Posts Tagged ‘Musings’

As an experiment this year, and partially for fun and curiosity, I have convinced HB to let me devote a small section of the garden towards a “three sisters garden.”

Image from Cordite Country Show Notes

The Three Sisters Garden is a method of planting seeds that has its base in Native American civilization.  Many Native American tribes adopted this form of agriculture, but it is said to have originated with the Haudenosaunee, or the “People of the Longhouse” also known as the Iroquois, of the northeastern United States.

The traditional Three Sisters garden, created by the successive planting of corn, beans, and squash, forms a beneficial mini-ecosystem where the plants rely on each other for nutrients, support, and protection.

From Renee’s Garden:

According to Three Sisters legends corn must grow in community with other crops rather than on its own – it needs the beneficial company and aide of its companions.

The Iroquois believe corn, beans and squash are precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each watched over by one of three sisters spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or “Our Sustainers”. The planting season is marked by ceremonies to honor them, and a festival commemorates the first harvest of green corn on the cob. By retelling the stories and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the Three Sisters through generations.

A Three Sisters garden is made up of three plants, as previously mentioned:  corn, beans, and squash.  The corn (the oldest sister) provides a trellis for the beans to climb and grow upon.  In return, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, not only adding to the soil, but also supplying a nutrient that corn relies heavily upon.  The beans also stabilize the corn plants, making them less susceptible to wind damage.  The squash, often in the form of pumpkins and other winter squashes, provide ground cover, helping keep the threat of weeds to a minimum.  Planting squash also helps prevent erosion, maintains soil moisture, aids in a cooler soil, and provides a ground cover that may help keep out predators (such a raccoons) that want to harvest your garden!  At the end of the season, most of the plant life can be returned to the soil to amend it for the following garden season.

Sounding good yet?  There’s more!

Nutritionally, this combination complements each other.  While the corn helps provide carbohydrates, the beans provide protein, and the squash provide vitamins and healthy oils.

Last week I set up a test plot in our garden, and planted corn.  Once the corn is about 4 inches tall, I will plant the beans.  Two weeks later, the squash (pumpkins) will go into the ground.  I’m very excited to try this!  But beware!  Don’t try to plant all the seeds at once, or else you’ll likely end up with a tangled mess of green growth, and probably not a lot of corn due to the competition.

Want to set up your own Three Sisters garden?  Renee’s Garden has the best format to get you started.

Want more information of the historical value of a Three Sisters garden?  The Bird Clan of Alabama has some of the legend.

Want to read more about how a Three Sisters garden can influence children and how they view the world?  The Center for Ecoliteracy has a beautiful, informative website devoted to this topic.

In late spring, we plant the corn and beans and squash. They’re not just plants- we call them the three sisters. We plant them together, three kinds of seeds in one hole. They want to be together with each other, just as we Indians want to be together with each other. So long as the three sisters are with us we know we will never starve. The Creator sends them to us each year. We celebrate them now. We thank Him for the gift He gives us today and every day.  – Chief Louis Farmer (Onondaga)

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I had Wednesday off so HB suggested I head over to the market for Green Market Wednesday and the afternoon’s scheduled rain barrel workshop.  So I did.

The first part of the workshop presented a lecture on rain gardens.  Rain gardens are planned depressions in the ground that allow storm water to runoff and collect and slowly infiltrate into the ground.  When used properly, they can lessen the amount of polluted runoff water reaching streams and rivers by 30%.  Runoff water comes from parking lots, rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, roads, and other broad expanses.  Problems arise when large quantities of water, often carrying pollutants from pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, debris and other wastes  are dumped into streams and rivers.

I’ve become more aware of the local water situations living on a farm for a few years now with spring-fed creeks running through the hills.  Somethings cannot be controlled – our neighbors have a lease on the property fronting the road and we have no say in the choices of fertilizers and pesticides they use on land we do not own.  But we can attempt to make the correct choices on our own property.  And we may not be able to control the choices of our in-laws, but I can play a role in the choices HB and I make.

Anyway, back to the workshop.

Once the lecture was over, a gal from the local soil and water conservation group gave a quick talk and then we delved into making our rain barrels.  Literally, delved.  The barrels we were given were old pickle barrels, some (like mine) still containing old pickle juice.  For a person who does not like pickles, it was slightly disgusting.  For any normal person it was probably a little gross.  You tip the barrel to about a 45* angle, then bend over, shove your top half inside the barrel and find your bearings inside the dark and stinky abyss inside.  Lovely.

Creating the rain barrel was surprisingly easy.  Behold, the finished results:

The barrels come by way of a North Carolina pickle company; of course, the cucumbers weren’t American.  I’m sure the barrel isn’t made in American either.  Ugh.  This reminds me of the Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) article I read this morning on the future of farming.

The barrels come with a permanent top that fits under the rim (similar to a canning jar), but for the sake of the barrel we remove the lid and fit a screen under the rim to keep out debris.

Pictured below is the overpour spout with attached hose.  When the rain barrel fills, water will flow out of this hose and (for now) onto the ground.  The real plan is to have multiple barrels so that when one fills up, the water travels into the next barrel via the hose.  Cool, huh?

And of course, we needed a spigot at the bottom of the barrel.  I want to build a small platform to raise this barrel just high enough to fit a bucket and/or watering can underneath for easy filling.

Interested in attending a rain barrel workshop at the Lynchburg Market?  The next workshop will be held on June 12th from 11am to 1pm.  You can get more information from the market website.

Created just in time for an afternoon thunderstorm.  Perfect!

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The goat kids are growing like weeds.  I weighed them the other night, they average around 30 pounds, just over one month old.  Fred and Bogart (Memphis’ kids) are the biggest, and the youngest.  Their bone structure is much more substantial, while Rock and Doris (Abba’s kids) are taller, leaner, but weigh more than you think!

One month.

I can’t believe it.

I spent five months waiting, planning, and in the span of 30 days, time has flown by.  We have a new routine, new kids to play with.  To laugh at.  To cuddle with.  To wince at when they chew a little too much on your hair…

We expect Xenia to kid soon! She is due on Thursday the 29th.  She’s no where near as big as the other does were this close to birth.  Her udder isn’t nearly as full, but I really do think she’s still pregnant – over the past month her sides have taken on a more rotund dimension.  She’s such a high-stress girl.

All the kids have homes:  Doris will remain with us and become a future milker, Bogart will move in with Donut once he’s old enough for weaning – we plan on him to become a companion as we will eventually have to put Sweet Roll down due to his illness.  Fred and Rock will move in with Donut and be fed out and sold to buyers in North Carolina, co-workers of good friends there. I think I managed to pick the most mischievous buckling to keep for our own pet (he will be castrated shortly).  Bogey’s into anything and everything and often keeps me company while I do chores and clean Huck’s paddock.  He finds great joy and jumping on and off objects.  I love his zest for life.  I love all of the goat’s enthusiasm towards life.  It’s something good to model in our own lives.

We put a deposit down on a buckling this week, and we will go pick him up this summer.  He’s a nicely bred French Alpine with good conformation and bloodlines that overlap very little with our current stock.  I wouldn’t have minded something a little more flashy – a nice wide belt? – but we’re not breeding for color — we’re breeding for quality stock with good conformation, attitudes, and milking ability.

Our cheesemaking is going well.  We’ve had chevre transported up and down the East Coast by friends, who all come back with rave reviews.  Our friends have been known to hoard their chevre.  We’re up to several different flavors: plain, herbs de provence, cracked peppercorn, and the newest – a smokey chipotle.  My co-workers love me, since I regularly bring in cheese to share.   I luckily work with some pretty daring taste-testers, lots of foodie’s in one animal hospital!  We call them our “R&D department” and test run new flavors on them and get feedback on new flavors to try.  Some work, others need some tweaking.  They in turn share it with their friends, and we’re already developing a future customer base.  It’s the life of the party.   Not really.  But close. 😉

My father has surgery tomorrow, so please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.  I’m likely to be gone for another short stint depending on how everything goes.  It’s been a rough week:  last Thursday HB’s mom had her first chemo session at the same time her father was having quadruple bypass surgery.  Everyone is doing well, thankfully.

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I woke up when my alarm went off at 5am, and my first thought was “We should really put Sweet Roll down.”  I spent the next 10 minutes until the snooze went off in a half-sleep, dreaming and thinking about the idea.

As frequent readers know, last year Sweet Roll was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, pemphigus.  We’ve spent nearly a year now, battling infection after infection and seeing multiple vets until it was finally diagnosed (I took him to the small animal hospital where I work to solve the puzzle).  We’ve tried multiple treatments and through it all Sweet Roll has been a trooper.  He’s put up with multiple biopsies, multiple injections, multiple medications in his feed.  The worst was when we tried oral prednisone and he stopped eating completely.  That was just a few weeks ago.

Through it all his skin has continued to deteriorate.  It’s not common to come home and find multiple new lesions, oozing serous fluid and sometimes purulent discharge.  Hair that was shaved for biopsies never grew back, and has left bald spots around his tail and on his chest.  I took his collar off in December because it was rubbing his neck where his skin has hyperkertinized the hair was being rubbed off.  That has never grown back.  His ventral surface is full of hyperkertinized skin and oozing sores.  His teats are extremely kertinized and scaly.  His skin so tender that he flinches when I try to rub or pat him, and using a soft brush on his coat is out of the question.

In short, he looks awful.

And despite of this, his wonderful attitude shines through.  He wants to interact, he is enjoying his meals and hay.  While never gaining weight like I had hoped, he’s maintaining his weight around 100lbs easily.

I’ve been waiting for the point where his quality of life declines to the point where I feel like he’s ready for the end to come.  When he was on the prednisone, I thought we were there.  After a couple of days without the pred, he came back to life.

There are a lot of available treatments for pemphigus, few have been tested on goats.  In fact, there are only FOUR documented, published cases of pemphigus in goats.  3 out of 4 cases are in juvenile goats.  All treatments involve some sort of steroid, and each case is slightly different.

I feel like, looking at Sweet Roll, that this infection and disease has gotten to the point of no return.  I felt like I was asking for a miracle, to remove these lesions and prevent their reoccurrence, and give me back my precious Sweet Roll.

Back to this morning.

I was quiet while doing the morning chores, and when HB asked over breakfast I told him I thought it might be time for Sweet Roll.  HB said he had the same thought the night before while feeding him.

I went to work, prepared ask the doctor when he could come over and euthanize Sweet Roll.  I had already planned his last meal – a flake of alfalfa, a scoop of grain, and his favorite treats.

Late in the morning, the office manager brought me back the latest copy of JAVMA, because dairy goats where on the cover.  It’s a beautiful painting, and after looking at the artist’s website tonight, I really like her work.

I flipped through the issue, and an article caught my eye Successful treatment of juvenile pemphigus foliaceus in a Nigerian Dwarf goat. Intrigued, I sat down to read the article.  Their treatment protocol involved Dex-SP (a very cheap drug) and gold salts. Hmmmm….

I read through the article a few times during the day and this afternoon, approached the vet.  I felt like it was a sign.  My decision.  The journal’s cover.  This article.  A flicker of hope.

I talked through the protocol with the vet, explaining the decision I had made that morning.  How I felt like this was a sign saying that I can’t put him down yet.  The vet was excited, told me to order the drugs.

I call our supply company only to find out that the drug is ridiculously expensive.  Crushed, I go back to the treatment room and tell the vet.  He encouraged me to check the internet for Canadian pharmacies, which I did.  Still expensive, at $23/dose, with the necessary treatment of one dose a week for at least 6 months.  I checked other supply companies, compounding pharmacies, with no avail.

A flicker of hope.

A swift wind.


I hate the fact that in the end, money will be the determining factor as to whether Sweet Roll has a chance to fight this disease.  But money is tight, and I’ve spent more than my fair share on him.  Huck needs ulcer meds and has an upcoming ultrasound in a month.  The goat shed needs finishing so that we can move the girls out of the horse barn.  We have bills to pay and groceries to buy.  All the animals need their groceries too.

One of the girls suggested we do a fundraiser if I really wanted to give this a shot.  We toyed around with a “Save Sweet Roll” campaign that would include selling cinnamon buns. 🙂  I’m torn with this decision.  It’s my first time having to decide when an animal is ready for relief from pain.  But while I don’t want money to be the limiting factor, I don’t want Sweet Roll to suffer.

I’m glad I have tomorrow off, I could use a day of quiet.

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Today, work was just one of those days.  One of those days where you say to yourself, “I’m going home and drinking a beer.”  And here I find myself, not one, but two, beers later.

Jenna wrote on Monday about a similar situation.  Maybe without the beer.  She didn’t mention it.

I came home this evening to HB making dinner and all the barn chores needing completion.  I started with feeding the dogs, since it was raining and Hershey was outside (Chester, with his bad back is on indefinite cage rest and attends work with me daily).  Then the chickens, then letting Huck into the barn lot for exercise.  I fed Huck,  milked Jacqsonne, fed Abba and Memphis, fed Xenia, fed Sweet Roll, cleaned Huck’s’ stall.  Then I fed the cats and wrapped up the night putting down fresh bedding.

It’s amazing what having 20+ mouths to feed does to your perspective.  It gives you something worth doing.  Otherwise, like Jenna, I likely would have come home, curled up with a snack and a beer (well, pre-HB, that would have been the case), and snoozed the night away.

So to all the animals out there on the farm that depend on me, thank you for keeping me in line. 🙂

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Last fall HB stumbled upon a cheese magazine entitled Culture.  Two copies were given to him by the owners of a local meat & cheese shop.  At $10/each, this wasn’t a cheap gift.

HB brought the magazines home and we devoured them.  Great articles, beautiful photographs, and delicious cheeses filled every page.  One of the first issues featured Virginia’s own, Pat Elliot and Everona Dairy.

For Christmas my parents gave HB a subscription to the magazine, so imagine our delight this week when I found this in the mailbox –

Culture magaine, spring 2010 issue

It’s a really interesting, beautiful magazine.  A few stores in south central Virginia have begun to stock it as well.  For more information, check out their website.

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The Cowboy Code

As I ran my mid-day errands (post office, feed store, grocery store) I was listening to NPR’s Here and Now and an interesting segment came up when Robin Young interviewed Brent Hathaway, Dean of the College of Business at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.  You can listen to it here if you like, but I’ll summarize it for you.

At the heart of the story, legislators in Wyoming are trying to include “cowboy ethics” to encourage citizens and lawmakers to remember the state’s roots.  The code stresses the importance of living with courage, honesty, sensibility, keeping promises, and upholding your end of the deal.  The code of ethics is symbolic in nature, and holds no penalties for those who do not abide.  The code is taken from a 2004 book, “Cowboy Ethics” by James Owen, in which the code is derived from the book’s “Code of the West.”

The Cowboy Code:
1. Live each day with courage
2. Take pride in your work
3. Always finish what you start
4. Do what has to be done
5. Be tough, but fair
6. When you make a promise, keep it
7. Ride for the brand
8. Talk less, say more
9. Remember that some things are not for sale
10. Know where to draw the line

Reading through the code, and listening to Robin interview Mr. Hathaway, I couldn’t help but find the beauty in the code’s simplicity.  Just like the code dictates in Rule No. 8 “Talk less, say more” the code simplifies the ways to live a good life.

I feel like we live in a very superficial time.  The media runs stories that plays to their advantage, and often the real news is missed.  I’ve gotten to the point that watching the news tires me – it’s full of negativity and outrageous events.  In some respects, it’s nice to be left in the dark.

Our education system is a joke to me, a child’s ability to learn is rated by standardized tests.  I hope my children have the fortune of a good education.  I love the idea of alternative schools, home schooling, and charter schools for that very reason.  I want my child to be able to learn, to be able to freely express themselves, without having to be compared to everyone else.  Be that in academics, athletics, etc.  Children are not taught values in school, and many parents do not teach them either.  I think children understand much more than we believe them to, and if given the chance, they will surprise you.

So many people take no pride in what they do.  They have no idea where the things they want in life come from, what goes into their production, and how it affects the planet’s ecosystem and population.  It’s amazing what a self-centered world this has become.  We’re lazy, and want convenience, even at the risk of our health.  I’m guilty of all of this, I admit.  But every time I hear a story or meet a person who is able to provide for themselves and others, it warms my heart and gives me hope that one day I’ll be the inspiration for someone else trying to find their way.

It’s often a lonely world out there, but it doesn’t have to be.  So I hope you get as much out of the cowboy code as I do.  To me, this code means a lot, but mostly it means hope.

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*My horse, Huck, is starting to shed!

*Jacqsonne is slowly increasing her milk production

*The young does are starting to fill out their udders

*The hen’s egg production is increasing

*I can finally seen grass, not snow

*The grass I can see is surprisingly green; maybe that’s because it’s  been hiding for two months?

*Seed catalogs are pouring in; and seed displays are popping up in stores

*Birds can be heard chirping

*I have a hankerin’ for salads

What signs of spring are you seeing/hearing/smelling?

(Apparently the two months of snow has slowed down the spreading of chicken manure on nearby fields, because the air smells positively pristine!)

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

We woke up yesterday morning to more snow falling softly to the ground – it’s amazing the amount of snow we’ve received in central Virginia this year. We did our morning chores while snowflakes chased us around the farm.  Luckily, the Chocolate Challenge was still on, just delayed a little bit.  I filled myself up on chocolate creations, but stopped just on the verge of feeling sick.  I’m not that big of a chocolate fan, but the event is always fun.  We were joined by several friends, which makes it even better.

We decided that rather than spend money out on dinner, we’d cook ourselves something fabulous – so HB pan-seared steaks (from Figgy, our former steer) and I made the Pioneer Woman’s fabulous creamy rosemary potatoes.  The recipe for the potatoes are in the cookbook, but she has a similar herbed potato recipe on her blog.  I could go on and on about those potatoes.  I’m thrilled with the thought of eating them for lunch.  We rounded off dinner with a bottle of one of my favorite red wines, Menage a Trois.  I’m just starting to like reds, and this is an easy-drinking variety.  Dinner was simply fabulous.

We’ve been working on a new batch of chevre.  We’ve modified our method a little and now hang the chevre twice, so the process takes longer but we’re getting a more uniform product.  For this most recent batch, we added herbs before the second hanging – a mixture of herbs de provence (our favorite herb mix) with extra rosemary and a touch of garlic.  The finished product this morning was absolutely dreamy.

I collected two fresh eggs from the nesting box, scrambled them up and added the herb chevre and toasted a few pieces of whole wheat sourdough from the market.  It was a REALLY good breakfast.  No pictures, I ate it too quick. 😉

HB’s taking my horse down to Aiken for what will hope will be the next-to-last ultrasound recheck for his back.  I’m staying here to run the farm and milk Jacqsonne.  So it’s a quiet day; barn chores are caught up, so I’m just planning on doing laundry, some homework,  and perhaps having a movie fest.  I’ve started Pride and Prejudice and plan to follow it up with Marie Antoinette, and then we’ll go from there to see what I have in stock.  By the way, the soundtrack from Maire Antoinette is absolutely, hands down, one of my favorites – not because it’s filled with modern tunes but just amazing, emotional music with some fun thrown in.  And the movie itself is just gorgeous. Swoon. And yes, I really wanted to include Apex Twin’s Avril 14th in my wedding music (but in the end thought it a little too somber).

Here’s to hoping, wherever you are, a wonderful Valentines Day that is full of love and relaxation.

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monday musings

George Herbert, a Welsh poet from the 1600s, once said “Every mile is two in winter” and I think he knew a thing or two about cold weather.  A foot of snow on the ground makes doing farm chores just that much harder.

I can’t imagine living life without electricity, it’s something I’ve never had to do.  Due to the snow and ice we received this weekend (not a lot of pictures, sorry, I had to work Friday-Sunday) we lost power Saturday morning just minutes before we left the house so HB could take me to work.  There was no way my little Civic was going to get us the 7 miles between our house and the main road.  We were without power until close to 9pm that night.

We did our evening chores early, so that we could finish before dark.  I found myself explaining to every animal “I’m sorry, I know we’re early, but we don’t have electricity!” when I realized – the animals don’t care if the electricity is on.  Their day is not affected by whether or not there is a warm and steady stream of hot air coming through the air vents, whether the computer or lights are working so they surf the internet or read a book, whether or not they can take a warm shower.

I felt foolish, explaining this to the animals.  Why electricity was important.  Why Jacqsonne was milked an hour early.  Why Huck would have to stay in his stall longer tonight before his morning walk.

During high school I was exposed to the works of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I was drawn to their prose.  Some of my favorite quotations come from their writings.  As part of a project in my English class, we were to pick a quote of importance to us and write an explanation.  We also wrote each quote on a bulletin board in the English department’s hallway for all students and passerbys to read.  My pick?

Hitch your wagon to a star. -Henry David Thoreau

As I’ve grown into an adult, I’ve maintained an intense interest in the works of Thoreau and Emerson.  I’ve just checked and the local library is open and they have his book, simply entitled Walden, and after I finish this post I’m on my way to check it out!

Yesterday, in her blog Small Measures, Ashley English wrote about how you transform during life.  She starts out, “The places you live end up changing you,” and I can’t think of a more applicable quote to sum up my life at this point.  Three years ago, fresh out of college, I would have been sitting at my bench top in a laboratory at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, extracting DNA from mice tails to run a PCR to know it’s genetic identity.  The lab I worked in had a large mouse colony, priceless to the research that supported the lab, and it was my duty to make sure we were getting proper genetic results through the planned breedings.  It was a lot of work, designing new PCR schemes to ensure that genetics were breeding through.  I lived in a mediocre apartment in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood, a 10 minute walk to work.  In my spare time, I never knew what to do with myself.

Now, three years later I find myself in a rural village in central Virginia.  I’m working as a veterinary assistant in a small animal hospital, and play mother, midwife, veterinarian, friend, farmer, and so much more to my own gathering of animals at home.

It used to be overwhelming at times.  I would feel tied down to the farm, unable to leave.  I would get angry.  Over time I’ve developed a peacefulness with my situation.  I like getting up early to tend the animals, to enjoy my quiet one-on-one milking time with Jacqsonne.  Sometimes I’ll take a five-second break and rest my head against her side and take in her smell.  Her scent is sweet from the hay, with a slight goat scent.  At this point she’ll stop eating and turn her head to look at me.  I like to think, at that moment, we’re connecting on another level.

I’ve gotten to the point that I like to stay home on my days off.  Rather than run into town where I inevitably spend money that I shouldn’t and waste time, I can stay home – perhaps bake something, perhaps do some cleaning, spend some peaceful moments with the animals.  It allows me to work at my own, comfortable, pace.  I enjoy the simplicity.

Last night I finished The Art of Racing in the Rain, a novel by Garth Stein, which is for my book club I belong to.  It was a wonderful book, happy and sad, and I found myself crying over my chicken noodle soup (homemade and delicious) as I finished the book at lunch yesterday.  But there is one quote from the main character, Enzo, a dog, that stood out

That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

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