Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pigs in the Garden

Well, I've got two other blog posts written in my mind, but since this is from today, I'm going to stop pretending I'm going to write the others first, and just write this.

This morning it snowed. DH was really crabby, threatening to move back to Barcelona. Sigh. As an old-time New Englander, I knew, as much as I knew every morning of my childhood when school wasn't canceled, that the snow would be gone by mid-afternoon. Even got a bet with a week without chores out of it. But I did get one picture before it had all melted away:

First Snow

Meanwhile, the snow did make us realize that we had to move the pigs to the garden right away while there was still time for them to eat up all the weeds we had neglected to pull out during the summer. They didn't want to leave their original area. We set up a fenced corridor between the old place and the new but even when we removed the fence between the two areas, they wouldn't cross the line where the wire had been. I tried pushing them (yeah, right) and yelling at them, and offering them chunks of pumpkin and grain, but it wasn't until we walked away that they started following us.

When they finally made it all the way to the garden, DH reattached the wire across the border and in they were. The idea is that they'll wander about the garden, digging it up for next year, eating all the weed seeds in the process. It doesn't hurt that they're much closer to the water and the apple tree and the leftover pumpkins.

Pigs in the garden

They're really getting fat!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Selling Gourds

I still can't quite believe it, but I brought my first gourds to the Farmer's Market last Saturday and sold almost all of them. I felt very lucky and very honored. I sold two of the ones I showed you the other day. And here are some new ones that I took pictures of that morning but are also now in new homes:

Sold! Sold!

And here are some new ones that I haven't yet sold:

Gourd Gourd Gourd

It's a strange thing selling something you make. I was worried that I wouldn't want to make any more, only to have them disappear so quickly. I didn't want it to turn into a job—maybe a job, but not work—to think too much of the money and how much time I spent making them. So far so good. I finally got a chance to work tonight, and it was just as fun as before...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Surveying my Fencing Needs with Google Earth

Fencing is no fun. The sheep are incredibly voracious. They almost rival the pigs. In less than a week, they've blown through about 2000 square feet of pasture, leaving it absolutely down to the ground. Luckily, they're enclosed in temporary electric mesh fencing ("electronet") which can be moved around.

And the cow and the goats have eaten all they have too. So we decided to try to put them together. That was not a good idea. The cow, mild mannered as she usually is, flipped out and chased the hysterical sheep around the paddock. The sheep were so scared they hurled themselves against the gates trying to get out.

So, we decided maybe they needed to be near each other without being totally together. We enclosed two areas side by side so they could graze near each other without being able to scare or be scared.

Sunday morning I found one of the goats in with the sheep (little whippersnapper) and two of the sheep out of the fence in the middle of the field. Not good. Even worse when our dog started to chase them around.

First job was to get the dog in the barn. Then, I moved the fences all around once more so that everyone had lots of new grass (which will probably pacify the sheep) and they are still next to each other so they can get used to each other before winter's closer quarters.

But the cow and goats don't really have enough room, so I want to think about getting more permanent fencing. But if you look at fencing web sites, they are impossible to understand. There are as many kinds of fencing as there are tools for making gourds :)

I called a local fencing dealer and they offered to give me recommendations and an estimate if I could provide a map of the area that I want to enclose. I had recently visited Kevin's Classroom and seen his YouTube video explaining how to use Google Earth's measuring tools.

GoogleEarth seemed like a perfect tool for measuring my fencing needs. Sure, I've used it to zoom around the earth, look at my house and those of my friends, but it can be used for so much more than that.

So first, I went on to Google Earth and typed in my address. Then I zoomed in on my field. One thing I can never remember is to how to stop it from zooming in and out. Just click in the middle of the map once the field is at the right magnification (e.g., as big as it can be while still fitting in your screen).

To use the measuring tools, click the Ruler in the toolbar. These screenshots are from the Mac version, but I can't imagine the Windows version is much different (comments welcome).

Google Earth's ruler tool

The Ruler box lets you choose between measuring a single straight line ("Line") or a path of connected straight lines ("Path"). You can see the results in a number of units, both metric and English, and even including smoots.

Google Earth's Ruler dialog box

To measure my prospective fencing, I use Path and Feet.

While the Ruler dialog box is active, there is also a cross-hairs icon in your map. Place it where you want to start measuring and click:

Google Earth icon

Click on the next point in the map to create the first leg of your path. In the Ruler box, you will begin to see the length of your path (201.55 feet in this example).

Google Earth path

Keep clicking around the field until you finish your path. If you need to move a point, hover over it with the mouse until it changes into a hand. Then drag it to the new desired position. You can Control-click a point to remove it (I suspect it's right-click on Windows).

Google Earth select point

Once you have the whole field encircled, check the path to see how much fencing you need (about 2024 feet in this example).

Google Earth measure

Cool, huh?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Zen of a Thousand Apples

So many apples, so little time

This is how I spend my time these days, peeling apples, chopping apples, coring apples, boiling apples, mashing apples, drying apples.

And still there are more apples under the tree.

And I could just give up on them. There are many other things I should be doing. But I hate to waste them. I find there is something important about using them as much as I can, saving them for the winter, not just giving them to the pigs and rabbits and chickens (who all love them too, not to mention Xana) or putting them in the compost. It's satisfying to spend the time accepting this gift of abundant apples, appreciating them even though I'm swimming in them. I don't know a thing about Zen, but I imagine it has to do with figuring out what to do with thousands of apples.

This picture shows my two apple tools of choice, by the way. I'm generally not one for a lot of extra kitchen gadgets, but these two really help. The apple peeler not only peels but slices and cores at the same time. When the apple is done, I slice the whole thing in half and come up with the slices as you see them on the tray. I use the strawberry corer thing (which is also awesome for strawberries) to pick out the bruises without losing the whole slice. It's a scalpel (not a hatchet), and only takes out what you don't want.

Xana, the cow, is thrilled with the apple peels. She looks up whenever I'm anywhere near her paddock. And if I actually walk toward her and call her name, she canters over right away. So much for skittish (and no worries of choking).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm in love with my sheep

Honey comes to say hi

Well, truth be told, I'm in love with a lot of things right now: fall colors, Ashfield, gourds, alcohol inks, iChat...

But those sheep are pretty amazing. I went out to take a picture of the strangely oversized-pear shaped gourds and got distracted by the incredible fall colors all around me. As I was walking back, the sheep all looked at me, and I thought it would be fun to get a picture of them in front of that incredible tree. So I climbed the fence and they bolted away. But then I stooped down and held out my hand, and both Willow and Honey came rambling over (followed sheepishly by Fleur and Cocoa) to see what I was up to.

Their chins are so soft. I can't sew anything with silk in it because my hands are so dry that it catches in the fabric. My angora bunnies make me crazy for the same reason. These sheep, though, are heaven to touch. They are so soft to begin with, especially around their faces, and the lanolin in their wool makes me feel like I'm putting on hand cream. I love it that they come to say hello.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Harvest thoughts

I just found out the the Hilltown Ice Cream Man is selling his truck. He told me that it was just too expensive a hobby... It's too bad, because I loved his Gingersnap ice cream. No, really it's too bad that it's so hard to make a living doing things you just love.

I thought about him as I was walking through my pumpkin patch this afternoon, trying to see if there would be enough pumpkins even for our annual pumpkin illuminaria. I could never have a business selling pumpkins. Especially not this year. I was overrun with squash bugs (who have no compunctions about chewing on pumpkin plants). But more importantly, the month we spent in Barcelona (June, to be exact) was the month I should have been here weeding the pumpkin patch, and when I got back, there were more weeds than even squash bugs.

I'm excited about my gourd harvest though. I have huge bushel gourds that I am hoping to be able to dry for next year. There are also many, many canteens and swans, and a few tall triangular ones whose name I forget.

What we do have an inordinate quantity of is apples. They fall off the tree faster than we can pick them (literally). This morning we made dried apples, apple cider, and I thought about making apple butter, but I was tired of peeling and cutting. Tomorrow.

There were two bright spots in all this harvest news. Xana, the cow, loves apple peels as much as she does whole apples, and they are pretty much guaranteed not to choke her. And the pigs love pumpkins, even, or perhaps especially, ones with smushy spots and misshapen bodies.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

First Hazelnut Harvest

I'd been waiting and waiting, watching my first five hazelnuts as they went from flowers to green bulging fruits to brown hazelnut-looking things. And as usual, I waited too long. When I went out this morning to check on them, all five were gone. At first, I thought the chipmunks had gotten them, but I started looking around on the ground and found four of the five. I think I was lucky.

Hazelnuts and Pumpkin

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Identifying with my cow

I went out to give Xana an apple yesterday, and as my former shrinking violet ambled directly toward me and took the apple eagerly from my hand, I was struck by how much more I like her and how much more I anthropomorphize her now that she doesn't run away when I blink at her. I think it's something about her wanting that apple so much that makes her so much more interesting... so much more person-like.

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