosen the top 6-8 inches of the soil while ripping up or pushing aside any weeds growing on the surface and exposing them to the air, stopping their growth and killing them (hopefully).  With this harrowed soil, it’s easy to rake out beds and either seed, or transplant veggies.  I will describe harrowing in greater detail next update.  My allergies are telling me to sleep so that I will do. 

Real Men Wear Suspenders

I’m sitting across the street of Reny’s at the Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta.  Reny’s is a sweet local department store that sells lots of random stuff including Carhartts.  I ended up not getting any pants, which I probably could use, but I did buy a pair of red Carhartt suspenders for myself and also for Jeff so that we can match.  They’re pretty sweet and practical; especially when you have to wear a belt all day and it gets uncomfortable and sweaty.  Plus you get more circulation in your undercarriage.  That is all.
 Update:  Jeff and I have worn our suspenders together on several occassions and people have commented on it.  I've begun the assembly of the official Buckwheat Blossom uniform.

16 April 2011


The title is the name of an Outkast song that is both high quality and hilarious.  My good friend August reminded me of this song this past weekend while at Kate’s parents house for a bonfire.  More about that in a bit.  I’ve been on an Outkast kick for the last few days.  Listened to them all day Friday when I washed eggs by myself in the greenhouse, cleaned up the leeks, and even while splitting wood later that afternoon.  As much as I enjoy the outdoors, listening to woodpeckers and other songbirds, and the relative quiet of rural Maine, I also get tired of hearing the chickens and rooster once in a while.  Thus my Ipod came of great use.  Listening to music while chopping wood actually got me into a pretty good rhythm to the point that I didn’t realize I had been chopping for about 3 hours and had blisters on my left hand.
This past Monday I went to a farmer potluck and speaking event by Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute.  He is well-known in agricultural circles, particularly the sustainable ag movement.  The Land Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to researching perennial grains that are suitable as replacements for the current annuals we utilize for grain such as wheat, rice, and corn.  Perennials are much healthier for the environment since they don’t require us to basically create soil disturbance to plant new grains each year and they also grow significantly deeper roots that help improve soil fertility by pulling up nutrients that other otherwise in accessible deep in the ground.  It’s always nice to meet other like-minded people and pull some inspiration from good, well-intentioned individuals.
As for the rest of the week, I mostly did some seedling work including succession plantings of peppers and mustard greens.  For those of you unschooled on the agricultural arts, succession plantings are repeat plantings of the same crop so that you have, say broccoli, maturing over the course of a few weeks rather than having to harvest and sell all of your broccoli in one time period. 
Jeff and I also removed row covers from the garlic on Tuesday.  Row covers are plastic sheets that allow most of the light reaching the ground to pass through while acting as a blanket that keeps the soil underneath a few degrees warmer.  It doesn’t sound like much but those few degrees could mean the difference between the wind and frost killing your plants.  The downside to using the row covers is that they are not easily reused and in that way are a bit of a waste of oil.  Later that day we cultivated the garlic to give them an extra head start over any weeds that will inevitably start popping up.  The tool for the job was a wheel hoe on the outside of the rows and two-handed hoe that you use like a broom to gently disturb the surface soil and cut any weeds growing.  When we get more into weeding I hope to have some pictures of the wheel hoe in action.
We also started putting together a moveable greenhouse on skids, which involved further securing the skids together with big bolts, and assembling the bows; the metal ribs that hold up the plastic.  It is amazing that a semi-permanent structure like a greenhouse can so easily be put up.  And there you have it!  Plant, animal, and human shelter!
Quick personal update for those of you interested in the farmer social life.  My ladyfriend Kate and I have birthdays 5 days apart so we had a celebratory bonfire at her parents’ house.  The cornbread I made was a hit, and there were plenty of tube meats and beer to be consumed.  I got to hang out with cool farm folk there as well.  Another highlight of this past week was the dinner and the carrot cake that Kate made for my birthday.  Fiddleheads are delicious sautéed in garlic and butter.  It didn’t hurt that I had a t-bone steak as well from one of Jeff’s cows.  Mmmmmmmm.  Ok enough about that. 
I hope that everyone enjoys the spring weather, and eat in season!  Pretty soon (maybe already available for places south of Maine), there will be asparagus available for a several week window.  If you eat asparagus at any other time of year that isn’t April/May, chances are you are buying more oil and refrigeration than you are asparagus as it will almost definitely be coming from South America somewhere (Courtesy of             Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent book on farming for her family for a year called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about food).  The quality, and consequently flavor and nutrition, of these cosmopolitan vegetables declines the longer they are harvested without being eaten as they are still alive and consume the stored sugars and nutrients contained within them.  The same can be true of tomatoes during the winter and of course tropical fruits.  So don’t complain about the price of oil when you continue to use it up just so you can have out of season food!  Fight the power!  Here’s a beautiful Pablo Neruda poem that Kate put into my birthday card.  Dunno what the title is…Peace!
Yes: I knew that your hands were
a blossoming clove and the silvery
your notable way with a furrow
and the flowering marls
I saw you delve deeper, dig under
to uncouple the cobble
and limber the roots,
I knew in a moment,
little husbandman,
your heartbeats
were earthen
no less than your hands.

Turnip, Leek, and Cheddar Omelet (Serves 1)
As a belated birthday present, Jeff and Amy gave me today off so that I didn’t have to go to market.  I only had to do animals chores this morning.  I decided to treat myself to a nice breakfast this morning and what a treat it was!  My taste buds went off like fireworks at the delightful mix of sweet turnips, mildly pungent leeks, garlic, and of course melted cheddar.
·       ½ tablespoon of butter and ½ tablespoon of lard or oil
Melt a ½ tablespoon of butter with either lard or oil in a pan on low heat.  The butter is key to enhancing the flavor.
·       One small or half of a medium turnip, chopped into small pieces
·       One small leek, chopped
·       One clove of garlic
Add the chopped turnip (a brassica in the same family as broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, rutabaga, and cauliflower) and leeks to the pan until the turnips begin to soften and the leeks become translucent and tender.  Then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
·       2 or 3 eggs, well-beaten
I learned this trick in some video on cooking I found on the internet.  When you’re ready to pour the eggs into your pan, keep the fork you used handy.  After gently pouring the egg in, once in a while just sort of break the cooked egg bottom up with the fork.  This technique allows you to thoroughly and evenly cook the egg without turning it too brown on the bottom.
·       ¼ cup of grated or chopped up cheese of your choice (can’t go wrong with cheddar or even feta in an omelet).  This might make it too cheesy for your liking so add as much or as little cheese as you want.
Last step!  Add the cheese as the egg comes close to being completely cooked and allow it to melt.  Fold the omelet as you please (tri-fold is easier and less professional, but really who cares as long as it tastes good?).  Salt and pepper to taste and you have a breakfast fit for a person who gets up early on Saturday to do animal chores a.k.a. a king!

07 April 2011

Escuchela, la ciudad respirando

Ah, Blackstar how I enjoy your lyrics.  Hello citizens of the internets.  It has been a busy time since I last wrote.  Alas, my body continues to breath, sleep, and of course eat as the winter’s sluggish grasp releases itself from the northern hemisphere.  This of course means more daylight, more sun, more temperature, and more fun!  For the most part things have continued as they have on the farm.  We still pull logs out in the morning when the ground is still frozen.  In many ways this is a race against time; specifically the time it takes the mud to unfreeze.  That doesn’t take very long on a sunny day.
Seedlings are continually monitored and planted as we gear up for transplanting into the soil in the coming months.  Now the tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and spinach have sprouted into some more green company for the numerous, grassy onions.  Watering has become a daily task and an important one at that.  Seedlings are like babies.  They are finicky and need things just right.  The right temperature, the right amount of sunlight (generally a lot with a few exceptions), not too much or too little water.  Get these things wrong in the early stages of growth and you can delay harvest by weeks, which could mean the difference between having a bountiful harvest and perhaps a complete failure.  Just as a baby would not grow as tall or intelligent as their potential allows if not properly fed, the plant responds similarly to poor growing conditions.  So take care of those seedlings!
Other random things I have done lately are to build 36-foot long skids for a moveable greenhouse out of boards we milled from trees cut earlier this year.  It took a lot of cutting 12-foot boards, squaring them, measurements, and probably 200 screws to hold it all together.  I also consolidated things into one storage room for more efficient cooling of what we have left of produce and canned goods.  It’s a lot of work to keep food fresh and stored.  Good thing I loooooove eating!
Off farm adventures include visiting another horse-powered farm on Monday in Whitefield owned by Donnie and Kathy Webb.  Their whole family is extremely warm, nice, and hard-working.  I hope to work their horses a few times in the coming year as per Donnie’s invitation.  Jeff and Amy bought Bill and Perry from the Webbs once upon a time. 
I also got to go whitewater canoeing with my friend Kate and her family this past Sunday on the Kennebec River.  The water was not exactly raging but was moving fast enough in sections to be exciting.  We spent three hours canoeing and taking in the forests and farmland bordering the Kennebec.  They also provided snacks, which I devoured ferociously like White Fang (I just read it in a day while I was sick on Tuesday and Wednesday; thanks Frank!).  If you haven’t read White Fang, like dogs, would like to be a dog/wolf but don’t have the means or imagination, want a quick read, or all of the above, I highly recommend it.  I spent all day today imagining what the farm dog April was thinking whenever I saw her.  Then I imagined how she would act if she were a wolf instead of a dog.  However, I digress.  I can’t wait until we have asparagus; I daydream about those as well.
For those of you intrigued by the delectable dealings of cornbread, have a try at the recipe below.  I promise you won’t regret it unless you burn your house down in the process.  You may then regret it a little until you eat some.  I use the recipe below minus the corn and the hot chilis since there are not really either of those in abundance right now.  They are superb additions to an already pleasant treat.

Corny Cornbread a.k.a. Cooooooooornbread (from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert)
Don’t have this without butter or honey.  It’s the bomb.
·       2 cups cornmeal
·       ¼ cup sugar or honey
·       1 teaspoon baking soda
·       1 teaspoon salt
Combine in a large bowl.
·       2 cups milk, yogurt, or a combination of both (I found that a half cup of yogurt and the rest milk makes the cornbread nice and moist while not too soggy or expensive)
·       3 eggs, beaten
Mix in.
·       2 cups corn
·       1 teaspoon hot or mild chilies minced (optional)
Mix in and pour into a greased casserole dish or large, cast-iron skillet (I prefer this).  If you use the skillet, it helps to put it in the oven while preheating it.  Place into a 350 degree preheated oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean.
Make sure you have butter or honey at hand.  Seriously.  Goes good with some chili.  I dare you not to eat half of it.  I dare you!

“This instant is the only time there is…”  - The fortune cookie fortune in my wallet

27 March 2011

I love Maine, cornbread, and peanut butter.

Just finished making some cornbread.  Butter, honey, and cornbread are a winning combination in my book.  I will also be trying a no-knead bread recipe that was published by Mark Bittman in the New York Times a few years ago.  Apparently it has spread in popularity amongst people who include baking bread in their repertoire of things they like to create.  Knowing conditions in the yurt, the yeast won’t rise because it’s too cold most of the time and the stove is mostly too hot.  My bread is consequently hit or miss in terms of quality.  My appetite, however, will not be deterred by doughy bread.
In other news, apparently things are not going well in Japan with their nuclear power plant.  I still don’t know what to make of nuclear power, but every source of energy has its positives and negatives.  One way to look at it is that nuclear power is willing to accept the risk of immediate damage while continuing to burn fossil fuels is putting off the risk to our health and environment to future generations.  What selfish little capitalists we are!  Of course this is one view and there are many others; the point I guess I’m trying to make is that the world is complicated place and in my own selfish way, I’m happy living in the bubble of the local farm world.  Despite all this, Wiscasset has a dismantled nuclear power plant called the Maine Yankee and therefore also has spent fuel nearby.  C’est la vie…
This Saturday I went to another Richard’s forge near Brunswick to try my hand at blacksmithing.  You’d be surprised how easily your arms get tired from hammering hot metal.  It requires finesse, accuracy, and power at the same time, the proper amounts of which constitute the word “technique.”  I managed to emulate a model of a round hook that Richard made with decent accuracy.  It’ll be fun trying to make useful, nice looking, tasteful pieces of metal out of iron/steel rods.  One day I hope to make my own knife as well.  Although it is fun and pretty cool to make things out of metal, I do have intentions of using the skill to work metal in my future as a farmer.  There are always things that need repair around the typical farm and the more you can do on your own, the more resources you can divert and stretch for use elsewhere on the farm.
Farm activity update
Status report: Normal
Weather: Good for maple sugaring (warm days, below freezing nights).  I went to a few farms to participate in Maple Sugar Sunday, an event taking place on farms all over Maine that draw sap from Maple Sugar trees (think Canadian flag).  It takes 40 gallons of sap to create what we call maple syrup.  None of that fake, high fructose corn syrup Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth crap.  It was a totally sweet event…pun intended.
Wind: Windy
Sun: Raising its angle in the northern sky so that each day we are receiving more solar radiation, thus warming this part of the world.  Oh, yeah the Spring Equinox just occurred last Sunday, marking the day that the sun’s most direct radiation occurs at the equator, creating equal days and nights at said equator.
Horses: Logged on Wednesday and Friday with them.  I will truly miss logging once it gets beyond muddy here.  However, that also means we will soon be able to have the horses work the ground, starting with discing and harrowing.
Seedlings: The onions just started showing their delicate, green shoots on Friday, a week after we planted them.  Excitement is abound in the greenhouse!  This is just the beginning of an over three month process of growth that will result in the beautiful, tasty bulbs that ubiquitously color our plates in an endless number of prepared dishes.  The thought just makes you think how amazing it is that an object the size of a pinhead, which is alive by the way, can grow into an edible, spicy, crunchy, sweet, baseball-sized onion.  Truly an unceasingly amazing process shaped by evolution.

That’s all my sleepy body’s got for tonight.  I bid you all a happy spring with opportunities and growth (but not unchecked) aplenty!

20 March 2011

Mashed Rutabaga Potato Supreme (from Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by John Peterson and Angelic Organics)

Serves 4
We have lots of rutabaga left and big ones at that.  Some of them are almost two pounds!  I got tired of roasted rutabaga and turnips since that’s mostly what we have left of the root crops.  No more onions…the humanity!  So I decided to try this recipe to use a big rutabaga.  The rutabaga just adds a little more comfort to the idea of mashed potatoes as comfort food.  I had to give some away to prevent myself from eating almost half of a big pot of it.
·       few pinches of salt
·       ½ large rutabaga (about 1 pound) peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
·       ½ pound potatoes, any kind, peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
·       1 medium carrot, chopped
·       ¼ cup milk (they also say that you can substitute some of the water you boil the veggies in for the milk)
·       3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
·       ¾ tablespoon salt
·       ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
·       ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1.     Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a few pinches of salt and then drop in the rutabaga; cook for 10 minutes.  Add the potato and carrot; cook until everything is tender, 15 to 20 more minutes.  Drain (reserving some of the liquid if you wish to use some).
2.     Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not boil.
3.     Mash the rutabaga and potato with the butter until smooth, adding a little of the warm milk at a time until the mixture reaches the consistency you like.  Stir in the salt, nutmeg and pepper to taste.  Serve caliente.  Goes well with the manure factory we call a beef cow.

Poop Scoop a Loop

Agriculture is all about the poop (and pee).  Manure, feces, cow pies, rabbit turds, sheep pellets, butt mud, corn dogs, logs rollin’ down the river, crap; whatever you may call them they are a valuable source of nutrient cycling on a farm.  You may be wondering why I am so obsessed with poop.  Well it’s not because I like the smell (depends on the animal), or because of its texture (although interesting in its own right), but because I went to a conference on grazing and pasture today.
Yes, I went to a work-related conference on a Saturday for those of you who value your weekends like I value manure.  It was refreshing to sit down and listen to people talk about something I want to learn more about in order to further my future plans.  It got me excited about improving soil quality, which grazing does in a few basic ways.  Without getting into too much detail, having animals such as cows, sheep, goats, and chickens provides many services for the farmer that are currently subsidized by fossil fuel inputs on conventionally farmed land; including the fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanical processes that must be done to the land in order to continue the ultimately detrimental means by which 80-90% of the food people in our country eat is produced.
A poop collective
Pre-processed plant food
When livestock graze on grass, they accelerate the storage of carbon and organic material (the stuff that makes good soil a deep, dark black/brown) in the soil as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, and calcium.  They do this by eating the aforementioned grass and its stored nutrients, using 10% of the energy and nutrients for themselves, and excreting the other 90% in a form readily available for other organisms to digest and breakdown into plant food again!  
Those tall things are made of recycled poop.

These same livestock help break up the soil by walking on it with their hooves; a process that would take much more fossil fuel energy to do and thereby costing the farmer more money to maintain the land.  Why is Breaking Soil important you ask?  The insects, bacteria, and fungi that live with and among the plant roots, as well as the plants themselves have better oxygen access, better water access, and both roots and insects have an easier time doing their respective things in order to eat.  Trampling the grass into the soil also helps replant grass seeds that would also take longer to germinate if otherwise left alone.
Bill's good at trampling ground.
The good stuff.

Oh, hay!  You used to be manure at one point and now you're gonna be turned into it.
The most valuable thing about grazing is that if you manage it properly, just as one would with any business, the land that the animals graze upon will become a healthier, more sustainable ecosystem that requires little to no external outputs.  We all find nature beautiful in one form or another and I think part of the reason why is because the organisms we observe always find a way to restore balance and continue reproducing against the odds that we and other organisms put against them.  The real, basic difference between us and any other organism is that we are always trying to do too much and make things go in a straight line when everything in nature works in circles (talk about having your cake and eating it too, that just makes more poop).  
The cycle is almost complete.

Hence my obsession with poop.  All that energy has got to go somewhere.  It is a waste to continue to transport things hundreds or thousands of miles when you have what you need to live relatively comfortably within a hundred miles.  Right now, what we are doing is taking nutrients from places like California and the Midwest, eating them wherever we live (i.e. New York or Maine), and depositing 90% of those nutrients into the sewer, septic tank, or what have you.  At some point, there will be no more nutrients in those places if we continue to avoid eating locally.
There is a real reason that the small farmers’ mantra is to eat local and it isn’t just about supporting them and their families.  It’s about supporting yourself and your kids in the future, and creating a vibrant, local community that understands the importance of their food beyond just being something you need to get through the day.
At any rate, we may be done logging for the winter as it’s getting really muddy (I have the Carhartt’s to prove it) and thus would be too difficult for the horses to pull logs out of the woods.  We started our onion seedlings Friday in preparation for their growth and then storage in the fall.  Onion seeds are small, need precision planting in order to not waste too many, and I planted the majority of 52 trays of onions.  This took most of yesterday.  I just have to say that Ipods are great in a hot greenhouse.  Anyways, if you have any questions or are interested in learning more about livestock, manure, etc., let me know in the comments and I will try to let you know now that I am an expert on livestock from one conference.  Or just leave me a comment if you’re sick of me talking about poo.  I’ll try not to include it anymore in this update.

13 March 2011

Horse-Logging on March 8, 2011


More pics and video after the jump...

Round Here They Call It Mud Season

Today the clocks turn forward as we continue our steady march into spring.  Apparently the rooster didn’t get that memo as he still woke me up at the same time; formerly 5:30 am, now 6:30 am.  Despite the early rise, the sunrise was beautiful this morning after taking what my dad would call my “morning constitutional” while listening to birds this morning.  I wish I knew more about birds so I could identify them by calls and such.  Either way, my mouth, mind, and body yearn for the coming greens and asparagus.
The driveway is no longer icy or snowy, making for muddy walks up the driveway.  At least it’s easier on the knees.  Pretty soon we will be starting up allium seedlings which include onions, leeks, and shallots (we won’t be planting these though I don’t think).  Garlic is also an allium, but is usually planted in the fall to be grown over the winter and into spring in the northern climes.
On a very happy note, I had my first brave visitor to the farm.  Hailing from Washington D.C., originally from New York City, he will be a doctor of the academic variety in a few years and is and always be a dear friend of mine…introducing Nick “the Ox” Oxenhorn!  Here is a picture of him in action with an axe on one of the four days we logged this week. 

Nick was a trooper, braving the rainstorm on Sunday to come up here from New York while on spring break and roughing it in the yurt.  His report on the fold-out couch bed was that it was not very comfortable.  I promise to any future visitors that I will obtain a futon that will hopefully be more comfortable than said mattress.  I also give Nick kudos for maintaining vigilance against the cold, wet weather we had the two days he was here helping out on the farm.  Thanks for taking me out to House of Pizza in Waterville for that awesome beast of a buffalo chicken calzone.  It satiated my appetite the next day for lunch as well! 
Your contribution to working on the farm was invaluable to me on a personal level as well since it’s always nice to work with a friend to make the time pass a little more quickly.  Nick was also nice enough to be a photographer/cinematographer Tuesday morning to take pictures of me logging and getting the horses ready.  The photos and videos will be posted separately so that you guys can view them at your leisure.  Warning:  There are scenes of graphic violence against trees.  The following movies are rated I for immature audiences and E for educational.
Other things that happened on the farm this week: the sheep got out of their non-electrically charged enclosure Thursday and wandered down the road so that Jeff and I had to round them up by holding a bucket of grain out the car and calling “SHEEP SHEEP SHEEP” in a high-pitched voice.  We subsequently set up a new, actually charged fence so that they won’t escape again until they get put on pasture.  The ewes are mostly pregnant and will probably be giving birth to lambs soon.  Warm, tasty, delicious lambs (Nick was amused that they are so poofy and insulated by their wool as well as the fact that I punch the ram in the head when he tries to charge me).
After the sheep incident and many other delays, Jeff and I were able to pull out most of the sawlogs that we cut down the week and Tuesday previous with the horses.  I was extremely tired by Friday morning from the intensity of moving the logs.  Part of the process includes getting them into a relatively neat log pile for the sawyer.  This is no small feat considering the logs average 18 inches in diameter and are anywhere from 8 to 16 feet long.  An Olympic weight lifter, Conan the Barbarian, or the Hulk may have no problem moving these, but it is certainly tough work for two men weighing less than 200 pounds each.
Finally, on a much sadder note, Jeff had to have Mary put down by the veterinarian yesterday.  Mary was good old horse and Jeff’s first horse.  She hadn’t put much weight on this fall in preparation for winter for whatever reason and so had been kept separate from the other horses in order to try to feed her more hay and grain.  This Monday, she was limping around her enclosure due to some sort of injury to her left hind leg.  An X-ray and two vets later, it was thought that she perhaps had a dislocated patella (a.k.a. kneecap).  Come Saturday morning before market she was found by Jeff and I on the ground lying on her side, unable to get up on her own.  After much deliberating the whole week, the decision was made clear by her condition yesterday morning. 
Mary’s death was a sad event, but everyone took it well enough.  One of the many things that farm life helps a person learn is that death is a part of our existence no matter how valued a being’s life is.  However it is those moments that you experience and can recall with vivid detail that enrich your existence down to your very bones.
“Seek not happiness too greedily, and be not fearful of happiness.”  - Lao Tzu

06 March 2011

Un poco descansa, la mente camina

It is officially March and my first two months here at Buckwheat Blossom Farm have flown by.  Like any true farmer, I’ve begun to think about the near future and all the tasks that will need to be done in the coming weeks.  Not to mention it’s all other farm workers I’ve met ask and talk about lately.  “Did you start your onion seedlings yet?,”  seems to be the prevailing topic of conversation in the circles I’m involved in here. 
In exactly two weeks it will be the vernal equinox.  Vernal as in spring, equinox as in equal night (though technically this is more true at the equator than in Maine or even New York City).  The days are slowly getting longer and warmer which means melting snow, maple sugaring season, and less getting the farm truck stuck in the driveway hopefully.  I’ve nicknamed it “Stuckey the Truckey.”
In other news, Amy and Jeff held a potluck dinner for CSA members and friends.  This was a lot of fun and of course I got to eat a lot of delectable food.  Jeff gave sleigh rides to the kids and family; this was a big hit and a lot of fun from the eyewitness accounts from everyone involved.  Bill and Perry were the two horses hitched for the rides as they are the most steady team on the farm.  Even though I was not directly involved in driving them I was, in a way, proud that they did such a good job as horses willing to pull a bunch of noisy people around in circles for a couple hours in deep snow.  I look forward to every opportunity to work with the horses despite the challenges and frustrations.
Other than the CSA, we’ve been logging.  I have been alternating bad logging day, good logging day.  A bad day qualifies as so when the trees I cut down don’t seem to fall where I want them to, get caught up on other trees and don’t fall, or just take forever to get down.  Thursday was really good in the morning and really bad in the afternoon; the three trees I tried to cut are still up in various states of falling.  Friday was a good day of cutting and thus ended my week on a good note.  In any case, I’m much more comfortable with the chainsaw and it’s slowly becoming as Jeff says, “an extension of your body.”  My movements are improving in their swiftness, smoothness, and efficiency as I learn to control the saw safely.  Sometimes I feel like I’m holding a lightsaber.
For those of you wondering what I look like now, I trimmed my moustache because it was just getting ridiculous looking.  I’ll have a picture up next week with the help of my very good friend Nick who’s coming to visit today from Georgetown for the next few days.  I’ve been daydreaming about fresh greens and veggies pretty much every day now, hence the title of this update.  My mouth waters at the thought…Until next week, peace out homies!
Stir-fried Root Veggies (Serves 4 regular people, 2 Rich Lees)
When I’m craving a quick, fresh-tasting, and filling vegetable meal this is my fall-back.  Most of your time is spent prepping.  I like using the wok my Mom/Grandma gave me, but you can use a large skillet as well.  I’m probably giving away some kinda secret but the key to a lot of the sauces in Chinese cuisine is cornstarch, which creates a gravy of whatever flavors you have thrown into your dish.  I’ve finally perfected the balance of ingredients and seasoning, but it was all done by taste and feel.  You’ll have to practice yourself to get it right.
·       2 tablespoons of oil
·       1 chopped onion
·       3 cups of chopped turnips, rutabaga, carrots, and kohlrabi (nice because it has a broccoli flavor)
·       4 cloves of sliced garlic
·       A heaping teaspoon of minced ginger (courtesy of the ginger people?)
·       Around ¼ cup of water; more can always be added later
·       1 teaspoon of cornstarch
·       Soy sauce to taste; I tend to use a lot because I am constantly craving salt from sweating, very appetizing I know.
Prep all the veggies ahead of time as you will be cooking at a high temperature.  Put your wok/skillet on medium-high heat, and then pour the oil in.  Before the oil gets too hot, throw in the onions, stirring constantly.
When the onions become soft, put the garlic in and continue to stir for less than 30 seconds or else it will burn.  This imparts a lot of the garlic flavor into the oil.  Put the rest of your veggies in along with the ginger, stirring once in a while for a couple minutes. 
In the meantime, mix the water and cornstarch together and then pour the mixture into the wok.  Continue to cook until the root veggies become tender.  You may need to add more water depending on their moisture content as the water helps to steam the veggies as well.  At this point you can add the soy sauce to taste and let some of the water cook off to make a semi-thick gravy.  Serve the veggies over rice, quinoa, or even some elbow macaroni (brings back childhood memories).  Wokka wokka!
 PS - I baked bread for the second time in two weeks and I think I finally got it!
“You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

27 February 2011

Spring is coming! I heard baby birds chirping when I woke up on Thursday.

Good Sunday to everyone!  I missed an update last week due to being a designated driver for my friend Annie and her 10 family members.  It was quite fun despite my being the only sober one in the group because they’re all characters and it was nice to be a part of a family reunion where you could tell everyone genuinely loves each other.  Makes me miss my family a bit (thanks Mom for reminding me to update the blog!).
My other excuse for skipping the blog was that I was injured for about a week and a half and pretty bummed about not being able to log or drive horses.  I thought I had broken a rib because it was painful to take deep breaths, cough, sneeze, and move my left arm in certain ways.  Alas, I am almost a hundred percent and so I logged on Wednesday and drove horses on Thursday.  I was exhausted but happy by the time Saturday rolled around.
Speaking of Saturday, the last two markets, we have been selling apples from Amy’s aunt and uncle’s local orchards.  They have been kept in controlled atmosphere storage (Amy explained that the apples are placed in a refrigeration unit where the air is removed and replaced with nitrogen, helping slow the aging of the apples) and are soooo delicious.  We’ve sold New England Granny Smith, Empire, Golden Delicious, Jona Gold, and Macintosh apples.  Each is good in its own little way and is a good dessert after a long day.  I’ve grown a better appreciation of apples and am increasingly composing myself of apples through copious consumption.
Another cool thing I was privileged to be a part of was a market meeting where we voted on whether to accept new applicants for booths in the market space.  The meeting was quite informal with applicants just stating what they were planning to sell and how in front of the current vendors.  After all applicants were done presenting, answering questions, and perhaps providing samples, we voted for each one; keeping in mind the economic well-being of each vendor, potential competition, and diversity within the market.  It was pretty quick and painless after a long day at the Brunswick Winter Market.
One of my favorite parts of market is the sense of community you get from just being there week in and week out.  Most of the vendors are nice enough to give other vendors (such as myself) some goodies that they don’t feel like bringing home like bread, cookies, brownies, and leftover cheese (shout-out to Britney at Swallowtail Farm and Creamery!).  I got many this week.  Another aspect of market that reinforces this sense of community is the great willingness to barter rather than just straight buy from each other.  People will always accept food for services or products; I really like that about the food world.  One might say it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Well, that’s all I got for now.  Go out there and support your local farmer even if it means trying unknown foods!  You never know what you’ll like.  You should also check out the Buckwheat Blossom Farm blog, which I have linked here and also on the right side somewhere à.  Amy has some excellent recipes for winter veggies and recently published a little bio and picture of me doing a farm-like activity.  It’s worth the extra few clicks to see my then month old Fu Man Chu ‘stache.  Peace out homies.

Rich’s Quick and Easy Winter Farm Breakfast Recipe (RQEWFBR for those of you who like acronyms)
I’ve been trying to find some quick and creative ways to use veggies in meals and recently have become a fan of trying root crops in my eggs to give them an added dimension of flavor and richness.  For those of you who are light breakfasters (a real word according to Microsoft), this is nice.  Most mornings I additionally have two pieces of buttered/honeyed toast, and quick oats (oatmeal) with honey, raisins, and cinnamon.  If I’m feeling really hungry, I make a few piece of Jeff’s salted, smoked bacon.  Ooooh man, the bacon. 
·       Bacon (made delicious and sliced)
·       Half a small turnip roughly chopped
·       A small carrot roughly chopped
·       Minced garlic (who doesn’t love garlic?)
·       Two eggs
If you’re having bacon, you should cook that first so you can use the fat to cook your turnips, carrots and garlic.  This sounds like a lot of fat, but I need it and it just adds a bunch of flavor. 
Once the bacon is done, turn the heat down to medium-low and throw on the chopped turnips and carrots.  Stir occasionally until they start to brown a little.  Add the garlic and stir frequently until it’s fragrant; about 30 seconds.  Crack the eggs right on top of the veggies and break the yolk with your spatula as if you were making scrambled eggs.  This shouldn’t take longer than a couple minutes.  Butter your toast, cinnamon your oatmeal, chow down.  You like?

13 February 2011

If you are the big tree, we are the small axe

Sometimes the Bob Marley song "Small Axe" pops into my head while I'm logging.  I'm pretty addicted to logging with the horses....to the point where I have dreams about cutting down big, big trees.  This past Wednesday night I dreamt I cut down a 140 foot tree and that it took like 5 minutes to actually fall to the ground.  It was awesome.

Anyway it's been logging pretty much every day.  We've been separating them into three different piles in three different yards depending on the tree and what it's being used for.  We've been cutting fir trees for pulpwood (paper), maples and birches for firewood, and big ol' spruces and hemlocks, called sawlogs for Amy's mom's house that will be built within a couple years.  The sawlog yard is about 50 feet from the yurt and sometimes is a nice break from driving horses; unless you really don't like trying to move big logs on top of each other.  Let's just say you get really tired by the end of the day when working in the yard as what we affectionately have dubbed the "yard b*tch." 

Yesterday, the 12th, I had a good time at market as always and then went straight to the US toboggan championships in Camden, Maine.  Unfortunately I got there at 3 PM and the races ended at 4.   However, I met up with Andy and Cara, whose friends had a tent with a wood stove and a DJ on the lake that was the end of the toboggan race.  I didn't see one race at all.  They weren't that interesting anyway.  I did do a lot of dancing.  That was interesting.  After that we went sledding down this big hill that you could probably reach 40 mph on.  Who knew all this snow could be so fun?  About to go snowshoeing...

I've decided that trying recipes and then posting them is a lot of work, but I have been making lots of cornbread with butter and for quick meals have been stir frying sliced rutabaga, turnips, onions, garlic, and carrots with some soy sauce and ginger.  Sounds funky, but tastes awesome and you can eat a lot of it without feeling gluttonous.  Just be sure not to burn the garlic, saute the onions, and put a little water in with the root veggies so they get steamed.  Y'all stay smelly.

"Seek not happiness too greedily, and be not fearful of happiness."
-Lao Tzu

06 February 2011

Horse Logging: How to be a gentle badass

Spring is slowly approaching, the buds are swelling on the trees, and the days get long enough for me to walk back in the light most of the time.  Just to remind us it’s still winter though, nature every so often dumps snow on Mid-Coast Maine in 1-2 foot increments.  Perfect logging conditions if you’re a 6’ 4” giant like Jeff.  Not so much for myself.
There are so many subtleties to driving horses, it’s so hard to figure out where to begin describing what you are doing; especially because there is waist deep snow and we’re logging.  In so many words, however, I agree with Jeff’s suggestion that it may be much easier to learn to drive horses whilst logging in the winter because you can establish a rapport with the horses and driving them.  Thus when the time comes to have to drive them in straight lines when plowing, mounding rows, seeding, cultivating (weeding), and spreading manure, it will be a piece of mud pie.  The downside is that you really are being thrown into working the horses and occasionally being dragged through deep snow.  It may seem obvious but this method requires a steep learning curve. 
Fortunately for both the horses and I, my comfort level with them and giving commands with voice and lines is growing steadily.  In any case, the following is my attempt to give everyone an idea of what driving horses is like as a beginner.  Class, put on your thinking caps and try to imagine with me…  It’s anywhere from 20-35 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the unbroken snow stands about 2 and half feet high.  Consequently you have 2 or 3 pairs of socks on, a pair of long johns or two, several layers that you may or may not peel off up top, and of course a warm hat.  Your heavy winter boots protect you from the cold, hoofs, axes, saws, and stumps.  Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, you carry several pairs of gloves with you: a warm pair of work gloves for cutting trees and moving objects, a pair of gloves with rubber grips so that you can get a grip on the cold, snowy lines (reins), and probably a thinner pair of gloves underneath for extra warmth.
As you drive the horses, you use a combination of voice commands and the lines.  In order to get the horses moving you use anything from “giddup” to “comeup” or even a kissing sound.  To stop you say “whoa.”  A sharp left is “haw” while right is “gee.”  If you have to back up some, you say…drum roll…“back.”  There are other, more complex, commands, but these are the basics.  There is not need to yell, but you should be using a confident, calm tone similar to how a good dog owner commands their dog.
Most of your steering is done using the lines, but you aren’t just using your arms to jerk the lines around.  While you are walking directly behind the horses about 8 feet back, you are trying to maintain “perfect tension.”  If you hold back on the lines too much the horses will respond by slowing or stopping; if the lines are slack, you do not have control and the horses will either quickly become confused or stop.  Keep in mind the horses are connected to the lines by bits, which are bars or chains placed in their mouth so that they are very sensitive to your line pressure.  Now imagine trying to do all this under the conditions I described in the paragraph above.  That’s what we be doing for anywhere from 3 to 7 hours a day 4 days a week except you’re also hitching 20-50 foot logs by chain to an “evener” connected to the pair of horses, called a team, to a log yard about a tenth of a mile down the trail.  In between you might be cutting down trees and completing all the associated procedures.
I will say this though, I love horse logging the more I improve at it.  The sense of accomplishment of hauling this tree with the help of these beautiful animals is exhaustingly spiritual.  My respect for the horses as individuals with personalities is manifest in the way I talk to them, pet them, praise them, and drive them.  The fact that they can make a job that would take several humans much longer to complete look so effortless is extremely humbling.  I’ll admit that for the first week or so I was nervous, anxious, and even dreading working with the horses because it is a grind and requires enormous patience.  At the end of the day, your body feels worn, your lungs are sucking in the cold air with reckless abandon, and your hands, arms, and legs are burning from holding the lines, moving logs, and handling chains.  Additionally your legs and feet are wet from the snow melting and absorbing into your pants/long johns and then your pants freeze so that you have shin guards for jeans.  But boy, oh boy, is it fun and it does get easier.           
So there it is, being a gentleman to the horses (goooood horses), and hustling and straining to hop over moving logs (grunt); a gentle badass.  Are you man or woman enough to be a horse logger?  If a 12-year-old boy can do it (and yes we have a 12 year old who technically owns one of the horses doing this about once a week), then you can.  Plus, you can then eat as much peanut butter with carrots, squash, bacon, and eggs as you want and not get fat, which is pretty much what I’ve been running on as staples.  However, not all together although they might actually be good combined now that I think about it…

“If there is a God, it made peanut butter and jelly.”  - Myself

29 January 2011

There are so many things that we take for granted

My voluntary poverty has taught me that sometimes less is more, but also some things that most people consider a mandatory requirement is a luxury to most people in the world.  This isn't meant to be an open complaint nor a plea for help; just some of my thoughts and lessons.

We're all lucky to have (especially city folk):
  1. Running hot water
  2. A flushing toilet
  3. A well-insulated house
  4. Heat with a thermostat
  5. Plumbing that goes away from our houses
  6. The ability to shower whenever we want
If you truly think for just a second, most of the people in the developing world (around 4 billion people) do not have these things.  I am forever grateful when I do have access to these luxuries and you, my friends, are lucky too.  Not having these things makes life a little slower, a little more of a process, but each in their own way helps one appreciate the connectedness of our existence with the rest of the world.

Our waste water has to go somewhere, mine goes into a bucket and then gets dumped outside nearby.  Our heaters have thermostats, I am the yurt's thermostat.  Our hot water has to get warmed by burning some type of fuel, my fuel is the wood in the wood stove.  Despite my having to wake up once a night to get the fire going again, I can smile at it and have a good sense of my place in the world.  I am in tune with the weather and temperature.  I am acutely aware of the lengthening of days as spring quickly approaches as every day the sky gets brighter earlier and the chickens follow suit.  I also get to see the billions of stars that slowly rotate in a sparkling mosaic across the blue-black canvas above, Orion, Cassiopeia, and the seven sisters greeting me as I walk home from the farmhouse to the yurt.

A good meal, a warm fire, and some peanut butter are all I need to be happy at the end of the night.  I have access to all the winter veggies I want, some meat, and then some.  Life is pretty good if you ask me.  If you haven't tried the winter squash recipe I posted before, you're missing out on a piece of heaven.  I've become a squash addict over the last week.

Roasted Winter Vegetables
This recipe is somewhat adapted from a cookbook, but also suggestions.

  • however many winter veggies you want to eat (carrots, winter squash, rutabaga, kohlrabi (tastes like broccoli but in root form), turnips, celeriac, winter squash, and winter squash)
  • a couple tablespoons of olive oil 
  • a healthy sprinkling of dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, and oregano
Slice these, except the winter squash, into 1/4 inch slices.   If you don't like to eat the squash skins, you will want to peel them first.  Cut the squash into 1/2 inch slices.  Toss the ingredients until everything is coated in oil and place them into a baking pan.  Heat your oven to 450F and cook for a half hour or so until all the veggies are tender.  Simple, delicious, filling.  Buckwheat Blossom's mutton sausage goes well with this...

Other quick updates, I will be doing more horse logging next week after doing it all this week.  I'll let you know about the experience of learning to drive horses while they're dragging a 40 foot log through 2 feet of snow.  I was so tired last night I literally got home from the farmhouse and fell asleep at 9pm.

PS - Shoutout to Candace and Freeman!  Thanks for the olives, reading material, and slippers!  Most of all, I'm addicted to Candace's German chocolate dough balls.  You should seriously consider baking those and selling them!  I'm also glad you guys have decided to work to help people in the Dominican Republic.  It is a beautiful thing you are doing.

Til next week, stay toasty!  Some pictures (finally) below...

The yurt, with Tacoma as a reference (A professional photographer, I am not)

The door that humans and dogs use.  The mice like to climb in elsewhere.
The Office

How I look while working but with shirts on.

22 January 2011

I know I'm doing something right when...

my past self would never believe the things that I’m doing today.  Life is like a box of chocolates and such.  You can’t predict or plan the future, but you can plan for the future.  You make the best of what you’ve got and achieve something meaningful, personally awarding, challenging, and worthwhile.  I suppose it is this philosophy that meshes so well with both my own personality and farming that really has lead me to the present.
A short list of things I have accomplished this week (and not done before):
·       shape an axe handle, place the head on the handle, and grinding down a piece of metal that keeps the head in place
·       sharpened chainsaws
·       learned to directionally fell trees
·       build a shelf (Ikea does not count)
Speaking of the present, I am presently tired.  Waking up at 4:30-4:45 AM on Saturdays is extremely tiring despite the excitement that market brings.  It doesn’t help that I woke up in the middle of the night to get the fire going again and couldn’t go back to sleep for a couple of hours because I was thinking about the horses. 
Friday I drove the horses for the first time and it was simply exhilarating.  I learned to brush and harness the horses; this time it was Bill and Perry, the two 16-year-old red Belgians.  Jeff and I (along with Ross, a former apprentice hitchhiking) hooked up a small sleigh to the horses in order to bring feed and hay to the chickens and sheep, respectively.  Along the way, close enough to the sheep, the sleigh tipped over along with Ross and I.  Luckily there is no shortage of snow since it snowed another good foot yesterday. 
On the way back to the house, the sleigh’s evener (a part of the sleigh that evenly distributes the load during turns) hit a stump and broke.  So began my extreme cardio workout of ground-driving the horses through two feet of snow with Jeff leading us down the trail.  Without getting into too much detail, I felt like I just ran a marathon because I had to walk quickly and with reins in hand controlling the horses.  Getting back to the house, we had to unharness and brush the horses again.  Doesn’t sound too bad until you realize the horses’ shoulders are 6 feet.  What is nice about the brushing is that you do get to establish a relationship with them; a most crucial part to being able to work with them.
That’s why I’m so tired.  THE END.  Oh yeah, cutting trees down is the shiznat!  More on the chainsaw part of logging another time.  THE END for real.

"In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty" - Bob Marley

Baked Squash and Apples (from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert)
·       2 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, fibers removed (it calls for butternut but I used acorn squash too) and cut into ½-inch slices
Place these into a baking dish
·       2-3 apples (cored and cut into ½-inch slices)
Place on top of the squash.
·       1/3 cup brown sugar (I just threw a little honey on top)
·       3 tablespoons butter (melted)
·       1 tablespoon flour
·       1 teaspoon salt
·       ¼ teaspoon mace (??)
·       I put some cinnamon since, well cinnamon and apples are a winning combo
Combine these last ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle on top of the squash and apples.  Cover and bake at 350F until squash is tender, 40-50 minutes.  It’ll take longer, as it did for me, if they are piled high.  Final step, close your eyes and enjoy the sweet combination of winter squash and apples.  Blink, savor, repeat.