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

So that's all there is to a slaughter...

Until Wednesday, I had killed 3 animals in my life, 2 birds and one lizard, all mercy killings to put dying animals out of their misery. I spent 19 years vegetarian, many of the latter vegan, and so in many ways killing and eating something I raised marks a signpost in my life. Today I am tired in the way that I think you can only understand once you have slaughtered an animal that you raised, and then spent hours skinning and gutting it.

This evening, doing the closing routine of feeding and penning up the animals for the night, I caught myself filling the feed bucket a grain ration including the boys. I stopped, mid grain pour, realizing that there were no longer boys to feed. And it did not feel sad or tragic.

It felt, strangely, as though everything had returned to normal. The boys had never really been a part of the family here. They were loud and awkward and our bond was tenuous. Only now does it occur to me that they had always felt a bit like interlopers, and now it feels as if they were exchange students returned to their homes, leaving in their wake a peace that is palpable.

Perhaps it was their impending death, looming, that made it near impossible to connect with them. The end was always too near and too ominous.

I pulled the trigger, and I can say with full certainty that the boys, each suckling blissfully on a bottle at the time, felt nothing and went instantaneously. Killing is, in fact, the easy part. The battle against time and the processes of nature comes next.

A carcass is a cruel master. Now I know. Once the bullet is brainbound, the race begins, and it is brutal, and cannot stop cannot stop cannot stop is relentless.

There are things you can never un-know. This is one.

Severing a jugular creates a great gout of blood, and the animal makes it’s final motion, a combination of all the motions of life, legs flex as though running in a dream, tail wags as if in joy or anticipation. Meanwhile, you must hold this body running through all it’s physical routines, as the lifeblood runs out of it, must apply pressure and pump the front legs to move it out. With a heart beating so hard that for a moment it is impossible to tell if it is the animal’s or your own.

And the rest is just procedure. Just meticulous, exacting, heavy duty physical labor of separating a hide from a body, removing all the vital organs, and doing it as quickly as possible to fight the natural processes that begin breaking us down the moment our hearts stop. The constant cleaning and sharpening of knives, the swatting of mosquitoes, the second guessing of which cut comes next.

I will not go into detail except to say that having been a massage therapist for 16 years, the experience of the fascia, the layer that encases all muscle tissues, that holds skin fast to flesh- experiencing this separation, being the cause of it... was a beautiful thing. To see and feel how this system works was fascinating. And to feel each fiber tighten with each minute that passed was a wonderful reminder of how swiftly we were to move to do this properly. How quickly things change when life leaves us.

I believe that the cover of night made the entire process more palatable. What with the smells and the blood and the constant motion of dressing the body, the cover of night helped to make it more surreal, less technicolor. Without the two people helping, this would have been near impossible. While I keep emphasizing speed, what is perhaps not clear is that we were working for nearly 4 hours. It just lasted forever, as the stars grew bright and the moon moved across the sky, we had our hands and arms inside still warm, quickly cooling bodies. There is no way to describe this properly.

slaughter

I spent a moment with each of the goats, Plug and Cabrito, pressed against their still-warm bodies, thanking them for being here, thanking them for giving their lives, honoring them with my gratitude. And only now, writing this three days later, do I feel a welling of tears.

It is a grave and intense honor to take an animal’s life. I finally feel as if I have come by my food honestly. I wish that every one of us who chooses to eat meat could partake in this process at least one time. Everyone would eat less meat, or at least eat it more mindfully.

I am grateful for the strength to be a part of this process, and know that this is the beginning of my life as a farmer and a steward of the practices that give humans their humanity.

I would not choose another life.