I STILL Don’t Know What I Don’t Know… But I’m Learning, Dangit

As follow up to my post about how little I actually know, I’ve also signed up for this free online class (and you should, too! We can be study buddies!): “An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health,” from Johns Hopkins.

It started yesterday, but it is six weeks long and designed so you can still jump in at week two or three and hit the ground running (which is a good thing since my UVM farm course is going to take some focus this week and next!).

Take it with me, and we can talk about FOOD! Also, can we just talk about how cool it is that I can take a class like this from all around the world for free? That’s just cool.

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know: Resources for Starting at Square One With the Farm Business Dream

Confession: I have no real farming knowledge, not really. Everything I’ve learned has been through lots of research, volunteering with far more knowledgeable people, and trial and error on the ground. Oh, and there have been errors and inefficiencies galore.

20130111. The chickens get some winter rye.

Late last year, I started looking at some of the different online resources, coursework, and apprenticeships available. I also felt vaguely panic stricken every time I thought about starting my own enterprise simply because I had no clue where to begin. A business plan? How the heck do you write a business plan when you’re not even sure what you want to do?!

Like I said, I was feeling overwhelmed – until I finally pulled on my big girl panties and decided to jump right in and start learning exactly how much I don’t know about agricultural enterprises. I’m so thrilled with the resources I’ve found so far, I wanted to share.

  • Growing Places (online course), University of Vermont’s Women’s Agricultural Network. I happened upon this course and thought it must have been created just for me. Seriously. This four-week course, offered in-person and online, is designed to help you explore the idea of starting a farm or other ag-related enterprise. During the four weeks, I will be working through six modules: Mission Statement and Goal Setting, Decision Making, Resource Evaluation, Financials, Marketing, and Next Steps.
  • UVM Course, Week One: Goal Statement. Week one has focused on identifying your core values, what activities support those values, and what you want to leave behind. I usually shy away from stuff like this, but now I feel like a total boob for having made it 33 years and never considering how I really want to live my life. I can share the worksheets that helped me develop the goal statement, too, if anyone is interested.
  • Garden Planting Calendar, All Things Plants. Speaking of getting the knowledge (and don’t forget SKILLZ) you need now, I happened across this amazing resource that any gardener can put to use today. In goes your zip code, out comes a schedule for when you need to start your seedlings! I also like that it gives me free license to start artichoke seedlings at the end of this month (see, Chris?), just when I am most in need of a little light, the smell of earth, and some itty bitty green beings poking through the soil.
  • Your Money, Your Life, Your Happiness (video). When is enough truly enough? Did that dinner out on the town really bring you enough joy to make it worth the xx number of hours you must work at your hideous, soul-crushing job to pay for it? Local foods, bartering, reallocating your time so you’re doing more of the things you want to be doing – just a few of the many ideas jammed into this 30-minute video.

Do you have any resources you can’t wait to share? I’d love to hear about them!

“Walking ‘Round in Women’s Underwear,” Happy Solstice, and the Latest of the Duh Vignettes

Ever since I was a little kid, whenever it really starts looking seasonal out, the following song goes through my head. As a kid it was just funny – walking ’round in women’s underwear? how silly! – but I love it now that I’m older because, essentially, it’s about proudly and unabashedly cross-dressing (with your co-workers, even!) to a favorite Christmas tune. What’s not to love, am I right?

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning (and I also happen to be walking ’round in women’s underwear, but that’s a different story).

20121221. Snow banks and chicken wagons.

Snow banks and chicken wagons – the wind was brutal last night and today, and I had to refresh the frozen chicken waterer four times today.

20121221. I have a remarkably steady hand. The chickens' first snow.

Notice there are no chickens out yet. Smart girls stayed inside and cozy for quite a while this morning.

20121221. With all the wind, I blocked off one side of the coop's ventilation with a towel.

This is our first cold weather with the chickens, and I was really glad I covered one side of their ventilated roof with a towel. It has been SO windy, the entire coop would have been snowed under!

I also keep hearing that chickens are supposed to slow down or stop producing as daylight hours wane. We assumed we wouldn’t see an egg until the spring thaw, our girls were so… REMEDIAL about the whole thing. Our first chicken laid her first egg one month ago today; Boo followed soon after, then Edgar waited until two days ago. Beaker apparently felt like a total loser for not having laid anything yet, so, on the shortest day of the year, she defied all wisdom and gave me her first little pink egg. I am pretty sure this is proof-positive that our chickens are weirdos. Lovely, endearing weirdos.

20121221. Beaker's little pink egg.

12/21/12 – the world didn’t end, and Beaker’s egg laying began.

20121221. Shortest day of the year, and Beaker decides to lay her first egg.

Go, Beaker, go! They finally braved the cold to scratch around in the straw.

Finally, the latest in the ‘Duh Vignettes’ series relates to selling eggs. We bought a bunch of blank cardboard egg six-packs so we can start selling to friends on a small scale. Since they are blank, I want to spruce the cartons up a bit, and I was lamenting to Chris how ridiculously expensive it is to have your own stamp made via the place I bought the cartons from (really? $45 for my own stamp? that’s cray).

Cue “duh” moment: I Google “custom stamp making,” and come across the following Pinterest board in, like, one of the first links: http://pinterest.com/arteveryday/make-your-own-stamps/. HELLO! I took two block printing classes last year. I have block printing supplies, including corkboard. Block printing is basically creating a giant stamp, for goodness sakes!

Hell, WE TALKED ABOUT MAKING STAMPS IN THE DANG CLASS. What is wrong with me?! So tonight I plan on drawing out a nice little stamp of a chicken silhouette in a space helmet for the tops of our cartons (and maybe a few others). Lovely, right?

20121221. Oh, right. This is what cold feels like.

So finally, on this last day of work, this first day of winter, and this first blast of cold weather and beautiful snow, I think I’m in the Christmas spirit. Who’s with me?

Introducing Our Newest Addition: BIRDIE!

And, no, in spite of the name, she’s not another chicken. She is THE MOST ADORABLE, CALM, DELIGHTFUL little boxer/husky mix I ever did see.

20121020. A week from today, we get to bring this little sweetie home with us! Introducing... BIRDIE!

We will actually bring her home next weekend, when I return from my jaunt all over North Carolina. With the addition of Birdie (very fitting name for this household and assigned by the shelter), we will bring the number of living critters on this 1/8-acre into the double digits: 8 ladies (me, 5 chickens, Bean, and Birdie) and 2 dudes (Chris and Boombox).

A Peaceable Kingdom?

I have a new term for the weather we’ve been experiencing the last several days: chicken weather. It has been fantastic weather to be a chicken – a few gigantic, air-snapping, earth-shaking storms have blown through, leaving in their wake new green grasses poking through the brown, cool temperatures, and breezy blue skies that make me think of fall.

It’s good human weather, too. I feel a certain weight lifted off my shoulders – today, at least, I don’t have to worry about our sick chickens also being incredibly heat stressed. I don’t need to make them ice water baths all day or set up the fans or try to get them to eat frozen blueberries. Today, they can peck happily about the backyard, and I can take it a little easier than I have since the beginning of July.

Today also marks me and Chris’ two-year anniversary of our first date. What was our first date, you ask? Lying in a portable hammock on the edge of a farmer’s field in Martinsville, IN, watching the Perseid meteor showers and drinking wine. Pretty epic, right? Two years later, we have a house, two cats, five chickens, and so SO many plans. Life – it is good!

In honor of keeping things simple and low stress, let’s go on a pictorial tour of what chicken weather means at the Space-Farm, shall we?

20120804. Cicada shell and... cicada.

Cicada (not an alien, I promise) and cicada shell on a basil plant.

20120804. Beaker in ecstasy.

Before we could move the coop to its permanent location, the chickens took the chance to have a good bath. Here’s Beaker in ecstasy dust bathing in the dirt.

The chickens were VERY helpful in messing up my beautifully flattened, perfect foundation for the new permanent coop location. We refuse to move that dang coop ever again! They were in such heaven I probably couldn’t have stopped them even if I had had the heart to do so.

And now on to a few of the happy chickens:

20120808. Little Red.

Little Red is growing, although it’s hard to tell.

20120808. Oh, HI THERE.

Oh, HI. I didn’t see you there… You creep.

20120808. Mauled by Easter Eggers.

Near-nightly mauling by the Easter Eggers.

20120812. Honey bees on fennel flowers.

Honey bees and fennel.

20120812. Two-year anniversary of our first date! This was right as Chris was saying, "Do I really have to hold the cake?"

He didn’t like it, but he humored me and let me take this picture. Happy anniversary, boyfriend!

20120812. Honeyed hot peppers and Thomas Jefferson.

The prettiest honeyed hot peppers I have ever made… and Thomas Jefferson.

20120811. Mutant turnips!

It might be time to harvest some of the turnips. GIANTS!

20120811. Sunflower dreams.Happy chicken weather to all, and to all a good night!

How to Do Nearly Everything Wrong

I’m pretty convinced that we have been doing everything wrong this year. There is really no reason to try to comfort us and tell us we haven’t. This probably says more about my own chronic self-doubt and second guessing than anything (weird when you compare that to my general must act now/impulsive attitude), although re: chicken raising, I’m pretty certain we have, in fact, done everything wrong.

I just hope we make it to the other side to write an undoubtedly HIGH-LARIOUS book about how wrong we are. As it is, we have an upper respiratory thing going on right now with the chickens because we were idiots who thought Beaker needed a flock more than she needed quarantined, healthy chickies to join her.

And that’s just the start of How We Have Done Things Wrong.

I can’t think of that now, however. We did things wrong, we will learn from it, and now we just have to make the best of it and hope that all of our chickens end up being strong and tough and full of spunk. So far, they are all hanging in there famously and, aside from a few runny noses and a LOT of chicken disease research, they all seem fairly happy with each other and in general.

Fingers and all other pink parts are crossed (along with electrolytes and yogurt and frequent/obsessive checking) that we didn’t set these girls up for failure and doom. I hope I’m not reading this entry in another month and kicking myself for not DOING MORE (see? there’s that good old self-doubt and second guessing coming in).

In keeping with this whole half-empty/half-full theme I’ve got going tonight…

Sad Trombone
My pitiful little carrot (note that it is supposed to be that color… just not that misshapen and totally squishy).
20120712. Carrots are not my strong suit.

Dying yellow squash plants, which is heartbreaking since the cumin-pickled squash I made a few weeks ago is THE MOST DELICIOUS THING EVER (along with pickled beets… they can share the title, right?).
20120711. State of the garden address.

And… our absolutely Swiss-cheesed green beans. This is the second year in a row they succumbed to some unseen pest long before I got anywhere near sick of green beans. Boo, bugs! Boo, I say.
20120711. State of the garden address.

Walking on Sunshine!
However, as per usual, the good things outweigh the bad by so very much. For instance, we have a perennial garden in front that attracts bees and birds and my own two eyes all the time.
20120706. Sunset sunlight.

We have a cat named Boombox, who I am convinced is the most awesome cat in the universe.
20120705. Stoic Boombox knows this (heat wave) too shall pass.

We have chickens who, diseased or not, are both gorgeous and friendly.They even get along with each other now, just a week and a half after first meeting.
20120706. Beaker, new gray Easter Egger, and the three wees.

We have dragonflies and tomatoes out the wazoo. I’m thinking there are so many dragonflies this year because we have been watering the garden on occasion through this drought (it hasn’t been this bad in 104 years, I was informed by the radio today) and because we keep a low water dish out amidst the perennials in front of the house. Bees, wasps, birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and dragonflies love us this summer.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have the “three wees…”
20120706. Chris and the three wees.

And tomatoes like stoplights.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have an amazing way to eat up my proliferation of cucumbers: Adrienne’s Cucumber Salad. The cukes are finally coming back after the 100+-degree temps killed off most of their blooms. Also, sometimes you just have to pair your cucumber salad from the garden with square burgers from the freezer. It’s like when you have a nice steak, and all you’ve got on hand to pair it with is Carlo Rossi. Don’t judge.
20120711. Sometimes, you just have to pair that deilicous garden cuke salad with nasty square burgers.

Long live the cuke!
20120711. State of the garden address.

Finally, I’m super excited to pair edibles with our inedible landscaping. I ran out of room in the garden, and after pickling my first beets earlier this summer, I decided I needed moremoreMORE beets… and turnips, as long as I was at it. Here are the rings of turnips and beets on the front of the house.
20120711. State of the garden address.

How’s that for the most roller coaster-y, bipolar entry ever? It’s been a wild ride this summer, and I’m just holding on.

The Worst

We are on our last day of what has been one of the roughest vacations I’ve had in a while. Don’t get me wrong – vacation itself was fantastic. We headed to hot, smoky Boulder, Colorado, where we got to spend quality time with my two nephews (who just turned three years old and eight weeks old respectively) and brother and sister-in-law. However, less than 24 hours after the wheels left the tarmac in Indiana, we lost three of our four chickens to the extreme heat plaguing Indiana.

Lying in bed Friday night, crying, I kept thinking how much I just wanted to be home. So powerless… Well, and thinking about all the what ifs, what we could have done differently, kicking myself over and over again for not doing more/not knowing to do more/not realizing it would only get down to 90 degrees that first night we were away, getting upset that our one vacation all summer had to be during such insane temperatures, etc. A bigger thank you than I can ever express goes out to our friends for their grace under pressure, kindness, and efforts to keep our last wee babe, Beaker, alive and kicking through it all. Seriously, I am horrified that they went through this, as well, and am so thankful that Beaker pulled through without a scratch, due largely to their multiple times a day visits after the initial awfulness.

I also had the very serious thought that maybe chickens were a bad idea. They aren’t, of course, but I wondered if I was cut out for this whole “death of my babies” thing. We are learning some tough lessons about raising animals that are not pets but are certainly not “just” livestock, either. I’m heartbroken over it and can’t think about the three who died yet without an aching in my stomach and tightness in my chest.

It’s been a rough week, and my head has been far, far away from contented vacation mode. Yesterday, we picked up three new chickens from one of the most amazing houses I’ve seen in a while. The chicken lady of Avon, only about 30 minutes away, had probably 100 different birds everywhere in her yard (chickens of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors; turkeys; guinea fowls; a goat; and a “mean dog” locked away – apparently, he bites), which had no fence and was right on a busy street. She explained that her chickens are smart enough to not run in the street (or they die, I guess). We are not naming this batch, although I’m already way too attached to the littlest one. She is too young – I’m guessing five or six weeks old – but she’s so scrappy. We were in the yard, and she came charging up to us. I scooped her up, and that was it – MINE. We will likely go back this weekend to pick up another Rhode Island Red to keep her company.

Of course, we’ve created new issues for ourselves now, having four chickens of different ages (and, more importantly, sizes). Beaker is HUGE compared to the new ones, so Chris added a 1/2″ wire barrier within the coop itself to keep the new girls safe at night until they get bigger. We are also keeping them separated during the day unless we are out there with them.

And the million dollar question, as near-100 degree temperatures continue: how are we mitigating heat now? We aren’t messing around would be the short answer.

  • Wet towels on the roof of the attached run, then clipped to the side of the run when the sun starts peeking over the edge in the afternoon.
  • Letting the girls free range as much as possible during the day (tricky right now since Beaker is picking on the new girls).
  • Wetting down the dirt underneath both our big backyard bushes; the chickens love dust bathing in the dirt, laying in it, and pecking at bugs that come to the surface.
  • Ice water mini bird baths for drinking (and standing in).
  • Frozen blueberries mixed with yogurt, frozen grapes, and cold cantaloupe slices.
  • Plenty of shade (again, tricky since we don’t have much in the way of cover in our yard. We’ve parked the coop in the far back corner, where it is protected by a couple hulking invasive bushes from our yard and the neighbor’s yard. I’ve never loved those ugly bushes so much).

Out in Space, Back on Land

Out in Space – Now With More Clusters!

Last night, we went to the Goethe Link Observatory for some star gazing with fellow star geeks. Keep in mind, I am more or less just along for the ride when it comes to star gazing. I enjoy staring up into space, to be sure, and I especially appreciate stars of the shooting variety. Chris is really the expert, though, when it comes to all things telescope-y; he needs to do a proper update about sun funnels, Venus transits, and all that lovely jazz (hint, hint).

20120611. Goethe Link Observatory, Martinsville, IN.

My favorite finds of the evening: M7, or Ptolemy’s Cluster. I found this cluster by accident with Chris’ awesome binoculars. My method of star gazing basically means I wildly scan all over the sky with the scope or binoculars until something different crosses my field of vision. This was definitely something different. M7 is a relatively close 800 to 1000 light-years away and resides within the Orion spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. You can see it with the naked eye at the end of the stinger on Scorpio. Ptolemy first mentioned it in 130 AD.

From NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day.

Saturn never ceases to amaze, too. I actually found this one the other night from our backyard. I pointed the telescope at what looked like just another bright star… and realized something was off. It had a RING. And that is how we found Saturn. While it wasn’t QUITE this clear, we could see the rings and several of Saturn’s bazillion moons.

From NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day.

Chris’ fave: the Coat Hanger Asterism. This was totally viewable with binoculars (actually, we couldn’t see it with the telescope because it zoomed in too far). Like the Big Dipper, this is really just a chance alignment of stars rather than a cluster. So sparkly, so pretty.

From NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day.

Back on Land

Last night, our heads were in the stars. This morning, I was decidedly back on Earth, digging in the dirt first thing (er… at 10:30 AM – hey, whatever, we didn’t even get home until 3 AM!) and planting beet seeds, turnips, and cabbage. Our garden is starting to get its legs, and I have green tomatoes, tons of baby yellow squash, harvestable green beans, hot peppers, and basil that is just screaming to be made into gallons upon gallons of pesto.

Which brings me to the updated canning report, now with hot peppers!

June 2012:

  • Honeyed Green Hot Peppers (2 jars) – Canned today, I used a modified recipe for honeyed jalapeno pepper halves from my Canning for a New Generation book (I cut out the allspice). This is one of the best things I canned last fall when, faced with a killer frost, I was forced to harvest over 200 green cayenne peppers. I am totally not sure if I’m using the right recipe, but I really hope I am!
  • Pickled Beets (2 jars)
  • Classic Pickle Spears (3 jars)

One Year Ago Today…

One year ago today, Chris got the keys to his very first house. We celebrated with strawberries and moscato. And we took pictures. It took me another month or so before I moved in almost full-time, then until my lease ran out in Bloomington, IN, on August 1 to move in full-time – which is just weird for me to think about. I *remember* not living together with all our projects and plans and more projects, but… I guess it just seemed like a really natural progression. There was no internal dialogue of “this is going too fast” or “JESUS H, I can’t stand this apart-ness another day.” It was what it was, it is what it is. And, today, what it is is very, very fantastic.

20120513. One year in the house!

The house today – now with native perennials and native trees.

Let’s do a little nostalgic tour of sorts, shall we? This is what has evolved into the reading room. This room is an internet/computer-free zone.
20120513. A year ago today...

The kitchen: looking slightly more lived in.

20120513. A year ago today...

The reason Chris isn’t in any of the shots from today? He is currently devising a system to suspend our giant new ladder from the ceiling of the garage. The projects really don’t ever end (in a good way).

20120513. A year ago today...
To the right of the fireplace now is a 3D shadow box ship from my grandparents and a very 70s oil painting of a city from my childhood home.
20120513. A year ago today...

Where the internet happens. Oh, and I am really proud of my paint chip garlands for our finally-housewarming party!

Someday, this wall will be one, giant, modern, hip, awesome, open closet just for me (and Chris… I guess).
20120513. A year ago today...

The grand finale: while we have made a TON of changes to the inside of the house in the last year, the backyard is where you really can’t help but go, “Holy crap! The place has really come a long way.” We were breaking sod the day after Chris got the keys for the garden beds, and we haven’t really stopped since.
20120513. A year ago today...

20120513. A year ago today...

Having such a blank slate has been mostly a blessing, but a little bit a curse, as well. The only limit is our own imagination – a tad daunting, really.

20120513. A year ago today...

I love Chris surveying the scene in the top photo.

Little SoBro homestead, cheers to you! Tonight, we celebrate one very happy year here, and we can’t wait to see what the next brings.
20120513. A year ago today...

Maaagic, Internet-Style (aka Links of Awesomeness and Magnitude)

The Space-Farm Continuum’s first ever link roundup! Huzzah and hooray.

  • As soon as the chicks were moved out to the coop in the backyard, we started talking goats. While your standard milk goats or angora goats are fantastic for their own reasons, I have decided I would like for all of my goats to be of the Punk Rock Goat breed. Do you think it’s more nature or nurture to have a goat that’s this special? http://www.buzzfeed.com/katienotopoulos/punk-rock-goat

Photo courtesy of Katie Notopoulos of Buzzfeed. I love that the band here is a Malaysian Grindcore band called Wormrot. Hey, we like worm rot here, too!

  • Here at Space-Farm, you may have guessed that we appreciate both nature/farms and all things space-related. We like science and physics and Star Trek and Battlestar Gallactica, we visit planetariums when on vacation, we are planning a trip to Puerto Rico to see the telescope array there, and our first date ever was watching the Perseid meteor shower over a field in Martinsville, Indiana – kind of the perfect fusion of space/farm, when you think about it. So it should be no surprise that news on April 19 of Camilla the rubber chicken’s trip through a solar radiation storm was of particular interest. The photo is also fantastically awesome:

Photo courtesy of NASA, Earth to Sky-Bishop CA. Seriously, is this not the best photo ever taken?

  • Lately, we have been considering the potential for chronicling the wide variety of chicken owners via photo. We’ve got hip chicken owners, old school chicken owners, new and old, children and babies, and… then we have the guerrilla chicken keepers of Toronto.

Photo courtesy of Toronto Life, photographer Kevin Hewitt.

  • In sweet news, I was telling a friend about how the chicks chased after me the first night we let them outside of the coop run and into the yard when it was time for me to call them back to the coop. I have fully embraced the mama hen attitude, and we began discussing birds imprinting on other creatures, etc. She also reminded me of this book during our discussion, which was definitely in my favorite book rotation when I was a child. She made my day: “Are You My Mother?” by PD Eastman.

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.com.