Friday, May 22, 2009

Out with the Old

And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" -- Job 1:21

In with the new. I want to put up some pictures of something cute to counteract the grim portrait of Juanita in a previous post. There's also a point to make here. Was I sad about Juanita's death? Sure. Maybe the better word is "disappointed"--frustrated that all my hard work had been so quickly and summarily snuffed out. But nothing more.

There's no time for sentimentality and weeping on the farm. Quite simply. there's too much to do. And I know well the bloody awfulness of Nature. I borrow from it what I can, and I'm not so vain as to presume to have any control.

Lastly, if daily existence on a farm can often seem like a gruesome circus, it also has a warm, exhilirating antipode.

Juanita's gone. But now this orphan calf needs some looking after. Maybe there are no fair trades in life and death, but this one is acceptable.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Juanita Is Dead

 Long live Juanita!

More to come.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What Now: Part 2

A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule -- Michael Pollan

Here's what:

Yum. Thank you, Juanita!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Now What?

Living the good life for us was practicing harmony with the earth and all that lives on it. It was frugal living, self-subsistent, self-sustaining. It was earning our way by the sweat of our brows, beholden to no employer or job. It was growing our own food, building our own buildings, cutting our own wood, and providing for our own livelihood. We needed and used little money. If we couldn't pay for a thing, we made it ourselves or did without. -- Helen Nearing, Loving and Leaving the Good Life

I did it. I freed the chickens. Now what?

As I've stated here before, my dad has been a heavy-breed chicken farmer his entire life. On average, he's looked after about 35,000 birds, both hens and roosters. The eggs he produces are hatched and raised by other farmers as broilers, which are the young, juicy chickens that everyone buys retail.

But my dad's been forcibly retired. His contract wasn't renewed, and the chickens were picked up in January. Three months later, in pursuit of some litter and shavings for my herb garden, I stumbled upon three hens, resting together on the egg collector, enjoying the last rays of evening sun shining through the window. Suffice it to say, this was a surprise, considering these chickens hadn't been administered feed or water since almost New Year's. Although they seemed perfectly content, I imagine they'd been surviving by picking through manure and sipping meager rainwater.

Of course, there was only one thing to do. I had to catch the girls and let them out to enjoy the good life. Maybe they'd be stupid, easy prey; yet, as long as they could, these chickens needed to experience life in the grass, under a blue sky. Perhaps they might even enjoy the taste of a plump caterpillar. So, over the course of a several days, one by one, I snatched them. After a brief sojourn in the herb garden, the hens were carried to my dad's house, placed in an old chain-link dog pen, and fixed up with an ad hoc coop.

So now what am I supposed to do? How are my chickens going to live happily ever after? How do I look after them so that they exist naturally and happily in return for a handful of eggs? In certain context, these questions seem completely ridiculous. My family has stewarded thousands of commercial chickens for generations, but we don't know how to care for three. Such, I guess, is the integration and efficiency of poultry agribusiness, a topic for another time.

My situation presents almost an ironic case; however, the huge information gap I'm staring down is no different from the one facing the enthusiastic novice. The mass production of food has kept our bellies full, and at the same time robbed us of a farming tradition, a cultural knowledge, and--by removing their practical necessity--the values of stewardship. If we intend to go out and experiment in self-sufficiency--to grow our own tomatoes and fry eggs that were laid behind the lilacs in the backyard--we need to reconnect to an agricultural tradition, and we need resources about farming. Both immediate and online, we need guides and forum and communities that discuss how to pinch a sucker, what the minerals need to be supplemented in feed, where to market your bursting figs.

I want to leave it at that, saving a personal story about former concert pianist and now suburbanite-turned-farmer in Fayetteville, Georgia for another time. Right now I encourage everyone to go out find that knowledge, rekindle the tradition, and share it.

Anyone who's ever tried it can to tell you, farming ain't easy. We need each other.

(More after the jump.)

A quick word about my chickens: I've got two eggs! Can you guess which two are mine? One of the chickens is either entirely sweet or entirely dumb. She'll follow you around, allow you to pick her up and stroke her feathers, and coo gently the whole time. Each day, I lead her to a separate pen. I throw a little corn scratch on the ground, and after a fit lunch, she settles down in the tall grass and lays a warm and singularly beautiful egg. If this keeps up, she's going to need a name. I'm thinking, "Juanita."

This Is Just To Say

I have rescued
the chickens
that were in the chicken house

and which
you were probably
going to eat
processed in canned soup

Forgive me
they are now happy
so clean
and free

"If you've got a chicken coming down the line, you've laid the egg, you've hatched the egg, you've delivered the chick to the chickenhouse you've fed it for seven weeks, you've eviscerated it, cut it up and packaged it all to make a penny a pound." -- Tom Hensley, president Fieldale Farms Corp

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Don't Let This Happen to You!

I looked the Bandit in the face, and he came away scared.

It's been a long hiatus. I sincerely apologize for depriving y'all of my singular brilliance and magnaminity. Ha, I kid--but I've got sound excuses. One, I've been running overtime preparing my soil to get the seeds in asap: turning, turning, then turning the ground again. The number of treatments that must be done to a plot of earth (and specifically a former chunk of pasture) is astounding. Having never run a plow or a harrow or a cultivator, I'm totally reliant on my dad's expertise and dependent on his pace. While I welcome the rain, the level of ground saturation has literally bogged things down.

Two, I've been on a trek of mythical proportions. I looked the Bandit in the face, and he came away scared. Texarkana to Atlanta, I scoff at you. By about 500 miles. Chasing and being chased by this spring monsoon, I have just finished traversing the fabled Mid-South: Dallas-Texarkana-Little Rock-Memphis-Nashville-Knoxville-Asheville-Raleigh. And I accomplished this with my mother. After about twenty hours in a car with a family member, you both begin to pose more of a physical threat to each other than the other cars on the interstate. I'm proud to say there were no injuries. In fact, there may have been some sincere maternal-filial bonding. The producers of Sideways are standing by, ready to option our story about coming to terms with the earnest failures of motherhood and surviving your twenties.

I plan on a small debriefing of my culinary and agricultural adventures, like the ultra-hip Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, North Carolina (think Whole Foods if Whole Foods were local). Until then, follow the jump so that we can talk my favorite subject, tomatoes....

This picture is of one of my seedlings from a few weeks ago. As a matter of interest, it's not just any ordinary seedling; it's actually one of those upside-down tomatoes that are being advertised all over the place (my spam folder, for instance). My neighbor, a small farmer extraordinaire and genuinely decent guy, gave me this particular plant, which was grown by his mother-in-law in Bentonville, Arkansas. I have no idea what kind it is, probably something run-of-the-mill. And I suspect it might come from a hybrid parent, which doesn't bode well for my yield.

But the provenance is not important here. This specimen is suffering from a common ailment of tomato seedlings. You can see it there in my rudimentary purplish, brown focus area, although you don't need my graphics to locate it. "Damping off" occurs where the stem emerges from the soil and is recognizable by the narrowing, diminished look of the stem. In most cases, if the issue isn't addressed, the plant will die as the stem shrivels into nothing.

What to do? I solved the problem by transplanting the seedling into my own proprietary soil medium and sinking it deep to allow new root systems to develop. But what do the experts say?

The following, written by Carolyn Male, comes from the Tomato Mania site:

There's no one way to start seeds but there are a few things that MUST be done or you tempt fate. Translate, you have lousy or dead seedlings. LOL

First, you MUST use artificial soilless mix. Regular potting soil has lots of fungi in it and you increase the chances of your seedlings developing damping off which is characterized by the young seedlings developing a narrowed stem at the soil level and falling in DEAD. Rhizoctonia and other genera of fungi are responsible for this disease. Using a Benomyl drench or some folks say chamomile tea, may deter it. So start with a good artificial mix like Jiffy Mix (my favorite), or Pro-Mix or Peter's, etc.

Happy planting!

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