October 2012 Archives

It starts.

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Hey, folks! Well, it's beginning. We're hunkered down for Sandy but we're already seeing telltale signs of how serious this storm may end up being for everyone in the region.

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Stevie is bedded down in the chicken coop. Everyone with a triple serving of food and water. Peach is bedded with the goats, same story. Rabbits are on their own in the rabbitry. I'm particularly concerned for the farm critters, but we've done all we can to prepare, and now we have to wait.

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It looks like the worst we can expect are some downed trees and flooding in the lowermost parts of the property, along the river. We're already seeing some flooding in the orchard, and the dock is already submerged. Let's hope those shiny new outbuildings can take a bit of a beating.

Keep us in your thoughts! Hope all of our friends out there are safe and cozy!

<3
Meg

A tour of our new chicken coop!

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Sickness sweeping through.

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It's that time of year again, everybody. The temperature drops at night, the days are damp and before you know it your head feels like it's full of glue and you're laid up with the cold. It's been going around here at the farm. We're not sure where it originated from but it's here. Some of us have been able to kick those nasty germs easier than others. Of course, I'm getting the worst of it. I assume because of all of the stress and troubles the past few weeks. My immunity is weakened.

Taking the time to rest is a difficult thing to do when there are about 100 animals in need of your attention throughout the day. Tasks like hauling 5 gallon buckets of water and flakes of hay to the rabbits and goats, filling up chicken feeders and waterers, walking the property with the dogs, milking the goat...all the bare minimum of what needs to be done daily keep you from getting the rest required for a more speedy recovery. I'm sitting on the couch with a box of tissues and a mason jar of hot elderberry tea post-chores in the hopes that tomorrow I'll feel well enough to spend time prepping for Homesteading Bootcamp and training Peach to be a goat dog.

In order to do that, I've got a regiment that I follow to get back on track. It is as follows:

-Drink copious amounts of hot fresh ginger tea with homemade propolis tincture

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- Eat a clove of garlic twice a day!

- Rest as often as possible. Ask for help with chores if needed.

- Drape a hot towel with peppermint Dr. Bronner's over my face as needed to alleviate congestion.

- Watch Lonesome Dove in sweatpants.

Let's see how I feel tomorrow. Wish me well!

Not quite complete, but so close! Got any wood panels for siding you want to donate? Email me!

Rabbits are a polarizing sort of livestock. People see them as either cuddly pets or farm animals, more often the former. We've had folks visit us, either when we were in Brooklyn or here at the farm. We're asked what the rabbits are for, half of our visitors giving a look as if to say, "Please don't tell me you are going to eat them." This interpretation could just be my own insecurity talking. I've only been raising meat for our household sporadically and for a short time so I still have that lingering guilt that often comes from years of eating poorly handled mystery meat and being out of touch with where food starts.

girls.jpeg (This is what happens when you leave a cage open in the company of rabbits. Cuddle time.)

The response I give is an honest one. We use the rabbits for manure (rabbit poo is magical stuff) but also for meat, home consumption only. As omnivores, our goal is to raise meat that we feel proud to eat, from animals that are able to live a life free of stress, contaminants and confinement. I do not think eating meat is something anyone should apologize for. It is as natural to many animals (humans included) as breathing, but I think allowing unpleasant conditions for any creature, whether you intend to eat them or not, is just wrong. As stewards, we should aspire to create the best conditions for the lives we are responsible for. When my animals are happy, I am happy. As it should be.

With that in mind, I chose to manage the farm rabbitry differently than in the past. I did the best I could to raise my rabbits the conventional way, in wire cages, but it always just felt wrong to me. I'd give them the best feed, clean their cages often, let them out for exercise supervised. I still found myself making excuses for why it was the best I could do. In cages, rabbits instinct to burrow and run and socialize with one another is suppressed. After you see rabbits out and about, it becomes obvious that those behaviors are pretty much all they do! So, completely denying my rabbits the chance to express themselves in their own way became something I no longer felt willing to do. For the sake of my conscience, and for my rabbits well-being, I needed to try something different.

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So, we built our rabbitry to function in two stages. The interior of the house is divided in two, one side for does (4) and one for bucks (2). We want to be selective and controlled with breeding while still allowing the rabbits to play and cuddle. It would take no time at all for the colony to reproduce to the point of diminishing their own quality of life.

Each room is open, bedded thickly with pine shavings and straw. There is a chicken wire divider allowing the bucks and does to socialize, each with communal feeders and waterers. This makes daily chores much easier and less time consuming. Once every few weeks I'll need to muck out the old hay, put down a new layer of bedding and roll the soiled stuff to the compost, or to mulch resting garden beds. Pretty easy, if you ask me.

Right now we have a couple cages in either side, bedded with hay with doors pinned open for added vertical space for them to occupy. The rabbits occasionally go in to sprawl out alone, but are able to leave when they want. We're debating on whether or not to just remove them completely and build four separate burrows for the gals (same for the bucks) and just keep the cages for transportation. We've got extra straw bales around that could make really cozy places to curl up, so I'm considering that as an option. When they kindle sometime this winter, the goal is to have the same sort of treatment extended to their offspring, especially if they end up on our dinner plate.

So far, the rabbits seem to really be enjoying the extra space and social time. There haven't been any fights, as I've been warned could happen but I'm keeping an eye out for it just in case. I'll have to keep close tabs on the overall health of the flock (I noticed yesterday a touch of ear mite infestation, which will have to be managed closely) because any illness can spread more quickly with this sort of set-up. When I consider how little time feeding, watering and bedding takes each day, the time spent doing health checks isn't a bother at all. It would need to be done, regardless but now I'll have time to be more thorough about it. Always a good thing.

The second stage of the rabbitry will come into play in the spring. We're building movable tractors in the Salatin/ Polyface-style which will be wheeled from pasture to pasture to allow the rabbits to graze freely, while being protected from the abundance of predators we've got around here. We'll update as this part of the farm develops. It's bound to be interesting.

Farm Building Progress!

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It's hard to believe it, but this farm is nearly built! An amazing team of people have amassed to see this thing done. It hasn't gone according to plan, but plans are overrated. We've got some motivated, dedicated, smart folks here at Seven Arrows. Without them, the farm could have been dead in the water....because frankly, I know precisely squat about building and power tools. Me with a chop saw and some measuring tape could have been a disaster without knowledgeable folks here to pick up the slack. Like Mae, Lucas...and my dear friend Ryan, who I will write about this weekend. He's like an angel in a tool belt that descended upon this farm. Truly. Without him here, we'd be in a bit of a predicament.

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In the three or so months we've been here, so much has happened. We expanded our flock of chickens to about 60 (we lost a few to weakness, hawks and a bout of coccidiosis along the way), started raising ducks, got three Nubian/Alpine dairy goats, started the very challenging and sometimes frustrating task of training Maremmas on a 20-acre yoga retreat. We've even planted a kitchen garden and sold some veg to a couple local cafes just to get our foot in the door for next season.

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Most importantly, we have planned and nearly completed construction on three outbuildings: A large coop, a goat house and a rabbitry. I was worried about their completion before the cold weather arrived but it's done, they are livable! All we need to do is make them look pretty.

The next critical task will be to turn over the sod in the field, add compost and manure, smother weeds with jute sacks and plant a couple of beds of garlic before the killing frost sweeps through. That sod needs to be toast by March, when we plant the first of our early spring crops. We've got some veg planted in low tunnels currently and our rolls of agribon are at the ready so we can enjoy cold hardy crops like arugula, mache, turnips, carrots, kale and tatsoi from the garden for long into the fall, perhaps even into winter. I'm doing what I can to keep the food rolling in for as long as possible this year. Eliot Coleman's books are getting a lot of wear this fall.

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Every day the vision of what this farm is to be becomes more clear. There have been many times recently where I feel as though I could be in over my head, but those sorts of thoughts are self-fulfilling. I'm going to have my work cut out for me, sure, but I have to allow myself to ask for help when it is needed. The one thing I've learned in life is that people, friends, can be counted on to help when it is absolutely necessary. I have faith that whatever comes the way of this farm will be greeted with the resolve to conquer it and move forward....because I am not alone. The truth is that to farm means to never be alone.

Never in my life have I ever felt more confident in my ability to teach. After nearly 5 years of delivering instruction on various DIY/ backyard farming subjects, I am really starting to come into my own. It all started with beekeeping, teaching that first class at 3rd Ward, then other more academic versions of my beekeeping and gardening courses at The New York Botanical Gardens popped up with a little help from friends. I felt I was out of my league in those classrooms, but I made it through those first sessions and I resolved to get better at it. Sometimes some enthusiasm and a little bit of know-how can make up for raggedy presentation.

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Fortunately for my students, my presentation has improved. I've taught classes online, which require presentation to be seamless Urban Beekeeping 101 and Intro to Gardening Small Spaces have done well, giving folks outside of the New York City metro area a chance to learn about homesteading topics wherever they are. The classes are even recorded for playback convenience. Pretty spiffy, huh?

My favorite method of teaching though, is through hands on demonstration. Most recently, we hosted a mushroom workshop here at the farm and it was easily one of the best classes I've taught. We spent hours combing through the nearby woods, meandering the trails and talking about fungi and farming. We came home with arms full of mushrooms that we cooked and ate for lunch with a spicy salad from the garden and fresh goat cheese. It was glorious. At the end of the day, students left with mushroom log kits, and bags full of hens, chickens and blewits. It was a great day and I feel as though everyone left with knowledge and a perspective they may not have had before. It made me feel really proud and exceptionally glad to be in a position to share what I know.

fb542738873111e1a87612313804ec91_7.jpeg (A past mushroom class in Brooklyn)

I'm hoping to ride that high into our next class on the schedule: Homesteading Bootcamp on October 27th. This is a day of intense introduction to all manner of homesteading activities. It's one of my favorites, and quite frankly at $100 a ticket I think it's a steal.

Here's how this bootcamp goes down:

Students arrive for a tour of the farm at 9 am for coffee and pastries. Introductions are made and everyone gets comfortable, allowing time for anybody taking the ferry to arrive.

Once that is out of the way and everyone is settled, it's down to business. There's a lot of information to cover in one day. We'll start with Gardening basics; finding a location for your garden, types of garden beds and cultivation techniques, crop selection and planting schematics. After that, composting and a bit of foraging for wild edibles (mushrooms are in season in a big way around here!) We'll move on to raising livestock like chickens, rabbits for eggs, meat and manure, and there will be a very brief intro to dairy goats. We'll go inside for a bit to make some yogurt and chevre from our recently harvested goat milk. We'll eat a vegetarian lunch and then get back in the saddle, moving onto fermentation (sauerkraut, hot sauce, pickles) and canning. A beekeeping presentation will take place in my living room, so prepare yourself for cuddles from my fat cat Myra.

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There will be some time at the end of the day for Q&A, feel free to bring a libation of choice if you'd like.

Classes like these are what will keep this farm operational during the winter. It's the only product I have to sell to keep the animals fed and cared for and to keep a roof over our collective heads. There is no consulting, no beekeeping, no honey during the cold months of the year. Just me peddling my big mouth. I'm shaking what god gave me.

Come spring, we'll have our CSA up and running, markets to attend and even more hands on workshops for DIY enthusiasts to participate in with more expert speakers (think intensive dairy goat workshops, shellfish farming, agroforestry, hunting, etc), but right now, it's never been more important for my readership to come and support the farm. So, if any of these classes seem intriguing to you, consider signing up. My online workshop calendar is going to be filling up with more topics all winter long so keep checking for new workshops HERE!

<3

Three goats in milk means....

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loads of homemade cheese and yogurt!

toomuchmilk.jpeg (Too much dang milk!)

Since the goats arrived at Seven Arrows, we've been receiving about 3 1/2 quarts of milk a day. That's a lot of milk just for our household. We've been sharing as often as we can with neighbors and friends, but we still have more than we can drink or pour over our granola. With that in mind we decided to make a weekly ritual of making cheese and yogurt.

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I've always been slightly intimidated by home dairy, but making fresh, everyday use dairy items couldn't be easier. After a few weeks of cranking out tangy goat yogurt and creamy chevre and queso fresco, I can say with total honesty that the process can be a simple aside to all of your other daily processes. Heck, I'm building a farm with friends and juggling teaching gigs and still manage to make a batch of each a week without breaking a sweat. If I can do it, you can too!

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Here are some of my favorite dairy links, all perfect for beginners!

- Goat Yogurt in a Crockpot (my method of choice, only I culture the yogurt in clean jars, filling the crock pot with water.)

- Homemade Goat Queso Blanco (From the Homesick Texan)

- Whole Goat's Milk Ricotta (From Little Seed Farm)

- Homemade Chevre (From Fias Co Farm)

-Cheesemaking tools, equipment and books can be purchased at Hoegger Supply or New England Cheesemaking Supply

The Woods.

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trail.jpeg On of the things that I an always count on to lift me out of a funk is a meandering walk in the woods. It's fortunate that I now live alongside a 750-acre wooded park with trails of varying difficulty. I've been taking the time to walk as many of them as I can justify the time for. Most times, the justification for time spent is the search for food. Namely, mushrooms. This isn't to say that I don't also benefit from the quiet time alone. It's been helpful during all of this upheaval and loss.

I feel really at home in the woods. The smell of damp leaves and rich soil and the way the light streams through the canopy of treetops for me is akin to a warm blanket, a fire and a purring cat. It does the same thing to me. It removes all wanting and longing. I am here now. I am happy for it. There is no other place I want to be.

chickentree.jpeg There's a funny thing about these foraging walks. I only ever really leave with a prize once I've resolved that I am not going to have any luck this time around and that I should just enjoy the path. I stuff my roll-up tote bag into my pocket along with my utility knife and with acceptance, I continue down the trail, occasionally deviating for something that catches my eye. Without fail, just as I begin the journey back home, I walk right into what I've been hoping to find.

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Isn't that just how life is? There's a lesson in here, isn't there?

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Happy 2 1/2 month anniversary at the farm, baby dogs!

This has me thinking I should have a pumpkin patch next year.

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The goats are here!

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Farmer Cindy and her 10 year old daughter Athena travelled down to NJ from the Catskills in a borrowed step van. In the the back cabin were three beloved dairy goats. Cindy and her charge are moving to Uganda in February where she'll study midwifery so she decided to find a good home for her caprine companions. We had worked together at Newton Farm last summer, and she noticed how I doted on the chickens there and as such, I think she might have had some faith in my ability to pay attention to the needs of critters. Add to that that I practically begged to take them, and I'm sure she had a hard time refusing me.

Once the menagerie arrived at Seven Arrows, we got the cloven hooved part of the crew set up in the newly vacated livestock camp. The chickens and rabbits are in their newly constructed, though not completely complete coop now, so we mucked out the camp and spread down fresh straw bedding for it's new occupants. We gave the nervous goats a few flakes of hay and water and let them settle in for the afternoon. We would start milking them the following morning, hopefully without incident.

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Cindy and I then went over to check out my provisions. I had though that, in spite of the goat building not being ready to live in, I was pretty prepared. I had hay and grains and feed...no problem! We'd find out the next day that the goats had other thoughts. The feed I had was not to the goats liking, nor was the hay, which was a touch too carbon heavy for them, not enough leafy bits. Good feed stores around here are scarce so I was a little worried about getting something suitable in a pinch. Until I could make it to the next county where I knew I'd find what I needed for them they got a homemade mix of molasses rolled oats, carrots and apples. Not too shabby, I'd say! This would keep them in the milking stand for a bit while we got a handle on things and got some proper feed.

Our first milking with Cindy went pretty well, feed issues aside. A little nervous kicking occurred, but we ended up with 3 quarts of milk that day. We could not complain about that. We had homegrown milk, for crying out loud! We felt like shouting from the rooftops.

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Cindy is now back up in Phoenicia afte a few days of guidance and the goats are now getting settled into a routine here at the farm. All but one goat are finding this arrangement sufficient. Their house will be done this week . We're working on bonding with them so that the milking process goes more smoothly. With some practice, tips from Cindy (she recommended this very helpful website), and a little extra sweet feed we should be getting about a gallon of milk daily. As amateurs we are just falling below that. We've got a stubborn goat that threatens to put her hoof in the pail any time we reach for her teats. More updates on that fun relationship later.

Without further ado, here are the gals!

Mocha, the matriarch:

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Licorice, the shy one:

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Hersheys, the problem child:

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My Dear, Sweet Huxley

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One of the truest friends I've ever had, my cat Huxley, died yesterday morning at home. The past 24 hours have been tremendously difficult for me but I promise to be back tomorrow with som updates on the new goats, farm progress and perhaps a little bit about Huxley and what happened to him. He was a big part of what this farm was supposed to be and I am completely at a loss for what to do with this massive empty space he left behind.

Thank you for bearing with me, folks. My heart is broken.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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