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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…


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


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


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.


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.


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


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

Waiting on the Purple. (with the purple veins)


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


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

I NEED some little people to live in here!


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!


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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Here a chick, there a chick…

The chicks have started hatching here!

We got 11 last week, Black Copper Marans, Olive Eggers, Buff Polish Frizzles and Mille Fleur leghorns!

My son, who’s almost 20, is visiting this week. Getting some farm therapy before heading back to the real world and all the grown up decisions to make.  He mentioned that he loves the fact that I am ALWAYS excited about chicks hatching, like I haven’t seen it a million times.

He reminded me of the first time we (the 2 of us and my 3 girls) hatched eggs together and I had to search my memory to think of how long that’s been… almost 10 years!!

My babies we toddlers, now they’re teens. My Grammar schoolers were kids, now they’re adults…sigh.

Einstein said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

This quote has stuck with me this week as I marvel, over and over again, at the miracle of nature, birth and growth.  I’ll take the latter.

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Little House, Big Life?

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacker

The house in which we live isn’t very big, about 1100 square feet. There isn’t any private space outside of the bedrooms and baths, just one big open room. It’s worked well for us and I actually prefer a small space for a number of reasons. The first, most obvious, is that it’s easier to keep clean. If I lived in a 2 story home with a couple thousand square feet, it would be a hot mess!
Another reason is that when I have lived in a large home, my family members tend to go off into their own world. As we live now, I get to enjoy the music that they listen to, be involved in conversation with them, and just be closer, in general. And that’s a good thing!

When my kids were ages 0-6 we lived in a house that was about 800 square feet. There was 1 bedroom that fit a queen sized bed (with just enough room to walk around and get in it) and a dresser. The other room was 10×12 and had an old-fashioned small closet. We were 4 kids, plus 1 that visited on the weekend, and 2 adults. It not only worked, but was cozy, happy and tidy. In a small house, organization is critical! I had the kids in bunk beds with a trundle for the weekend kid. My 14 month old was in her crib and my newborn slept in a basket on my dresser. Each of the kids had 2 small storage boxes, one for toys and one for sock, undies, hair ties, etc… It sounds crazy, but we had everything we needed and it was a very sweet time in my life.

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” – Henry David Thoreau

Recently, my family had the “opportunity” to move out of our home for 3 days while it was tented for termites. Always wanting to be a glass half full kinda chick, I took this opportunity to pretend we were going on vacation, which John and I have never done!

Three minutes from our farm sits a KOA campground (which they spell with a K, but I just can’t do it!) and they have cabins. This would make it easy to do the twice daily animal tending and give me a chance to work on the farm without tech distractions.  So in we moved!

John and I were in love with as soon as the door opened!

Talk about efficient living spaces!

All of this (and a bathroom with tub and shower) in a 400 square foot package!! The only thing that would have made it better is an actual room for the girls, but for short-term living, the bunks built into the hallway were fine. (The company that makes these has a version with a loft bedroom and extra bath, that is gorgeous)

I looked up the manufacturer, Cavco, and found that they are an RV company. Yuppers, these puppies are on wheels, mobile, registration fees vs building permits and extra property taxes!  And they are available with upgrades, like bamboo floors and slate counters.       My mind was blown!

The only pricing I was able to find was on a Tiny House Blog post. In 2008 the solar models had a starting price of $47k and were about $70k for the maxed out version.

“We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.” – Donald Horban

If you think about how much space you actually use for living, and how much stuff you (and your kids) actually NEED to be happy, I think you’ll realize that living in a tiny house like this is totally doable! Having less house to clean, and fewer distractions means you have more time to spend with the people and projects that make you happy.  John and I were able to take leisurely walk & talks with our dog, sit in the hot tub, and generally enjoy each others company. The girls (who moaned and groaned the whole way to the cabin) also took the dog for walks. They read, they played ping-pong in the game room, they went to bed early and got up well before noon.

I’m not in a rush to move, but as we look to buy a home, we are definitely looking at the upside of living a simpler, more sustainable life in a smaller home.

If you’re interested in the possibilities, check out these links:

Tiny House Blog

The Not So Big House Book Series

Sustainable living in small homes

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Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules Of Living

Issued by the Dalai Lama at the turn of the century, 12 years ago. Timeless rules, they are!

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson

3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

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You know you’re a farmer when…

You drag yourself out of bed at 7 o’clock Saturday morning to send your pig off to the breeder. Yup, that’s right…Olivia, it’s time to play Mystery Date! Will you get the Stud or the Dud???

The couple that sold Olivia to us, in June, offered to pick her up and take her back to breed with their purebred Old Spot pig. She is 7/8 Old Spot, so her piglets will be as close to 100% as possible. John and I were nervous, maybe even scared, about how this would work. Olivia weighs about 300 pounds and is super strong. The stock trailer/truck combo was too big to fit through our access gate, so we needed to convince her to walk across the yard, into the driveway, and step up a foot into the trailer, about 25 feet away. Um, yeah.

Luckily, this little piggy loves food and knows my voice, so she just followed me to the trailer and, after thinking about it for a minute, climbed in, one hoof at a time.

I was so proud, I thought I’d cry! I love that big pig!

It was agreed that she is in heat right now, so, if all goes well, we’ll have piglets in 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. AKA end of April/beginning of May.

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Happy New Year!

I love the new year!  I also love the beginning of Spring and Fall, all for the same reason. Each feels like a time for change. Much more palatable than the change into Summer and Winter that we experience here on California’s Central Coast.  Each of these beginnings gives me sort of “Spring fever”in which I want to make big plans for the upcoming season, clean out closets and files old things that are holding me back or slowing me down, and I want to do more of the things that I feel in my heart, but haven’t quite translated into action yet.  It’s huge, I know. John recently noted that I am “all over the place…” Not as a bad thing, but as a “maybe you don’t need to do more right now…” suggestion.  He’s much more practical that I. When I asked what his New Year’s resolutions were, he asked why you need to make them for the new year. Why not just do it whenever. See how he is? 

I also believe in putting things out there. I don’t think that our hopes and wishes can always come true, just because we think them.  Actual work is obviously needed, but I think that saying or writing it to get it flowing is also important. The more I do this, the more things have been coming to me, so here goes….

My list of goals and resolves for the year 2012

 1. get more organized and get rid of excess crap. I don’t have a lot to do here, but being disorganized is one of my least favorite things! (look for a blog about this, SOON!)  Being disorganized leads to a lot of wasted time AND money. Both of which could be better spent.

2.  eat more of what we grow. Here’s a confession. I grow a lot of stuff. Likely enough to feed my family of 4. But we don’t always eat it. I end up feeding a lot of it to the animals. Good for them, not for me.Sadly, though, I can’t grow beer, bread or cheese, which are big expenses at our place. I resolve to plan meals around what we CAN grow (or make from what we grow), grow more of it, and greatly reduce the foods that we have to buy at the store. In this same line, I will only be buying what we do need from truly LOCAL store and farmers markets.  (if you see me in Safeway or Nob Hill, give me a swift kick!!)
I look forward to blogging about the foods that are easily grown right here, seasonal menus as well as cost comparison and sources.

3.  by following resolve #2, I resolve to lose the extra 30 pounds I tote around and have more energy to spend on other ventures!  look better, feel better, do better!  I wish I was one of the bad ass bloggers I admire, and could have a perfectly frank blog, detailing every step of weight loss as I do it…but I don’t think so.

4.  Enjoy more.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard myself say, “I can’t, I have too much to do…” I’d have a down payment for the house we want to buy!  I resolve to spend more time enjoying life, relaxing with friends and family, and wandering around, planning life with John.

5.  Put my business out there more! New classes, selling plants, animals and food, more instructional/inspirational blogs, etc…

6, 7, 8.  Get married. Buy a farm of our own. Become parents together.  All very complicated stuff, squeezed into the simplest of words.  I think all 3 can happen within the year. I know one of them will. 🙂

What kind of person makes a list of 8 things??? I don’t know, but that’s what I got, for now.

Happy 2012 to all. May your year be bright and full of all good things. 

Erica at Northwest Edible Life said it best…”May you always have more than you need and want all that you have, may your vegetables ever outgrow your weeds, may your chickens lay daily and rarely molt, may your Felcos always stay sharp and never get lost in the rain, may cabbage worms never find your garden and earthworms never miss it, and may your peppers and tomatoes always ripen. Even in Seattle.”

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My favorite thing about living and working on the farm, is how much more connected I feel to the earth. It was thrilling for me to watch the first blossoms of Spring on my new apple trees, the birth of the goats, all the chicks that hatched, and the day I felt the air change completely, as Fall blew in.

The latest thrill has been seeing our turkeys through an entire cycle.  Something I never imagined I would do.

Last April, I bought five 8 week old turkey poults.  They were a mix of Bourbon Red and Midget White, heritage breeds.  According to Mother Earth magazine, these breeds rank #1 and #2 in taste tests, and they were hatched locally, so I was all in!
They were adorable!

I read that turkeys will imprint on you the way geese do, and they did. Every time I went into the coop, they would fight to be the first to jump up on my shoulder or head. Sometimes I would end up with one on each shoulder and a third on my head. The kids got a huge kick out of it!  And I hardly minded the time I was standing in line at the grocery store and noticed foot print shaped poop smears on my shoulder and chest!

By the time they got to weighing about 10 pounds, I was over it. Their claws were getting big and they liked to peck at every shiny thing, like my teeth, eyes, hair.  And then they started to be downright ugly! It was about this time that they made the local paper for the first time.  Then I started to be able to tell the Toms from the Hens.  See, the Toms have more red skin on their faces and heads.  I had three of the former, and 2 of the latter, which was perfect!  One each for Thanksgiving and Christmas, then 2 Hens and a Tom for breeding.

With the kid’s Farm Programs that I run, I’m always a tiny bit nervous when I tell the little ones that some of our animals will be food.  I am determined not to lie about it or sugar coat it for them, but at the same time I want them to learn that it’s a vital part of the circle of life.  So far, even the vegetarian kids have accepted my explanations on the subject!  They have learned why the boys become food and the girls become pets. (yes, I will admit it, they have become my pets!).

By August, I found myself explaining why the turkeys were “walking on each others backs”. One of the kids guessed that it was a massage, and their backs must hurt. Um, ok, kid, no.  I told them that this is how they make babies. They squealed with excitement!! “we’re gonna have babies?” “will I be here?” “I’m gonna tell my mommy I need to come every day so I can see!” “can we hold them?”

Now, since this was my first go round with turkeys, I had to depend on the information found on the information super highway (as my little brother calls it).  I read that turkeys are too young to be mating at 4 months and that my hens wouldn’t start laying until Spring 2012.  So we just went about learning all we could about turkeys…like, that there would be no babies until Spring Camp. And that the fleshy, bulbous bumps on their face and chin are caruncles.  We also learned that the snood (the fleshy thing that hangs down over the Tom’s beak) gets longer and shorter depending on, uh, what’s happening at the moment. Once, we were feeding them grass and one of the Toms gobbled down a bite AND his snood! He started choking and I was forced to give him CPR, pulling the snood out of his throat.  I was an instant hero! I have learned that the boys are not so smart and lack personality, while the girls are sweet, even loving.

In September the hens started being really friendly and seemed almost attached to me. I think we have a connection. I may need to get out more often. I could let them out to free range and they would come back when I called them. They liked to sit on my lap and be petted and would even take a snooze there, in spite of the rambunctious kids around them.  And then. Then they started laying eggs. Lots of eggs. I slipped them into the cartons that I sell to friends and neighbors. We ate them. (they taste the same, but are bigger and have an incredibly hard shell).  And then in November one of the hens started sitting. Sporadically at first, but then she wouldn’t get off the nest unless I brought in oat hay.

Her sister soon joined her…about then, they made the paper again! At first they had 22 eggs under them. By the time I checked last week, they were up to 33.  I candled 3 and saw that there were chicks growing in there!  I won’t lie, I have been more excited than the kids, and the kids were pretty excited.

We went into Thanksgiving week with the kids fully prepared for the fact that one of the Toms wouldn’t be there when they got back.  And they were really ok with it. Even explained it to their parents, very matter of factly.  On Thanksgiving day, John and I spent the day harvesting 5 roosters and our Thanksgiving turkey. (My kids were with their dad, so we celebrated the Sunday after.) I have no pictures of this. The harvest. It was really solemn and I felt like it would be disrespectful to show pictures of it.. We barely spoke at all. We just did the job. I found myself talking to myself, to the birds, under my breath, the whole time. John handled the killing part (traffic cone turned kill cone and a knife to the jugular) and I gutted ( I wish my hands were smaller). We plucked together. (awww, how sweet). When we got to the turkey, the job became a whole lot harder, He was heavy. His wings were strong and he wasn’t friendly and tame like the hens (for this, I’m grateful).  I had watched many videos to find the fastest, most humane way to do this.  The best way involved hanging the bird by the feet, weighting it’s head, then cutting the jugular. Nice and neat in every video I saw…but our weight broke, and he started flapping hard enough to give a black eye. I ended up holding his head, talking to him (not that I think that mattered to him, but it made me feel better to say sorry and thank you) until he stopped moving. I’m pretty sure those blood stains will never come out of my jeans and I’m ok with that. 
We let the turkey sit, overnight, in a cooler full of cold water and ice. Then I mixed up Dog Island Farm’s kick ass brine recipe and let it sit in that for a whole day, followed by a day of “rest” in the fridge. On Sunday we enjoyed THIS…

I have no words for how great it was. 20 pounds of great.

Meanwhile, I read that 25 days was the incubation time for the eggs the hens were sitting on. That would have put us at the middle of last week. I harassed the hens three times a day, feeling under them for chicks. (did you know hens can hiss???? They do. trust me). Nothing!

Then on Saturday, John and I did something we never do. Ever. We went to a Christmas party at the Chaminade Resort and spent the night. Farmer Pam became Party Pam! Shocking, I know. 

And, when we got home in the morning my first stop was the turkey pen. Where I heard PEEPING coming from under the Mommies!  They didn’t want me to look, so I left them alone. It got pretty cold last night, but it seemed toasty warm under them, and I am really trying to let nature take it’s course, so….
Today I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t hear the peeping anymore and didn’t want all their work to be for nothing. So, with Marielle, the brave 5 year old, in tow, I headed to the coop to assess.  We were nervous. She wouldn’t even come in at first, but soon was cooing and petting the hens with me, hoping that they would remember all the lap naps we gave them, rather than freak out and kill us!  I felt around under them and felt something…I pulled out this half hatched baby….

That’s when I decided to pull all the eggs and put them in the incubator.  In one of the grabs, I felt downy feathers and heard peeping again.  I wish I had a picture of the look on little Marielle’s face when I pulled this out of the nest we built together a month ago… (This picture was taken as the chick snuggled under my shirt, trying to get warm). 

And, so, as I type this, I have this little baby in my shirt and at least 7 peeping in the incubator.

May the circle be unbroken.

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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?