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Archive for September, 2013

Saturday, September 7:

   Chickens.

   I hate ‘em.

   Okay, sometimes I hate them.  Like when they keep getting and keep getting into the garden.  Danged birds.  The half-grown Australorps – good foragers?  good marauders! – can slip through the smallest gap in the fence, and will search assiduously to find it.  They can slip through three gaps, where we have layered woven wire over broken spots, and find each break in succession, like overcurious Greek youth tiptoeing through the Labyrinth.  If only I had a Minotaur to frighten the feathers off the – blessed – birds when they did get through.

    Sunday I sat down on the dry, packed garden path – no real rain in weeks – and just howled.  Sobbed.  And threw rocks.  Because on Saturday I built three of the most beautiful, symmetrical, richly-composted, smoothly-raked, painstakingly-seeded beds of carrots, a total of nine hundred row feet of Nantes-type, and, not being unaware of the diabolical cunning of those Australorps, carefully laid short lengths of chicken wire over each bed to foil any invaders.  And on Sunday, yards and yards of those beds had been scratched out from underneath the wire and strewn hither and yon.

   No.  We did not kill all the chicken.

   My loving husband came down and patched the fence for two hours.  And when the chickens continued to get in – curse the cunning of those black chickens! – he bought me three hundred feet of woven horse fence (bust the budget – price it), and over the rest of the week the boys pulled down the old wire and put up the new, resetting loose posts, replacing broken rails, and covering all the gates.

   And the small people are threatened with dismemberment if they so much as think about entering the garden without leave.

   Next year Shawn wants me to think about Leghorns.

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Thursday, September 5:

   And what are the pigs eating these days?  It is a good question, since keeping down the feed bills is so much of what we are trying to research.

   Garden trash, in good part.  Corn stalks, corn cobs, and corn shucks.  Green tomatoes the demmed chickens keep knocking off the vines.  Tomato skins and seeds from the canning.  Beet greens.  Old bean plants with beetles on them.

   And from the orchard, peach peels and peach pits with chunks of peach still on them, and the bruised bits from peaches we are canning or jamming, and the bits with worms on them (fortunately a very small part of the total).  Windfall apples, and wormy ones.  Sour ones picked too early (“I’m sorry, Mommy”) and the cores of good ones enjoyed standing under the tree.  Apple peels, and cores, and buckets and buckets of mashed apple pomace left over from making apple cider.

   Buttermilk.  And whey.  And the last few curds from the bottom of the cheese pot.

   All carefully balanced with some “shell” (shelled) corn or pig mash.

   And not too much of anything at one time.

   This is, perhaps, one of the most important points.  You can’t throw forty corn stalks into the pig pen and dust your hands and say, “There!  Now I’ve fed the pigs for the day.”  Partly because nutrients would be out of balance (I won’t go there), but even more because if you did this the pigs, after making a pleasant meal on the choicest parts, would proceed to trample the remainder, defecating on some, pushing some into the muck, and taking a nap on the rest, after which they would not see it as food.

   And it would make the next mucking-out a terrible headache – ever try moving a stick in the mud with a pitchfork?

   Or take the apple pomace.  The pigs love it, and they will put away a good deal, but too much and they’ll end up with very loose stools, and when food passes through the gut that fast, not much of it is left behind to do any good.

   One thing the small farm kitchen is unlikely ever to produce more of, at one time, than a pig can reasonably use, is whey.  Or buttermilk.  Or skim.  These you can feed at will, and your worst problem will be deciding which, among the worthy, you will bestow this treat upon today.

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Monday, September 2:

   We have been praying for rain for days, and now the first drops are making dark spots on the stones of the walk and rattling on the red metal roof of the summer kitchen.

   The summer kitchen has seen much activity in the last week or so, with dozens of quarts of tomatoes being processed, jam made, and lard rendered.  In addition, onions and garlic are drying there, the garlic loosely tied in bundles and hung on the pegs of a market stand, the onions on racks of lumber and hardware cloth, propped up off the floor, with a fan keeping the air — heavy and humid for weeks now — circulating underneath.  Canning is so pleasant there, cooler than in the kitchen and with no penalty for spills:  when the day is done we swill the concrete floor with a bucket of water and sweep it down the floor drain.

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