Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Early Show

The early dawn today brought the return of a bi-annual tradition on the farm. The cycling of the chicken flock. Our current laying flock is now nearly two years old and well past their prime. We have 52 hens and were getting 4-8 eggs a day. Not a very good "feed-to-egg" conversion!

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.

Home Again, Home Again

Well, here we are back home again. We spent a lovely week with Sean's family in Denver, complete with much eating, visiting, occasional napping, massages (thanks Dominique!), more eating, more visiting, a quick trip to a super-cool fiber shop in Boulder and yes, you guessed it, even more eating!

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

A refreshing Solstice

Yep, we are enjoying a high temperature today of -3° here on the first official day of Winter. The wind is adding to the excitement with Wind Chills of 30° to 40° below zero. The good news is that starting today, the days will begin to get longer. The plants still in the High Tunnel (carrots, beets, spinach and chard are now in stasis and wont change much at all for the next month, but by the end of January, we will start to new new, measurable growth. Its amazing what the increasing day length will do. But for now, tuck in ya'll we're in for a cold winter's night.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chick Cam

The chicks are finally old enough that yesterday they moved out to the winter coop. Somehow this batch skipped the really awkward "teen-ager" stage and grew quickly into their new feathers, so they are well armed against the winter cold. They aren't suffering too much out in their new digs. The winter coop is nicely furnished with a thick carpet of pine shavings, 3 heat lamps, a 50 lb gravity feeder and a 5 gallon heated water fount. The really cushy part of their new home (for us) is that it is wired with "chick cam" a live video/audio feed that connects to a monitor in our office. This way we can keep tabs on their comfort level without leaving the comfort of our own home. Truly, this is a fine system! Now if I could just load that wood-fired boiler from inside the house too. As I sit here at the computer I can watch the chicks playing on their new roosting boards. They like to jump on and off them repeatedly, then run underneath and over them, just testing out their new skills. Its pretty entertaining (for us and them.)

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?

Annual Sighting

Trying to get a few errands done today before the impending ice/snow storm hits, I was driving back to the farm, when I noticed a very large bird cruising overhead. Could it be...is it really???
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

My First...

No I'm not talking about anything sordid... this isn't THAT kind of blog.

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

Full Cold Moon

I have long had a fixation with the traditional names of the various full moons. I don't remember when I first discovered that there was a special name for each, but their individuality and descriptive quality has long appealed to the storyteller in me.

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

Oodles of Noodles

Last week I did a test run of the new (to me) Atlas 150 pasta maker with the recipe from the directions. There is a slight learning curve as far as getting the dough consistency and flouring right, but once you have a grip on that it's a breeze!

So, feeling emboldened after the test flight we dove right into this year's Pasta Making Marathon. I was concerned that my pasta recipe would be too much for the Atlas to handle as it uses whole wheat flour and a bunch of dried herbs. (The recipe that came with the machine used ONLY flour and eggs, no salt, nothing!) So I tentively made a half batch of my recipe and carefully fed it into the Atlas and...SHAZAM! Out came a beautiful sheet of smooth noodle dough. Then with equal trepidation, into the cutters it went...no worries there either! Out came the most beautiful, perfect noodles I've ever made and in a fraction of the time it took to roll and cut them by hand. The bonus is that because they are all exactly the same thickness and cut, they will cook more evenly too.

Sheets of pasta feeding into the cutters

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!