Category Archives: Uncategorized

blog moved to new location! (upcoming book too!)

Please visit the new location for this blog: wisdomoftheradish.wordpress.com

The original blog (farming101.wordpress.com) has been moved to a new location, with a new title to reflect my upcoming book on our first year of farming. 

OK, I confess: I’m not just a farmer. I’m a writer, too. And I officially have a book being published this Spring that details our first year as greenhorn farmers. The book–titled The Wisdom of the Radish–will be published by Sasquatch Books, a Seattle-based publishing house that specializes in West Coast authors and has a focus on food and farming topics.

I hope you will continue regularly visiting the new blog site, and also hope you’ll pick up a copy of the book when it hits the stores in February or March!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

CSA first week

Last Wednesday was the first CSA pick-up for the year. We rolled out our new farm-stand pick up layout in the barn on the farm, and it was a success! As you can see on the chalk-board, the shares are very GREEN for these first couple weeks. A cool, rainy spring (almost summer now!) has meant more greens for us to enjoy. And really, we ought to feel lucky, because they’re jam packed with nutrients and antioxidants and–speaking for myself–they make me feel so fresh and energized when I eat them.

The first week’s share:

Bok Choi (Mei Qing Choi) — 1/2 lb

Spinach — 6 oz.

Arugula (Astro) — 6 oz.

Green Garlic — 2 stalks

Spring Mix — 6 oz.

Butternut Squash (Waltham) — 1 squash

Parsley — 1 bunch

Chard (Bright Lights) or Kale (Red Russian) — 1 bunch

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Photo journal of May in the veggie fields

About a week ago I snapped some photos of the little plants that are sneakily growing into big plants in rows and fields around the farm. If you’re in the mood for a scavenger hunt, you can sift through the photos and see if you can identify the various vegetables in their teenage phases. Below you’ll find: cabbage; broccoli; beets; kohlrabi; fennel; baby salad greens; head lettuce; peas; tomatoes; eggplant; garlic; onions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Beauty, Farming Info, Uncategorized

The Waiting Game

Em with Visitor

Emily in her kidding stall with one of her daily visitors.

Did you ever play the Waiting Game as a kid?  It was one of those games generally forced upon children by short-tempered parents, like the Quiet Game or the Use Your Restaurant Voice Game, and in the same class as the Clean Plate Club (a club which typically required your membership only when your plate sported broccoli or spinach). In other words, not very fun.

Unfortunately, it turns out the Waiting Game isn’t just for kids.  It’s also for goat owners awaiting kids.

We moved expecting mama Emily into a comfy, plush kidding stall inside the barn on Friday morning, thinking she was due on Valentine’s Day (Sunday).  We pulled out all the stops for our mother-to-be:  put down soft, fresh straw for her to lie on, rigged up a pen out of hog panels (perfect for goat back-scratching), gave her her own personal alfalfa feeder, grass hay feeder, mineral feeder, water bucket.  We threw open the windows and doors when it was sunny to let in light and fresh air and shut them as soon as it cooled down to keep the barn as warm as possible. I checked on her constantly, waking in the middle of the night and trudging to the barn to check on her, to try and make sure that we’d be there to help her out no matter what time the kids decided to arrive.

Well, it’s Tuesday, I haven’t slept more than a few hours straight in 5 nights, and Emily has shown exactly zero signs of imminent labor.

Her ligaments (the ones that run from her pinbones to her tailhead and disappear before labor) seem to soften and then firm up and then soften again, teasing me.*  Her udder is continuing to fill slowly, but isn’t anywhere near full, and hasn’t shown the sudden 24-hour ballooning that typically precedes labor.  Her teats seem to be starting to swell… but then again, no.  Her hips seem a bit hollowed out, her belly seems to be sitting lower (indicating the kids are moving into place to make their entry into the world)… but then again, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.   She has a very tiny bit of mucus discharge but nothing like the large amounts that indicate the loss of the mucus plug and the onset of labor.

Emily Ligament Test

Feeling for Emily's ligaments. They've softened a bit, and I can reach partway down her spine.

Emily's Udder

Emily's udder is filling up, but isn't yet tight and shiny. Her teats aren't filled with colostrum, either.

In other words, we have no idea when she’s going to kid!  We bought her bred from Brandywine Farms (a wonderful family farm in the foothills of the Sierra), but the breeding date wasn’t known precisely, and when Emily was ultrasounded, the vet wasn’t exactly sure how far along she was.  They gave a window of 15 days, the first possible due date being Valentine’s day.

So for now, back to the waiting game.  And hoping that Emily will let me get some sleep before March!

——-

*FYI, signs that a goat is close to labor are:

  • Loss of ligaments — specifically the ligaments along the back end of her spine, past the pin bones but before the tailhead — to the point where you can almost reach around the spine.
  • “Hollowing out” of hips and a “mushy” hind end as babies drop into place and all other muscles relax to let the birth canal open up and the uterus get to work.
  • Udder is tight and shiny, filled with fresh colostrum.
  • Teats are swollen, taut, and full of colostrum, ready for babies to suckle.
  • Mucus discharge… aka “string of goo” from the goat’s vulva.
  • Goat may start to talk to babies (arching head backwards and nickering to stomach). Goat may paw the ground to try and make a nest for kidding.
  • Some more subtle signs are “going posty,” which is when the doe starts to walk sort of funny and the back legs look stiff and post-like.  Also, the tail will arch in a funny way.
  • And of course, the biggest signs that a goat is going into labor are… contractions!  And then, of course, the appearance of two little hooves, and the kid.

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Beauty, Farm Tales, Farming Info, Uncategorized

Foggy River update!

Emily, or "Auntie Em," is due in one week.

It’s been a while since we’ve blogged.  This has been a very busy off-season… so I thought I’d at least let you know why we’ve been so silent lately.

Reason number one would probably be that I’m in the process of writing a book, and the manuscript is due to the publisher in April.  So that’s taking the majority of my writing energy — and I’m also freelancing for the local paper (currently have 5 articles on the docket for this month) and that’s taking the rest!

Reason number two — our new website, Foggy River Farm. Emmett’s been working on it whenever he’s not working on the barns (which are, respectively, reasons three and four).  We’ve built one barn for the goats — hay storage, milking parlor, kidding room — and we’re about to start one for the veggies, so we can have a nice shaded place to process our produce down by the field.  It’s been a lot of work, but in the process Emmett has become quite the handyman/carpenter/architect.  There are still some things to be done — like, it would be really nice to have a water faucet nearby, not to mention a source of light for late-night kiddings — but in the meantime we’ll carry buckets from the house for water and bring a lantern if any of the goats decide to give birth in the middle of the night.

Other reasons for our silence — we’re getting married!  Which is exciting, but the process of planning a wedding is a part-time job unto itself, and as you can tell we each have several part-time jobs already… which explains why we’re just finally getting around to sending out invitations, and haven’t yet dealt with details like, oh, rings.

Finally, some exciting news:  we’re expecting several kids.  Four of our goats are pregnant, and one of them is due in exactly one week (yup, on Valentine’s Day).  Which means…  adorable Nigerian Dwarf goat kids, and fresh goat milk… which means… fresh goat milk cheese!  Yummm.  We’re also expecting lambs in a few weeks, so we’ve been busy giving “birthing haircuts” to all the pregnant animals.  This is about as fun as it sounds: trying to control a hormonal pregnant sheep or goat while buzzing her butt with an electric shaver.  We also trimmed their udder area so that when the kids and lambs are born, the little ones will have an easier time finding their food source.  (You can imagine that trimming the udder area isn’t particularly popular with the mom-to-be, either, especially with the sheep, who had to be flipped onto their backs for the task.)  We’ve made sure that all the pregnant gals are up to date on vaccinations and mineral supplements, and our nearly-due goat Emily has been receiving daily pinches of raspberry leaf and nettles, two good pre-natal herbs that are said to tone the uterus and speed post-natal healing.  We’ll let you know how our first experience as “goat midwives” goes as soon as Emily gets down to business!  Her udder is already filling up and we’re monitoring her each day for signs of impending birth (more on this later).

That’s all for now.  Hope you’re having a restful winter — and enjoying this fabulous weather we’ve been having!  I loved yesterday’s sudden downpours which vanished just as suddenly as they started, and later on in the day, the brilliant sunlight breaking through the towering clouds.  And today, not a cloud in the sky — just good, old-fashioned, California sunshine and that crisp, cool, after-storm air.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

foggyriverfarm.org

Our new website is up now. We’re still tinkering with the layout a little bit, and adding new information every week…but the basics are there. 

From now on, please visit www.foggyriverfarm.org for the most up-to-date information about the farm, CSA, and goats!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On Thanksgiving

As we’re once again bombarded by new traditional recipes on morning shows, in newspaper columns, and magazines, I feel compelled to say a little something about that most American of all holidays, Thanksgiving.

It’s Emmett’s favorite holiday, mostly because he likes to eat.  My favorite holiday is Christmas, because I like giving people presents.  Specifically, I like thinking about people and waiting for that inspiration to strike — the mental flash of the gift that the person most wants (as opposed to the gift that I most want to give them).  Christmas always has a little of that tension, doesn’t it?  There’s always that choice between what I want to give you (which is often what I want given to myself) versus what you’d actually want.  Too often we go with the former instead of the latter, but to me Christmas is still about that spirit of providing for another person.

But back to Thanksgiving which, everyone knows, is about food and family.  And food first.  It’s the only holiday that is defined by a meal, as opposed to a religious observance or a greater cause or commemoration.  And since I’m now in the business of growing food, I find Thanksgiving a bit more important than I once did.  This year, we saved the last of the Yukon Gold potatoes so that I can make my mom’s famous mashed potatoes (which involve potatoes, butter, Lactaid, salt, and at least a dozen tastings to determine whether the appropriate proportions have been reached for optimal creaminess).  We’ll decorate the table with squash and gourds we grew, and we’ll roast our beets and carrots as another side dish.  We’ll know the work and time and effort that went into these parts of the meal — because we tended them and processed them, from seed to finished dish.

And in the process, I’ll realize that Christmas isn’t the only holiday about gifts.  That each item on the table represents the sweat and toil of another human being (or, in the case of the turkey, its life).  So even if you weren’t the person who grew your potatoes or carrots, your cranberries or yams, your turkey or wheat for the stuffing, say a little thank you for your food.  Because someone did grow them for you, and the gift of a meal goes beyond a simple economic transaction.  Because tomorrow, in houses across America, families will combine a bunch of different foods, have some people over, sit down at a table, and instead of dinner they’ll have Thanksgiving.  And without the people growing the food, whether they’re driving combines or hoeing by hand, none of that would happen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Life, Death, Hatching

IMG_0500

Splash and Sparky: love at first sight.

 

I’d like to share a story with you that took place a few months ago.  It tells an interesting tale of chicken mothering behavior — a story of three mamas, two chicks, life, and death.

One of my Splash Orpington hens — a big gorgeous gal, silvery white and flecked with different shades of grey — decided to go broody.  (“Going broody” is when a chicken, who usually just lays an egg and forgets about it, is suddenly overtaken by maternal instinct.  When she’s broody, her only desire is  to sit on the eggs and hatch them — not pass the egg and go on with her day.)  

Unfortunately, Splash was a teenage mom — she’d barely started laying eggs herself — and a very confused one at that.  

Specifically, she couldn’t decide which nest was the proper one to sit on.  In the morning, she’d be sitting on one nest, fiercely defending it from any birds or humans who dared venture near.  By the evening, she would have forgotten all about her original choice and switched to whatever nest had the most eggs in it.  Talk about a fair-weather mom.

Since I’m a sucker for letting chickens behave naturally (and also a sucker for cute baby critters), I decided to place an “X” on a few eggs and let her try to hatch them.  I mostly placed guinea eggs under her, but also a few chicken eggs.  Of course, since I frequently found the eggs cold and abandoned and Splash sitting on another nest entirely, I didn’t think the odds of the eggs actually hatching were very good.  (Whenever I found her on the wrong nest, I put her back on the proper eggs, trying to teach her how to be a better mom.)  

At some point during the incubation period — which is typically 21 days long from initial heat to hatch day — Joy Luck, my Light Brahma, decided to go broody as well.  Let me tell you, Orpingtons are big birds, but Brahmas are bigger.

Giant Joy — if she were human, she’d be a jolly overweight lady wearing curlers and fuzzy slippers with a propensity for watching soap operas — quickly out-mama’d Splash.  She decided that the “X”-marked eggs were hers, and hers alone.  Since she’s bigger, she used her size to her advantage.  Basically, Joy would sit on top of Splash until Splash was tired of suffocating and moved on to another nest.  

So soon Joy took over incubation duty, although Splash kept trying, and moved onto the nest whenever Joy got up to eat or poop.

Okay, are you still with me?  One nest, two mother hens.  It’s about to get even more complicated.

I have a White Leghorn named Mama.  Three days before the eggs were about to hatch, Mama went broody on the nest under the porch.  Mama had been broody before and she was an absolutely top-notch mother.  For her last clutch, I’d put her in a plastic crate in the garage; she didn’t need much space since after all she was sitting on her nest all day and all night.  Once a day I’d go visit her, bring her fresh food and water (which she hardly touched), and open the door.  She’d hop out, run outside, deposit the nastiest smelliest largest chicken poop you’ve ever seen in your life, and race back to her nest.  She sat on her nest stalwartly and when her baby chicks hatched, she took wonderful care of them.  She showed them how to eat and drink, defended them fiercely against all invaders, and always used the “outside toilet” so she wouldn’t soil their surroundings.  

Meanwhile, Splash pooped on her eggs.  She abandoned them when another nest looked better.  She did not seem to have the makings of a good first-time mom.  

Then, just over three weeks into this broody insanity, I checked on the nest at nighttime and one of the chicks inside one of the eggs had miraculously tapped out a tiny hole in the shell.  I was thrilled — a pip!  Now, what to do?  Should I leave undeserving Joy on the nest?  Put Splash on it?  Or place the eggs under a known veteran mother?

I decided to put Mama on the nest, since she knew what to do.

The next morning, I tip-toed down to the basement and peered in the nest, ready to see a cute little chick fluffed out under Mama’s white feathers.  Instead, I found a dead chick tossed in the corner of the nestbox.  It had a bloody wound on its head.  Mama, instead of taking care of the chick, had killed it.  I felt terrible — this tiny little thing should have been enveloped by soft down feathers and gentle cooing noises.  Instead it had been stabbed to death.

To make matters worse, another shell had pipped:  another baby was trying to make its way out into the cruel world.  I had to act, and act quickly.  Realizing my mistake — chickens must have their own internal clocks and Mama had realized that this chick was hatching out too early and wasn’t “hers” — I decided to take a gamble.  Joy hadn’t been sitting on the nest for three weeks either; she could kill the next baby just as easily as Mama had.

So I ran out to the coop and grabbed the ineffective teenage mom, Splash.  I brought her down to the basement and as quick as I could I snatched Mama off the nest and stuffed Splash into it.  

Then I crossed my fingers, and waited.

Judging by the picture above, you know the end of the story.  An itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny guinea keet popped out of that egg, much to the surprise of both Splash and me.  And that’s just the beginning of the many adventures of Splash and Sparky (as the guinea keet came to be called, for reasons I’ll explain later.)  

For now, let me just say that there is nothing more beautiful than the love of two creatures who don’t speak the same language.  And that’s really a roundabout way of saying there’s nothing more beautiful than love.  After all, no one — mother/newborn baby, husband/wife, brother/sister — really speaks the same language as anyone else.  

But a baby guinea and a confused teenage chicken?  Now there’s a pair whose languages aren’t even close.  (But somehow, they managed to translate just fine.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Foggy River Farm Blog Returns with the Case of the Wildechicken!

You might have thought that we’d dropped off the face of the planet, a failed farming experiment composted into the earth, possibly to return only as a few volunteer tomatoes and squash pushing up through a vineyard of Chardonnay grapes.

In fact, we’ve just been hella, hella busy.  And I don’t use the word “hella” lightly.  (In fact, it makes me cringe.)

Anyway, there will be tons of catch-up blog posts starting now.  Expect to hear all kinds of crazy tales involving baby Nigerian Dwarf goats, Babydoll Southdown sheep, guinea keets, my girl Tux, a war on frost, and goat sex (along with goat teenage crushes and lesbianism).  Oh, and there’s flora side of the farm, too:  this year we grew three types of beets, kale (2), radishes (2), turnips (1), carrots (3, including purple!), lettuces (3), broccoli (3), tomatoes (10), potatoes (5), winter squash (15), summer squash (6), and many different herbs.  Mind you, the numbers in parens are the number of varieties we grew – not the number of plants.  This year we had over 600 tomato plants in the ground.

But enough of that talk.  The catching up part will come later.  Right now I’m going to tell a story that left me scratching my head late into the night.  I said the following sentence—“I just really don’t get it!”—at least a dozen times before dinner, until Emmett was rather annoyed, and just wanted me to stop sounding like an idiot and shut up.

Yesterday, I was cheerfully going about my evening chores:  gathering the sheep into the fenced pasture to protect them from nocturnal predators, feeding the goats their nightly supper of alfalfa hay, collecting the chickens’ eggs, and moving the juvenile chickens from their attempted bedrooms (the nestboxes, which I like to keep free of little poop machines) into their proper bedrooms (the perches near the big scary chickens).

As I was moving the juvenile delinquents up onto the perch by the window, I noticed a very unusual chicken sitting there.

I was quite confident I had never seen this chicken before in my life.  She had the blue feet characteristic of an Ameraucana but none of my Ameraucana chickens have that much black on their heads, that much dark mahogany on their back feathers.  And yet there she was—in the coop, on the perch by the window that is usually only inhabited by the youngest generation of fowl—the motley assortment of 3 lavender guineas, 3 white leghorns, 4 cuckoo marans, and a host of entirely useless bantams that I purchased because I was devastated over the loss of my favorite chicken in the whole world (again, more on that later).  

[By the way, if you’re not familiar with chicken social behavior, my chicken flock has several sub-flocks of chickens:  I raise chicks together in the brooder, transfer them to the smaller coop, and then introduce them to the large coop only when they’re big enough to defend themselves against the old broads.  These sub-flocks tend to hang out together and sleep together—and the youngest group, as I’ve mentioned, gets the least desirable perch in the corner by the window.]

But back to bizarre-o-chicken.  Not only did this chicken have an unusual coloration for my flock; she also looked like hell.  As in, half of her tailfeathers had been broken off, clumps of feathers were missing, and new feathers were poking through her skin.  The feathers poking through her skin meant that she was molting, which is something that’s very easy to notice—and I keep track of all my molting chickens so that I can make sure they’re staying healthy and well-fed during this stressful time.   Curious, I picked the chicken up.  She clucked angrily, and I immediately noticed a gnarly wound on her leg.  About an inch long, it was covered with the biggest scab I’d ever seen on a chicken; the scab was partly falling off to reveal a still-unhealed raw opening underneath.  Just looking at her leg, she looked more like chicken meat than laying hen.  The scab was surrounded by some funky bumps, possibly already-healed smaller wounds, or evidence of an infection.

I collected my nightly eggs, tucked the chicken under my arm, and took her in the house to show Emmett and see what he thought about this stranger.

“Don’t ask me,” Emmett said.  “I can’t tell your chickens apart.  You know them better than I do.”

“Well, we did have one Ameraucana who was a darker brown, but she didn’t have this much black on her head.  And she was the one who always flew over the fence to lay her eggs in the neighbor’s bushes.”  Come to think of it, a couple of months ago I noticed I hadn’t seen her lately.  But the thought occurred to me during the day, when the chickens are sprawled across the property foraging—by nighttime, when the chickens are clustered together in the coop and easier to count, I’d forgotten to look for her.  I did sneak over onto the neighbor’s property to hunt for her nest several times, but was never able to find it.

Who was this mystery chicken?  Donning my Sherlock Holmes hat, I came up with two hypotheses.

One:  someone, knowing that I kept chickens (who are easily seen from our busy road), dumped her off at my coop hoping I’d take care of her.  Two:  this was one of my chickens who had somehow gone walkabout — disappeared and then reappeared, damaged and changed.

The more I thought about it, the more the “rescue chicken” theory didn’t seem to hold water.  Why would someone abandon a valuable laying hen?  And why would she go into the coop so readily?  She did seem a bit unnerved by the coop—and certainly aggressive toward any chicken who came near her—but she also looked an awful lot like the chicken who used to fly over the fence.  Chickens’ feathers do change color from moult to moult; I’m guessing that her feathers just grew in even darker than they were before.

The chicken’s new name is Wildechicken and/or The Beast.  I am now quite confident that she is the same utterly useless chicken who used to eat my hard-earned chicken feed and then fly over the fence to deposit her egg somewhere I’d never find it.  (The proof of this will be when she lays me a brown egg — the one time I was able to catch her laying an egg, several months ago, it was brown, which is the wrong color egg for an Ameraucana and proof that hatchery chickens are not in fact quality purebred birds.)

But this doesn’t solve the mystery.  Not one little bit.  The real question is, how the hell did this chicken survive life in the wild for two months?  I know, I know, you don’t believe me.  I have eighty chickens; I probably just didn’t notice her.

But I beg to differ.  Her behavior alone — sitting on the wrong perch, re-determining her place in the pecking order and acting like she’d never seen the younger generation of chickens in her life — suggests that she hadn’t been hanging out with the flock for quite a while.  (Specifically, the younger generation had cohabitated with the old ladies for 7 weeks, and were by this point tolerated by all.)  Then, there’s the fact that Wildechicken was molting — and had been for quite some time, long enough to have grown in a new set of feathers.  As of yesterday, I only had four molting chickens:  Hope, Mo the Rooster, one Rhode Island Red and Mama the White Leghorn.  I watch them fly out of the coop every morning, and then I toss them several handfuls of Black Oil Sunflower Seeds and they dart around my feet, nabbing the treats with their beaks; this is when I check to see who’s moulting and make sure everybody looks healthy.

So the mystery of Wildechicken remains.  I have absolutely no clue how she managed to survive a couple of months in the wilderness — a wilderness home to foxes, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, hawks, owls, and the neighbor’s dogs.  Clearly — judging by the nasty wound on her leg, which I promptly swabbed with equally nasty blue lotion that stained my shirt — she interacted with one of these nasty beasts and survived to not tell the tale.

If only chickens could talk.  I assume Wildechicken had “gone broody” and tried to sit on her nest in the wilderness.  Did she successfully hatch out chicks, and then lose them?  Were her eggs eaten before then?  Was she temporarily adopted by the neighbor—or held captive by his golden retriever and beagle, until one day she made a brave escape?  How the hell did she not only survive some sort of attack, but also remain plump and well-fed while living on her own and molting?  (When molting, a lot of chickens’ energy goes into the production of new feathers—even chickens with access to high-protein chick starter and treats can start to lose weight.)  And why on earth did she decide to return?

Last night, as I was sticking water and food in her quarantine cage, she attacked me.  All I know is, this is one hell of a chicken—and if I were a raccoon/fox/coyote/owl/beagle, I’d probably think to myself, this feisty dinner is so not worth my effort.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

June on the farm…a retrospective photo journal

Lynda with the newly arrived Ginger, the kid…our wee little Nigerian Dwarf Goat.

blog1_ginger

The view from the field at dusk on a harvest evening.

blog2_dusk

Emmett and his freshly dug garlic.

blog3_garlic

Lynda and our friend Sofie, harvesting for the CSA.  Sofie harvested one cauliflower head and Lynda harvestedone whole plant! Everyone has their own technique here at Foggy River Farm. To each her own!

blog4_cauliflower

One week’s CSA box, including basil, summer squash, cabbage, carrots, garlic, fennel bulb, bagged arugula, spaghetti squash (and apples and pears for the fruit share.)

blog5_box

Sofie, tending our market stand in Healdsburg on a mid June morning.

blog6_sofiemarket

Fennel, purple-top turnips, and garlic all snuggled together on our market display.

blog7_marketturnips

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized