Sunday, September 30, 2007

Free Range Chickens...Part Deux

FYI: The written text about these chickens is in the blog entry prior to this one....

NOTE: After you look at the pictures of my chickens, check out the pictures at the link at the end of this paragraph and see what the wild jungle fowl looks like. You will see amazing similarities between the two, especially the two large pictures at the bottom of the Feather Site page.

This is our founding rooster, The Chicken. This wiley, wary bird probably ended up in somebody's stewpot because he survived several years of farm life but mysteriously disappeared in broad daylight earlier this year. He was King of the Barnyard, too, keeping check on everything that happened, especially vigilant about keeping the guineas in line. We used to hoot with laughter as we watched him chase things around the Farm. Any guinea who dared run afowl of him was an instant target. Guinea fowl use flight (not winged...they are a bit too heavy for long distance flight) as a defense and he would literally run the offender down and give it a good wing thrashing once he caught up. We no longer have Chicken but his spirit lives on in his progeny which continue on here at the Farm.

This is one of the first hens we raised at the Farm from the original few we had. Her name Chik-Fil-A and she is almost 3 years old.In this picture you can see the brood of chicks she hatched in up the crook of one of the old oaks in our front yard, 15 feet off the ground. I understand that nesting so high up in the tree is unusual behavior for a domestic chicken which reinforces my belief that these are Red Jungle Fowl crosses. Another event that leads me to this conclusion is the fact that she has survived 3 winters and we have no henhouse. She is tame in that she will come when called for feeding and will let you pick her up, but is still wary enough to have survived all manner of predation here at the Farm.

Another angle view of Chik and her babies. These little peeps flew to the ground from that nest in the tree and are just about 2 hours old in this picture. She hatched 8 chicks and 7 still survive.
They are about 4 months old right now (pictures of them now follow below).

Chik in her tree nest. She is also a minor chicken celebrity. This picture of her setting on her clutch of eggs was on the front page of the Salisbury Post newspaper. I gather that this behavior was unusual enough to warrant coverage in the media.

Here is one of our other hens with her present brood (pic taken 9-30-07). As you can see, or not see as it seems, these chickens are extremely well camoflaged. There is a hen and 3 of her chicks in this picture but you can only see one, just in front of the outstretched leg of the hen. This is Alpha Red, by the way.

Alpha again in the brush. These chickens tend to keep to the shadows, also.

There are 2 roosters and 2 hens in this picture, again in the shadows, near a very large tangle of brush. This was taken in our back yard, but it looks like they are at the edge of the jungle. I can almost hear Tarzan swinging thru the trees...

This is Pinky and her larger brood of 12 chicks. Same age, to the day, as Alpha Red's 3 little ones.

Another group at the edge of the tree line, still in shadows. This is a picture of those peeps you saw in the beginning photos, almost grown at 4 months of age. There is also a guinea fowl in this picture because she thinks she is a chicken. We found one lone guinea egg in the middle of the yard about the same time the hens were laying and put it in one of the nests with the chicken's eggs. Now she has "imprinted" on the chickens and they are her flock. She is terrified of the other guineas here at the Farm. This may change as she matures or it may not.

Imprinting of animals on different species is pretty common and sometimes humans put it to their own uses. Zoos and other bird breeders use human imprinting on newly hatched chicks of captive breeding birds. It makes them much less skittish around humans but they usually can't ever be released into the wild.

It also happens between species. We used to have a guinea that was housed with our baby goats and he thought he was a goat...rode around the Farm on the back of his best friend, Romeo, one of the little billies. If Ginney was dislodged for any reason, he would squawk and fly to where ever the goat was and land on Rom's rump and then everybody was happy. Ginney was a lonely little 2-day old keet when Romeo arrived, so they were together since almost as soon they both came into the world. The goat thought that having a bird riding around on his back most of the time was normal, I guess.

Alpha Red and peeps, under the Tree of Life.

Two of this years earliest brood, already fully mature at 6 months of age. Aren't they gorgeous? Notice the size of the trunk of our magnificent magnolia which they are standing under, the famous Tree of Life. Also, it is so dark under this tree that I had to tweak up the picture with my photo software, so you could see these boys.

Young hen in the shadows. Notice the lack of comb. That trait occurs occasionally and is a throw back to the wild RJF gene pool.

Along the edge of the brush once again. I imagine if you saw an RJG in the wild, the scene would look much like this. Except, of course, for the guinea following on everybody's heels. She would be in Africa, not Asia, and probably running from a hyena or wild dog.

As I mentioned in the text of this entry about chickens (Part One) these hens are great mothers. This is a picture of Pinky, about 15 feet up in the Tree of Life, with her chicks, going
"to roost" for the night. Notice the chicks standing on her back.

This is a little better view of Pinky and her brood. There are 12 chicks on this branch with her, two on her back and the rest under her wings and her body. You can see some of the little feet hanging out from under her. They will sleep this way, huddled under her protection for about 2 more weeks, until they are so big, they are pushing each other off the branch. This is their favorite brance because it is wide and they can all fit easily right now.

Truly Free Range Chickens...Part One

This year, we are in the process of building up our flock of laying hens, one brood of chicks at a time. Right now, we have 15 hens, way too many roosters and 15 4-wk old chicks, whose sex has yet to be determined. Three of our mature hens have been our brooders this year. We are allowing the hens to set on their eggs and raising their chicks to maturity this year, so that we can hopefully have on-farm organic eggs for 2008. The roosters will soon be culled out of the flock, so that we don't have to feed them all winter long. Their basic function is to crow at odd times, thereby annoying the neighbors and creating lots of really good manure under the Tree of Life's branches. Laying flocks only need a couple of roosters to keep them happy, so we will only keep 2-3 around the Farm.

Our chickens are a very interesting breed. Exactly what kind of chickens they are is a bit of a mystery, however. They came to me designated as full sized Old English Game chickens, which appear to be fairly uncommon in this area. I have tried to find some for sale and have had no luck finding any locally....closest I found was several states away and they were quite expensive, which suprised me. I got the original few we had from someone who raises rare and unusual breeds of chickens, by way of a friend who procured them for me. I never actually met the fellow who hatched these birds. Since I used to work at the Lazy 5 Ranch, which is an exotic animal park, I asked someone I worked with at the ranch to see if he could get me some guinea fowl keets and I ended up with several of these chicks mixed in with them. I asked about them and was told they were most likely Old English Games but nobody was sure. I assumed that was what they were until I was researching some information about the origins of the domestic chicken and was amazed to see a picture of a chicken almost identical to several of mine...the Red Jungle Fowl of Thailand. I have posted a gallery of pictures on a separate post after this
one, so you can see what I am talking about.

On further investigation, I found the following article on a site about the DNA of chickens:

"Every breed of domestic chicken that ever lived can be traced to a single subspecies of red junglefowl native to Thailand, according to mitochondrial DNA evidence discovered by Japanese researchers. Using these techniques, the research team was able to eliminate all but a single subspecies of red junglefowl (Gallus gallus gallus) native to Thailand as the ancestor to all subsequent breeds of the domesticated chicken.

Because the domestication of the chicken is a relatively recent event in human history, studies of nuclear genes would not provide much useful data because of their low mutation rate. The mitochondrial genome, on the other hand, has a high and constant mutation rate, as it is impervious to generation time differences between species. Biologists have pondered the origins of the domestic chicken for many decades. Paleontologists first fixed the original date of chicken domestication some 4,000 years ago at a site in Pakistan. However, subsequent discoveries of chicken bones at Neolithic sites at the mouth of the Yellow River in China push the date back to about 7,500 years ago. However, the red junglefowl was not native to that arid region of China, suggesting an older heritage in a more tropical area.

The new findings by the Japanese researchers suggest that domestication took place more than 8,000 years ago in what is now Thailand and Vietnam, the region in which this red junglefowl is found today. Moreover, this data indicates that the chicken is a notable exception to the general rule that the domestication of a species results in the extinction of its wild ancestor, the researchers note. "

Both our hens and roosters are almost identical to these wild birds and display a lot of characteristics that the jungle birds do. These characteristics make them perfect homestead birds for us because they don't require a lot of care and are wary enough to survive predation as opposed to the more domesticated birds we have considered. We feed them to keep them from roaming too much around the Farm and they are fairly tame. They are also acutely aware of their environment, so much so that if a plane flies over within their sight range, they will duck and run for cover. We have a neighbor who keeps a large flock of Buff Orphington's and she says they act like they are on Quaaludes and routinely succumb to coyotes (yes they are all over this area), raccoons, hawks and owls and the occasional stray dog because they are not very aware of their surroundings most of the time. While having a gentle, biddable hen or really calm rooster is a good idea if they are in a pen or coop, they don't do as well as a truly free ranging bird, which is what we are seeking and what we have happily ended up with, even though it started as a fluke.
Now we are actively seeking to increase our flock of this breed and have no other chickens here so as not to dilute the gene pool.

These birds also lay fairly good sized eggs, albeit whereever they can find a spot, usually in a removed corner of one of the sheds, under the barn or even 15 feet up high in a tree(see picture posts for more about this). Since we are trying to build up this flock, we have kept an eye on the hens this summer and watched for their nest locations. These girls like to make it know when they have laid a new egg or come off setting to eat and drink and will cackle and flap their wings, so it can be pretty easy to locate their nest site once you start paying attention. These chickens lay good sized clutches of eggs--8-14 is common-- and are excellent mothers. Not all of the eggs they lay are fertile, so there are usually a few left that don't hatch. Occasionally, they all do, though.

If you thought all chickens were stupid, guess again. For example, I had some small watermelons that were way overripe a while back, so I cut them up and fed them to the hens and chicks. Alpha Red pulled off small chunks of her melon's tasty flesh and gently laid it on the ground in front of her little ones. She then lowered her head and touched the pieces with her beak, until the peeps started to eat the pieces but she never ate any of what she placed on the ground. She continued to pull off pieces ever so often, as she was eating melon herself and after a while the chicks hopped up on the melon and started eating with gusto! I have also seen our older, mature rooster scratch up the ground and lower his head in the same fashion until the chicks come over to investigate and eat what ever seeds or bugs he has rustled up for them. He never eats when he does this, so I know that he has to be trying to teach the little ones how to look for food. Some pretty amazing interaction goes on between the adult chickens and the chicks.

Our girls are really protective of their chicks, almost to the extreme which would be necessary for a wild bird, which is another behavior I attribute to their heritage. I have several tough barn cats who won't go within 4 feet of these mommas with their broods. We usually keep the little ones and their mommas in a pen at night until they are big enough to roost up in the Tree of Life with the rest of the flock and that is usually by around 10-12 days of age. After being out foraging all day, the hens show up with their chicks around dusk, ready to get back into the safety of the pen until the babies are strong enough to fly up to the tree branches. One of these hens hatched out 12 chicks this last go 'round and they are now almost 4 weeks old and all are still surviving. That first night I left them out on their own, I went out with a flashlight, right before our bedtime, to check on them and there they were, huddled under their mother's protective wingspread, sleeping peacefully while balanced on their chosen branch. Considering the many possible predators we have here at the Farm, foxes, skunks, owls, hawks, snakes, etc., this is a testament to her ability as a mother. I have even suffered the wrath of mama when I got too close while feeding or changing the water and trust me, that beak is a great deterrent to messin' with those babies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's all about the Food....

Since we grow produce, flowers, herbs and fruits at our Farm, food is a big part of our life. And where there is food, there is cooking, which I love to do. Hate to clean up the messes I make, but I am trying to remember to clean up as I go along. Sometimes, I get so into what I am making that when it is done and I turn around and see the kitchen, I am sure I have this look on my face, like a deer in headlights.

We eat mainly vegetarian because we have a strong moral objection to the way that animals are treated in the American quest for cheap meat, eggs, milk, etc., so I consider myself quite fortunate because if I want to experiment with a new recipe or even invent one, I have 17 acres of organic ingredients at my beck and call. I love to take a basket to the garden and pick out dinner, which may be why going to the supermarket freaks me out a little. All those aisles that make no sense and all the veggies wrapped up in plastic...yuk! I don't think "supermarket" is a proper term. I think stupefying market would be a better one. And natural food markets are not immune to this disorder, so don't be thinking otherwise.

That concept is one of the larger reasons that Americans have become so disconnected to where our food comes from and has led us to an epidemic of obesity in this country. When you are subjected to sensory overload like that, your good judgement shuts down and you just act on impulse. I read an article once about the psychology of advertising and believe me, there is something almost sinister about the way things are arranged at the grocery store. Packaging that targets primal areas of the brain, for example. Ray Croc objected to the use of the "golden arches" as a symbol for his McDonald's restaurants. Theory was that since they were trying to replace "Mom" at dinnertime, the rounded shape of the arches was "like a mother's bosom" and therefore people would be more trusting of their products. By the way, I read this article in a respected professional publication, not the National Enquirer. Now, back to the subject of food.

In the summer, our meals are more or less a no brainer because we eat veggie sandwiches at least once a day and NEVER get tired of them. It seems like they are never the same two days in a row. Sometimes we have them for lunch and sometimes for dinner. One day we may have ripe Mr. Stripey tomatoes, Big Bertha green peppers, sweet Candy onions and a Green Fingers cucumber, along with homegrown sprouts and chipotle pepper mayo on organic 9 grain bread. The next day, it maybe a sweet Cubanelle pepper and a Brandywine tomato, with arugula and avocado mayo (homemade, of course) on organic oatmeal bread. Dinner might be something as simple as half a melon, salsa and chips or something an involved as a Salmon/Leek/Potato pie, with a creamy lemony dill sauce.

The main theme of meals here at New Moon is always built around things that are grown on the Farm. Because I have such a wide variety of homegrown ingredients at my disposal, I don't mind splurging for organic avocados, eggs or alderwood smoked Pacific salmon. Those are my main vices, when it comes to food, except for Ben and Jerry's Karmel Sutra ice cream, which I am proud to say I can resist, most of the time at least, as long as I keep my "grocery store blinders" well adjusted.
We try to keep our in season, local food at about 90-95% of what we eat, which is pretty darned good. January and February are usually too cold for very much to be coming out of the gardens, but we can still glean quite a bit of food, even during the coldest months of the year, so we are able to eat at least a few things fresh from the Farm year round.During that time we will only have big greens and root veggies left in the ground, so that is when we use up all the winter squash, sweet potatoes, pecans, apples and what I preserve during the summer. We also have a couple of beehives. We take part of the honey from the hives, usually in late summer and leave behind what the bees will need to survive when there are not more flowers to visit. So I have jars and jars of nearly organic honey to use during the cold months (I guess we will still be having cold months...). Beautiful, thick, golden honey is like looking at a perfect summer day captured in just lifts you up with its splendor. Thanks, bees.
Since the main goal here at the Farm is to be as self-sustaining as possible, I do a lot of food preservation. I have to say that being in control of our food source and supply is gratifying on many levels. There is satisfaction in the completion of the cycle of the life of the plant, from seed to fruition. Being involved in the process at every level, producing most of our own food puts us in touch with both our surroundings and in touch with a deeper part of ourselves. It is quite spiritual, actually. There is also a quiet security in knowing that we aren't dependent on someone else for our sustenance and that our food is wholesome and safe. There is a deep appreciation for everything on our plates and in our pantry and when we say grace at the table, we really mean it.
"Putting by" food, during the peak seasons, is a constant activity here. We can, freeze, dehydrate or dry as much as possible. Every season brings something new to add to our larder. I make jams, jellies and preserves with everything from strawberries to green tomatoes and blueberries. Pickles and relishes are made with cucumbers, peppers, squash and tomatoes. I even make taco sauce, pizza sauce, ketchup and anything else I think we might use during the off season. I make rubs, dried herb blends, seasoned salts and flavored sugars. We often use the fruit syrups I make, instead of Log Cabin, on waffles and griddlecakes.
In 2000, the first year we lived here, we decided to set up an experiment, by calculating how much we would need to grow to survive for an entire year, only purchasing minimal items from the supermarket. I found a great book on the subject. It contained a chart that listed about 100 vegetables and fruits and showed how much a harvest would yield in preserved food. That was also the year I overcame my fear of pressure canners (related to an issue from childhood visits to my grandparents' farm) and canned everything from green beans to okra/corn/tomato soup, thanks to the help of my mother-in-law, food preserver extraordinaire. I have since decided that I prefer freezing to canning, because of the time involved and the quality of the food. Some things don't freeze well and some things are better canned, than frozen, so I just go with the flow of that.
I have several items that are staples around here for the winter months and so I put up a lot of those. This year I made "sun dried" tomatoes, which I packed in olive oil with sliced garlic and sea salt. Prep and drying time for those took an 18 hour day. 5 pounds of grape or Roma tomatoes will yield about 2 cups of dried tomatoes, so you really have to want these babies....I ended up with about 8 cups, completed, you do the math.
I also make a "pizza sauce" which is one of our mainstays in the winter. I am a tomato-a-holic but I refuse to eat one we didn't grow, so if I didn't have some of our summer harvest preserved, it would be hard on me (wink). I take a variety of tomatoes, at their peak of ripeness, and cook them down for hours and hours and hours on a slow simmer until they are almost as thick as tomato paste. On tomato canning day, I can't leave the Farm because I have to stir every half hour or all my effort is wasted. Scorched sauce goes in the dumper, so I am very dedicated to the process. My sauce is seasoned with my secret blend of herbs and spices, lots of garlic and some sea salt. It is so good, you could eat it with a spoon but we prefer to use it on pizza, as a base for Italian, Mexican and Creole dishes, etc. It is truly to die for. No modesty about my pizza sauce here.
And while I am on the subject of pizza sauce, let me briefly tell you how we make pizza. It is probably the best pizza I have ever eaten. We take flour tortilla shells or wraps (there are so many good flavored ones...any of them will work) and spread with a thin layer of sauce. A little sauce goes a long way but try to avoid using jarred pizza is just too "runny". If you don't have a really thick sauce to use, try using the organic or regular tomato paste. The Hunt's organic version with basil and garlic is very good (if you have to go get some at the store, don't get lost in the aisles). Using a thinner sauce or too many toppings will make the shell soggy and it won't crisp up properly.
On top of the tomato sauce, I put a relative thin layer of whatever cheese I am in the mood for. Soy cheese works pretty well, if you grate it. Just don't overdo the cheese. Cheese has lots of moisture and some kinds are oily and will just ruin your efforts. "Cheesy pizza is greasy pizza" is a good mantra to use when making pizza.

After the tomato-cheese layer is on, I then place thinly slivered veggies on top. Mushrooms, olives, fresh or pickled peppers, onions, fresh basil, etc. are all good choices, but the choices are endless. Just drain or blot anything that has been in liquid. Too much moisture in any of your toppings will result in a limp crust and a ruined pizza. If you use a meat to top, try to use only pepperoni or something you can also cut into tiny pieces.

I use my kitchen shears to cut the toppings into slivers because bigger is not better in this recipe. (And by the way, if you don't have kitchen shears, get some. I use these more than a knife for food prep.) Another thing I top with is sauteed eggplant, the tiny Asian kind. I sliver 3-4 small ones, saute with peppers, onions and garlic, in a very little bit of olive oil. Add a splash of water about 2 minutes before you remove, to deglaze the pan and soften up the peel of the aubergines. Or you can just peel them and leave this step out.

The goal is for the topping to be full of flavor but not overdone. You don't want to overwhelm with toppings, this is a minimalist pizza, afterall. Once you have topped off the pizza with your chosen combo, pop into a 400 degree over for about 10-12 minutes and get ready for a treat. If you have topped it properly, the crust will be almost like a cracker, which is how I think pizza is supposed to be. I have been to Italy and never had pizza there like we have in the States (although I was never in Sicily...). Big, icky, gooey crusted pizza probably designed to fill you up with cheap dough and not expensive toppings. And the beauty of this type of pizza is the caloric content. Since lots of people don't eat pizza because of the calorie overload, this one is idea. I have calculated the number of calories in one of these pizzas and I can make a filling, incredibly tasty pizza with a TOTAL calorie content of less that 500 for the WHOLE THING!!!
You can also top half the shell, fold it over, put a little cheese along the edges to seal at it cooks and bake at the same time and temp. Or you can fold it like a burrito....sealing it up like that makes it transportable, say for a bag lunch for work. Just avoid nuking it.....not only is that bad for you, it will make your crust turn into something resembling the sole of your shoes.
Oh, oh....I said that was going to be brief, but I guess I was wrong about that....but I imagine you will think it was worth the time if you try the pizza. I have used up all my time for today, so I will leave you with your mouth watering for a pizza.

Next time....Raising Free Range Chickens


Everybody say HOT! HOT! HOT!

An assortment of hot peppers from here at the Farm.
Starting clockwise at 12 o'clock, we have: Chocolate Chiles, Serrano Chiles, Red and Green Jalapenos, Ancho and Poblano Chiles, Habaneros and the bright ones in the center are Hot Banana peppers.

"The exploration of the chemistry of capsaicin dates to 1816 when P.A. Bucholtz found that the pungent principle of peppers could be extracted from the pods using organic solvents, according to the newsmagazine. In 1846, L.T. Thresh reported in a published paper that the main chemical component of peppers could be removed in a crystalline state and he named this chemical capsaicin.

The most well known lab work on the chemical was done by Wilbur Scoville, who in 1912 convened a panel of tasters, who rated the heat of different peppers, C&EN reports. And today the Scoville scale of units is the "rule of tongue" for rating pepper heat. For pepper lovers, the hottest rating at 300,000-500,000 goes to haba¤ero peppers, compared to a mere 2,500 for the fabled jalapeƱo. Despite the high reading of 500,000, capsaicin in peppers is not likely to hurt anyone. The reading for pure capsaicin in the Scoville scale is 16 million.

In addition to pleasing many peoples' palates, chili peppers are a good source of vitamins A, C and E, rich in folic acid and potassium, low in calories and sodium, and contain no carbohydrates, C&EN says.

Another scientific fact imparted by the newsmagazine that capsaicin breaks down in fats is good news for dessert lovers who may need to turn down the pepper heat. That is, something cold, sweet and flavored with chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry certainly can help put out that fire."
Excerpt taken from an article at

While I am not much of a connoisseur of foods that make your nose run and your eyes water, I do appreciate the fact that there are those of you who do. I actually love the taste of wasabi and horseradish but their heat is more of a flash fire, hot for a few seconds and then everything is back to normal, as opposed to the smoldering ember and/or raging inferno of capsaisin, which to me seems to be interminable. The Farmer loves hot foot and so I am trying to learn to tolerate the heat of peppers, with some success, having become addicted to all things chipotle this summer.

Exploring different culinary possibilities, I decided that I would like to try my hand at making my own green chili powder. I couldn't find a recipe per se, so I just took several different kinds of chile peppers, roasted them and then dried them. Once they were well blackened and completely dried, I put my assortment into a spice grinder and let 'er rip! I only removed the stems, so the seeds, where the heat is the strongest, were included. I discovered that finely ground dried chiles have the same effect as black pepper and after sneezing about 20 times, I put on a dust mask, the kind they sell for use with household sanding projects and that helped alot. The end result was worth the little bit of discomfort I experienced because the flavor was amazing. You can actually taste the peppers, not just the heat.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who is this person and why is she telling me this?

Simple living and quality of life are going to be frequent topics here on this blog, since I feel eminently qualified to speak about both subjects. Simple doesn't mean easy, by the way. It means doing things and living your life in a way that has been divested as much as possible from dependence on someone else for your health, happiness and well being. It means being self sufficient and able to cope with adversity in a healthy, productive way and to always keep in mind that you are trying your best to do things in a positive and beneficial way for not only yourself, but the world around you. "First do no harm" should be the mantra of everyone who wants to improve the quality of their life.

I didn't always live my idyllic life on the Farm. As an adult, my personal successes were always overshadowed by the feeling that something in my life just wasn't right. With every triumph, there seemed to be a trial, like my life was trying to constantly stay in balance. For everything I gained, it seemed like I gave something up and many times it felt that something was a little piece of my soul.

The Universe seeks harmony in everything. Ergo, perfect harmony is perfect balance, therefore the good has to be weighed against the bad or it has no meaning and no lesson is learned. It took a personal epiphany and a pivotal event to shake me up enough to realize that I needed to pay attention to what the Universe was trying to get across to me. And it shook me hard, when it did.

Just over a decade ago, I was hip deep in corporate America. Five days a week I made a 30 mile commute, ONE WAY, into the city. I then spent 10 hours a day in one of the ten most stressful (according to Health magazine, it is still #6) jobs in America. For years, I didn't get enough sleep at night and suffered from stress related illnesses. I missed so many of my kids' milestone events that I lost count. I made lots of money, but in the end money didn't bring any happiness and I still felt hollow much of the time. Predictably, my marriage began to crumble and my husband moved out. Suddenly, my family seemed to be dissolving right in front of me. The work that had seemed so important to me became trivial and bourgeois.

Yet I had participated in this chaos for years, it was how I lived my life. That is, until one day some sort of cosmic light came on and I realized that everything negative in my life was directly related to the way that I was living. I simply had to let it go and move in a new direction.

And so, armed with that revelation, I quit my job, packed my kid (the one still at older son was already in college) into my car and drove 3000+ miles to the left coast, basically leaving my old life behind. I rented a house, sight unseen, from some guy in Canada, in a town I have never seen or even heard of. At that point I embarked on the journey that has led me to my present life.

Was that crazy? You betcha. Was it scary? You can't imagine.
Was it the right thing to do? At the time, for me, absolutely.
Not everybody has to take such extreme steps to find their way
to a simpler, more meaningful life. For some, it might be as simple as
organizing the kitchen cupboards, for others it will take a major life alteration.
Finding the place you want to be and then having the courage to take that first
step onto a new path is the hardest part of the journey.

So, from the harried city dweller, doing the 9 to 5, who is just plain fed up with the stress in their life, to those parents who are concerned with the world their kids are going to inherit, we all have something in common. Hopefully, there will be things here in my blog that will serve as a resource for you to use as you travel along your path. If simpler and more natural ways of living are what you are seeking in your life, you will find information, resources and lots of inspiration here to help you on your personal journey .


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Great websites to visit

NOTE: This is a compilation of links to some of my favorite websites, discussion groups and topical articles that I will be adding to the list, on a regular basis, so check back periodically. Click on the underlined text to go to these sites.

The Great News Network The great news network is a news site that reports only positive news stories. News is submitted by its members and voted on by its members. If a news story receives enough votes, it automatically gets promoted to the front page. I love this website!!!

EcoChoices Natural Living Store
Create a home that is beautiful, natural and a safe environment for you and your
family's enjoyment. The best earth-friendly products available at the lowest
prices possible without lowering the quality of the products. Shop more than ten
web sites with one shopping cart!

The Frugal Life -Living well with what you have -This site provides information on how to live frugally with the resources you have. Get ideas for more creativity in your finances
and meet a community of wonderful people willing to help you

Organic Consumer's Association
The link here is probably one of the most important ones on this page. It will take you to the website for the Organic Consumers Association. While some of the subjects on this site may seem a little over the top, the information posted here has proven to be correct more than 95% of the time. The originator of this site is outspoken and radical in many ways, but the subjects and issues they cover are some of the most serious and compelling of our times. A must for those of us serious about having safe food supply for ourselves and future generations

The Cornucopia Institute "The Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. We will actively resist regulatory rollbacks and the weakening of organic standards to protect and maintain consumer confidence in the organic food label." You should especially check out the "Who Owns Organic" link on this page. It is a chart of who actually owns and controls the mainstream organic labels we see in supermarkets.

Ideal Bite "The concept behind Ideal Bite is an easy one — if we all knew what to do in our day-to-day lives to help impact the planet and our communities positively and painlessly (and without preachiness), we would all do it. And if that know-how came to us in a fun, pithy, sometimes irreverent way — so much the better. " Join their email list for your daily "green bite". Good info from a hip source. "The more taboos and prohibitions there are, the poorer the people become.
The more deadly weapons there are, the more our fears turn us numb." Interesting information on an array of topical issues.

Food Not Lawns This is an interesting site for those of you who are interested in something other than growing grass in your yards. They also have an online forum. Most of the members here are in Oregon, which is where I joined up with them, but their points and info apply any where.

Great Articles

Biophilia There is a reason you love puppies and plants in your house. Read the theory behind the possible psychological reasons for our attraction to nature.

Healing Gardens
Fish Farming-Pro or Con?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Zen and the Art of Pea Picking

"Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine."

I am finding that writing a Blog is very creative because it gives one a chance to flex one's writing muscles. I like being able to put "pen to paper" on some of the ideas that I have running around through my head all the time. Also, there are a lot of repetitive (boring?) chores that have to be done around here and some of them are very meditative and a great opportunity to just "get into the zone" and think of things to write about.

Yesterday, for example, while I was picking peas, I was inspired to compose this entry. Pea picking is pretty dull but as I moved down the rows, looking for the perfect pea pods to put into my basket, I was struck by the beauty of the peas themselves. The flowers on field peas look very much like the old timey cottage flower, Sweet Peas, which are known for their fragrance. This was not unusual because field peas are the bashful cousins of the flashier sweet peas. Field pea flowers are not as prolific and don't have much scent that I can detect but they are always covered with wasps, bees and other flying insects who are obviously attracted for some reason. There are so many nectar loving insects on the plants I have to wear gloves to pick to avoid their stingers but it is fascinating to move among them and see how many different kinds there are.

Although the wasps in the peas are not aggressive, you can never see all of them, especially when the pea I am about to pick is under a leaf and they are perched on the stem. Often I am surprised by them. And grabbing a wasp barehanded is something I don't recommend, although I did discover something wonderful from being stung about 2 years ago. I got stung on the palm of my hand and the only remedy I had close by was a bottle of organic lavender essential oil. Since I believe strongly in the curative powers of essentials, I took the bottle and put a couple of drops of oil directly on the sting. Immediately, the pain was gone and the redness started to subside. Within an hour, it was like I had never been stung, which is a miracle to me because I usually get huge welts just from mosquito bites, much less serious stings. There was no pain, no itching, no swelling, even the little pinprick spot where I was stung disappeared. So, now I try to keep lavender oil handy for such occasions. But, I digress.

Field peas bloom and produce over a fairly long period. That is why they are generally listed as cover crops in seed catalogs, because their longevity allows them to improve the soil by "fixing" nitrogen in the soil, instead of using it all up. They also make a fine feed for animals, hence their other common name, "cowpeas". I have been picking peas from our patch for at least a month or longer. Every time I go out to pick, there are new blooms and more peas. And while this is great for a home garden, it makes it very hard to time the harvest for a larger group, so we only grow these for ourselves. That may be one reason why you rarely see them for sale as fresh peas at the market.

I find something very Zen about picking field peas. They are patient plants that can't be hurried into maturity. When they are ready, they are ready. The actual picking of the peas is not particularly time consuming but requires some finesse. Because they don't all ripen at the precise same moment, you have to focus on finding the right ones by looking for size, color and shape. Even though peas pods are usually held high on a long, stiff stem, above the plants and so are very easy to see, you can't just pick every pea you see. The trick is to get the ones that are filled with peas that are ready to pop from the pods.

When I am out in the peas, seeking out the plumpest pods, I am always thinking about cooking or preserving them. I think about how I might prepare them for dinner or if I have enough time to even get them shelled in time for dinner. Would I be better served if I shelled and froze them for the winter, which is the answer that usually wins?

Often, I feel a connection with all of the other people around the world who grow their own food. I imagine a mother in China, picking vegetables from her own garden, might be thinking about preparing dinner as she harvests or the father worrying about how he will feed his family should the crops fail to produce. Since we grow much of what we eat here on the Farm, I identify strongly with how much a family depends on what they are growing to sustain themselves. Solidarity with my fellow farmers across the globe is not diminished by the fact that I have a supermarket on every corner to back me up, should my crops fail. In fact, my firsthand knowledge of the trials that any farmer faces, brings home the fact that life for so many depends on the whim of Mother Nature and makes me even more determined not to waste or take for granted the gifts she bestows.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More pictures from the Farm

Big Boy and Garbo, in a rare moment of peace.
Jack, Lord and Master of the Farm animals.
Bee-ooooo-ti-ful Esme.
Roosters trying to impress a hen (note it's not working).
Big ol' gentle bumblebee, hanging out by the shed.
Green tomatoes, as the sun went down.
Mushrooms in the 'mater patch.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One picture is worth how many words????

Prissy, hanging out in the "Tree of Life"
Chik-Fil-A and peepers.

Reenactment of The Traveling Musicians..

Peep Show, Farm Style.

Assortment of heirloom tomatoes.

A plethora of grape tomatoes.

Baskets of eggplant.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday, Monday....can't trust that day....

Read on to see what these pictures are really about....

Today was not the best day I have had in a while. First of all, I overslept this morning and missed my chance to go to the DMV to get my driver's license renewed. If you don't get there early (like by 7:15) in our little berg, you have to wait a reeeeaaaalllyy long time, which I didn't have any to spare today. I already went once and got everything done and then there was some question about my name on my license and the name on my Social Security card not matching exactly. I gather that even though, for more than a decade, I have filed my taxes, gotten at least 2 driver's licenses in 2 states with this name and a host of other official items, none of that matters. I had to get a copy of my marriage license so I could get my name corrected with the Social Security people and guess what they wanted as the second piece of ID? My driver's license....with my misspelled name on it. And the marriage license people didn't even ask for any ID, just $10.00 and a form saying what I wanted an official copy of, which is kind of scary. I think maybe Homeland Security should have thought some of this stuff through a little more....

Since I missed my chance at the DMV, I spent the morning catching up on chores like cleaning chicken pens, feeding chickens and disinfecting picking paraphernalia. I spent some time answering emails for the Farm and working on a grant proposal. Did some laundry and cleaned the shower. Ho-hum, boring.....

Another fun thing I did today was pick okra. If you have read the entry on okra, you know the rigors of picking this wonderful veggie. It was actually pretty pleasant today, so wearing a long sleeved shirt was nice, instead of swelteringly hot. Only problem was that a bug landed on the back of my neck and before I thought about it, I reached up and brushed it off, which rubbed okra spines all over me and then I had to finish picking while itching like crazy. I had some pruners with me and I used them to scratch so I wouldn't aggravate the situation, but almost stabbed myself, so I just suffered through it.

In the afternoon, I decided to sweep off the porch because the chickens love to get under the boxwoods that line the front of our house and scratch up the leaves looking for bugs. Of course, they throw the mulch and leaves all over the walk and porch and make a big mess. Definitely this is a downside to having free range chickens. Free range at my house means I never know where I am going to find a chicken. There is an interesting theory among paleontologists that the dinosaurs weren't killed off by an ice age or giant meteor but rather that they simple evolved into modern birds. In fact, there is pretty good evidence that the T-Rex is now the chicken. I believe this theory because I have 14 tiny T-Rex's running around my back yard. Of course, they are decked out like rock stars, strutting around, with their bright red combs and their flashy colored feathers and always courting the "ladies". The picture at the top of this post is our alpha rooster, Rod Stewart.

We also have several guinea fowl, which is an African species that is not known for its smarts. They are the real evidence that convinces me of the correctness of this dino-to-bird theory. They have this big bony knot on top of their heads, fleshy flaps of red skin on either side of their heads and huge, strange feet. Their overall shape is kind of hard to describe but I posted a picture of a pair of them at the top of this page. We call them the "Helmets". And they are not, in a conventional sense, the brightest creatures around. They are very instinct driven, which in their native habitat serves them well. They have this raucous call that when one takes it up, they all join in, which would totally take away the element of surprise for most predators. This can be pretty unsettling at 2 a.m. because they don't sleep all night like chickens and they roost in the tree outside our bedroom window. Guineas are fascinating creatures, though and many people keep them for their entertainment value as well as their main tour d' force, which is eating ticks. In the years when we have not had guineas, there were ticks everywhere. When we have guineas patrolling the property, even the dogs don't get ticks on them, which is a minor miracle.

Guineas also lay the most incredibly nutritious eggs, with more protein then hen's eggs because there is a nice fat yolk and a lot less albumen. They are also eaten as a delicacy in Europe, tasting a lot like pheasant, but we prefer to use the guineas exclusively for tick control, gathering the eggs when we can find them. Since you can't put them in a pen to control ticks, they are totally free range. Unlike the chickens, who rarely stray more than 200 yards from the house, guinea fowl are wide rangers, sometimes covering the entire farm in a day.

Guinea hens tend to lay their eggs in a hidden spot, with several of them using the same nest. (At the moment, we have a hen setting on a nest of about 16 eggs.) Whichever hen ends up setting on the eggs becomes mother to her own and surrogate to the others. Last year we had a hen who hatched a huge brood and raised all of them to maturity, only to have most of them succumb to predators. Unfortunately, guineas are creatures of the African plains and it is their nature is to seek open spaces for foraging, with some cover like bushes or grass close by so that they can hide if a predator threatens. Sadly, they like the sides of roads and are totally unaware that that big, yellow school bus is probably the most dangerous predator in their world. Yesterday afternoon, one of my girls met her fate with Bus #302. As with many things here on the Farm, she will serve another purpose and become food for our Red Tail Hawk, Pteri ( he's legal, of course.)

I weeded a bit yesterday. We have all kinds of stuff planted for the fall season, but the only thing growing really well are the weeds. I am dead set against genetically modified food plants, but if the bio-tech researchers want to do something to really benefit mankind (instead of making more money for corporations....) they should figure out what in the genetic make up of most weeds make them so resistant to chemicals, heat, cold, drought, etc. and splice that DNA into a tomato plant.

Basically, yesterday was one of those mundane days on the Farm where nothing exciting happened. It was just another day in the life. The next posting I do is going to be a montage of pictures from the Farm with little or no commentary. Type to you later.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Quiet Sunday Morning on the Farm

It is Sunday morning, around 9am, and I have just come from "church", which means I have been out walking the fields this morning. The temperature dropped considerably last night and the breeze this morning is coming from the North, so it is hovering around 55 degrees.This seems to me to be something of a minor miracle. Last week, it was hot, dry, humid and uncomfortable. Today it is cool, breezy and invigorating and I had to wear a sweater on my walk. I was going to sit and meditate or do some yoga, but decided I needed to keep moving. The blood is a little thin still, I guess.

Today is also one of those days that come in the last week of summer that reminds you that the season is changing and that you are moving ahead in time. Those sweltering days of summer are behind you now and it is time to switch gears and get ready for fall, which is my favorite time of the year. I love to see the gardens bursting with green life in the spring, I love the abundance of summer, I love the peace and quiet of the winter, but fall is my best, favorite time of the year.

Lots of people associate the coming of cooler fall weather as a signal that summer is ending and feel a little pang of regret, when in fact, there is such an abundance of activity and living energy all around us. Squirrels are still putting away stores of food for this winter and we see the flocks of migrating birds overhead. Lizards, turtles, frogs and toads are all preparing themselves for the winter, digging in before it is too cold for them to move fast enough to do so. Honeybees have spent the entire spring and summer making honey to sustain them over the winter and are busy preparing their hives for their long wait until spring and its flowers return.

If you take a ride in the country in September and October, notice that the cows and horses in pastures are becoming shaggy as they put on their winter coats. Even your dog or cat's coat will begin to thicken in anticipation of winter, even if he/she is indoors most of the time. You can't fool Mother Nature.

The landscape is probably the most obvious change we see in the fall. Changing colors of the leaves on the trees, pumpkins that were green one week and turning orange the next start appearing in the fields, summer flowers giving way to those that bloom in the fall. There is an astoundingly beautiful vine that grows wild here at the Farm and we have trained several over fences and trellises so that we can enjoy them. It is called "Virgin's Bower" and is a wild clematis, covered with tiny white flowers that look like tiny lacy crosses and smell like heaven, sweet and spicy at the same time. Sometimes when I walk out onto the front porch the scent of its flowers is almost overwhelming, yet incredibly delicate at the same time. The flowers are very short lived but the vines are strong and almost invasive if not moved in the right direction. This makes me think about the transitory nature of beauty and how our culture is addicted to the physical, when it is the underlying character of a person that sustains and how neglected that aspect of humanity has become in so many of young people. (It is very easy for me to become philosophical on the farm. Sometimes it is a little bit weird to constantly see parallels between Nature and humanity but mostly it is enlightening because it reaffirms to me the the common thread that runs through everything. We have to care for each other and for our mother, the Earth, because it is all is connected and if we neglect or abuse one, we do the same to ourselves. )

One of my favorite fall items are magnolia pods, which are bursting forth right now. Magnolia trees are unusual in that their seasons are opposite of most trees. Magnolia trees have very aromatic flowers that open in early summer and are huge, about 5-6 inches across when fully open, yet so delicate that if you touch the petals, them almost immediately turn brown. Magnolias lose their leaves in the spring, not the fall and their seeds burst forth from hard dry pods in the fall. The pods are like a cross between a pineapple and a pine cone and when the seeds are ready, little pockets burst open and push out these intensely shiny bright red seeds that stay attached to the pods with a tiny filament so that they don't fall to the ground until the perfect moment. Birds are attracted to the bright red color. (see the picture at the top the page.)

Right outside our kitchen window is our venerable magnolia, which is about 80+ years old. We call her "The Tree of Life" for all of the activity that occurs in, around and beneath her. She is old, with spreading low branches that touch the ground. About 40 feet up, there is a big gap at the top where a huge branch broke during an ice storm several years ago, yet she is still incredibly beautiful. Our chickens and guineas roost high up in the branches, they scratch up bugs from under the fallen leaves and get out of the weather under the shelter of these low branches, which touch the ground. I can stand at the sink in our kitchen and watch birds come for the seeds or see our hens and their tiny new chicks scratching up bugs for breakfast, all under the protection of this tree, while I do something as mundane as wash the dishes. It really puts things in perspective for me as I am reminded of the delicate balance of nature and the connectivity of everything on this planet. Life is like a waltz with the Universe and every day, I am grateful just for having been asked to the dance.
Days like today make me feel humble and so very grateful for my life. Stepping outside the backdoor, just now, I looked at the clearing sky, intensely blue with white clouds moving by at what appears to be a slow drift, but which I know are moving like a freight train and that puts things into perspective for me. Everyone looks at their life from their own angle and I would never tell anyone how they should or should not view the world around them. I will, however, relate what there is in my world as I observe, reflect and weigh what it means to me. We are surrounded by miracles every day, yet fail to see them for what they are.

Too many of us expect a miracle to be dramatic, flamboyant, exciting or awe inspiring. It seems that in our "bigger, better, faster, more" society, we have come to believe that a miracle can't be a miracle if it isn't described by those adjectives. Yet there are simple and quiet miracles that surround us everywhere, every day if we will only open our hearts and eyes to them. The fact that birds migrate is a miracle. The fact that those lizards, turtles, frogs and toads hibernate and come back to life in the spring is a miracle. Even the simple changing of the leaves is a miracle for no reason other than just because it happens.

If you have read this far, let me say thanks for indulging me and my musings. It took a lot for me to get to the place I am in my life today and I have lots to say about it. I am on a journey and if you are reading my blog, you are coming along for the ride. Thanks, I appreciate the company.

My generation believed in peace, love and rock-n-roll, so I wish that for all of you today. And remember to look around for the miracles. I promise they are there. You just have to open your eyes.



Saturday, September 15, 2007

Finally getting back to this Blog

Well, this blogging is harder than I thought. I envisioned that I would sit down to my computer every evening and share everything of interest that happened during the day. Not gonna happen, I see that now. So, I am rescinding my original plan to make this a daily journal and shoot for once a week. Then if I can get some extra time in it will seem like I have really accomplished something. But now, I have to catch everything over the past month back up. Where shall I start?

How about with the cutest thing at the Farm? JACK RUSSELL PUPPIES (pictured above)!!! The puppies were born on the 17th day of August, the day after I posted about Maggie (also pictured above...Dave says I should try to take a picture of her where she doesn't look like one of those Power-Goo big headed dogs) being due to whelp them any day. That night, around 2 a. m., I heard her making these little short, sharp yippy noises and got up to check on her. Sure enough, there were 2 tiny puppies in the box with her and another one was making an appearance just as I turned on the kitchen lights. I spent the next 2 hours sitting on the floor watching her give birth twice more, clean up puppies, lick and lick and lick, clean up herself, and basically just sat and took in the wonder of these 4 tiny, wriggly bodies that were so amazingly strong and active to have been in the world such a short time. I got my wish and there are 2 little girls and 2 little boys. Diva and Piglet are the girls and Turtle and Pirate are the boys. Pirate was actually named before he was even born, because I dreamed that there would be one puppy with an "eyepatch" and sure enough there he was. The one in the picture at the top is Turtle and you can see how he got his name. He always seems to end up sleeping on his back and then he is so chubby he can't roll back over, so he looks like an upsidedown turtle....voila! The Turtle. Diva is already showing signs of being very "alpha" and spends a lot of time "gumming" the other puppies. Since there are no teeth yet, it is pretty harmless, but I don't know how the other puppies will take it when those choppers do come in. Piglet probably doesn't require an explaination, but if you guessed that she is the first one to the "table" and the last one to leave, you got it!!!

Anyway, they are just gorgeous and I will be posting more pictures, etc. of the puppies as time goes on.

We also have new chicks at the Farm and they are pretty cute, too, but their story is gonna have to wait for another day.