Tuesday, December 30, 2008
So this morning the alarm went off at 3:30am and we drug ourselves out of bed, suited up in our Carharts and went out into the early morning to crate up the flock. This sounds fairly simple, and it really should be, but somehow it tends to be more of a Keystone Cop episode.
Regardless, at 4:20am, Sean set off down the road, sharing the trip with 52 hens and one rooster. I hope its going well, because they will be in that van for more than 3 hours together. Its a ridiculously long trip, but there aren't many lockers that will process chickens at this time of year. Sean will return late this evening with 2 coolers full of farm-raised, stewing hens ready to go into the freezer and we will look forward to homemade chicken soup, chicken and noodles and our own chicken salad sandwiches for 2009. Such is the cycle of life on the farm.
It was very strange for both of us to be away from the farm for such an extended time, but thanks to Jesse, our fabulous farm-sitter and my parents, we were able to take the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in Colorado for the first time in several years.
When we left Iowa the temps were in the single digits and when we returned, it was nearly 40°. In between, we missed thunderstorms, snow, ice and heavy fog. In Denver the weather was nearly perfect. The only shortcoming of our trip was, missing out on a side-trip to southern Colorado where Sean's sister and SIL have the most amazing little bakery.
It was a great trip, and a real treat to spend some quality, holiday time with the Skeehan clan, but there is no doubt that it is good to be home.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
We are currently experiencing a new aspect to the chick cam. I was working on the computer and kept hearing a strange sound coming from the chick cam monitor, it sounded like static, but it hadn't beem there earlier in the day. Strange...then it occurred to me, it's not static, its sleet hitting the metal roof on the coop. The winter storm that they have been predicting has finally arrived. The forcasts say we should expect up to an inch of ice topped with a couple inches of snow, followed by wind tomorrow. This is a bad combination and more than a little alarming as it is almost exaclty a year ago that we experienced a terrible ice storm that left us without power for five days. Here's hoping that we don't have a replay of that little adventure.
I've been trying to upload a picture of the chick cam screen, but the storm is interferring with our satellite connection. Will try to get one posted when the weather allows. We are currently experiencing thunder sleet, so that nighttime walk down to the boiler is looking less pleasant all the time. It will not be one of those poetic moments on the farm.
Friday AM update: success at last. This is what we see on our chick cam monitor. It's not the best photo, but it will have to do. Our little digital camera doesn't know what to do with a monitor screen. The weather update this morning is better than we expected. Looks like we got about 1-2" of sleet, but not at least not the 1" of ice they were predicting. We have power and we have internet...what else does a "wired" farmer need?
Yep, now for the second year in a row we've seen Bald Eagles flying over the farm.
It has become fairly common to see them around the DM river area, but we (ok, I) still get down right excited seeing them winging it aross the sky here in Marion County. It was cold enough today that the laying hens were loafing inside the coop, so no worries there. Our hens are large enough that we don't generally have problems with hawk predation, but an eagle could cause us some serious trouble. Regardless of that possibility, it still gives me a rush to see such a ruggedly beautiful bird returning to the area.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I just completed my first project knit from my own handspun yarn. I started with a wonderful wool-blend fiber called Day's End from Abi, and was taught to spin it by my uber-cool (and very patient) friend Maggie.
Then I fumbled about until I figured out how to knit (seriously, had no clue) and then with Maggie's guidance, jumped into knitting with DPNs (double pointed needles, yikes!)
Now I finally have a finished project made from my very own handspun yarn. For those of you with less imagination...its a hat (and it's even the right size).
So now that its a toasty 1° outside, I have plenty of fun projects to keep me busy indoors!
Friday, December 12, 2008
Tonight is the Full Cold Moon, also called the Long Nights Moon, as it is the full moon closest to the Winter Solstice, when the nights are truly at their longest.
Last night as the nearly full moon rose up over our snowy landscape, I think you could nearly have taken a photograph without a flash, it was so bright and clear outside. The moon shadows were crisp against the snow and the bare tree branches looked like black lace against the glowing sky. It was truly one of those magical nights.
I get to see a lot of late night scenes at this time of year. Over the winter we use a wood-fired boiler as supplemental heat for our house. The boiler stands sentry in the back corner of the packing shed (about 70 yards from the house) and the water lines run underground up to the sunroom. It is a pretty great system, no risk of house fire (makes the insurance guys happy), or dragging wood through the house. But it does require a late night (9 or 10pm) stoking to keep things warm. So every night, just as I am starting to get sleepy and thinking about going to bed, I have to get up, put on my coveralls (sometimes over my pajamas), boots, hat and gloves and trudge down the hill in the dark to feed the fire. I never think fondly of this chore from within the house, but once I am outside, the complaints are usually silenced.
Unless there is a storm blowing, it is often a beautiful time to be out. The winds are still, the skies are clear and the stars are bright. Sean thinks I'm crazy to go out without a flashlight, but I never use one and I don't turn on the outside lights. There is so much to see beyond those tiny circles of light. Blue loves this nightly ritual. She leaps and frolics in the snow like a kid, all the while watching for rabbits or deer to chase, after which she always returns to my side, well pleased with herself for protecting me from the wild beasts.
And when we finish our nighttime chores, we return to the warm glow of the house. I get a hot cup of tea, Blue gets a "cookie" and we all settle in for another cozy winter's night on the farm.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Pasta coming off cutters onto bamboo skewers for drying
We made about 9 pounds of pasta so that will be 18 packages that we can take to the upcoming Winter Market (minus the ones we eat between now and then!)
Our new pasta drying system (much improved over covering every horizontal surface in the cabin with bed sheets and drying pasta!
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Still cute, but headed for that "awkward teenager" stage
Then I spent the rest of Thursday morning harvesting carrots and beets from the high tunnel to add to our some of our stored root vegetables (onions, shallots, garlic, turnips and potatoes). These were all scrubbed (not peeled), tossed together in olive oil & seasonings and roasted for about 45 minutes...delicious!
oiled, seasoned and ready for the oven
Our big accomplishment for the weekend was enabled by a beautiful (50°) day on Friday and lots of family help. With this combination we were able to get over half of the remaining ribs up on the new (bigger) high tunnel. All fall our goal has been to have this tunnel up before the ground freezes. We're cutting it close, but I think we just might make it.
The new "Colossal" high tunnel with its first four ribs in place
Saturday afternoon we were happy to have visitors (of the non-family persuasion) to the farm. A neat family that will become our "neighbors" next month. Ya'll know that here in the country, anyone within a 40 mile radius that you identify with is "a neighbor." What a pleasant time, to sit and visit with interesting people who have many of the same goals for their farm as we have for ours, all the while sipping coffee and apple cider and watching the snow fall outside. Yep, it was a weekend to be thankful for!
Monday, November 24, 2008
Today while running a few errands we stopped at an area thrift store and there on a back shelf, in a battered box marked with the words OMC Atlas from Italy, was a beautifully made, stainless-steel pasta maker.
It has attached cutters for making fettuccine and spaghetti and you can buy a whole assortment of other attachments for it. I can't wait to try it out! If anyone has suggestions for good pasta recipes, please share. We'll start with our traditional and Herbed Whole Wheat noodles, but other favorite recipes are welcome! And if you have experience with this specific pasta maker, let us know what you think about it.
I'll post pictures of the new toy in use sometime next week...wish me luck!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
It wasn't perfect by any means, but it worked well enough to dry about 20 pounds of greens. If I was 8 years old this would have been some wild fun, but needless to say, its been a long time since I've spun around that much. Can you say DIZZY!!
Friday, November 21, 2008
I also had another recording session for the storytelling program at the radio station on Thursday. This was a particularly fun one as we started learning to engineer our own program. Its been a long time since I ran a sound board, but with this technology, the computer does a lot of the fiddly work for you. So really it is more learning the software, than learning about the equipment. Big thanks to Ron Sorenson for nursing this program along until we can manage it on our own.
Recording studio at KFMG
Saturday, November 15, 2008
CSA's come in many shapes and forms, but I recently found (and joined) a new kind of CSA, a Fiber CSA! You sign up for a year subscription and then every 6-8 weeks you get three pounds of wool yarn or if you spin, you can get wool roving instead, which is what I opted for. And to add to the appeal, the farm is in our neighborhood, so we're helping to support another small, local farm. You can check out this innovative program at Willow Ridge Farm and see all their other "farm-fresh" products as well.
So today when I got home, my first fiber delivery had arrived! Happy Birthday to me!! The box contained three pounds of shetland wool in natural white, natural light grey and a beautiful dyed ombre of fall colors (the photo doesn't do them justice). Can't wait to dig in!
A close-up of the completed yarn
Friday, November 14, 2008
Chicks arrive in a nicely designed box that is divided into four compartments, each quarter holds 25 chicks
These are the 50 Buff Orpington chicks, we also got 25 Americaunas
Mail order chicks are sent as "day-old" which means they were born the day before or day of shipping. For the first 24-36hours of life, chicks continue to receive nurishment from the egg yolk, which they absorbed right before hatching. So they do not require food or water until their "internal food" is exhausted.
As soon as we get them home, we remove them from the box one at a time and dip their little beaks into water with an electrolyte mix added. This teaches them how to drink and helps them recognize the water container as the place to go when they are thirsty.
All 75 (actually 77) chicks arrived looking strong and healthy and are settled into their water tank home in our sunroom.
In a few days we will move half of them to a second tank as they will soon be too big to all fit in one. They will stay in the sunroom for the first month or so, as it gives us a very secure place to keep an eye on them and makes it much easier to maintain the correct temperature for them. For the first few weeks, chicks require lots of warmth (+90 °) and at this time of the year, its just easier to have them "inside." Besides its so relaxing to hang out and watch them puttering about. Who needs expensive spas? We just hang out with the chicks for a while : )
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Sunday's dyed silk
This is the wool, freshly dyed
Saturday, November 8, 2008
It features a small group of local storytellers sharing their tales for listeners ages 3 to 103. The program aires at 9am on Saturdays and if you aren't in the immediate Des Moines area you can listen to it online at http://www.kfmg991.org/
Its a real treat to get to work with these talented storytellers on a regular basis. I have to tell you though, it can also be a real challenge. Imagine being 'trapped' in a small recording studio with 4-5 other people and trying to stay quiet as a skilled storyteller tells a real whopper of a tale. I'm just amazed that you can't hear the muffled hoots, choked-back snorts and stiffled hee-hees that are whirling about the studio at such moments. What fun!!
Friday, November 7, 2008
So earlier this week I decided to take the plunge and start dyeing some of my fiber stash. I started with a couple of bumps of a nondescript white wool and a couple of bumps of naturally colored, striped roving from The Sheep Shed's Grab Bag Special.
I had spun several bumps of this wool in its natural state, but wanted to play around with over-dyeing it to see what would happen.
I wanted to try out solar dyeing, so I decided to try one batch sitting in the sunroom window, and the other in the solar oven to compare the results.
white roving with emerald green dye, in amongst the rosemary
Brown striped roving with emerald green dye in the solar oven
The results were mixed. I packed too much fiber into the jar, and the clouds rolled in so neither the jar or the solar over really maintained enough heat for long enough, but it was a fun experiment nonetheless.
Here's a close-up of the jar dyeing right before I pulled it out and rinsed it. The color gradations were really cool, but I especially liked the reflections of the trees in the glass.
And the resulting rovings...
I will spin them seperately and then ply together for the finished yarn. I also did a set of the same white and striped rovings in Fire Red, but by this time the clouds had rolled in, so dyed them on the stove.
Will post pics of the finished yarns when I have a chance.
Furrows ready for seed garlic
Then the planting marathon began. We planted about 640 row feet of garlic, that's 1280 cloves. And got it all in about an hour before the rain started. Now that it is all settled in, I can go back and cover it with about 6" of rotted hay mulch.
I was really hoping for about 1500 cloves, so hopefully my internet source will come through for the rest. Regardless, its always a relief to get the garlic in before snow. Last year I wasn't so lucky!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Our good friend John sent us a link to a fabulous YouTube video recently.
Store Wars , produced by Free Range studios. These folks are clever and damn funny!
As a farm that is focused on supplying our CSA and farmers market customers with high quality, local produce this video is a fun portrayal of the challenges of the current mainstream food system. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
I've been thinking about starting a blog for some time now and have finally decided to take the plunge. I'm not much of a linear-thinker, so it will probably be more stream of consciousness that an orderly description of our lives here at Blue Gate Farm, but what the heck.
A little introduction is probably in order, just in case someone other than our mothers stumble in.
Welcome to Blue Gate Farm
Blue, ever watchful, surveys the pond
One of the big questions people always ask us is "Can you make a living on a little farm like that?" And our answer so far is "We think so." We are both on the farm full-time, but we do have a bit of supplemental income to help things along. Sean does a little contract website design and business consulting and I free-lance as a storyteller and American Sign Language interpreter. These activities mostly take place during the winter when life is a little more quiet here on the farm.
And as the season winds down, we are really looking forward to that time! For me it will be a winter of dyeing and spinning fiber, knitting, crocheting, baking, and woodcutting...much woodcutting! We are not totally dependant on wood for our heat, we have a supplemental wood-fired boiler (DIY) that provides heat to our sunroom (when its not sunny) and adds a little heat to our rather chilly house. Its a lot of work, and the last boiler feeding of the day (usually around 10pm) is never fun, as the boiler is in our packing shed about 100 yards from the house. But it allows us to have a toasty warm place to overwinter our tender perennials (rosemary, thyme, lemongrass and a very spoiled Meyer lemon tree) and a perfect place to start all our garden transplants for the spring and also lets us keep our house thermostat set at about 55°, not to mention providing me with good exercise all winter long. I must admit that I do wait as long as possible before starting the boiler up for the season, but as soon as the sunroom gets down into the low 40's at night, the process begins.
So that's us. Thanks for stopping in for a visit. Hopefully the next time you stop by I will have something new to share about our lives here at Blue Gate Farm.
Now off to try and get the garlic ready for planting...