Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Deep Freeze: Farmhouse Fallout

This morning Garth and I were up early, as is customary these days - 4:30 or so - and I noticed that the pressure from the tap was low on both the hot and the cold. Nothing in the house was running, like a toilet or shower, that would have caused that. It has been VERY cold here for weeks and we don't have much snow cover, so Garth suspected that the buried line from the well to the pressure tank had frozen. He switched the well pump off at the breaker so that the motor wouldn't die trying to pull water that it couldn't have, and put a heater on in the basement. 

There had been ground hog invasion down there during the late summer. They dug under the porch and hollowed out an area of the foundation, pushing a lot of new rocks and dirt up around the pressure tank. One of the upsides of summer is that there is no reason to go to the basement. We wouldn't have known they had burrowed in if they hadn't also happened upon a decade old empty bag of dogfood and begun making a raucous. My mother-in-law, Dorothy, first heard it - a loud plastic rustle, too loud to be a mouse or even a large rat. I later saw the red bag lurch to the base of the stairs making the same telltale sound. Groundhog, surely. Garth bravely went to investigate and found the basement as I described it. Their having exposed the pipe from the well to the pressure tank had no doubt contributed to the freeze. Garth and I considered the pros and the cons of our situation over the next few hours.

Con - The well pipe is frozen. We don't know if that heater will solve it.

Pro - At least we have a stream where we can fetch water.

Con - There is 4 inches of ice over the surface.

Pro - We have an axe, a few buckets, and Garth is a strapping and motivated man.

Con - It's -12 out.

Pro - Yeah, but now we will really be pioneers!

Con - It's still -12 out. 

Pro - We have a Berkey water filter, so drinking stream water will be A-okay. 

Con - I am cloth diapering and this is going to get messier than it already is.

Pro - It's meant to get up to 34 here in four days.

Con - That's four days away and it might not be warm enough to thaw the water line. 

This went on. 

I went outside to get more wood as the light crept into the cobalt world. There were turkeys gobbling and hens clucking in the distance. What? Why now? Two deer were standing and looking at me on the porch from Don's field. That's when I heard Garth say, 'Did you hear that!?' from the basement. It's bad when you can discern your husband's voice from the basement while you stand on the front porch. This farm house wasn't insulated well now, was it? The turkeys' calls were consuming the silence, and so I had to step inside to hear more from Garth. He had flipped the breaker again and the hydrogen peroxide pump spontaneously began cycling. The hand-dug, 15' well for the farmhouse is sulfurous and pumping hydrogen peroxide into the pressure tank dissipates the odor. It works some of the time. Anyway, this meant we had water flowing from the well again. The heat had worked its magic!

I've had moments when I've wished everything in my life were different, and today it was so nice when everything remained the same. 

Just think; if those ground hogs hadn't excavated that pipe, we couldn't have delivered the heat where it was most needed. We'll thank them later. Maybe I'll buy some new dog food and hurl it down the stairs. 

I still don't know why those turkeys were talking so loudly. I guess sometimes it's just as well not to know what the animals are up to. 

- Alanna

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Farming Futures

So, this is about as much of the farm as I see on a day to day basis: Arden in the foreground with Garth heading out to do chores as the backdrop. I can't complain. It was -17 degrees out this morning and Garth gives me a full report when he stops in again to deliver an egg or two, or an armload of wood. And it's more of the farm than either Ed or Normandy get to see lately. They are spending their last winter away, as Normandy will complete her masters degree in ceramics come Spring. Thankfully, their absence is primarily physical. Edmund seems to be constantly thinking of the farm and the next season specifically. Hardly a day passes without an e-mail or three from Edmund on various farm related topics. And what's stranger still is that his thoughts track with Garth's in real time. I sent Ed an e-mail asking if Garth had shared his latest idea for using excess whey, (which was mixing in barn lime to neutralize the it and then applying that to our pastures as fertilizer) and Ed's response was that he was about to send us the very same idea. So the farm evolves, despite our limited man power at the moment. There is water running beneath the frozen surface of the stream, so to speak.


And where does that take us? Who knows, but here are a few of our ideas.

We loved raising heritage turkeys on pasture last year, and judging from the feedback we got from those of you who bought one or two of them, the results were good too. Wonderful even! We are aiming to do roughly the same thing this year. Our heritage turkeys (probably Standard Bronze again), will be given free range on pasture and offered organic grains. The only difference in our management of them from last year is that this year we intend to raise pigs (PIGS!) and our feeding system for them might benefit the turkeys in one way or another. We hope to source whey to feed our pastured pigs as an energy source. Whey is a waste product from butter and cheese making and there is still a lot of nutrition to be had in there, but it's mostly lactose in a probiotic slurry. The grass and other forages they'll eat will provide them with protein and fiber primarily, and they'll need some carbohydrate to balance that all out. If we do find a reliable whey source, there is a chance the turkeys will get to pick through the solids at the bottom of the tank, if they are interested. I imagine we may also seek out un-sellable vegetables and other food waste from local organic growers to offer our pigs, and we'll inevitably produce a fair amount of that ourselves with the reliable abundance of our growing season. 

At any rate, this is all to say that we would like to offer you heritage turkeys raised in this manner at the price/pound we did last year ($9.00 delivered, $8.00 locally) and may even get to reduce the price further if our feed costs come in well below what they were. (Last year grain prices were hugely inflated because of the previous year's widespread drought and dire corn yield. Story has it, the world saw an unprecedented bumper crop this last summer, and perhaps we will see the effects of that in the marketplace this year. That is yet to be seen.) We will raise as many turkeys as there are buyers, and will place an order for poults with these numbers in mind soon. If you would like a turkey from us, or have questions about any part of the process, please send us an email:

I let the cat out of the bag earlier by saying we were intending to raise pigs this summer. If you are interested in buying our pork, you can also send the farm an e-mail at the address above and we will put you on our list to receive updates about the products we have on offer as the time approaches. I am sure you will get to read about the pitfalls and successes here on our blog as the events unfold. 

This spring we will see the first grass-fed Angus/Kerry crosses out of our new bull, Mr. Winchester. It will be a few years before we arrive at a verdict on them (better than purebred Kerry alone?) but it will be fun to see how they behave on pasture. We will be sending a few steers at some point this summer, so again, please e-mail the farm if you would like updates on the availability of our beef and are not on the list already.  

Thank you for your ongoing support and your enthusiasm for what we produce. We were so happy to deliver actual goods to you last year. Garth said he finally felt like a farmer, rather than someone who obsessively moves cows around as a hobby. We excited to have more to offer this year. 

Spread the word. Spread the love! We're farming!