Life Lessons: 2016

Last Thanksgiving I spared the life of my lady turkey, Clyde. Her boyfriend, Bonnie, was delicious. My partner encouraged me to slaughter her, but something in me could not do it. I had grown to truly love this big, dumb bird. Which is why her very sudden disappearance around Christmas was so disappointing. It was a mystery—she was gone without a trace. I searched for feathers, watched the buzzards making their rounds day after day, posted to my neighborhood message board “Missing Turkey”, hoping to uncover any key to her fate. Alas, I could not.

I mean, look at that face!

I mean, look at that face!

We joked about her absconding with the ducklings who had disappeared at the same time. About her finding a new boyfriend and shacking up elsewhere. 

Then, the first week of this year Rosco, my beloved canine companion fell deathly ill very suddenly. I was in the emergency vet office examining room, sobbing uncontrollably, when my partner sent me a text: CLYDE JUST FLEW OVER THE GREENHOUSE! It was the best news on a horrible day (Rosco pulled through). Weeks passed, and I began to doubt the report. Maybe she was pulling my leg, trying to cool my distress. And then one morning there she was, just casually drinking out of the goat trough, pecking at feed. And then as suddenly as she had appeared,  she was gone again. She made a couple more appearances, but no big comeback.  

Until Monday the 1st of February. I noticed her ambling about, and then I saw more movement. I could not believe my eyes. She had returned home with 10 BABY TURKEYS. 

Eeeeeeee! I die. 

Eeeeeeee! I die. 

I don’t know how to properly express the incongruousness of this. She somehow managed to find a mate, lay and hatch eggs, and then walk them all the way back to the farm. I truly do not understand it, but am ecstatic nonetheless. This unexpected gift has made me proud beyond words for this wonderful bird. She’s a miracle, truly. And after last year's turkey trauma, this is a true salve. 

In other news, my mama Muscovy duck dropped the ball tonight on responsible mothering technique (not the first time), and rather than losing more ducklings, I’ve taken on a few studio mates for the next week or so. Absolutely no one is complaining. 

The goats are all pregnant, which means of course more kids and more milk in about 5 months. The “date nights” are pretty special, mainly consisting of me chauffeuring  a goat in my vintage Mercedes and then picking her up the next morning with the windows down, as she stinks of filthy billy goat, sure sign of a solid date. A sealed deal. A successful "business" transaction.   

Francine: hot to trot. 

Francine: hot to trot. 


In other other news, the farm is finally financially actually breaking even, which once seemed such a pipe dream that I scoffed at myself for even daring to dream it. Life is easier now, but not because of the financial security. It is the emotional/physical balance that has been struck up. 

In 2015, a shift occurred. The routine is no longer an imposition, but rather a life choice. There is joy in the work, solace even. My mornings might consist of milking & chores, watering the garden, packing up eggs & produce for market, treating a sick animal, trimming some hooves, sneaking in a little workout in the greenhouse, and then heading to my office where I inevitably arrive on the verge of being late, every time. At night I do the routine in reverse, then spend my later hours working on the bath and body care products I've been formulating, responding to emails and writing (I'm really bad at this part). Collapsing into bed exhausted, sun kissed and wind burned, stubborn dirt embedded beneath nails, belly full of greens and cheese and eggs and meats coaxed by hand from this little patch of earth… It’s breathtakingly beautiful. And rich and complex. And hard earned. 

The realization passes over me some mornings, like the shadow of a cloud passing overhead or the stark white stamp of a moon on a day lit sky, with no small measure of astonishment-- that this life did not "happen to me". It has been carefully curated, wrought from sheer will, and unbelievable community support, and of course madness. 

And after a few years of constant struggle and doubt, I can say unequivocally that I am exactly where I want to be. Right here, right now. 



And I hope you are too. 

Happy 2016. 


There's No Such Thing as a Free Turkey.

I write this swaddled in the sweet late-night afterglow of a perfect Thanksgiving spent with my wonderful family. We enjoyed one of the best turkeys I've eaten, and unquestionably the best turkey I have ever prepared. And I say that with confidence, having purchased the little bugger 7 months ago for $15 as a tiny chick who was handled by countless careless grubby hands as part of an Easter petting zoo.

 I raised him on organic feed, named him Bonnie (accidentally mistaking him for a female- I still have the hen, Clyde), and watched him grow into a big, handsome heritage breed Tom. This is the second year in a row I have raised a heritage breed turkey for my family, and it is with no small amount of pride that I have done so. And in this doing, it has occurred to me that offering this opportunity to others- to slaughter their own bird- could be an intensely satisfying, edifying, and perhaps even life-changing experience. 

 


This is the story about how that almost happened, and then really didn't. And by did not, I mean miserably, painfully, horrifically failed. Almost certainly my most intense failure to date out here on the farm...

The first week of July, I received a shipment of ducklings by post. 25 perfect little baby ducks. But in that shipment, I found, much to my shock, 8 tiny baby turkeys. This occurred a week or so after I began musing about raising a small turkey flock to share in the aforementioned fashion. Just as I was doing the calculations, gauging interest, and determining if I could swing it... these turkeys literally fell into my lap. I called the hatchery to inquire about these little guys whom I had not ordered. What breed were they? For what reason were they included in my duckling order? The lady at the hatchery curtly informed me that they don' t raise turkeys at the hatchery, and suggested that perhaps they were guineas? She insisted that there was no way they sent me turkey chicks. 

And yet, there they were- 8 perfect, adorable, big-eyed, fuzzy little FREE TURKEYS, nay, FREE MIRACLE TURKEYS!!!!

My excitement could scarcely be contained. 

And then the fun began. After the first night in a coop whose door had been shoddily constructed by a volunteer, 2 were clearly missing. Eventually we determined that a raccoon had pulled them through a small gap in the door. 2 down, 6 to go.

They were moved into a large outdoor pen that was extremely secure. The next morning, many of the little guys had swollen eyes and red raised spots- mosquito bites! Horrified, I sealed up the entire coop with window screen, swearing that my little MIRACLE TURKEYS would never be bothered by mosquitoes again. And while they were not, they also seemed to be having a bit of a time, as the mosquito bites scabbed over, some bites grew bulbous and some outright monstrous. In fact, they seemed to get worse by the day. Eyes were obscured by these grotesque growths, and even as the birds were growing large enough to free range during the day, some were practically blind with these growths. Turkey pox. Transmitted by mosquitoes. 

Like those spectacular orchids who have evolved to be pollenated only by some very special, specific insects- each strain of pox is unique to a bird species, and is transmitted by an infected mosquito carrying a specific strain. My baby turks just got "lucky", I suppose. One just dropped dead one day. And then another a couple of days later. 4 down. 4 to go.

I began to whittle down the list of people whom I had promised the Ultimate Turkey Experience to. Then one got his head snapped in a rat trap. He recovered, but not entirely. I had to force feed him by hand each morning and each evening. Then another poult died. 5 down, 3 to go. 

After a month of extensive hand feeding "Snap-Head," I came to the realization that I was going to have to put him down, he was failing to thrive and I couldn't afford the time I was spending on him. 6 down, 2 to go. 

Things seemed to be looking up. I doted on the 2 remaining turkeys. My little miracles. My little nightmares. One afternoon, one of them simply perished, after having made it so far. 7 down, 1 to go. 

I felt a cautious optimism as the weeks passed and Goose, the remaining turkey thrived. He slept in the coop with the chickens and the three petting zoo turkeys, free ranged all day.  I had become overly protective of this little bird, my little survivor. So you can imagine my horror the day the 3 bigger turkeys pecked him to death.

And so it goes. The "Free" turkeys I had invested countless hours in, treating their alarming pox, easing their strange injuries, hand feeding, hoping, lovingly caring for... All gone. Easy come, HARD go.

And so, once again, the hard lessons of agriculture rear their ugly heads, reminding me not to count my chickens before they're hatched, not to assume anything, and most importantly, to remember that much like a mythical "free lunch"- there is no such thing as a free turkey. 

Maybe next year... 

How I Skipped Summer Blogging

Grabs mic... "Hello, hi! Is this thing on?!"

Seriously. I managed not to write One. Single. Word. all summer. And I feel more than a little sheepish about it. What's worse- I have a few blogs already written, waiting to be published. 

I could offer up some excuses- the new blog platform on the new site is weird! It keeps eating my blogs! I'm busy with farmstuff, workstuff, and lifestuff! And then I look at my friend Jenna who is starting a dairy/creamery and just had twins and still manages to blog. 

I can state clearly that one major roadblock has been my intense desire to speak honestly about the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of homestead farming; one of which is easy for me and the latter two which are challenging because I never want to sound  like a whiner, or as if I am complaining. 

I will post some awkwardly truthful blogs in the coming weeks, as I attempt to get this thing back up to speed. 

In the meantime, I will simply say, "HAPPY EQUINOX"!!!!!!! The nightmare of Texas summer is over, and now comes the good part. 

 

Springtime for Texans

We here in central Texas are being treated to a rare and magnificent treat-- SPRING. 

This time of year, we are normally beginning to wilt under oppressive highs in the 90s, our resolve to garden still steely because we have not hit the 100 degree mark yet. Yet. But we can feel it coming, and as a native I stand by my statement that we are usually well into the 90s by now. 

But this year it just keeps coming: rain and rain and more rain. By the bucketful, the boatload. Day after day, week after week. It is a wonderful thing to hear the randy frogs praising the moisture at night, and to see the gleeful ducks (and ducklings) splashing around in puddles. The garden is growing at an astonishing rate, and the weeds outpacing the crops by a factor of 4. 

Getting my ducks in a row... (Muscovy ducklings, that is)

Getting my ducks in a row... (Muscovy ducklings, that is)

Which is probably why you've seen and heard so little from me of late. 

We are also preparing for the kidding season (no joke), both my girls are due at the end of the month. We filmed a commercial in March, and my beautiful home and farm were photographed as part of this incredible project a few weeks ago. and there seems to be a very odd but steady stream of reality TV (but not gross or horrible) interest in my little corner of the world. 

Not to mention preparing for a summer launch of a bath and body line of products, goat milk based soaps and lotions to begin with, and then more on the table as we expand, organically. 

I promise to come here more and write more. I am just getting the hang of this new site, and it has slowed my process considerably, and even erased a post or two I've tried to write. So bear with me. Its coming along, as quickly as a one-woman operation can be expected to move!

First ever garlic harvest!  

First ever garlic harvest!

 

All this rain has even brought with it an unexpected & rare gift: A sunset double rainbow!

What does it mean?

What does it mean?

And so, that's all the news fit to print from Whirlaway at the moment. Stay tuned, there is so much more in store!

Love and rainbows, 

~Francesca

Hibernation Cessation

While there's been precious little hibernation this winter, a few things have gone seemingly dormant (primarily, sadly, this blog) superficially. Make no mistake, there has been MUCH activity happening beneath the placid surface. This is fated to be a mostly newsy update about the life & times of Whirlaway, with some announcements along the way.

First- THE GREENHOUSE IS UP AND RUNNING!!!! No big deal, it only took 10 months. It really feels like my baby at this point. Expect to see lots of posts as I journey through aquaponics and generally turn that space into a planty playground!

granite haus

green haus

I got a new goat a few days before Christmas- his name is Django Oreo Eoeo, and he is going to be the proud papa of the kids due in May!

goat fam

 

Next up, my parter and I got engaged! What this means is a spring wedding next year on the farm, and of course another human living out here next year. I couldn't be happier about this development.

rings

 And then just one big announcement: I am shifting gears a little with the farm this year... Last year I was scrambling to create everything under the sun that can be made with goats milk, just to deal with the seemingly never-ending supply... Except for paint. Maybe this year. But I digress. I made cheese, yogurt, cajeta, and then began to shift into non edibles- soap and lotion. And I am just in love with the products I've been making. After 17 years in the massage and high-end spa industry, I know quality when I see, feel, and smell it. And I've created a few produce that I am positively giddy about!

My goal is to create products aligned with my ethics- a label you can understand, no weird, unpronounceable stuff in there, and no plastic packaging. I hope to grow lots of botanicals this year that can be distilled & used in products. It's going to be a really fun new venture.

So, stay tuned- my amazing web designer/graphic designer is currently working on a new e-commerce website, plus branding for all of these beautiful body care items. I really, really cannot wait to share them with you, and lots of other things that you will be able to purchase online with the click of a button. The year of the goat is shaping up to be a marvelous one!

Spring is coming, and I am full of love and joy and energy. I hope you are too.

Cheers,

~Francesca

Let's Build Some Seedling Flats!

Hi, Happy New Year! As usual, I've waited many ages to update here, but I have decided in lieu of my usual waxing prosaic about farm life, how about a TUTORIAL? I make stuff all the time, and I want you to, too.

When you have a farm, you find yourself getting weird about waste. I hate wasting things, especially materials. I also am on a bit of a personal vendetta against plastics. Not only are they packed full of endocrine disrupting chemicals that wreck our bodies, they are made of nasty petroleum products, they are forming trash islands in the ocean, and if you need more reasons than that, I assure you I can find them. Conventional farmers produce a lot of plastic waste, and I think small scale farmers & home-scale gardeners can buck this trend.

I first saw a wooden seed starting flat years ago in John Jeavon's "How to Grow More Vegetables", a book on biointensive gardening that I cannot recommend enough. This is what I saw there:

Then, last year I came across this brilliant blog that instructed how to make these wonderful things.

So, yesterday I decided to tackle it myself, using some scrap produced last week.

Here are the tools I used:

  • Impact Driver (star head driver)
  • Cordless Drill (1/8 drill bit)
  • #8 1.5" star head Decking Screws
  • Circular Saw
  • Table Saw
  • Carpenter's Square
  • Measuring Tape
  • Marker

And the materials I used:

Just a bunch of cutoff ends of 2x4s and 2x6s

First, I ripped all the boards on the table saw along their width, to make them 1x4s and 1x2s (for the slats)

Step 2: I cut them down to specific lengths, matching long and short pairs as I went along. I wasn't very scientific about this, mainly just trying to preserve as much length as possible, rather than cutting everything down to pre-specified lengths.

Step 3: I paired up long & short pairs, then pre-drilled holes for the screws, and screwed them together

IMG_0757.JPG

Step 4: I cut the slats to the fit the width of the various box frames, then laid them across the bottoms & drilled pilot holes for screws.

Then I found a way more efficient way to do this: I used a small nail gun to attach the slats. I'll keep you posted way on down the line (I hope) about how the screws vs nails hold up.

I also made a few boxes where I cut the slats to the inside diameter of the box, and nested them inside and then nailed them with the gun from the sides.

See the difference?

And that's it! You can get all cute and make them nest into one another...

Or just make 'em rough and dirty! I also thought of a perfect perfect material that doesn't require a table saw- Old cedar fencing! it would be the absolute best, is already the right width, is insect and rot resistant and is usually FREE.

Good luck with yours!

xoxox

~Francesca

So, HERE we ARE.

It's been a WEEK. And it feels more than a little ridiculous to say that on a Tuesday morning. The past few weeks have been a rash of slaughters (turkey, duck, rabbit, and then another turkey) interspersed with sort of frantic attempts to heal sick and injured animals. The irony is not lost on me. And every step that I go deeper into this adventure, this hands-on, visceral life, I am forced to go deeper into the ethics, into the very ethos, of what this is.

bigturkstgiving

I lost Doodle, my handsome, gentlemanly rooster. He was the king, and if you want to know the truth, I actually intended to euthanize him. I sat with a gun by my side, petting him in my lap, weeping. And then I decided to give him a week. He didn't make it a week. He made it 3 days. 3 days of giving injections, of force feeding, of desperately doing online research again and again and speculating what was ailing him. He died in my arms, and in true farmer fashion, the moment he was gone I took him outside and autopsied him without emotion. Because that is what you do when you have a flock- you work to protect them from illness, from predators, and from each other. It was his heart that failed, and in this discovery, my own heart twisted to realize that... I should have put him to rest when I first wanted to, rather than making him suffer through my well-intentioned ministrations.

Intuition is often right.

On the brighter side, a rabbit with an infected, presumably blind eye has healed and now can see; a failing rooster is now robust and thriving, a hen who miraculously survived a tangle with the electric fence survived (and did not require toe amputation) and Dingo, my feline life companion is healing from a nasty wound. These small victories must be celebrated.

  bunbuns cracky

The year is winding down, and this always brings (for me, likely thanks to some remnant of Catholic guilt) a rush of shame that all these projects are unfinished. And so begins this bizarre cycle of activity: MUST FINISH EVERYTHING, MUST FINISH EVERYTHING. I'M A FAILURE AND A FRAUD IF EVERYTHING IS NOT FINISHED. I'M A LOSER IF THESE LOOSE STRINGS ARE NOT TIED UP! With this farm, this feeling is tenfold anything I've ever experienced.

This dialogue just sort replays itself in my subconscious as I rabidly cross items off my list, one after another. And the feeling of satisfaction is quickly blotted out by the feeling of obligation to the remaining list items. And that is not good.

I've been accused of being highly distractible, of lacking presence, and of often losing the beauty of a moment by looking toward the horizon and imagining where I would like to be, as opposed to where I am. Being childless, I can not truly understand what it is like to raise a young person, but I do currently have a baby goose named Turkey who reminds me daily what it is to be present.

 Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 10.33.47 AM turkhead

She's gone from a helpless, tiny little egg-shaped thing to a sweet, loud little dinosaur-monster in a matter of weeks. This morning she ran from me into the field to join her kind. I know she will come back to me the moment I call her to me, and she will shadow me for at least another couple of weeks. I love watching her gain independence, and I am amazed and humbled by the way that animals are always in the now, whether they are sunbathing, eating a blade of grass, or jumping up and down on a tin roof, joyously making a racket.

Last night I ventured out late, after the airport traffic had ceased, after the neighbors had turned off their floodlights. I lay in the field and gazed at the sky, hoping to catch a few of the remaining Geminids. I was immediately rewarded with a long, bright meteor streaking the sky. And then another. A rooster crowed. A goat bleated. A peace settled over everything, and the sky seemed so clear and the stars so bright I found myself thinking about all those celestial bodies, glowing with the power of a thousand suns, pouring their light across decades, through space and time to meet my gaze. And I felt calm, sacred calm, to be alive and beneath a night sky, surrounded by the world I've created.

There is a sort of gratitude that has nothing to do with where you want to be, or where you've been. It doesn't care about your long, hard week, your triumphs or your failures. It is based on the sensation of breath rising and falling in your chest. It is kind and it is love and it exists in one perfect moment. Right now.

I wish all of you a myriad of these moments, as the holiday heats up and the year winds down.

Sending love.

toady

Hemming it In

It's astonishing to me how quickly it all seems to go by... The tomatoes yield to okra and kale, the melons grow fat and the vines turn brown, seed pods are swelling, pregnant with the promise of life next season. All the crops senesce and  step down to let the new generation take their place. It's really quite incredible. And exhausting.

harvest

With every addition to the farm, my work load changes, grows, and becomes routine. The routine is a moving target, the same and yet evolving. And here I admit that I have never been very married to a routine. Aside from nightly brushing and flossing, and a cuppa in the morning, I've always been a bit free-form in my habits. Until now. There is a rhythm to life on a farm that has done something to my spirit. Soothed it, perhaps, trained it to a new way of being.

melons

The days begin and end with the sun. The sun has become my master and companion, and it is startling to feel the seasons turn via the ever changing length of days. I feel a bit like Indiana Jones some days, trying to escape the booby trap as the walls close in, except in my case it is racing to get home before the sun goes down so that I can milk the goat, dole out the piles of hay, the buckets of feed, latch the coops on the chickens.

I am governed by this cycle of light and dark.

I forget some times the enormity of this task, this project that I've taken on. Then there are days like a few weeks back, where I wake to find a predator has devoured 1/3 of my new hens- my winterflock expansion- gone in a flash, all the time, care, just gone. There are days when Francine kicks and steps into the milk pail, ruining the batch, and I am covered in mosquito bites and sweat is beading down my body and I raced home for this and I just want to scream. There are random animal deaths, crop failures, and sudden torrential rains in the middle of the night where I must put on my boots at 3am and go move goats from pasture to pen. It is no small amount of work.

On the flip side, there are the hatchling chicks, watching babies grow, the weekly making of yogurt & dulce de leche, teaching myself the art of goat milk soap making, magnificent harvests and beautiful meals here at the farm with friends and family. There are turkeys and baby bunnies. Perfect days where the sun rising over the fields and the goat milk in my morning cup of tea remind me why I am doing this. Why I have chosen this. I believe in what I am doing.

eggplant

turkstwins

I am still figuring out how to make a farm work, but there are hopeful things happening: I am establishing relationships with some amazing chefs, and you can find me next month at the Hope farmers market in East Austin. I am making incredible headway on the commercial kitchen, and have been working up a design for a really huge outdoor kitchen/dining/teaching structure to be built over the next few months. The greenhouse will be up and running by the end of the month.

And my partner and I have adopted an orphaned duckling, Crackers:

cracky

So, even as the days truncate, and I am hemmed in increasingly by them, I am hopeful for this next season, a season of construction and productivity. No bad days, just good days. Here's to the next round of good days, y'all.

What's in my CSA? The (Long overdue) August Edition

Time really flies when you are constantly moving. Seriously. I can't even bring myself to apologize for how behind I am at updating this thing! There are new babies all around- baby pigeons, baby rabbits, baby guineas, and quickly growing baby goats. It's downright dizzying.

And the garden is going completely bonkers. Tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes, that is the story of August. In fact, there are some really special tomatoes starting to ripen right now-

These are the weirdest tomatoes ever, tart and sharp tasting, but so beautiful. I would probably eat them raw salted or on a BLT or something of that nature. I think they are lovely.

bberrytom

Blueberry tomatoes- these are a cherry tomato, and on the vine they are positively purple. By the time they get to you they should be a much mellower red, orange, or deep yellow. Also slightly acidic, they are juicy and mild and add a little tiny kick to a caprese salad. I can't stop eating them right off the vine.

Yellow-Pear-Tomatoes

Yellow pear tomato- a favorite cherry tomato, sweet and juicy, really just a drop of sugar, and absolutely perfect flavor, devoid of any acid at all.

Everything else should be pretty recognizable. Several varieties of basil are just kicking out the jams, the shiso is large and in charge, and a whole new crop of squash are coming up, which means squash blossoms ahoy!

sweet_potato_leaves

Peppers are still happening, mores than ever, actually. The Quadrato di Asti are magnificent, small bell peppers, Beaver Dams are shockingly spicy peppers that resemble banana peppers when green. Watch out for the red ones, they have some real bite! The Sigaretta de Bergamo peppers are my favorites this season, tiny sweet peppers that look like they should be spicy but are in fact wonderfully sweet. See previous posts for pics of all of these peppers.

Egg plants are out of control. I've developed an addiction myself. I really can't stop eating them in almost everything. I'll post some recipes soon. I put them into a lot of the frittatas I seem to be living on this summer.

Last but not least- What is that weird green in your share? They are sweet potato leaves. Think spinach but without any oxalic acid. I personally don't know how I lived so long without knowing about these beautiful things. I'm not the only one.  Click here for even more info and recipes.

Not much more to tell, except that some of you will see some duck eggs instead of chicken eggs in your share over the coming weeks- the chickens have slowed down laying in this heat, so I am introducing many of you to this delicious magic.

The farm is hosting a HOG ROAST (I'm just a little excited) at the end of September, to celebrate the end of this hot hot summer, so please consider attending as all of the events here are technically fundraisers, and I am trying to scrape together the money for a secondary structure out here for a live-in intern or farm hand, in addition to a million other projects.

Also, check out the new calendar on this site to keep abreast of events and such.

Cheers, y'all!

 

xox

~Francesca