Wilhelm Von Cocklespurs

rooster-1182216Well, for better or worse, this family has finally got itself a rooster!

We actually tried to get a rooster a while ago, but our first attempt didn’t quite pan out.  The local feed store got in an order of gold sex link chicks, and there were a few male chicks in the bunch, which are yellowish-white instead of reddish-gold.  I picked out the whitest one I could find, named him Captain, and brought my little guy home.  The weeks went by, the chicks all feathered out and grew up, but instead of turning into a handsome gold sex link roo, Captain grew into a beautiful whitish-gold Ameraucana pullet.

Of course.

This time, we didn’t mess around.  I saw an ad on a Facebook site for a 6 month old rooster, whom the seller claimed was too nice to eat, and I jumped on it.

0324 rooster2.jpgWe christened him Wilhelm Von Cocklespurs and appointed him the rank of Major General (because obviously).  He’s an olive egger/Ameraucana cross.  More to the point, he is magnificent and gorgeous and every time he crows, even at dawn, I feel a little rush in my chest.  I think it’s the feeling of being closer to our goal of being out on the farm; to being a homesteader.  I know that’s silly, but it’s also true.

We wanted a rooster for a number of reasons, but mainly to protect our flock.

We expanded to 13 hens this year, and we allow them to them free-range over the acre we live on.  It’s not much and we do have quite a few neighbors, I know, but there are tons of predators around.  I hear dozens of coyotes nightly, and even though I don’t see them, I know raccoons and opossums are around en mass.  We lost two of our chicks (including Captain, the non-rooster) just a week ago to some unknown menace, but I suspect that a bald eagle or a red tail hawk got them because they were still in a fenced pen.

A good rooster will be constantly vigilant, allowing the hens to relax and focus on their all-important egg laying duties.  He will also protect his flock with his life.  I hope that’s not something Wilhelm will ever have to do, but mature hens are a huge investment in time (not to mention a small-to-moderate investment in money), and we do feel better knowing he’s out there keeping an eye on things.

0324 rooster3.jpgI knew adding a rooster, even a young one, to an existing flock of hens could sometimes be difficult.  Chickens can be pretty brutal to any newcomers, and even with those lethal spurs it’s not unheard of for a few hens to literally peck a rooster to death.

So far though, thankfully, it’s been a smooth transition.

Per all the advice on the internet, we kept Wilhelm separated in the old chick pen for a couple of days and then moved him in with the ladies after they’d all already gone to roost for the night.  The next morning when we let them out, everyone acted like he’d always been there, warbling and clucking at each other sweetly.

The young chicks aren’t leaving the barn much currently, so he mainly stays with the the mature hens, who can roam pretty far during the day.  He trails behind them with one eye cocked to the sky and the edge of the field, crowing valiantly when he sees something strange and possibly dangerous (like the neighbor’s dog).  He’s been very courteous and well-mannered to them, and even though he doesn’t quite trust us yet, he hasn’t been aggressive at all.

And that’s very good news for Major General Wilhelm, because otherwise we would have had to name him Headed For the Stew Pot.

‘Dishing Up the Dirt’ Cookbook Review

0311 cookbook review 1.jpg

Something I’ve found out (the very hard way) during my 13 years of gardening and trying to cook is that being able to grow a diverse amount of amazing fruit and vegetables is one thing.

Actually using and eating those vegetables that you grew is something else altogether.

It can be nothing short of impossible on the best of days to think of a way to use the kohlrabi you planted on a whim, and sometimes there is just no way you can eat another mouthful of salad.  Just. No. Way.  Meanwhile, the plants keep growing and piling up in your kitchen and pretty soon you are ready to renounce gardening and vegetables altogether and embrace a diet comprised entirely of microwave pizzas.

The struggle.  It is real, my friends.

Which is why, recently, in the throes of another rainy March afternoon, I was so thrilled to come across Andrea Bemis’s new cookbook, “Dishing Up the Dirt“.  Andrea is a farmer here in Oregon, as well as an amazing cook (and blogger), so she knows just what the rest of us are going through.  The recipes are original, creative and they all sound delicious!

0311 cookbook review 3

I’ve bought a lot of “farm to table” cookbooks over the years, and other cookbooks written by other farmers, but for the most part I’ve been disappointed with all of them.

My main complaints with these books are that either they’re written by restaurant chefs and the recipes are just too complex and impossible for the likes of me, or they deal primarily with animal proteins.  I don’t have a problem with animal proteins – I love cheese and hamburgers and yogurt as much as the next person – but what I needed was a cookbook that helped me deal with all the plants I was growing, not the other stuff.  And I needed that help to be very straightforward and uncomplicated.

“Dishing Up the Dirt” is that book.

The recipes are, for the most part, all very simple – as cooking vegetables (and really anything) should be.  Some of the recipes I’m most excited to try are Spring Harvest Pizza with Mint and Pea Pesto, Grilled Scallions with Romesco Sauce, Kohlrabi Fritters with Garlic Herb Cashew Cream Sauce, and Rutabaga Home Fries with Smokey Cashew Sauce.  Don’t those just sound insanely good?!

Andrea’s book also holds true to it’s subtitle of “simple recipes for cooking through the seasons.”  Instead of organizing her book by breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes as most cookbooks do, she separates the recipes by season, using ingredients that are either growing in your garden at the time or that you can find at your local farmer’s market.  She also explains that she did this because there is no hard and fast rule that you can’t eat oatmeal for dinner.  She eats what her body craves when it craves it, and that honestly seems more healthy to me.

0311 cookbook review 2Another thing that makes this cookbook so wonderful are the essays at the beginning of each chapter, and also the introductory paragraph with each recipe.  Andrea’s writing is honest and genuine, giving readers a wonderful glimpse into what it takes to live and work on a farm, and to grow and sell food for other people.  It’s a beautiful tribute to this way of life, and if I didn’t already know that I wanted to spend my life growing food in the quiet of the country, this book would definitely push me in that direction.

Now, I know that I am on the record about not being a fan of cooking, and for the most part it’s absolutely 100% true.  But I do want to eat those healthy and nourishing things I grow out in the garden (and, more importantly, I want my children to eat them) and I think that thanks to this cookbook we’ll be doing just that.

Bring on the vegetables!

61W8OeguVeL._SX401_BO1,204,203,200_Dishing Up the Dirt
Simple Recipes for Cooking Through the Seasons
By: Andrea Bemis
Publisher: Harper Wave | March 14, 2017
Format: Hardcover | 304 pages
Rating: 5 of 5

Hands in the Dirt, Finally!


0314 pac choyAt long last we got a break in the weather and were able to get some things done on the farm.  Not a lot of things, granted, but oh my goodness it felt good to do even just a few!

First things first, I removed the cover cloth from the rows of peas and was happy to see them poking out of the ground.  I was less happy to see the enormous amount of weeds also growing.  The main culprits are buttercups, then couch grass, then … garlic!  Yes, I am counting baby garlic plants as weeds as long as they are in the pea patch.  Weeds are whatever you don’t want, wherever you don’t want them, and I definitely don’t want garlic there!

I started the long and tedious task of pulling all the weeds, but the soil is still too wet and big clods of it would come away with whatever I pulled.  As much as I hate to wait, I’m going to have to until the soil is drier and the peas are bigger and better rooted.  I WAS able to hoe that empty middle row however, and I went ahead and planted bok choy there.  It will tolerate this coolish spring weather, and should be ready to harvest by early June.  I’ll go ahead and sow something else there when it’s done.  Maybe zinnias?

I also cleared the old, overgrown strawberry patch and planted new strawberries.  The soil there had been under plastic for the last couple of years, so it was perfect, crumbly and mostly dry.  I need to get some straw to mulch the plants and I also need more strawberries, because I seriously underestimated the size of this patch and only ended up planting about 1/3 of it.  I want to be picking pounds of strawberries in the coming years!  POUNDS!

I wish I could have done more – planting out onions and cauliflower and all that other good stuff – but this was a good start.  It was honestly just what I needed after all the endless days of rain we’ve been having.

Holding Pattern

FullSizeRender (5)We’ve been out to the farm a few times this last week.  Quick, unexciting visits undertaken in the gloom of sopping wet weather to put the garbage can on the street; to drop off and then again to put together a storage tent in which we’ll put the wood of the shed as we dismantle it; and lately to check the progress of the peas we planted in late February.

Those peas have not pushed earthside yet, but of course I poked around a bit and found that they are germinating down there.  Barring any freezing temperatures, it should be just a few days more until they emerge.  I’m looking forward to these torrential rains stopping so I can plant my Green Arrow and Sugar Snap peas, and I’m equally looking forward to seeing how they do; seeing if later sowing really makes any difference.  A late February planting date has worked well for me for the last decade, but the weather is nothing if not unpredictable, and so far this spring has been downright awful.  I guess it’s good to branch out, to experiment a little.  I really don’t know enough to be set in my ways, after all.

FullSizeRender (8)Small errands aside, it’s been too wet and cold and windy to do any of the things that really need to be done, like tilling the garden.  How do other people in this predicament get their gardens ready for planting when it’s too wet to turn the earth?  Do they do it anyway, soil compaction be damned?  Or do they just wait, glancing nervously at the calendar as the drenching days tick by?

I admit I’ve never had to think about this before because I’ve always had raised beds to fall back on, with their loose and loamy soil, and also because for the first time we’re doing it on such a large scale (for us) and with the equally large intention of producing the majority of our vegetable needs for the year.  I also admit (sheepishly) that we could have been planting already, hypothetically, if we’d just prepared the garden last fall like good smallholders do.  Then everything could have already been cleaned and tilled and tucked away under plastic, ready for rake and hoe and seed.

But for us, for now, and for as despondent as it may make us feel, there is nothing left to do but defer to the weather.

The Books of February

red-love-heart-typographyAnother month of reading great books!

  1. News of the World by Paulette Jiles
  2. The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
  3. House Divided by Ben Ames Williams

I only got through three books this month, a piddly amount especially after last month, and it was mainly because House Divided is 1536 pages long!  I kid you not, it was the longest book I’ve ever read.  It’s all about one big family during the Civil War.  It was an interesting read, but slow.  So very slow.

All the books this month were set either during or just after the Civil War.  I didn’t plan that, it just happened.  I do love reading about that era (I almost minored in Civil War history in college, after all), but normally I like to vary my reading a little more.  However, it could very well have been a subconscious choice because I always feel so rebellious against weather and calendar in February.

Well, thankfully we’re now well into March.  The rebellion is over, and the good books continue.  Happy reading!

Going with the Flow

pexels-photo-214654.jpgOne of the many (many) steps on the road to applying for a development permit, which is the little piece of paperwork that will make it legal for us to get rid of the existing farmhouse and build a new one, is making sure we have clean drinking water.

I’ve mentioned before that there is a spring running through the property that has been the water source since the house was built in 1895.  It starts just above the middle half of our 40 acres, and runs down past the house, ending up as a pretty substantial little creek.

Even though this spring had been providing this home water for the last century, we still had to check with the state to see whether we are actually allowed to use it or not.  Because all water in Oregon is publicly owned, people have to have permits that allow them the right to use the water, even if the water originates on their land. You know, government rigmarole.  So we had the water master come out and she confirmed that because our spring begins AND ends on the property, we are exempt from needing a permit to use it.  Hooray!


The spring head has a roof, but no other enclosure. 

We also got back the results from our water testing.  We had to send off samples to a lab at the state capitol, and they came back OK.  There was some total coliform bacteria present, but we knew there would be.  Total coliform bacteria are actually pretty much everywhere, and very rarely do they cause illness.  We knew they would be present in our water because it’s an open water source.  The water is collected and stored in a 1500 gallon cistern, but before that point it’s rushing and bubbling over the ground.  Leaves fall in it, animals drink from it.  It is, literally, a woodland stream.  BUT.  If animals can drink from it, then they could also poop in or die in it as well.  And we don’t want that.

Luckily, the tests for fecal coliform or E.coli bacteria were negative.  So those animals have been behaving themselves thus far.  But it does mean that we’re going to have to figure out a way to enclose the source so that surface runoff can’t contaminate it, and then pipe directly into the cistern.  We’re also going to install a two-part filtration and purification system in the house for good measure.

This all seems like a lot, especially to someone who’s been hooked up to a municipal source her whole life, and I admit to being a little overwhelmed and anxious.  There’s so much to worry about, with testing and filtering and enclosing and all that.  But, in truth, I’m anxious about the state of water in the world anyway, especially with the current administration’s disregard for EPA policies.  So it will be nice to know where our water comes from, that it’s exempt from any government regulations, and what’s in it.  Or, more specifically, what’s not in it, such as chemicals and pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

And fecal coliform bacteria.  I’m glad there’s none of that in there, either.

March 2017 Goals

0302 onion seedlings.jpgimg_03420205-farm-viewI have only a very few general goals for 2017 as a whole.  We have a lot on our plate as it is, what with trying to jump through the permitting rigmarole of getting a house built on the farm and raising kids and such, and I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with lots of big-picture things that we couldn’t realistically get done.  But every month there are lots of little things to do regardless of what else is happening, and I thought it would be nice to share those things with you.

  1. Getting the garden ready for spring planting:  We’ve been able to get out and till some parts of the garden, but it really is a very big plot and we do only have a very small rototiller (what we really need is a small tractor, but that is a want/need for another year).  So, we need to keep tilling the garden, and adding aged manure and amendments.
  2. Planting out and sowing seeds:  This one is obvious, I know, but I’m putting it here anyway because it is something that needs to keep on being done.  This is the month that the first cauliflower and onion seedlings I started will need to be hardened off and transplanted outside, and almost everything else (exceptions being cucumbers and watermelons) will get started either inside or out.  An exciting month, to be sure!
  3. Burning stuff up:  Oh boy, my favorite!  We’ve got a couple of different slash piles started, and we’re just waiting on a nice dry stretch to put the torch to them.
  4. Moving the big chicks outside:  Raising three baby chicks indoors is a lot different from raising 12 baby chicks indoors.  It’s much less nice with 12, I have to tell you.  They stink and they’re loud and they’re constantly tipping or clogging up their water thing with shavings and just making a general stinky mess.  The good news is that at this number, they’re less like pets and more like livestock.  So I don’t feel so bad giving them the boot to their outside pen.
  5. Deconstructing a shed:  Sheds are great, don’t get me wrong.  And this particular shed that we’re going to be taking apart is very well made with tree trunk supports and hand split cedar shingles.  But for the most part it’s not very attractive; it’s long, rambling and unenclosed; our builder said it’s in the way of the trucks that will need to come in; and the fire department said it’s so close to the house that it would probably catch fire when they burn the house down.  So Jasper and I are planning on dismantling it and then putting it back together as a chicken coop.  Somewhere else.
  6. Clear around and amend fruit trees:  We’ve already done the pruning (or tried to, anyway, being novices), but we need to keep clearing weeds, blackberries and trash away from the base of all the fruit trees.  We also need to dump some manure around their trunks.  I don’t know the last time they had any manure, and I’m sure they would appreciate it.
  7. Stick to meal planning:  I always have really good intentions when it comes to meal planning.  Every week I pour through my cookbooks and Pinterest boards, make a list, make a shopping list, and usually I get the first meal cooked.  But then, life.  Sickness and ballet practices running late and suddenly we’ve eaten Chinese takeout and pesto pasta four nights in a row. So.  This month it is my goal to plan easy meals and stick to them.  We’ll see, but I have my doubts.  You guys know how much I love cooking.
  8. Save more money: We’re going to need it.

Well, it looks like I have more goals for the month of March than for the whole, overarching year, but like I said, these are all things that would be done anyway.  Less like goals, more like a to-do list.  Wish me luck and sunny skies.