Monday, January 31, 2011

Give and take

The last three days the weather moderated with temperatures in the twenties and varying amounts of sunshine.  Even though we still have more than a foot of snow on the ground, I snatched up the opportunity for some long walks in the woods.  2 1/2 hours on Saturday with the three dogs, 5 hours on Sunday by myself and 3 1/2 hours today with the dogs.  My legs feel like Jello, but my mind and spirit have definitely been rejuvenated. 

You have to look carefully at the picture to see this.  I came across this "track" in the snow.  These parallel lines in the snow looked like someone had taken a giant comb and raked the top of the snow.  The marks continued on the top of the snow 6 to 8 feet in length and then ended in a set of tracks.   My first thought was impressions in the snow made by a bird's wing as I have seen wing prints in the snow many times.  But this was too long and too straight to be made with a wing. With the snow being so deep, I have to admit that it took me a minute or two to read the story that the land was telling me.  Those tracks were turkey tracks.  The parallel lines in the snow were made by the turkey's tail is it flew over to the edge of the woods and landed in the snow.  I followed the turkey tracks as the turkey walked into the woods for a little ways.  A cool finding to be sure.  I've seen wild turkeys out and about twice in the last two days.  Molly, the brittany, came across a carcass of a turkey that had died and was buried in the snow.  I had to put the remains in a tree so she wouldn't lay there and chew on it.  It was mostly eaten and mostly gone so I have no idea if it was left over from a coyote or dog attack or if it just died natural.  As I was putting the parts in a tree, I was reminded as a story that appeared in the newspaper back when I was in college.  Someone was walking in the woods and found several rabbit skins and rabbit parts hanging in a tree.  They reported the finding to local authorities and the story was that Satan worshippers had a ceremony and the rabbits were hung and offered as a sacrifice.  Fortunately calmer heads prevailed and it was determined that the rabbit hides and intestines had been placed there by rabbit hunters.  This is something that is commonly done after field dressing the rabbit so that the hunter's dogs don't get into all the left over parts and eat them.  The Satan worshipper story sure was a lot more fun.

Toward the end of today's walk, I decided to cut across the middle of the field right through the garden area.  As I got closer, I could see a huge patch of bright red in the snow.  Hmmmmmm? I thought perhaps an animal had provide a meal for something else so I walked on over.  It was a watermelon.  As I looked down the row where the watermelons had grown, there was melon after melon after melon that had been dug up and eaten by the deer.  It was a regular watermelon slaughter.  I smiled thinking about even in the depth of winter, the garden is still providing.

About 15 minutes before sunset tonight, I took the dogs past a brushy spot in the corner of the pasture.  We had been out almost three hours and technically had been rabbit hunting, but the deep snow makes the rabbits want to stay deep in their holes during the day.  But quite often, the dogs can get a rabbit up and running in this spot by the pasture and they did.  They circled the rabbit perfectly and I was able to take a shot and bring home a rabbit for supper.  The picture with the young beagle Buddy was taken after we got back to the house and it was starting to get dark hence the flash.  I think the rabbit dressed out quite nicely and will make a good meal for Mike and I.

Living on a farm, one becomes intimately aware of the give and take that is necessary for life.  And I am not just talking about us humans.  The plants soak up nutrients from the soil.  The animals eat the plants.  Some animals like the turkey that I found in the woods died so that something else could live.  We take care of the land.  The land gives back to us.  The deer, turkey and rabbits have been eating the leftovers from the garden.  We provide them with food and they in turn are food for us.  We are all connected.  Give and take. That is how it has been since the beginning of life on this planet.  I am blessed to be living life in the front row.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cold snap, cabin fever and chocolate cake

The entire upper Midwest and eastern US is in the midst of some of the coldest temperatures so far this winter.  It dipped below zero the night before last for the first time this winter.  This morning when I went outside to feed the laying hens and barn cats, the temperature was a balmy 6 degrees.  But the cold didn't seem so cold as I was also greeted by a beautiful sunrise.  A colorful sunrise in the winter in northeastern Ohio is something very precious.  Something of which to take notice.  I can't remember the exact number, but we average somewhere around 2 or 3 clear days per month in the winter.  That is because Lake Erie provides us with a shield of clouds most of the time.  So when I walked outside this morning and saw clear sky and dawn breaking in the eastern sky, well, it made me smile.

I have been itching to get out and walk the farm for the past couple of days, but for some reason I have not been able to motivate myself to leave the house.  Cabin fever is beginning to set in.  Even with single digit temperatures outside, I am usually game for a walk in the woods.  Since my brain couldn't make my body go for a morning walk outside, I did the next best thing.  I baked a cake.  It was one of those chocolate dump cakes where you take a box cake mix and add pudding mix and sour cream and chocolate chips and eggs and oil and I even added some Kahlua.  We were given a jar of cherry butter as a Christmas gift this year so I divided the layers into layers and used the cherry butter in between the cake layers then frosted the whole thing.  It looked so pretty that I got out my fancy pedestal cake plate.  Even farmers need a little fancy in their lives from time to time.  When I came out into the kitchen later, there was a piece of cardboard taped to the domed lid which reads ............

The man does make me smile.

Perhaps I was feeling a little guilty about the cake because I finally got myself and the dogs out the door for a walk.  Here's Molly on one of our paths through our woods.   Molly (the Brittany) and the two beagles and I spent a wonderful 2 hours outside.  The temperature was around 9 degrees but with very little wind and proper clothing, the walk was quite comfortable.  The dogs seem to have so much fun romping in the snow. 

On the opposite end of the day, the sunset was as beautiful as the sunrise was this morning.  I gathered up the dogs and we headed home.  A warm house was waiting for all of us and for the humans, some chocolate cake too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

106.5 inches (of snow) and counting

"106.5 INCHES and counting".  That was this morning's headline in our county newspaper The Star Beacon.  The article talked about how much snow has fallen so far this season in Pierpont Township which is about 6 miles east of us as the crow flies.  Pierpont has the highest land elevation in the county so it has the honor of having the most lake effect snow dumped on it each winter.  The article states that the last 10 winters, Pierpont has averaged 159 inches of snow for the season.  The article also mentions Dorset Township as having 120 inches of snow or more in 4 of the last 5 years.  Our farm is located in between Pierpont and Dorset Townships so I would guess we are somewhere in between in snowfall.  The nice thing about late winter is that when the water of Lake Erie freezes, the lake effect snow machine shuts off.  Well mostly.  We always seem to get a little push from Lake Huron, but less of the big snowfalls that we get in early winter.  Of course then the lake melts in the spring and we've had a few 20+ inch snowfalls in March and April.

Not too much outside farming is going on right now as you can imagine.  I did manage to get all three dogs out for a 90 minute walk in the woods yesterday and then took the beagles for a 4 hour walk in the woods today.  The snow does slow them down some, but they seem quite happy burying their heads in the snow to try and sniff out a bunny.  On the other hand, while the snow is very VERY pretty to look at, I could use a little less of it on the ground.  My legs are toast from walking in the deep snow especially since at the midway point today I had to chase down the beagles that decided a deer was more fun to chase then a bunny.  1/2 mile later I caught up with them.  They really need to stop the deer chasing, but I have never been in a good position to correct them when it first happens.  I guess the upside is that we all got some good exercise.

And so as our woods sits under a blanket of white, Mike and Mick are busy getting ready for their week.  The Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association Congress runs tomorrow through Wednesday in Sandusky, Ohio.  Mike and Mick have been asked to speak about their Community Supported Agriculture program.  So today they are busy putting the final touches on their presentation.  They gave me quite a laugh though today.  The outline for the presentation is on our computer and the guys are over at Mick's house working.  I get this phone call asking me to increase the font size of the outline and email it over to Mick's so Mick can read the outline without his glasses.  The request?  Can you increase the font to 30 or 32?  REALLY?  I increased it to 18.  The word was it could have been a little bigger, but it was workable.  Good fodder for teasing Mick about his old eyes though.  As someone who is the brunt of many of the guys' jokes, a gal can use all the ammunition she can get.  *grin*

Winter is also a good time to heat up the kitchen.  After my escapade to the woods with the beagles, I fired up the oven and made a loaf of whole wheat banana nut bread to eat for breakfast this week.  I substituted some of the oil with ground flax seed this time around.  Will see how that turns out.  I also made a loaf of multi-grain sandwich bread.  I so wish I had the time to make homemade bread more often because there is nothing that beats a fresh loaf of homemade bread.  I use the four grain bread recipe on as a base, but I do cut back on the sugar, leave out the corn meal and add 7 grain cereal.  But it is a great base recipe that you can customize very easily.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winter Break

Winter break continues on the farm.  While many take their vacations in the summer, we take our vacation in the winter.  This year was a tour through the southeast.  We started in Nashville for a couple days which included a Zac Brown Band concert and a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Then on to Atlanta (picture) for a big New Year's Eve party with the Zac Brown Band.   It's been a LONG time since we have actually gone out on New Year's Eve.  The 5 hour concert was definitely a fun way to ring in the New Year. Plus we enjoyed Atlanta's sun and 65 degree weather. Then we moved on to North Carolina to visit Mike's sister and brother-in-law and ended up in Marietta, Ohio at Mike's parents' farm.  Most of our travel was leisurely.  We saw some areas of the country we had not seen before.  We chose to travel state routes instead of interstates when time permitted.  We saw the cotton fields of North Carolina and the horse farms of Virginia.  All together we were gone 8 days.

When we left Ohio, the ground was covered by more than a foot of snow.  Based on eyewitness reports, we were told that the warm weather melted almost all the snow last week and you could actually see the grass.  But in true northeast Ohio form, the snow started back up Tuesday night so that by the time we arrived home on Wednesday, the grass was covered.  With more snow coming, I guess we won't be seeing the grass again for awhile.

Farm plans for the coming year continue.  Mike has been making plans for crops that can be stored through the winter.  This would allow him to be able to sell at the winter markets as well as the summer/fall markets.  While in Marietta, Mike and his mom made sure she had enough cell packs to start Mike's plants.  Mike's mom has a greenhouse and starts some of the plants that are grown on our farm.  When we got home, the first box of seeds that Mike had ordered was waiting on the front porch.  The slow days of winter continues.