Thursday, May 31, 2012

giving back to the land

While in our keeping, we desire to be good stewards of these few ridge top acres. As we've cleared dead trees and shrubs and pruned those that were neglected, we've put the non thorny, non weedy bits aside to be shredded for much needed mulch. Here are two views of the newly sorted and nicely stacked piles ready for tossing into "the machine." This was a job Barb and I tackled while she was here earlier this month. Thanks, Barb!

There was an old chipper/shredder left in the garage here when we took ownership of the place, but the most reliable small machine repairman in town said there were no longer parts available to make it safely useable. And it would not have been able to handle the larger sized branches.

photo taken by Matthias the day we first viewed the property
We decided to rent a machine from the True Value in town and have it brought out here and run by Dave, our "plowman." Just this past Friday, Dave retired from True Value after 40 years. He is truly the go to guy for how tos.
Yesterday, while Jerome was still here, Dave hauled it out and between the two of them they made short work of the job. The fellas were delighted to work together, to get to know each other better, to make a neat job of it all.

Here the job is nearly done. That  pile doesn't look very large, but it is lovely, fragrant mulch which will be a joy to use around all the trees in the new orchard, and in the flower bed along the driveway.

Oh, and there's Casey, a sweet lab who loves to keep Dave company on his plowing, mowing, shredding, brush hogging, every outside kind of job adventures.
When the fellas finished they came in for coffee and a sweet.  While we were at the table, a doe ran into the yard and directly to the spot where I saw a small fawn behind our orchard on Sunday. She must have been waiting for the noisy monster machine to quit before she braved coming across the road. All in all, a pretty good morning.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

a necessary evil

Well not evil, exactly.
Less than a week after we brought the chickens back to our ridge meadow farm after their winter "vacation" at Eli and Lovina's , Phoebie began to get out of the chicken yard by flying up to the top of the gate, landing there, and then coasting down to the opposite side of the fence.  This gate is higher than my head, by the way. She did this every day, sometimes more than once a day. We tried adding 6 inch nails to the top of the gate, attaching netting that would wave in the breeze, just interesting challenges to the hen who loves to get out and explore. Now Phoebie would always come to me from wherever she was in the gardens and follow along to the gate, sometimes getting there before me and waiting for me to open it so she could walk right in, talking to me nonstop in her unique vernacular. Silver Polish always rather agitated that he failed to contain one of his harem. laying the blame with me, and telling me what was on his mind ore rotundo.

Of course the idea of the chicken yard is to let our birds augment their organic feed with whatever they can find in the 60' X 60'  yard, to take safe shelter from the sun under the house, enjoying dust baths in the deep depressions they've dug out for themselves there, breezes caressing their little chicken heads. Safe by day from the neighbors dogs and cats. They can move in and out of their house at will and have food, water, nest boxes, and each other, (plus afternoon snacks every day, like dried mealworms, sunflower seeds or popcorn.) Out of their yard they are exposed. Also, our vegetable bed is just opposite their fence, and chickens can do pretty much damage to an active vegetable bed in a short time.
Then last week LadyHawk got out also, and she was NOT cooperative about going back to her yard no matter how I tempted her.
It was time for some action on my part.

You can learn just about anything by watching YouTube videos. I watched 5, including a vet teaching a chicken owner how to do the job and one chicken keeper whose IQ appeared to be lower than his birds'. How hard could it be, really?

Above you see an assortment of clipped flight feathers, Dovey giving them close scrutiny.

Here is Amelia showing you her flight feathers, It is just those long outer feathers that you cut just above the shorter, softer, thicker feathers closer to her shoulder. You cut 7 or 8 of these on one wing only, once a year. (They regrow them annually.) It seemed wrong somehow to clip the wing of a bird named for a famous female flier, but ...
I was ably assisted by Jerome. He had been here a few days working through our to do list. He held the hens one at a time close to his chest while I fanned out their wings and clipped. Less than 5 seconds per bird. Imagine cutting your hair or nails. That's what it feels like for the birds. They did not fuss one little bit. And Jerome was an excellent assistant.
Oh, and poor Phoebie did try to get over the gate again later that day. Can you imagine what she was thinking when she failed to get airborn??? I'm not sure but by the sound of her voice, there were some pretty colorful metaphors flying around that chicken yard.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

thank you, Rachel

Though I may lack human company most days, I am surrounded by the ebb and flow of a mixed chorus. These voices begin and end my days, lullabies by night, sharing these small acres, buoying my spirit.

Today is the birthday anniversary of Rachel Carson and it is in large part because of her courage that I am so surrounded. Because of Rachel, my spring is not silent.

Friday, May 25, 2012

a precious few

There are many lovely iris in the beds around the farm. Some of the colonies are very large and will be separated and shared this summer. Some are in odd locations and sport but few stalks of blooms to let you know they're there. These are examples of the latter.

This flower is almost impossible to photograph realistically. It is actually a deep purple, not at all blue. Note her almost iridescent beards.
This sweet one is out near the road and will be moved just as soon as it is safe to do so. There are just 2 flower stalks in evidence this spring and I brought them indoors before yesterday's violent weather so they wouldn't be damaged.
All the more beautiful for their brevity and small numbers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

a postscript

The storm finally arrived while Jerome and I were having a Skype during dinner. Due to the lightning I shut down the computer. Now the storm has passed, it has cooled by 20 degrees, the wind is just a breeze, and we've had an inch of rain in just under an hour.

All day the wind was too strong for the hummingbirds to visit the feeder. After the storm whisked past they came and had their fill. The asparagus starts are now nicely settled into their trenches and those dusty fields around our few acres will be sporting some green in the morning.

a lifelong dream fulfilled

This morning began earlier than usual for me, but since I had my first through the night sleep in ages, I was ready. This handsome fellow was my wakeup alarm. This spot is directly across from the west window in my bedroom...

Then, having a hunch that I should dress right away, I pulled on my overalls before 7. Yep, by 7:30 I heard the lovely sound of a trotting horse and a buggy coming up our road. Eli had come to work early today!
When we found our ridge meadow farm I think I told everyone the first thing I was going to do was plant asparagus. Well, it didn't happen our first spring and that was a disappointment I blame myself for. On Monday when Barb and I were garden shop hopping, we stopped at the local garden center where everyone calls me by my first name. Al himself sorted through his asparagus starts and when I asked for 3 dozen he made sure I had really nice ones.  Today Eli planted them for me. In the end, there were over 40 and since I only wanted 3 rows, and each one was large and beautiful, there were a dozen left over. I asked him if he could use them and he agreed to take the last of them along home.

When Eli finished working here this past Tuesday I sent him home with a bouquet of iris in an over-sized antique blue Ball jar for Lovina's table and told their son Dan to tell his mom that I was being selfish and wanted her to send the jar back when she was done with it. This morning when Eli arrived he handed me the jar...

It's getting close to the end of the fresh asparagus season here, partly due to the early spring, partly to the heavy rains a month ago, and to the prolonged heat recently. Lovina knows I have a few wild pieces here from some long forgotten garden but not enough for more than a meal or two. Possessing an impish sense of humor she knew I would enjoy her little joke: a bouquet from Lovina.
We've not had a speck of rain for nearly 4 weeks now. The temperatures have been above normal and the winds excessive. Today we are under a wind warning and at times I've had to struggle to open the back door or keep on my feet while walking to and from the chicken yard. Dust is blowing off the fields which are just now beginning to show lines of green in neat rows. I've had to put off my outside painting and the planting of my seeds and little seedlings. But I remind myself that it's still just May and I have all summer.
After the asparagus and a little more work on the potting shed, Eli began digging out the raspberry bed. He also has cleared away 85% of the scrap wood that was stacked in the place where my new double compost bins will sit. He's making use of the scrap wood to build them at his farm in his spare time (what Amish farmer and father of 7 has spare time???) He will be out next week again to finish the raspberry bed and prepare the ground and set the compost bins. Today he had his second son Rudy with him. Each of the kids wants to have a turn coming with their dad and they love to go home and tell all their siblings what treats they had at Sharon's house. What a joy they all are for me.
Well, I'm really glad Eli and I agreed he should leave by 3ish this afternoon. We are currently under 4 advisories: tornado watch, excessive wind warning,  severe weather with lightning and hail, and possible downpours. I didn't fancy putting the chickens to bed in a storm, so I've just gotten back into the house after luring them into their snug home with their favorite treat: dried mealworms. Now Dovey and I can just be snug indoors and watch what develops. Hope the weather is a bit calmer where you are.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

an anniversary, a birthday, and a little catching up

I find it incomprehensible that a week has flown since my handmade joy post. When life moves at this pace all you can do is tighten your seat belt and hang on for the ride.
First order of business: today is the first anniversary of the arrival of the chickens.
You may remember seeing them as bits of fluff. Irresistible. Here they are at arrival day 3 days old.

And where did the year go? Silver Polish has changed from the little punk rocker chick to a cock who is all about his male business and his voice.

The hens are laying consistently, often at 100%. Rosie has been placing her eggs in the corner of the chicken house instead of in a nesting box and yesterday there was another egg beside hers. Are they getting broody on me? What would chicks look like with Silver Polish as their dad??

Today is also the birthday of Carl Linnaeus, a fellow plant lover who did us all a big favor in his day. Having studied Latin at an all girls Catholic high school for 4 years, I can appreciate his use of Latin.
This past weekend I had my colleague and garden center shopping buddy Barb visiting. In preparation for her arrival I gathered flowers for several rooms in the house. Have you ever seen honeysuckle as lovely as this?? And it lasts forever as a cut flower. They're gathered in the little vase that attaches to the bathroom mirror with a suction cup. Each flower is nearly 3 inches wide.

There is quite a monstrous tangle of honeysuckle vine on an old post and wire fence near the pond. This year it is seriously out of control and spectacular.
And look what has managed to survive despite blooming while the weather was upside down and frosts arrived after all the baby trees had leafed out and many flowered...

This is one of many peaches, Reliance. Barb was the first to notice them. Then yesterday Eli and Dan were here working on projects I'll be sharing in the days ahead and they spotted them too.
There are also a few cherries, Montmorency.  The wind is really blowing today so this is a bit blurred...

Whether they survive the competition here to be savored by humans waits to be seen. Just their presence now is enough to cheer.
I hope I'll be able to post a little each day in the weeks ahead. I'll try. My life is truly blessed here on our ridge-meadow farm and I love sharing it with all of you who drop by.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

handmade joy

My thanks go out to Anne for imagining an exchange of handmade joy and getting it to happen.

I had the pleasure of creating a gift for Michelle. She has an absolutely delicious little girl who currently has the starring role in her blog, leavingthecocoon. (How easy it is to fall in love with little ones via pictures!)
With Elly absorbing her focus, and knowing family and friends have been sending/bringing presents for this sweetie, perhaps Michelle would like to have some special note cards to express her thanks...
I bought a simple cardboard pencil box at Michaels, plain white inside and out. I used a Kona Bay oriental print called Tranquility Floral Garden which I purchased at Stitchers Crossing in Madison, Wisconsin the day I drove to hear Jennifer Chiaverini at Mill House Quilts in early February. I ironed a piece of this fabric to Heat n Bond ultra hold. (Once the fabric is adhered to the heat n bond, you simply remove the paper backing and iron it to whatever you'd like to attach it to, clothing, purses, pillows, greeting cards, notebooks, magazine boxes, hats, whatever.)

I learned the technique of dry embossing at a stencil shop in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, many many years ago and have been in love with the technique and obsessed with collecting stencils ever since. I learned using a window as my light box. That's a bit tiring for the arms and not very easy to do at night. Also, so many of my stencils require a good deal of precision with the stylus. For a while I tried using a lamp without its shade resting on the floor in front of me with a glass shelf balanced across my spread knees. (Not a pretty sight!) Better than a window, but that light bulb would get pretty hot. Eventually I purchased a real light box from an art supply store. It is one of my grandest tools, useful for many jobs besides embossing.
In the hope that Michelle would like to learn the technique, I enclosed a stylus and a tin "M" stencil to get her started. Included were ten little gift cards, only one of which I embossed with her initial so she could do the rest. My note to Michelle included a link to the technique, so she could watch what I tried to describe in my letter and then finish the remaining blank cards by her own hand.

And my gift? I received it from Laura, of Italy by way of the UK. (I often wonder if my mail lady is curious about contents when she delivers packages from far off places into the mailbox out here on the farm.)
A visit to her bilingual blog reveals a spunky, lovely young woman. And her gift reveals a kindred spirit in that she loves to crochet too!

Within the smiley wrapping were 2 crocheted pouches in my go to color, grey. The wee one has a crocheted flower on the side.
Within the pouches:
a crocheted necklace, whimsical summery charms, and tube beads of many colors and widths,

and a set of crocheted face scrubbies, perfect for removing the sweat and grime from my face after hours in the gardens out here in the midwest USA.
I really am intrigued by the necklace design and Laura graciously sent me directions for crocheting it.
Thank you, Laura, for the tiny, perfect stitches and happy collection of "beads." And for responding to Anne's request. It's a pleasure getting to know you, and you, too, Michelle. I'll be watching your blogs for news of your art, your journeys, your lives.
Happy celebration, everyone!
Isn't life grand?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Magical Monday

This past Friday in the early afternoon, Phil's girlfriend, Kelly, and the dog she was dog-sitting, arrived to share a bit of the weekend with me and with Phil, who would arrive a few hours later.  Saturday was his first bass fishing tournament on the Mississippi. We had a delightful time. They left about noon on Sunday after a hearty Mothers' Day breakfast and a walk with the dog down the road.
Today is Phil's birthday and this morning I had been thinking about the day he was born and filled my mind with so many other memories of him as a child. I am immeasurably  proud of the man he has become and deeply thankful to his father. My heart was heavy missing both my special fellas.
But once again, I was blessed, the graces flowed, and I was uplifted.
The first magic came with a movement out in the orchard that caught my eye. I sprinted up the stairs, grabbed my Dad's field glasses and caught a glimpse of a gorgeous male pheasant walking into the meadow. Moments later he and his lady friend casually strolled back into the orchard, across the yard and right up to the house. Not wanting to startle them, I took photos through the windows. Here's a few.

After a relaxed, unhurried meander across the front lawn, they slipped through the fence and sauntered across the road. He came back this evening and after calling to Dovey and me through the kitchen window, walked back along the driveway once more to cross the road for the evening.
Later this morning, while watering the potted plantings on the south side of the house, I spotted this little fellow in the strawberry jar.

I dug out 3 heaping wheel barrows full of weeds and grasses from the vegetable and flower beds today. The weather was perfection, 77 degrees, full sun, soft breezes. To the south and west of me, farmers were plowing, planting, busy moving across their fields. My friend, Dave, brought his tractor, Flossie, to till my vegetable bed. Last fall I spread the chicken bedding over this plot, along with grass and fallen leaves that Jerome and I shredded with the lawn mower then collected and barrowed to the bed. This early March Eli spread a fresh load of horse manure over it all. Today the magic was revealed.

The soil is unbelievable. When I found Phoebie, who had escaped from the chicken yard, she was deliriously busy stuffing herself on insects and worms in this bed. She wouldn't be lured away and I had to pick her up and toss her back into her yard.
I have tried to be in the moment today as much as I can. Perhaps with heightened senses I've noticed things I might have missed otherwise. I've truly felt God's presence on these few acres and a deep sense of belonging and partnership with all the life that surrounds me here.
I wish this magic for each of you in the days ahead.
And happy birthday, dear Phillip. God bless.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Goodbye Maurice

I don't always catch up on world or national events each day. It's easy to focus on the farm and the town and ignore what's making the world turn on the broader stage. This morning I happened to read that Maurice Sendak has passed on.

Not everyone is a Sendak fan, but you'd have to look far to find someone who doesn't know about the Wild Things.
You can listen to an  interview aired on NPR's Fresh Air segment last September where he discusses life, death, love and his latest, now final, book shown above.

Monday, May 7, 2012

some simple pleasures

In the past 18 days my rain gauges have collected a total of 12 and 3/4 inches of rain! This morning, when I let the chickens out to play, their yard still had puddles and lots of mud. But the sun is out and there is a breeze and the temperature is nearly 70.

This past Saturday I had the dearest pleasure. My friend Lovina had her baby on Thursday, a girl. I am so delighted for them all. Since photos are against their wishes, you'll have to imagine a round, pink, darling in her little white bonnet and traditional Amish blue dress. Rocking her in their wood stove warmed parlor last Saturday, I was filled to the brim with emotion. When their littlest, Eli, came in carrying a tiny kitten, my heart spilled over. That's when I handed little baby Lizzy over to her mother so I could lift Eli into my lap. Alas, I hadn't been needed to take Lovina to the clinic for the birth, despite my keeping my cell phone on my person for days. Last week I slipped it into my bra set to vibrate while I mowed the lawn so I wouldn't miss hearing it. That gave Lovina a good laugh!! Well, I get to take them to the clinic this week for a follow up. I hope I'm not too tempted to take that kitten home...
Saturday was also the first of the outdoor farmers' markets in our town for this season. All winter a small group continued to sell indoors. Now the larger group is once more back and enjoying the open air. Of course, I had to stop and say hello to some of the dear folk I've gotten to know so well.

I bought a bottle of Robin's herbal insect repellent,

an orchid from the folks I met last fall from Cazenovia, which is sending its fragrance out to meet me as I walk across the dining room,

and a Bug Be Gone candle from Lizzy, another of my Amish friends. It is a soy candle scented with citronella, lavender, and lemon essential oils. Pure white, its aroma is divine, not at all like the ugly smell of the yellow types you see all over in big box stores usually sold in little tin pails.

Checking out the garden here now that the rains have moved out, I've picked the first Lily of the Valley and peonies of the season.  I also discovered a few more stalks of asparagus in the bed behind the garage and ate them within minutes with my dinner. Oh my.

It would be so interesting to know the history of this property, what grew where, what old buildings used to be here, what animals were kept. Except for our marvelous mature Cortland apple, there where no fruits here at all when we bought the place. There is a large rhubarb, but other than that, just lots of lovely flowers, though tangled in weeds and invasive grasses. It will be my delight to bring them out from their strangled states. Work, yes, but part of why I love it here.
Soft air, sun tempered by light clouds, mild temperatures, bird song, windows open just a little. Today is a very good day. Such a good beginning to the week.
I wish the same for all of you.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Sweetheart's birthday

Today, the 5th of May, is my Jerome's birthday. Seeing as how we couldn't arrange being together  to celebrate on the day itself, we looked for another way. Free of his evening service obligations at the synagogue on the first Friday of each month, Friday looked like an option. Knowing we had just daytime hours we devised a scheme whereby each of us would travel half the distance that separates us and meet there: Madison. 
We agreed to meet at Olbrich Gardens, a lovely garden just off Lake Monona, which we've visited often and have enjoyed watching grow over time to be the first rate garden it is today. Our routes took us to the same exit from opposite directions, and in that marvelous quirky way of the dance of life, Jerome's Jeep came into view of my rearview mirror within minutes of my exiting the highway!

This is a view from the rose tower looking toward Lake Monona. Though the roses and other summer perennials were just in bud, it was the early season plants and all the annual growth on shrubs and trees that really stole the show.

Here is a shrub I'll be looking to add to our farm garden. Have any of you grown it?
Though we've visited the Thai Pavilion  often, it wasn't until yesterday that I learned it was being delivered by air on September 11th, one of the last planes allowed to land at O'Hare in Chicago.

Olbrich Gardens is built along a waterway entrance for small boats onto Lake Monona. To add the pavilion, more land was purchase across the canal, making the entrance to the pavilion gardens accessible by bridge. In summer months this garden is augmented with enormous potted tropicals.
And as the garden has grown, there have been many water features added within the main garden.

Seeing these has encouraged me to get the farm pond cleaned up and running this summer.

Here are two views of the capital. Guess there's always more than one point of view when it comes to government. Wisconsin is in the midst of a governor recall. Coming from Illinois, a state whose last two governors are in prison, it sounds like a story I've heard before.

We also visited two smaller gardens on the UW Madison campus and an art museum with many fine pieces. This museum reminded each of us  of other college campus art museums, perfect, tidy gems. We ended our extraordinary day with a late afternoon coffee and an exchange: birthday gifts for Jerome and mail delivered to the city house for me. By just before 5 were each merging onto the Beltline in opposite direction once more.
Happy day today, sweetheart, and thank you for yesterday.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

tropics moving north??

Yesterday's high of 79 and mini thunderstorms each on the heals of the other, have made me wonder if I will have to take up hydroponics..... Nevertheless, there are blessings. This little fellow is one of many who helped sing me through the night, windows lightly open against the rain and ceiling fan silently gentling the room.

While yet another swiftly moving storm passes over the farm, I am about to sit down to one of my favorite breakfasts, French toast, prepared with a home farm egg, English muffin bread, a splash of milk and a dash of vanilla. Oh, and a side of the most extraordinary canned peaches I've ever tasted, a gift from Lovina last week for taxi service provided.

I wonder what has collected in the rain gauges this round...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

mercurial may

Whether or not my rain gauges are accurate I do not know. There are two, different shapes and in different areas of the gardens. So far each rain they agree.
On Thursday April 19 it rained steadily all day. By the next morning the rain gauges each held 5 1/2 inches. Over the bus trip weekend they collected 2 1/2 inches each. Last night several thunderstorms rolled past, something I quite enjoy from the coziness of my bed. There was hail, wind, sudden downpours. This morning...

another 2 inches, bringing the total for the last 14 days to 10.

This morning along the brick path, these cups runneth over.
Who knows how long it will be before it's dry enough for  Dave to plow the horse manure and chicken house bedding into the vegetable bed. Just two days before the first deep rain I had confirmed with him that I was indeed on his schedule.
Meanwhile it's time to transition the seedlings from under the grow lights in the basement to being out of doors. Yesterday I moved them to the mini greenhouses on the back porch. Most of them need potting up and they all need hardening off before they can be set out. Was it really two months ago I planted the first of the seeds??

Happily I'm expecting company here this month. Everyone has expressed a desire to help in the gardens. And everyone who visits will leave with some of these...