Monday, January 12, 2015

Carrots, carrots, carrots!

Milan and I harvested these carrots last week.  Last year was our first year growing carrots and I love them!  Not only are they fun to harvest and beautiful to look at, they are so incredibly sweet!  My carrot seed for this spring arrived in today's mail.  I can't wait!  Sign up for our Farmshare program to get your share of these sweet beauties!




Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why I'm an Egg-Snob (and think you should be too)


I decided recently that over the last ten years I (unknowingly) became an egg snob.  Shortly after getting married I acquired my first laying hens.  At first I simply no longer needed to buy eggs from the store.  Before long though I made a conscious decision that I WOULD not buy eggs from the store.  Not because I thought mine were better but because of the feeling of independence that came with the knowledge that I no longer needed to rely on the grocery store.  (It wasn't long before this feeling transferred to veggies as well).  About the time my eyes opened to organic methods of farming I became aware of the ethical issues surrounding store bought eggs.  Sweat-shop chickens, factory farmed, whether in cages or loose, housed with 20,000 other birds was no way to ethically produce eggs in my mind.  The longer I kept chickens, learning their ways of life, the more convinced I became that we would in no way support conventional laying methods.


I first sold our eggs several years before we started growing vegetables.  Several years before I ever thought I would farm for a living.  I had about 20 laying hens and Robert would take my eggs with him to work at the Corps of Engineers weekly and dole them out to his faithful co-workers for $1 a dozen.  That makes me laugh now.  And I'm reminded of this every time we are driving out in the country and see a sign at the end of a driveway offering "Fresh Eggs $2/doz".  I wasn't in the business to make money off my eggs.  I thought I was paying for my chicken feed.  Years later, after meticulous spreadsheets have become the norm, I have to laugh.  But I wasn't keeping chickens to make money.  I was keeping chickens because I love having a laying flock.  I love the cooing and the cackling and watching them scratch the dirt.  I love that every day is like an Easter egg hunt around here.  Although, fortunately, due to their current living conditions, I don't have to hunt any further than a laying box these days.


I'm proud that over the years there has become such a high demand for our eggs.  I hear people at market tell me how much better our eggs are than store bought eggs.  I just smile and nod my head because I know that our eggs have stiff orange yolks and they are ridiculously fresh compared to store bought eggs but in the back of my mind I kind of shrugged my shoulders at the notion that they really tasted much different.  Fast forward to the last two weeks where while we were traveling for the holidays I ate store bought eggs on three different occasions.  Having been so far removed from sweat-shop eggs, I now understand what my customers have been telling me for years.  There is a difference between our eggs and store bought eggs.  Our eggs are AWESOME.  Not only is there an ethical difference in the way they are produced, there is a difference in how fresh they are, there is a difference in the way they look and there is a difference in the way they taste.  And if you've never seen our eggs before, oh my gosh.  They.Are.Beautiful.


If you are in our area, I urge you to sign up for our Eggshare program.  This is a 10-week program we are running in conjunction with our Farmshare.  I realize though that this is only 10 weeks out of the year. We are working on the logistics of running the Eggshare  even when the Farmshare is out of season.  If you aren't near us, find a farmer or a backyard chicken keeper near you.  Whether you realize it or not, they are all over the place, it just takes a little work to find one.  And if this topic interests you, stick around...soon to post a bit about egg economics on a small farm.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Jody dog

I'm counting on the fact that so many of my friends are dog lovers and will understand this.  Please share.


My husband and I are dog people.  That might have been the first thing we ever had in common.  While my husband is a dog person though, he has merely put up with my need to drag home every stray I've come across in the last 10 years.  A testament to his patience in this aspect of my life is Jody.  Robert is a lab person.  I am what we call a "laboid" person.  The majority of my strays are all something, something and lab.  For a lab person, learning to live with a Border Collie is like culture shock.

Six years ago I spent the summer driving a tractor in the hayfield for my friend Bruce.  During that time Bruce acquired Jody, a pedigreed but untrained two year old Border Collie from a breeder.  I'm not exactly sure what Bruce was thinking.  I think he expected her instinct alone to be enough for her to work his cows.  She definitely had the instinct and the motor that comes with a Border Collie.  Unfortunately, when he let her loose, she nipped the back of his legs, not his cows'.  So he chained her to a doghouse where every single day that I went to work I had to watch her lunging against the end of that chain.  I took her treats and promised to find her a better home.  It took me two months but I finally convinced Bruce to let me take her home.

When we arrived home I promised Robert she was temporary.  I was going to find her a home.  To prove this I didn't even let her in the barn with our crew of mutts, but housed her in the large pen that our goats live in.  I was not going to become attached to her.  Despite my inexperience with herding dogs, it didn't take me long to realize that finding her a home wasn't going to be easy.  To say that she was high strung is an understatement.  To say she is intense is an understatement.  To say that I became attached to her is an understatement.  It wasn't long before she moved into the barn.

 
If you've never been loved by a Border Collie, I don't think you can fully understand what I'm about to say.  If you have, I think you will nod your head in agreement.  Jody is neurotic. about. me.  If my path around this farm on a daily basis were mapped from above I would look like the dot you see on the map on your phone.  I would be the dot and Jody would be the circle around me.  Wherever I go she is moving in a circle around me.  If I stand still longer than 2 minutes, she is laying on my feet.  If I'm bent over transplanting, she is in my face.  She has zero concept of space other than to know that my space is her space.  If she is inadvertantly left in our large dog pen while I'm in the field, she paces the fence line barking a reminder that she was left behind.  For the last six years she has been my co-worker and companion.





When our little boy Milan came along four and a half years ago I worried about his impact on our dogs.  None of our dogs were young and none of our dogs had any experience with children.  The dogs definitely felt his presence,  When he was an infant they stayed outside more than upstairs because who wants to wake a sleeping baby?  When he was a toddler crawling over everything in his path, they stayed outside more than upstairs because he couldn't understand they weren't something to crawl on and I couldn't keep up with four dogs and a toddler in the house.  Outside was a different story.  They could get away from him rather than get caught in a corner in the house.

Our large lab, River, has never seemed to notice Milan.  River goes on about his business running over or around Milan as he sees fit.  Our little dog Lina is rarely loose unsupervised because the beagle in her has her following her nose to places she shouldn't be.  My old dog and constant companion, Chacey soon proved that I was going to have to be ever vigilant of her to keep her and Milan separate.  Having lost most of her hearing and her sight in one eye, Chacey has a hard time with Milan.  He easily sneaks up on her, sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident and scares her.  Having gotten a reaction from her the first time on accident, we went through several months in which his entire goal while outside was to terrorize her.  We finally came out of that phase a couple of months ago.  That left Jody.  My neurotic companion with all of her quirks had one really redeeming quality.  She loved Milan.  The child crawled on her, stepped on her, kissed her, whatever, and she would lay there and take all of it.






I thought, finally, I have one dog that is good with children.  Three years ago when we started our Farmshare program though, this proved not to be the case.  Jody quickly showed she could not handle being around other children.  Her instinct kicked in with them and she wanted to move them.  After ALMOST nipping several children, I knew we had to keep her in the dog pen when other kids were around.  I didn't understand why she was this way with other children and not with Milan.  My best guess is that she saw him as an extension of me and never once offered to herd him. 

Until last week.  We have young chickens living in the backyard waiting to be moved out to pasture and they like to come up to the barn.  Milan was chasing them back to their coop and Jody was in the dogpen next to them frantically running the fenceline trying to get after all of them.  I let her out to be with me without thinking twice.  A few minutes later Milan ran across the yard to pick up a golf ball when she started circling him and then nipped him on the butt.  When he fell down, crying, she nipped him on the cheek.  I had stepped around the barn and didn't see any of this happen, just heard him start screaming.  My hope was that most of this was in his head although I could see immediately that she was looking at him differently.  With the situation diffused and everyone split up, I hoped that with time to calm down things would go back to normal, determined to be hyper-vigilante and not let this happen again.  Two days later we were all headed outside to do chores, Milan ahead of me while I was putting on my boots when Jody started circling him and chased him back in the barn.  I don't know what switch has flipped inside her head but she's decided it's her job to move him. 

While I was sure Robert was going to say she had to go, he surprised me by saying she simply needs to be kept up when Milan is outside.  So that is what we've done for the last week.  I take turns having Jody or Milan with me as I walk the farm.  When Jody has to be in the pen while I am outside though she frantically runs the fenceline barking continuously.  Watching her from across the field takes me back to the dog she was chained up at Bruce's house.  Throwing herself against the end of a chain, barking.  She may not be chained here but she's no happier like this than she was there.  And as much as I hate the idea of letting her go, I can't stand to watch her be like this.  

So now my hope is that this post can reach someone who can give her a better home.  And I know that's going to be a tall order.  She's scared of most men, unless they're soft-spoken.  I know when to expect bad weather because she disappears.  One of the only times she is out of my sight, if a storm is coming she can only be found behind our recycle bins.  While she's had a good stint as an inside/outside dog with us, she only makes a good inside dog when we are in with her.  If left alone in the house, uncrated, she will pee on things, poop if she feels the need and destroy any plastic toys within her reach.  She is very comfortable crated at night.  Jody has no training as a herding dog.  She does respond well to her name unless it's being called by a man that scares her.  She leaves chickens alone, our horses too.  Our goats being behind a fence drive her crazy.   I have no idea what she would do around cattle.  She's never offered to chase a car up or down our driveway, but would chase a car driving fast along the highway if given the chance.  She could not live on a busy road with no supervision.  She does not enjoy car rides, she hovers in the passenger floor board, motionless.  That would probably change if given the opportunity.  The only time I take her off the farm is to go to the vet.  She is up to date on her shots and 6 month heartworm as of last week.  She is spayed.  In the past she had a tickborn disease called Ehrlichia but it was treated.  With the antibodies still in her system, she tests positive for this every year at her annual.  She really likes raw eggs on her food.  

With all of that said, it's breaking my heart to write this.  To make this decision.  

This is my dog. 

I don't take this lightly.  Six years ago I promised this dog a good life.  I will not set her up to fail.  If you can help me, or know someone that can, please email me at rattlesgarden@yahoo.com.  Thanks for sharing, y'all.  





Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Summer Veggies

We have finally used the last of the tomatoes we grew this fall in the high tunnel so last night I pulled the first bag of tomatoes out of the freezer to make tomato sauce.  Heaven.  As I work on my end of the year photo book at night, I'm bombarded with reminders of a great tomato year.  I love my husband, my children, my family, my critters and tomatoes.






Monday, December 1, 2014

Hillcrest

These are a few of my favorite pictures of our market booth at the Hillcrest Farmers Market from the summer.  While I'm pretty good about getting them posted to Facebook, I need to do a better job of getting them on here for those that don't use Facebook!















Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gleaning

With the end of the CSA season and a trip to Iowa for a little vacation under my belt, I'm hoping things have slowed down enough for me to do a better job of keeping this blog up to date.  With that said though, I'll be realistic, life happens.

I'm excited about something that has happened on the farm for the last two weeks and it has me wanting to share it.  I like to give food to people.  Giving food to people who appreciate it is something that makes almost any gardener happy.  Asking money for the food I grow was a really hard transition for me several years ago.  It was a transition that was necessary for us to grow as a farm, but it was hard.  Sometimes it still is hard.  I get really excited when someone else is excited about something I've grown and still want to say "Take this! Because it still amazes me that I can grow something this fantastic!"

For several years now we have donated our excess produce on Saturday morning's to a women's shelter in Little Rock.  I really didn't put a lot of effort into this donation though until this year when one of the volunteers mentioned how much the cooks at the shelter appreciated the food and found ways to use all of it.  That was all of the affirmation I needed.  Since then we've picked extra on Fridays with the intention of donating.  When our CSA season ended a few weeks ago we were left with a surplus of produce on Tuesdays as well.  A friend mentioned taking it to the food pantry in Vilonia for their Wednesday morning pick-up.  So we have.  And they have shown a lot of appreciation for the food.

Over the course of the last few weeks though, it's obvious to me that our small farm runs on a small enough profit margin that I can't continue paying my helpers to pick a large amount of food to be given away.  A friend helped put me in touch with the Society of St Andrew.  This faith based program coordinates a huge network of volunteers that go into farmers' fields and orchards at the end of harvest, glean what remains and distribute it to food banks across the country.  This is a fantastic program! To our farm this week they sent a group of volunteers from Michigan that were going through a program called Harvest of Hope to glean eggplant and cherry tomatoes.  As they were gleaning, a truck from the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance arrived to take everything immediately to the food bank.


Over the course of the morning I had a chance to visit with the man in charge of the Harvest of Hope program and the man delivering to the food bank about the possibility of planting extra next year specifically for them to harvest.  I'm excited about the possibility of helping them in the future.  I also came away with some thoughts about setting up our own small network of volunteers branching out from our CSA community.  Throughout the summer I have moms volunteering themselves and their kids for picking cherry tomatoes or retirees offering to help pick a little bit.  I now see a niche these people could fill on the farm.  I'm so excited about all of this!