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Have you ever had one of those run-of-the-mill days when you were planning some mundane task, like going to get your oil changed, and then something super unexpected happens that turns your world upside down?
I was on my way out the door, actually walking toward the truck, which I was taking in for an oil change, when my daughter asked, “Hey, what’s that on that tree?”
Mary and I turned toward the tree. There was about a half second of cognitive confusion as my brain tried to puzzle out what my eyes were seeing.
There was a large dark blob attached to one of our trees that hadn’t been there just an hour earlier.
“What the…” and then my brain, having retrieved the data it was looking for went into alarm mode. Two words burst out of my mouth. “Bees.” “Swarm.”
I’ve often wondered what I would do if I ever had to deal with a swarm of bees. I must admit, that for a second, I considered ignoring them and continuing on with my errand, but then these were my bees, and they were like no other colony I had ever heard of. They had come from my hive and had survived a bear attack, winter on their own, predators and pests, CCD, and my own incompetence as a beekeeper. (more…)
Well it’s been about a week or so and peace reigns in the paddock. The pigs and chickens have reached a truce. The pigs have abandoned their efforts to breach the chicken’s fenced fortress, while the chickens have brazenly decided that any food the pigs don’t get to first, is fair game.
Of course, the pigs always get to their food first and there’s never anything left for the chickens. The area around the compost pile is neutral territory, so they’ll usually share the space with little problem.
I actually cut a small hole in the wire that covers the opening to the compost enclosure so that the chickens can go in and scratch for bugs. After only a couple of weeks of this, I’ve noticed that the quality of the compost has improved dramatically. The chickens have done an amazing job of converting our dry leaves, veggie scraps, and grass clippings into a rich amendment that we can add to our soil. It’s almost like having a crew of workers on site that we don’t have to pay.
As farming and food production has become more industrialized over the last century or so, the role that animals play in regards to fertilization (cattle), soil aeration and waste recycling (pigs), pest control (chickens), and pasture clearing and weed management (goats) has been largely forgotten. In it’s place, we have animal-free mono-cropping megafarms and Orwellian “meat factories” where animals are
housed jailed in close confinement.
I’m all for progress, but sometimes keepin’ it old-school is the best approach.
There’s a scene in the movie Jurassic Park – the good one — the first one, where a team of field scientists gaze out over a broad veld and behold the wondrous sight of a dozen different species of, formerly extinct, dinosaurs roaming across open grassland in what appears to be perfect symbiotic harmony.
We saw something similar at the farm where we bought our pigs. There, a herd of midnight-colored Guinea hog piglets gamboled in the shadow of a brontosaurian-sized old spot pig. Chickens, the true descendants of the age of dinosaurs, darted here and there in search of juicy bugs to eat. Young goats, the equivalent of human preteens, ran after us, bleating pitifully, in the pursuit of handouts, and as if on cue, a gigantic male turkey preened in the mid-morning sun like a Hollywood hunk, ready for his close-up. (more…)
I’m currently reading MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN by Joshua Foer. It’s a nonfiction title about the wonders of human memory and about how anyone can use some time-tested, and very simple, techniques to improve their own memory.
One of the interesting take-aways from the book is that one of the reasons time seems to speed up as we grow older is because the more mundane your life becomes, the fewer separate memories you make, the faster time seems to fly by. Thus, time flies for the guy who works on an assembly line stamping out widgets because everyday is basically the same. Whereas the woman who goes rock climbing, writes a book, falls in love, and wrestles alligators in her spare time, will have far more unique memories over the course of a year, making time appear to slow down.
So there you have it, the secret to a long life — at least the perception of a long life — is to have novel experiences by doing unique and interesting things. Well, I can think of few things more novel than raising a couple of heritage hogs for your own family table, so allow me to introduce you to Ham and Bacon, my two new American Guinea Hogs. (more…)
It’s cold outside. The high today is 32 degrees, or “coldern’ a witche’s… toe” in movie cowboy talk. I went out at first light to tend to the chickens and it was bone-chilling cold. We’re expecting the lows to fall to about 13 degrees tonight.I’m delighted by this prospect, as I have an appointment in town tonight and I really do find the idea of frostbitten fingers appealing.
On days like this, a light green salad infused with a cherry vinaigrette just won’t do. Real men, and for that matter, real women, need something a bit hardier. Something calorically dense, that’ll stick to the ribs and make your metabolism burn fast and hot, like a heavy chunk of hardwood on a roaring fire. (more…)
For the uninitiated, backdraft occurs when the air pressure outside your house is greater than the air pressure inside. When you put your hand into the stove (before you light it silly), you can feel cold air coming down the chimney into the stove.
If you attempt to build a fire in a stove where the draft is reversed (a downdraft or back-draft), the smoke from the resulting fire will draft into the room rather than go up the chimney.
The solution is to equalize the inside/outside air pressure, or better yet, increase the inside pressure, so that the heat from the fire, and the smoke, will go up the chimney, because as we all learned in grade school, warm air rises. This is easier said then done. (more…)
This is a story about a bear — two bears actually. My bear, let’s call him Bruno, was running a protection racket in the little wood I call home. I don’t know how long Bruno had been in “business,” but one of my neighbors, who came to these parts long before I did, said that a bear (most likely Bruno) had been by her place in the past.
Bruno was like one of those Mafia henchmen you see in the movies. Some guy opens up a new coffee shop in the neighborhood, and before you know it, a couple of guys in dark suits with white ties show up to spread the “good news” about some “insurance” they’re selling.
Now I never actually saw Bruno, only the damage left in his wake, but I can imagine him sauntering out of the woods one day, sidling up to me after looking the place over and saying, “Nice homestead ya got heah. Be a shame if sumpin’ was ta happen to it.” (more…)
It’s “that time of the year.” For most of my life, if “that time” was late Fall/early Winter, that meant Christmas, which meant it was time to gather with family, decorate the tree, buy gifts, string lights, and eat lots of great food.
I still indulge in these seasonal activities, but since we transitioned to the rural life and embarked on our farming adventures, this time of the year has taken on a deeper meaning.
When you grow up in the city, as I did, it’s easy to become disconnected from humankind’s collective farming roots, because those roots are deeply intertwined with the seasons. And most of us in the modern world — nestled in our antiseptic cocoons of drywall, plastic, and plywood — pay little heed to the seasons.
Why should we? Except for the occasional winter storm, or summer heat wave, our lives are no longer dependent on the cyclical moods of Mother Nature. We can get tomatoes in the dead of winter, and go ice skating at the height of summer. (more…)
There’s an old saying regarding pork… something about “Using every bit of the pig, but the squeal.” Well, I’ve eaten most of what the pig has to offer, although brains and tails are still on my to-do list. One of my favorite non-traditional types of pork is hog’s head meat, as in meat from the head of the pig.
Meat from the head of a pig — the cheeks, for instance — is unbelievably tender and flavorful. You can ask your butcher to hook you up, of course, but as always, if you really want to “get to know your food,” the best approach is the direct approach: get a head, and get busy. A word to the squeamish, there’s an unvarnished picture of a severed pig’s head below the fold… just sayin’. (more…)