Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dusty in the Wind

Every morning around 6am Edmund and Garth go out to the red pole barn to do the regular cow chores, including taking the warmed milk to the three calves we are raising for meat. Yesterday, the calf we have been calling "Dusty" did not come for breakfast like the other two, and Edmund found him not too far away, dead in the field. At the previous night's feeding, he seemed healthy and happy with no indications of illness. Immediately, the day's plans were discarded, and Garth and Edmund set to work skinning and butchering the meat, all the while racking their brains for what could possibly have caused this mysterious and distressing event. Indeed, we will never know for sure, perhaps he ate something poisonous, or got afflicted with a bacteria of some kind.

Above is a picture of Dusty. I thought briefly about taking a photo of the butchering process, since it is quite amazing to watch, though not for the faint of heart (or stomach). But I decided against it, wanting to preserve the animal's dignity in life and death.

The pasture is not the same without you, Dusty!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Parsnip Pox

Though as a child I did suffer from the idiosyncrasies of taste common to most of us in our formative years - mushrooms, of course, offended my palate, as did most fruits for textural reasons (a crisp, ripe apple being the exception) - I nevertheless loved vegetables. I recall reading a study few years back which determined that children who prefer salty snacks such as pretzels to sweet snacks like cookies are more amenable to the idea of eating vegetables but less likely to eat fruits than peers who reach for the Oreos, this latter group showing the opposite preference, and my tastes largely supported this finding. Given my current dietary view, I would now question these stark categories of salty and sweet and thus the study itself, since the sugars in pretzels are only marginally less refined than those in cookies. Anyhow, what I am working around to is that, whatever the underlying cause and whatever the relationship between my real food and junk food preferences, I have always liked parsnips.

In the produce aisle parsnips look like beige carrots. Like carrots they are beinnial, meaning in the first year of life they have a relatively innocuous growth habit, and all surplus energy is used to create a large taproot. This taproot, harvested after sufficient growth in the first year, is the form in which they are most commonly eaten. If allowed to remain in the ground, or, in the case of more tender varietals in harsher climates, assisted by various means I won't detail, in the second year the plant will bolt a towering flower stock, set seed, and die in the fall.

Alanna and I first noticed parsnips after the snow had melted, when we kept stubbing our toes on their tops in the area beside the hops barn. They were shouldering up out of the ground as dense as checkers on a checkerboard. Wild parsnips, unlike wild carrots, are virtually indistinguishable from their domestic counterparts, meaning we could have dug these up and roasted them, which, as previously established, I would have enjoyed. But we had not seen the leaves or flowers of the plants and thus were put off by the admittedly slight chance that the tubers were actually poison hemlock, though this fear has been validated to some extent by a few instances of this plant further upstream. (This is not related to the hemlock tree, of which we have many. The plant that poisoned Socrates resembles a parsnip in its odor, roots and leaves, but less in its flowers.)

As spring progressed into summer the parsnips grew stalks topped with yellow bursts of tiny flowers, some seven feet tall. In addition to the large stand next to the hops barn, numerous individuals and groups shot up on the fringes of the driveway, throughout the pastures, and in a near continuous band around the perimeter of the large barn.

When I was learning to distinguish the parsnip from its deadly doppelganger I learned much about it, but the most common point of interest was that the sap from the vegetative portions of a parsnip can cause phytophotodermatitis, meaning that when sunlight hits an area of skin that has the sap on it, holy hell breaks out.

So it was idiocy unmitigated even by ignorance when I went after it with a weedwacker a few days ago and thought nothing of the plant matter sprayed up and down my arms. The blisters should subside quickly, but the discoloration could last for months or longer.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Broken News?

We have been so busy here-dawn until dusk, and then a little more for good measure. That is all well and good but it means that the latest breaking news on the farm doesn't get to you until it is, broken? House broken? At any rate, here are some highlights.

Silo, your days here are numbered. That's right folks! Someone wants our silo. Not only are they going to come and take it down, concrete stave by concrete stave, they are going to pay us for the privilege. We couldn't be happier. The man taking it down will most likely sell it to someone who wants a silo. That person will theoretically get a good deal. The guy removing it for us will make a little money selling it. The silo will be repurposed and we won't be living its shadow.

Wild strawberries. You heard it from my full mouth. Edmund and Normandy went picking wild strawberries and black raspberries that have cultivated themselves in secret on our farm. They are so delicate.

I am not sure that wild strawberries ought follow silo removal in order of importance, but I guess it's a testament to how broken this news is. There is still more to tell but I have to sleep before tomorrow starts.