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The Magic of it All- the day we watched a Monarch Butterfly hatch!

From the day that John and I first  saw it, I’ve always felt a strange vibe, here on the farm.  When we first pulled in we immediately rejected it. The house was in the middle of a remodel. The old fridge was on the deck. There wasn’t a garage. The yard was all dirt and weeds, scattered with huge piles of garbage. No.

But then we got out of the car and walked around a little. There were glorious old walnut trees and lots of flat sunny property. The old white fence was charming and all I could see was the potential of it. Plants and animals and happy kids everywhere. Fast forward 2 1/2 years and my vision has come true!

The tagline on my website was, “Where little miracles happen every day”.  Now, I’m not at all religious, but I so believe in the magic of miracles. The first little sprout coming out of a seed. The little chicks that peck their way out of their shells, even the child, who doesn’t like vegetables or animals, realizing that they, in fact, do.  My days are filled with these subtle, magical moments,

Other times, the magic just slaps me upside the head.

Last month, I was so excited to see 2 caterpillars chomping away at my Butterfly Weed

(Asclepias-the favorite food of the Monarch Butterfly). Image

I rushed to check their coloring and it looked like they were Monarchs, but one can never be too sure.

A few days later, after filling their bellies (it really happens that way, just like The Very Hungry Caterpillar!) I found both had spun into beautiful cocoons, hanging from the broccoli plant that I was about to pull for the season. (so it remains).  I watched them for days, making sure the birds didn’t get them. I was excited to share them with the after school kids, who joined in the daily wellness checks.

Then, on my wedding day, I went out to pick flowers for a bouquet. I love the yellow stalks of flowers on the now-going-to-seed broccoli plant, so I carefully looked for a branch that I could cut without disturbing the cocoons. With one snip  I had, of course, cut the branch that one of them was on.  This, honestly, was the biggest moment of stress on our wedding day!  I felt terrible!  John helped me to set it up, without disturbing it, in a vase, tilted at the same angle that it had been, and we set it in the house for safe keeping. Image

Farm Camp started last week. On the first day, I was excited to share the cocoon that was still outside, with the kids.  Without mentioning it, I read them this book (which is one of my very favorites) ImageThen I told them, in a whisper, that I had something special to show them, but we had to sneak-walk over and be very quiet and still. They all did an excellent job of following, sneakily and excitedly, over to the broccoli, where I looked, and looked, and couldn’t find the cocoon! I was so bummed. Maybe it had hatched and I missed it.  Maybe the Blue Jays got it. Luckily, I had the one in the house, so I ran up to get it. When I picked it up, I noticed that the black and orange of wings was visible through the now clear cocoon!  We set it up on the table to watch it. “Maybe” I told the kids “it will hatch while you’re here this week! Wouldn’t that be cool!?”

Of course, I didn’t expect that to happen.

Right then, I had to take one of the girls to the bathroom. While we were there, I heard my name being called, and excited shouting. Three other girls came running to say that the butterfly was hatching, RIGHT NOW!  I was sure they were kidding me and said so, but they grabbed my fingers with their tiny hands and dragged us back down to the safe spot we had made for the cocoon.

And, guess what..

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It took hours for it to un-crinkle and spread its huge, beautiful wings.  So we moved it to the sun and watched while we had lunchImageImageImage

And when it finally flew away, one of the kids burst into tears! I thought he had been hurt, but he said he was sad because his Mommy was going to miss it. (and I felt that little tug in my heart, that miracles always cause). We kept a close eye on it, and his Mommy got here just in time to see it take flight and go off out of sight.

I did find the other cocoon, which hasn’t yet hatched. Hopefully, another group of kids will get to see this little miracle at Peaceful Valley Farm!

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Bad News/Good News- the story of two ducklings

The bad news is that over the weekend we lost power for 5 hours, during the day. It was the most rain and wind we have had in ages and I’m always thankful for the rain. This time of year, I’m in full hatch mode, filling my incubators with fertile eggs. I ended up losing about 12 dozen eggs, in various states of incubation, some only a few days from hatching.

In the past, when this has happened, I tried SO hard to save them. Then, I had some that had just hatched, some in progress. I slept, some, on the couch, with the dog, so I could keep stoking the woodstove, which had eggs, in towels, in casserole dishes piled all around it. All I got in the end was a poor night’s sleep (although Emma Bean is a GREAT snuggler) and a bunch of dead chicks.

This time, I had one Aracona duckling that had hatched a few minutes before we lost power, and one that had started pecking its way out. I covered all the incubators with towels and watched the ducklings progress. The first one was doing ok, not shivering yet, and starting to fluff out. But the second one was stuck in it’s egg. It was starting to get clammy in the incubator and he was struggling to survive with only a tiny hole pecked through.
I started a big fire, finished the pipping by breaking the shell open, removing all the egg goo left on the duck, and toweling it off. Then I put a rack on the wood stove, a towel on a casserole dish, and the just born ducklings in the towel, wrapped up like a little sauna tee pee with a small hole in the top, on the rack. I’d let it sit there until the glass held some heat, then put it on the hearth for a while, over and over again, for 5 hours.

This time, for my efforts I got this

Welcome to Stormy and Windy, who spent the remainder of the evening curled up on my shoulder, under my hair, snoozing!

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A hunting we will go- the misadventures of a farm cat

We have farm cats, as all farms should.

They kind of suck at their jobs. My favorite one, Carlos,

disappeared a few months ago and miss him terribly. He was the fierce killer of rats and gophers. Tigger, the tabby, is 11 or so years old, and just not quite fast enough to catch the beasties.

And Bindi, the gray one, well,this is how she hunts.

Do you see the fierce teeth on that gopher?? (insert Monty Python quote here). It almost got away, but I pushed it back to her with a stick. It grabbed onto the stick and wouldn’t let go!

In the end, she ate the whole thing-teeth and all. While my eager Farm Campers cheered her on.

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March comes in like a lamb…or two

Yeah, the saying is that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but I like to create my own reality!  

Recently, March came to Peaceful Valley Farm, like a lamb. Two of them, actually. These sweeties come from the amazing folks at Deep Root Ranch, in Watsonville. There, Jean and Bob raise sheep and hogs (as well as chickens, geese, and a few HUGE cows) in the most natural and organic way possible.  It’s idyllic there, with all the animals roaming around freely, enjoying the green grass and fresh air. We learned that, by strange coincidence, our Olivia-the-pig is the cousin of one of their hogs. Small world, farming.

I really hadn’t considered sheep, until my neighbor’s Suffolk Sheep started dropping babies recently. It was So fun to see the still wet lambs taking their first wobbly steps.  Then, we trekked up to Bonny Doon to visit Mali at Milk Mama Goat Farm and I fell for her East Freisian Sheep. They were so loving and let us pet and kiss them. (Of course, I think Mali has some special magic that makes all mammals love her!)

So, long story short, Mali turned me on to Jean and now we have two ewe lambs.  They were just weaned, but not tame, and it was an hour and a half fiasco finding the girls (by doing a quick reach around in a herd of sheep!) and getting them into crates. (Jean and Bob also have the patience of saints!!)

The lambs have been on the farm for almost 2 weeks now, and today they let the fives (my after school farm kids) hand feed and pet them.  My heart grew three sizes when little Ashton said, “I can’t believe I’m this close to a sheep!”  I hear ya, kid!!!

A big, wooly welcome to our girls, Shaun and BaaBaa

 

 

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Weekend Review 2/20/2012

This weekend, we did a little tractor work…

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Enjoyed a box-full-o 10 day old chicks (please, someone buy some of them!)

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Made Beet Kvass (because I’ve read that it’s nothing short of a miracle for whatever ails you)

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The Tree Kale, planted last May, is doing well. I feed the monstrous leaves to the turkeys and chickens. Lots of good vitamins, you know.

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Carrots, planted in the Fall, are getting close to harvest. We have no less than 8 varieties, all mixed together and growing in up-cycled shipping containers John brings home.

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I may love the Pea tendrils, more than the peas! Garden art!

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We’ve been harvesting the Green Broccoli for a couple of months.

Waiting on the Purple. (with the purple veins)

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My 3 year old Jasmine Armandii Clematis is in bloom for the first time!

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This is the Greens Forest…A mixture of lettuce, shaded by Collard Greens.

I NEED some little people to live in here!

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Ahhh, the Blueberries. Loaded this year. Last year, Fred the goat escaped and ate this bush to the ground soon after it flowered. Baaad goat!

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Spring is getting ready to go off, even though I feel like we missed Winter all together. I’m ready.  Are you?

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Weekend Review

This is my latest obsession (besides the curry zucchini soup), Sassy water.  I first heard of it over at Sprout ‘n’ Wings Farm, where Michaele raved about it. The original version includes lemon and cucumber slices, mint and grated ginger. I leave out the mint and use extra ginger. This recipe has taken me from someone who could go all day without drinking any water (bad) to someone who is craving it and drinking a quart and a half a day! (good)  You gotta try it!

In the greenhouse I have PEPPERS! Total fail last year, so this year I have left them in there for the whole growing season and am getting a good crop of jalepenos and red bells. Yay!

The pumpkins are starting to turn orange! My biggest producing vine, so far, is this one that volunteered under my orange tree! Isn’t that always the case. The volunteers, they just know when it’s time.  The Marina di Chioggias are catching up quickly, though! (that’s them creeping all around the sunflowers below)

And what’s this? That’s right, Valencia Melons!!! I count 5 so far and my other heirloom melons have lots of flowers on them. This is the most exciting thing EVER!

Big red cabbage, all stripped down and ready to be part of dinner tomorrow. This is about the size of a kid’s head!  Feed me Seymour!

The sunflowers are booming!  This doesn’t look spectacular here, but it
is about 10 x 5 feet of pumpkins and sunflowers. Next year, bigger!

I know I write about my beloved Pink Pearl Apple tree all the time, but come on! This tree was just planted in the Spring and look at all those apples! Note the beehive in the background? I swear by the bees for upping production around here!

And look at that gorgeous pink flesh!! (The apple’s, not mine)

  This little piggy is getting HUGE! I keep looking at the crate we brought her home and and she has easily doubled in size

And my Polish rooster, Elvis Jr, made a huge drop in the food chain this week when he attacked me while I was changing his water.
Elvis, it’s what for dinner!

One of the artichokes pitched into the compost bloomed. So pretty!

And the Tomatillos are in! Time for John’s famous salsa!

The artichokes are super happy here!

  They live near the Richmond Green Apple and Japanese cucumbers.

Seed saving…

The Black Copper Marans are laying like crazy. Such beautiful eggs and they are getting bigger and darker every day!

 The three Ancona ducklings I hatched are big now. And, I am 99% sure that I have 1 male and 2 females!  So exciting, since they are endangered.

While it seems 3 of my 7 Mille Fleur Leghorns are roosters! Boo!

I love the bees!  Look at them, so hard at work!

And my fall crops are ready to leave the greenhouse!

How does your garden grow?

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Environmental Literacy-it’s not just for Hippies!

Our kids are over-scheduled and over-connected with all the current technology available. No Child Left Behind has (in my opinion) caused more problems than it was ever meant to correct. Schools are now so test score driven, that there is no room for the things that are needed to grow well rounded, thinking children.  Sunshine, fresh air, a sense of themselves and their place in the world, these are crucial, but lacking from our public schools.  It used to be that these things were available outside of school. We spent our afternoons, weekends and Summers outside, making our own adventures. We didn’t have video games or cell phones.  We had to think of ways to entertain ourselves and, guess what, we DID!  We learned how to think, and solve problems, not just to pass tests. We had art classes and shop classes, cooking and sewing, even auto repair class!  We could go out for any number of sports teams, we had marching bands and could choose from a variety of instruments to learn. And we got to choose from 3 languages to learn, beginning in 7th grade. All during school hours. The same number of hours that our kids are in school now. Is this new math?

I came across this article and feel so relieved to see someone else feeling the way I do.

The authors of The Failure of Enviromental Education write, “The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001,
with its focus on standardized tests, leaves little time for history,
civics, art, literature and other courses that can shape responsible,
involved citizens and teach them common sense, Saylan and Blumstein
contend. So far, schools have failed “to provide what is necessary to
turn the tide of environmental deterioration.”

Mmm-K?

I started my educational farm because I saw a need for kids to spend time outdoors, climbing trees, caring for animals. We plant and harvest and cook and bake. We make art and play hide and seek. We all sit down and eat a picnic lunch together. And, by doing so, we learn to communicate, to have social skills, compassion and conversation. To be responsible and self sufficient. We even figure out how to “pump” ourselves on the big tree swing and think of the best hiding places. I think these life skills are the building blocks of a good human.  And isn’t that what we all hope to contribute to this world? As a parent who can’t afford to send my kids off to private school, where they could get more of these experiences, it becomes my responsibility to fill in the gaps and help my children to be enriched with a well rounded education.

What are you doing to enhance your kid’s public school education? If you decided to give up on the system and home school, at what point did you round that corner? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Pen Pals

This morning, when I opened my mailbox, I was reminded of one of the great things we have lost to technology, letter writing.    I got this beautiful drawing and letter from one of my 3 year old Farm Campers. (Mommy transcribed for her)

It’s full of love and excitement, telling me about the frog we found here and relocated to her pond at home.  There is something so special about holding a piece of paper, reading these words.It’s just not the same as words written by computer or text.

When I was a girl, we lived in San Diego, while my grandma lived in San Jose. We had an ongoing correspondence from the time I started Kindergarten. She sent me pretty stationary to use, and I would excitedly wait for the mail every day. On birthdays and every little holiday, my letter would come with a package. It wasn’t ever anything extravagant, but I lived for the outfits she sewed for me, using fabric scraps from other projects. When I came to visit in the Summer, my Mom would become my pen pal until I got back home.

When I was in school, I remember a time that our teacher assigned Pen Pals for us. They were kids our age, out of the country. They had committed to improving their English by exchanging letters with us. It was a lot of fun and we were able to learn so much about their culture and lifestyle.  It was a great experience.

Of course, now, we can jump on the information super highway and find out about any culture or land we’d like.  We’re busy people and don’t often get to see our friends or extended family, but we can communicate with them through Facebook, text messages and emails. It’s all instantaneous and very effective. But is it the best? The only way?  Over the years that my kids have been in school, I’ve noticed a serious decline in the language arts expectations.  Penmanship doesn’t count anymore. Teachers are even overlooking grammatical and spelling errors and grading work based on the idea and the fact that the work was done. I have been told that this is because most people now use computers to write, and have spell check, so the details of knowing how to spell don’t matter once you have passed the level of 5th grade spelling tests.  Ouch. What about the love of the language?  The flow of the words?  Putting pen to paper?

Now, I’m no hypocrite. I adore the internet and all it offers. I use it many times a day, promoting my business, chatting with friends, doing research…but I also have a firm grasp on spelling (I never use spell check, so of course now there will be errors in this post) and sentence structure.  Even when I text I don’t use fake words. It just feels wrong to me.  I worry that we have a whole generation of kids who don’t know the basics of writing, the excitement of holding a pen and pouring out your ideas or thoughts to a friend or the anticipation of a response to the last letter you sent.  And I’m not the only one…
This from Pewresearch.org:

“A considerable number of educators and children’s advocates worry that
James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, was right when he recently
suggested that young Americans’ electronic communication might be
damaging “the basic unit of human thought — the sentence.”1
They are concerned that the quality of writing by young Americans is
being degraded by their electronic communication, with its carefree
spelling, lax punctuation and grammar, and its acronym shortcuts.”

In the spirit of the “Slow” movement, I propose bringing Pen Pals back. Not Internet Pals, but the real thing. Have your kids write to grandparents, aunts, former teachers, friends.   A whole class could exchange letters with kids from another country or just another neighborhood.  An ongoing journal, between mother and child, will help to build writing skills and become a sweet memory book.  Let them dot their i with a heart and make big swirly letters.  Help them to learn to love writing and expressing themselves on paper. 
If we don’t, who will?

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Weekend Review

Two beautiful cabbages ready for this weeks menu!

 This is possibly the cutest vegetable I have ever seen!!  Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber. It should get about the size of a thumb nail when full grown. (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds).  
Reminds me of Gulliver’s Travels!

This is my Pink Pearl Apple Tree…developed in 1944 by a Nor Cal breeder. If you haven’t seen them before, Google images. The flesh is pink and when cut in half they are heart shaped. What’s not to love?? I wholeheartedly recommend this
one for the coastal Santa Cruz area! Planted in April of this year, I counted 20 apples on it today!  Dave Wilson Nursery carries them and you should be able to order from your local nursery.

A very hopeful sign…3 flowers on one of my Valencia Melons!!! 

Olivia is hungry. Olivia is ALWAYS hungry! And so damn cute. When I say her name she starts oinking and comes running to see what I have for her.

This weekend I have lots of broccoli, lettuces, and cabbage. I found out that pigs (this one at least) don’t like radicchio!  Me either, way too bitter. When I gave it to her she took it over and dropped it in her poop corner. really. I tried a bite and have to agree, again. 

I asked the farmer across the road if we could have his field scraps and he was soooo awesome to say yes! He had 6 boxes full dropped at our gate!  The animals were in veggie heaven.  Olivia LOVES broccoli!  I love to watch her eat. The whole time I am thinking, “if you give a pig some broccoli…”

After dismal results with peppers last year, I decided it doesn’t get hot enough here. So this year I am leaving them in containers in the greenhouse and it seems to be working, huh?

Same with basil…HELLO future pesto!!! I heart you!

 And this is the secret life of squash. I think it’s called Honey Bear. It is producing like crazy!!! I got it at the Cabrillo College plant sale. It will be for stuffed and souped for Fall and Winter dinners. Mmmm.

Cheddar Cauliflower. I love the way it looks but am ALWAYS disappointed that it doesn’t have a cheesy flavor! Duh!  I planted just a couple of them because they take up so much room for the yield, but it’s really satisfying when you get a beauty like this. Even if for only one meal.

These are the Cocozelle Squash
that I harvested today. I have gotten at least 2 every day this week. I give them to everyone who stops by.  This is another plant I highly recommend for our area. The plants get about 3 feet across. I planted 2 of them and got 16 squash this week. Great yield for small spaces. And how pretty are they???

And these are Baby Round Zucchini
All four of them came off of a plant that is no more than 18″ wide!!! Amazing! You can see (compared to the eggs) that they are a nice size. I love them sauteed with a little butter, salt and pepper…

Ok, now I’m hungry!!  I hope your weekend was as fruitful as mine.

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I have never….

been so tired, busy or excited!  There have been a million things going on, many of which I need to write about, but…time…tick-tock! For now, a photo montage so that I will remember my topics, then I can give each one the attention it deserves later.

There’s been a whole lot of this sort of activity going on here…

 TURKEYS!

 A FLOCK OF BLACK COPPER MARANS

 ITTY BITTY GOATS

 A CHERRY ON THE TREE PLANTED IN MARCH

 THE GREENHOUSE IS POPPING

 THE HENS ARE EGGING

 I AWAKE TO THIS SCENE MOST MORNINGS

I CLEARLY FAILED TO GET THE CAT FIXED EARLY ENOUGH

 I HEART FARM CAMP

 AND FRED HEARTS ME!