Spring has sprung

… the grass has riz. I wonder where the flowers is?

The vernal, or spring equinox, is one of two times during the year when the length of day and the length of night are almost equal.  When this happens, the egg balancers and broom standers come out of the woodwork. As folklore would have it, this position of the sun and other planets on the equinoxes means that miraculous feats of balance can occur. True? Not! But two times a year, a few die-hards always try.

The vernal equinox occurs when the sun is positioned directly over the equator of our tilted Earth – at 1:14 a.m. EST on March 20th. The equinoxes and planetary alignments really have no physical effect on earthly objects. The whole egg balancing myth may have been started to fit into the springtime fertility theme, just like chicks and ducklings and baby bunnies at Easter. Nothing says springtime like fluffy little baby animals.

For me spring is very much like hope. It always comes anew every year, and brings with it the rebirth of the land. It starts off with silent messages, like the first bud breaking  in the vineyard, and the crocuses pushing their way up from the frozen ground. Then we we start to see the return of the butterflies and seasonal songbirds whose songs we have been craving all winter. Soon the fruit trees will blossom and the bees will come out from their winter quarters to revel in the splendor.  Everything that has been brown and weary will teem with new growth and be fresh and green once again with new leaf and flower.  The brooders and grow out pens that have stood empty all winter, will once again be habitats for new life born in the coming months, and we will count them all as blessings.

Yes, I am ready for spring this year, and even though I know it will still freeze for a few more weeks, I am happy to see it announce its official return on my calendar!

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Daylight Savings Time and Ready for Spring

I have always liked the concept of daylight savings time, but when it actually comes around it always messes me up for a few days. First, I always have to remember the “spring forward, fall back” thing, to be able to remember which way to turn the clock. Then I have to fight with the VCR, microwave, clock in my dashboard and my cell phone- I am really bad with all things tech, so this is a problem for me every year. It always takes a few days for my body to adjust to the “extra” or “missing” hour-but I never did understand why they say we gain or lose an hour, when there are still 24 hours in a day. We did not “gain” an hour in our lives-if that really happened we could just give ourselves more hours in time and at some point I think it would cause some time warp in the universe. I guess it is just something that the government cooked up so we would not have to drive to work in the dark in the winter months when the days are shorter. Anyway, to me it just feels like jet lag, but without getting to go on vacation. I do like getting home and being able to get a couple of things done in the goat yard before it gets dark though.

I am ready for spring. We have had over 2 1/2 months of freezing temps every night and no rain (and remember, we get to complain because this is Southern California.) Everything has been brown and crunchy for a long time. I am starting to see little signs that spring is trying to peek out in a few places, hoping that the freeze is over. The last frost date for our area is April 9th – so we may still get hit with some low temps again, but it has been 38 degrees and above for the last 4 mornings in a row. So this gives me hope that the worst is already over. The plum tree has put out a timid row of blossoms and the mulberry tree has broken bud. I planted out some artichokes that we started in the greenhouse a few months back, and put down very heavy layers of mulch to protect them. I also put some rose clones into the ground that had been hardening off outside near the house, and have moved more from the greenhouse to the front garden to get them used to the outside temps. I have tomato starts that I am chomping at the bit to plant out but I know full well I will have to drag out the Wall-O-Waters and keep a close eye on them if I do.

I have been eying the boxes of seed packets on the kitchen shelves that I have earmarked for this planting season but I don’t want to jump the gun. I will not let myself be seduced by their glossy photos and promises of days to harvest. I know the ground is still too inhospitable to plant warm weather veggies, no matter how tempting it becomes. It will only end in heartbreak otherwise.

We are on the dark side of the moon cycle this week, so I will spend this week battling weeds, pruning the last of the frostbitten canes and branches and putting up bean poles and trellises.

The incubator is now full of eggs that are set to hatch the week before Easter and the fertility is up in all of the breeding pens now. I got the first turkey egg of the season yesterday so I am sure the other game birds will follow along soon. I have been keeping an eye on the nursery pen, and have my birthing kit cleaned up and organized, and a stack of clean towels at the ready.

Spring is always a crazy time on the farm, but I am ready!

February 29th – What?!

An extra day this year – how nice! The earth turns roughtly 365 and a quarter times on its axis by the time it completes a full orbit around the sun.

This means that once every four years our manmade calendar has to catch up. 2012 is a leap year. It contains one extra day, February 29th,  for a total of 366 days this solar year. People born on February 29th, or leap day, are called “leaplings” and also “leapers.” Although some leapers feel ripped off by having 75 percent fewer birthdays than the rest of us, on the up side they are also able to celebrate their birthdays a full day earlier than the rest of us if they want to.

In the days of old, it was thought to throw nature off if you fooled with the calendar. For example: it use to be said that peas and beans planted during a leap year would grow the wrong way and that sheep would have a poor lambing season.

One tradition that goes back about 400 years (and I think was something started by the Scots) says that leap year gives women the privilege of proposing marriage to men, instead of the other way around. The tradition states that if a woman proposes marriage to a man during leap year, and he refuses, he then owes her a silk gown and a kiss (provided she was wearing a red petticoat under her skirt when she asked him.) I am not really sure what the significance of the red petticoat is, but this goes back hundereds of years.

Folklore aside, we have an extra day this year, and since it does only come once every four years, I think we should make a point of it. Enjoy the extra day this year everyone – and to all the leaplings out there – Happy Birthday!

Quinn’s Twins!

Buckling #1

Buckling #2

Winter working and waiting

This was yet another busy winter clean-up weekend on the farm. Some very important things on the list got tended to- like cutting down the tree branches that were touching the roof so the insurance company would stop having a fit-and then some other less important work like pruning back more of the roses in the front garden. It was the perfect day for it. It was not too hot and the ground was still damp from last week’s rain, which made weeds with long taproots very easy to pull up. I love when I am able to get in “work mode” and really enjoy the pace of the day’s activities. Although I know we are still technically in the throes of winter – the night temperatures still drop below freezing and the days are still very short – but the gardening bug has bitten us early this year and we have a lovely raised bed of cole crops, garlic and onions planted now. We managed to plant a lettuce box as well. This will be a good distraction so we won’t be too hasty and try to plant warm season veggies too early. This year the greenhouse is full to the brim with lettuce and other bright green leafy things that can stand the low temps. It makes my heart feel full every time I open the door and step inside and see the benches covered with green, a real contrast from just outside its walls where the rest of the farm is still mostly brown and crunchy. There are also quite a few rose clones from fall growing out in a bright corner, and a few water baths with hopeful cuttings creeping along in the cold…..waiting.

The roses that were pruned back were in the “pink garden” next to the front of the house. They are mostly hybrid tea roses used for cutting and bringing into the house. This garden had been in a lot of shade until we cut down the big pine tree in front last winter, and now it gets a lot more hours of direct sun. The plants were scraggly and leggy from having to reach for the sun and it has taken the past few pruning seasons to try to get them back into shape. Some still look like they will take another couple of hard prunings before they will be just right. Right now they look like nothing but thorny brown sticks poking up out of the heavy layer of mulch around their feet…..waiting.

There are two does in the nursery pen this week, Quinn and Bunny. Quinn is dilating and has started to bag up so we keep a close eye on her these days. I am not sure about Bunny, I think she may fool us for a while still. This is Quinn’s first birth, so I am really not sure what to expect from her, but her mother never had a problem getting her kids on the ground, so we hope Quinn follows suit. The goat shed is clean and lined with fresh straw, the lights have been strung across the yard and set up in the pen, and I will make sure there is a stack of clean towels stacked and ready to go- but for now we just watch for signs and bide our time…..waiting.

Even though there are a few warm days here and there, winter still has a firm grip on the farm. There are only a handful of eggs each day and only the odd chick that hatches in the one incubator that we run through the winter months. We have eaten the last of the squash that was in storage, and feast sparingly on the jams and foods preserved from last summer’s harvest. We will be in full swing again before we know it, and looking for a chance to sit down all too soon, but for now we spend a lot of our time just waiting.

Winter’s “Tween” Week

December 21st  brought us once again to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The good news is, from here on out the days will slowly start to get longer once again. This is that in-between week when we start to put away Christmas and look ahead to the new year. Christmas cards have stopped coming but the good news is now the spring seed catalogs are starting to fill the mailbox! All the beautiful winter scenes – snowmen, stockings hung by crackling fireplaces  – are now being replaced by glossy pages of colorful spring flowers and plump, ripe fruits and vegetables. Stirring our hearts and minds into that euphoric state of happiness that helps us cope with the now freezing tempetures outside. The nights have been well under 30 degrees for at least the last 2 ½  weeks now (and yes, I do get to complain because this is Southern California).

During the morning feeding I get to go crunching across the frozen grass and push my way through stiff cold gate hinges to be met by frozen hoses as I fill mangers and de-ice water buckets.  The tribe of goats stay tucked down in the thick straw inside the barn and they don’t even budge when I fill the feeders with fresh hay. Nikki (the LDG) is usually somewhere in the middle of the pile of goats, all keeping each other warm, and only just barely lifts her head and opens one eye when I peek in on the group. They all know their breakfast will be waiting for them when they decide to leave their warm nest and venture out into the morning. For now, they will sleep in until the sun crests the mountain and the day warms up a bit more. To be honest, I can get these jobs done a bit faster when the animals are not all underfoot, but I miss the sounds of them pushing and calling for their morning meals.

As I look across the gardens and raised beds most everything is brown and crunchy and weary from the cold. Most of the dead plant matieral has been pulled up and tossed into the compost piles. The pomegranate trees were pruned back hard in the last few weeks and the piles of leaves and clippings have been burned as kindling in the fireplace. This week we worked on pruning back the roses and berry canes. I cleaned out the barn and treated all of the animals for lice since they are all sleeping together in closer quarters now. We took advantage of some of our time off to trim the spurs on all of the roosters and everyone in the barnyard received a pedicure this month (I have the blisters to prove it!) This coming week I plan to clean out the nursery pen and get it fixed up for the first babies of 2012 (due the end of January). There are currently three does in the breeding pens, and four more will go in late Febuary or early March for summer babies. This morning I dragged the plastic boxes from the garage back into the house and started to pack up the Christmas ornaments. Tonight I will try to finish this job, and then start to toss out the leftovers that have been pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. I will eat the last of the christmas baked goods as I reflect on this season. Christmas is over, and the year is almost done. I am right in-between tired and happy this week. Not a bad place to be if you stop and think about it.

Helping Hands

I have come to discover that all work on this farm falls into one of two categories- a “job” or a  “project”.  A job usually needs to be completed in a shorter time frame, and a project can sometimes be left open-ended for a time. Both can mean a lot of hard work, and sometimes we put these things off for as long as we can before starting, knowing the work ahead of us. But just like in the song from Mary Poppins, if we try to have some fun while doing it, or at least make it interesting, it can go by a lot quicker and not seem as taxing on our minds and bodies. Also, more hands always make the work load lighter, so if you can get others to help out, it does make a big difference.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was a “work day” on the farm that started very early for us. After the morning’s first cups of coffee, it was time to finish the project of getting the large Joseph’s Coat rose, that has been overgrown and pulling his arbor down for the last 2 years, under control. I had already spent the better part of three or four hours (on and off) cutting back the overgrowth and bagging up the canes with their abundant sharp spines. Not an easy or fun task to say the least. Anyone who has ever tackled this particular species of rose knows exactly what I am talking about. He is a wicked spiny beast that is hard to tame – even the leaves have spines!

Now it was time to get down to shaping the main part of the bush, and getting the arbor back in an upright position. Since this was way too big a job for just myself, I enlisted the help of my friend Matt Boeck from Rancho Organica in Santa Barbara. He has much more knowledge then I do when it comes to pruning back canes. So, armed with long handled loppers and pruners in hand, we marched together into the battle against this massive errant rose. It took us a solid 45 minutes of clipping, lopping, and pulling, all the while being pricked, poked, scratched, and snagging our clothes before we were able to finally get this beastly climber under our control. Then we had to reposition the huge rebar arbor and tie the remaining canes to it. At last we were able to step back, tired and bloodied from the struggle, to admire our handiwork. A long hard project finished at last! In no time Joseph will make his comeback in a controlled way, and he will be much easier to deal with and tame in the coming years. Thank you Matt!

Next, it was time for processing the Christmas turkey and a few meat birds to go into the freezer. If you are vegan or a PETA person, please skip this part of the story and read below about the goats. This bird was scheduled to be done the week before Thanksgiving, but was given a stay of execution because we got rained out that day.  Our friend Katie from Zack Family Farm came over for this job, and Christy also joined in, and we spent the next couple of hours having what we affectionately call one of our “chicken pickin’ parties.” Again, the more hands, the easier and faster the job goes, and before we knew it, this job too was completed.

Then Dr. Rose (who happens to be our dentist) stopped by for a long overdue visit, and we gave her a full tour of the farm and all the animals. After that pleasant break, it was time for the last job of the day that we had been putting off for a week – time to worm. delouse, and trim the hoofs of all the goats who are out in the field (13). Christy graciously volunteered to help me with this. We moved the milk stand in front of the empty nursery pen and then brought out all of the tools and treatments necessary for this procedure. The goats were all bribed into the small pen with a bucket full of sweet grain and locked in. It is an old trick but they fall for it every time. Each goat is then brought out in turn, and either held on a lap, depending on how cooperative they are, or placed on the milk stand with their heads in the sanction while we treat them.  Most of the younger goats don’t mind these ministrations, but some of the older does do not like having their feet worked on, and in fact will fight against it. But in the end everyone gets treated and nothing is really hurt but the pride.  We also take this time to check eyes and noses, feel to see if everyone is in good weight under their heavy winter coats, adjust collars, and try to see if we can feel movement of the babies with any of the pregnant does. We were blessed to discover that all are in good health this winter.  After all the catching, dragging, hoisting, holding, inspecting, clipping and treating, it was the day’s end and we were beat. 13 goats times 4 feet each makes for 52 little hoofs to trim, so there is inevitably a blister or two by the end! As we walked wearily from the field and close the gate behind us, we are very tired, yet at the same time there is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that we completed this job. It needed to be done and we did it. As I dragged myself to my final reward – a nice hot shower to wash away the day’s dirt and grime – I felt good about the jobs and projects completed this day. I am thankful for all who joined in, their helping hands made these things easier and their company made the time go faster.  Thank you, one and all!