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Summer’s End

So much catching up to do since my last post! When last we spoke, your intrepid farmeress had just taken her two pigs to the butcher. Everything went smoothly, and the following weekend we were able to pick up all of our fresh meat: chops, roasts, ribs, sausage, scrapple, etc. Both hogs dressed out at 180lbs hanging weight. Out of this we got about 220lbs of fresh meat, including 72 pork chops, four (of course) racks of ribs, 25lbs of sausage, one 17lb fresh ham, 20 roasts ranging from about 2.5-3.5lbs, and 50lbs or so of scrapple. In another week or two we’ll be able to pick up the other 3 hams and the bacon, which are all being smoked. The fresh meat just about filled my father-in-law’s car! We’ve tried both the chops and the sausage so far, and both were absolutely spectacular. The meat is so dark compared to store-bought pork; you can really see the difference in the way they are raised. Check it out!

ChopsWhile Avery and his dad were picking up the pork, his mom and I were on our annual trip to the NY Sheep & Wool Festival, aka Rhinebeck! We had a fantastic time shopping for knitwear, visiting the sheep in the breed exhibits, and spectating (but alas, not bidding) at the bred ewe auction. We have a great time every year, and this one was no exception. The fall colors were even more stunning than usual.

IMG_20141025_191013061 IMG_20141030_201736675When we got back, autumn was in full swing at home. The pumpkins and squash are ripening up, although a little behind schedule for October 31 due to the early nibbling by deer. I did manage to scrounge up one fully orange pumpkin for a Jack O’Lantern, though, and by an incredible stroke of luck, it is absolutely perfectly shaped for the job! We carved it tonight, so it’s all set for tomorrow evening.

Next weekend we’ll be paring down the ducks to those we plan to keep for breeding next year, with the help of some friends and a borrowed chicken plucker. My friend Rabbit Darling will be there enthusiastically gathering duck livers and gizzards. If you’re curious about cooking with offal, you should check out this post for a very seasonal Dracula-inspired paprikash!

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Garden Surprise

I’ve managed to surprise myself with the success of my garden this year. I don’t have a very good track record as a gardener, overall. I think there are several reasons for this. I didn’t grow up in a family that gardened, so I never learned the process when I was young. My first introduction to gardening was my father-in-law Francis, who makes every piece of gardening look easy because he’s so skilled. It didn’t exactly give me a realistic first impression! As a result, when Avery and I set up our first garden, we were a bit overly ambitious. The final nail in my gardening coffin is that unlike Francis, for whom gardening is a combination of recreation and meditation, gardening is definitely a chore for me. I absolutely love having my own fresh produce, but the process of maintaining the garden itself is something that I do because I want the end result, not because I enjoy going through the motions.

The long and the short of it is that the past two seasons have really been quite poor in the gardening department. This year, for whatever reason, we’re finally having some actual success! We’ve grown enough pickling cucumbers for several batches of pickles, we’ve had enough extra peppers to freeze for winter stir-fry, and extra zucchini which mostly goes to the chickens and pigs. Despite growing my favorite Tante Alice slicing cucumbers from leftover seed I feared was too old to germinate, they’ve been wildly successful as well, giving us plenty for fresh eating and for sharing. My early volunteer pumpkins from last year’s poor abandoned pumpkin patch are actually producing fairly heavily. It really makes last week’s Lughnasadh feel like the beginning of autumn after all!

Even the setbacks – and there have been plenty, certainly – have not gotten out of control as in years past. We did lose a lot of zucchini plants and one early pumpkin plant to squash borers, but luckily have been able to get good production just by having so many plants in the first place. Our deer problem calmed down a bit after initiating the dryer sheets/scented soap approach, and the pumpkins/winter squash are finally gaining ground. Hopefully they will bounce back enough to get us a good yield come October or so. I’ve planted a mix of decorative and culinary squash, so hopefully at least the decorative ones will make an appearance in time for Samhain!

Heartened by my lack of complete failure, I’m doing my best to keep on top of things and even think ahead for next year. I’ve got a small mobile chicken ark with four hens in it that I’m moving into the beds from the zucchini that succumbed to squash borers. I’ve seen it suggested on some forums that the chickens will scratch up and eat the pupae in the soil, decreasing the egg-laying adult population next spring. Of course I’m not sure how well this will work, but either way they will work the straw mulch into the soil and provide plenty of fertilizer, so I really have nothing to lose by trying. I’ve already started putting rabbit manure into the bed I plan to use for my fall garlic. I can’t wait to see what it will do for my crop!

Garden Warfare

My friends, make no mistake: we are at war.

The enemies are relentless guerrillas. They strike under cover of dusk or in the wee hours of dawn. They have no fear, and if confronted will stare defiantly back without a shred of remorse. They are aware that there is no recourse for us to fight back, and they taunt us with that fact. They know our weaknesses, and will bypass what we could bear to lose to strike instead at our most treasured resources.

They are the local deer, and they have been relentlessly targeting my winter squash and cucumber plants in their nightly browsing. I can’t stand it! They are simply shameless. And rather than nibble a few leaves off the larger plants that could survive it, of course they prefer to eat the new young shoots as the later plantings sprout up.

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Today we put some things in place to hopefully discourage them a bit, since a deer fence isn’t quite in the budget just now. We grated some Irish Spring soap around the affected plants, and pinned out some Bounce dryer sheets. We also tried our hands at a simple scarecrow aimed at the deer, a couple of blue t-shirts hung around the garden to flap in the wind and create movement. While deer can’t see the vivid orange used by hunters, they should be able to see blue quite readily. I’m hoping it will catch their attention and spook them a bit. I’m not sure that any of this is going to work, but at least we will have tried!IMG_20140726_201122174

Patience is a virtue…I don’t quite possess

So much of farming is about waiting. Chicken eggs incubate for 21 days, duck and turkey for 28, and my Muscovies 35. The baby birds take 4-6 months or more to grow into productive layers, or to reach butchering weight.  The young pigs we have in the barnyard right now were born in mid-April, but won’t be ready for the butcher until mid-October. So it may surprise you to hear that I am just about the least patient person ever.

Still, I fare much, MUCH better at raising meat than I do in the world of gardening. Despite the fact that most vegetables have a much faster yield than my meat projects, I find the waiting even more difficult. If I want to, I can candle my eggs to see if there are chicks developing inside. I can measure my piglets and see evidence of their growth, and even calculate their approximate weight. But I can’t dig up my seeds to make sure they’re germinating! All I can do is watch and wait for them to break through the soil. So you can imagine how excited I get when I check the garden beds and find these!

First Planting Cucumbers

First Planting Cucumbers

Pole Beans

Pole Beans

Second Planting Cucumbers

Second Planting Cucumbers

Baby Tomatoes!

Baby Tomatoes!