Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Clothes

Sorry readers, for the weird transition to italic in the previous post. I don't know how I did it, or how to remedy it, and frankly, Scarlet, well, you know the rest!!!

Dust blew away and now spring is in full force. The fig trees are unfolding tender green leaves, Cottonwoods are looking as fresh as a brand new chiffon easter dress. Red buds are shedding their extravagant pink dresses to don something more casual and practical: green leaves.

Our baby chickens are no longer babies. The broilers are looking more like dinner every day! They and the pullets enjoy my garden and yard offerings and seem quite happy in their little world. A friend of mine told me she found a source of non GMO, all natural, organic feed out of a mill in Central Texas. She is making the journey to purchase for her flock and for our and anyone else who wishes to feed their poultry real food. What a joy. Makes me remember fondly the drive up to Stuart's Draft to buy feed from Sunrise Farm. The guys were always friendly, it was a true family operation, and I felt thankful and happy about the food we gave our livestock. I am thankful that my friend found a source we could be proud to use.

It is making me a bit nervous thinking about butcher day. We had worked out a pretty good system on the farm. It was a true community effort. We don't have a whizbang chicken plucker here. We don't have a full crew of friends who are happy to bring their chickens and get to work eviscerating. To sum it up, everything is different now, and can you believe I am still trying to figure out a new normal? I will keep you posted.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014


The skies are pale gray. Taupe colored.

The mountains ringing our little town are shrouded. A fuzzy silhouette with smudgy edges.

I have a catch in my throat and my eyes are gritty.

A newscast shared that drought in eastern Colorado and western Kansas was causing dust storms that went down the Texas panhandle, through eastern New Mexico and down to our part of west Texas.

I wonder if there are fields being plowed right now by large production farms in that part of the world?

Not too long ago we had a similar dust storm. The dirt in the sky was red. Coincidentally (?) the timing was right about when the fields were plowed up in and around the Texas panhandle.

Every time I get a mouthful and eyeball full of dirt suspended in our air, I am reminded of a little book I read while researching sustainable farming. <i>Plowman's Folly written by Edward Faulkner and published in 1943.

His book was revolutionary, and you can imagine that people who lived through the dust bowl might have been paying attention to his "revolutionary" ideas regarding soil husbandry. I remember that as I read that book, I was astounded by how pertinent, how relevant the material was, and how I wished we could see those ideas implemented more here in the US. I thought about that book a couple of springs ago when we drove through Lamesa and saw acres and acres of bare, red soil, plowed and ready to be sown in monocrops of cotton.

Thankfully, many people have woken up, and realize that we cannot keep on sucking things out of our soil, in return for a handful of isolated nutrients. We cannot keep on plowing up the land, watching it blow away and land on my windowsills, my glasses, my car. The other day my parents told me about their friend who has wheat farms up in Kansas. He doesn't use a regular plow. He tends his fields, using equipment he invented, working to save his topsoil.

It isn't all bad. There are others like my parents' friend. There are government initiatives, working to educate farmers to help improve their soil, not watch it all blow away. There are more and more farmers going small, since going small might be the only way they can survive. Heck, going small might just be the only way our earth is going to survive.

Hmm. I can smell the roasted turnips from our SMALL garden roasting away. I can hear the SMALL flock of birds growing by the minute, out in our little greenhouse. And I have big ideas that nibble around the edge of my brain, and small amounts of sit down time to fully think them through. But maybe if I sketch out some of those thoughts, I can come back to them later.

Maybe I will watch the Ken Burn's documentary on the Dust Bowl tonight. And hope that our little baby steps will amount to something. And pray one of the wonderful prayers in our Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

By the way...

You know those chicks I just mentioned? The ones who will be five weeks old tomorrow?

One of the pullets is not.

A pullet that is.

I heard a warbling little preadolescent crow this morning.

Do I smell chicken and dumplings?

Little Miss Sunshine

Almost everyday I go out to the garden to harvest chicken food. They love the armfuls of tender green grass, chickweed, dandelions and other verdant weeds.

This morning I saw the first dandelion bloom! Spring must be here for certain.

I hope.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lady Bug, Lady Bug

Yesterday afternoon my priest came by for a visit. I was finishing up a project so she went out into the sunny backyard to wait. I found her crouched in the garden, speaking to a brilliantly garnet ladybug, making her (his?) way around the flowering bok choy. What a treat! The first sighting this spring.

Honeybees buzzed and hummed around the sweet yellow flowers of the bok choy and the perfectly formed white blossoms on the arugula trying to go to seed.

Heartfelt conversation, warmed by afternoon sun and pollinators.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Chicken Little

On February 6th I got a call from the post office.

7:45 in the morning, and I was several hours into a busy bakery day.

It was one of those crazy little cold snaps we get, the 80 degree temperatures dipped down into the teens and the trees were glazed with a frozen fog.

Poor little chickens. The loud peeping from the back of the post office sounded frantic, but the little things warmed up just fine once I got them situated into their new home, a large box by the kitchen, toasted by a glowing red heat lamp.

Isn't it funny how some things feel just like home?

The baking did manage to get done, but barely, as we were all quite distracted by our new charges, 14 birds designated for meat, and 10 for laying hens. The fluffy little balls of cheepy looked like supper to our housecats, but you will be pleased to know that they are all still alive, unfortunately the cats have been made aware that this was not a present for them.

Three weeks later, the cute little fluff balls are now gangling teenagers, not nearly so cute, and are temporarily living in the greenhouse until the nights are consistently warm.

Raising chickens makes me happy. When I weed the garden, every bit of the tender grass and dandelion plants go straight to the flock. When we have dried out bits of bread, I soak it in Sally's cows milk, then give it to the chicks with a bit of blackstrap molasses. Seems like our property's productivity has increased exponentially! We plan to butcher the meat chickens in another five weeks or so. We don't have lots of grass in the yard. I have decided that we cannot afford to raise a grass yard here in the desert. Actually, I think most people in deserts can't afford the long term costs of keeping grass green in the desert. But that is another topic! Nevertheless, grass does seem to grow well in my garden in the sections I don't mulch deeply, and it makes great organic chicken feed.

The chickens are already producing lots of fertilizer that will make its way into our food production. We will age the manure and then use it to feed the fig trees, the pecans and our veggie garden.

So, no more Full Circle Farm for us out in the Catawba Valley of Virginia, but it does seem quite right and good to see the principles finding their way into our chihuahan high desert life here in Alpine. The garden feeds us and the chickens. The chickens feed the gardens. Cool. Doesn't take much to make me happy!

And by the way, thanks for keeping in touch and for continuing to read my sporadic posts. I have much to say, but sometimes it is hard to get the juices flowing. So here I am, trying to discipline myself to get back to writing. Afraid to put myself out there. Maybe if I can "just do it" I can find my words again...

Springtime in Texas

Last week we were working outside in shortsleeves. I walked home from church without a jacket.

This morning the temperatures were in the low 20's and for a minute I wanted to slide downward into a depressive funk, crawling under my quilts for another few weeks.

Then I remembered that we will be back to the 6o's and 70's tomorrow and the rest of the week. So while my toes and fingers begin to thaw in the warm bakery, the smell of a yummy lentil and quinoa stew makes me think surely I can survive one freezing cold day this week without falling totally apart. The sun is shining, the laundry will dry on the line, and a warm stew bubbling in the crockpot will taste might fine tonight.

Here's the recipe, hope you like!

a bit of olive oil or coconut oil
1 onion, chopped finely
5 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 knob of ginger, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 butternut squash, seeded, peeled, cubed
1 whole jalapeno
3 small, colorful sweet peppers that were shriveling up in the back of the fridge, chopped up, should be fine
2 cups dry lentils
1 cup red quinoa
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 or 2 tsp cumin powder
1 or 2 heaping teaspoon sweet curry powder
1 or 2 tsp balti curry powder
1 or 2 tsp garmam masala

salt and pepper to taste
water to cover everything

one bunch cilantro
one bunch fresh greens, whatever you have, I will pick arugula, kale, bok choy, swiss chard and spinach out of the garden.

I rarely use a crock pot, but am waiting for the plumber to get here to put in a gas line for a new stove in the kitchen (Yay!!!). In the meantime, the crock pot has been a helpful tool. It is ok to dump all your ingredients, minus the green, into the pot, turn it on. However, I like the way flavors develop if you cook the fresh veggies a bit first (minus the greens). I turned the pot on high, poured in a little glug of olive oil, and then placed the onions in to begin cooking while I chopped everything else. It took awhile for the pot to heat, but eventually, as I worked on some paperwork, paid a couple bills, mixed up some homemade chicken food, washed some clothes and made a list, the onions were transparent and the squash was beginning to caramelize. I then added the lentils and quinoa, the spices and enough water to generously cover the whole thing, put the lid on, and walked away. I use a variety of curry powders from Penzeys. They are so flavorful, and each has a slightly different nuance. But when I don't have those spices, a basic curry powder from the grocery store works as well.

Since I am working here at home, I will keep an eye on the pot, and if need be, will add a bit more water as the day progresses. When the lentils and quinoa are tender, I will add the chopped cilantro and the greens and let them cook for a half hour or so. If I use turnip greens, I will put them in a bit earlier and give them a chance to become nice and tender.

My house already smells warm and cozy, and that makes it a lot more fun to deal with a little cold snap.