:: Boxes consist of free-range Organic eggs, seasonal veggies, herbs, and occasionally fresh garden flowers
:: Boxes consist of free-range Organic eggs, seasonal veggies, herbs, and occasionally fresh garden flowers
Our pigs, Lucille and Ramona, have been breaking out of their pastured pens faster than we can yell, “PIGS OUT!” Frustrated by our last failed attempt, which involved fifty bucks in materials and hours of work in the blistering sun, we decided to take a risk and let them out of their pen in the barn to roam without fences, with the hope that they wouldn’t wander far and would return without too much of a fuss.
Because, well, we figured we’ve done enough pig chasing as it is, we can do it again. (Thankfully as they’ve gotten fatter they’ve gotten slower!)
They pranced around, spooked the chickens who were preoccupied with digging in the decomposing woodpile, landed a few back scratches and a spray down with the hose from us, did a few laps around our trailer and the chicken yard, but altogether never traveled far without sprinting back to us.
As the sun set we herded them back to the barn for dinner. They came almost willingly.
These pigs. They sure are teaching us!
The last few months, living and farming in this new place have truly been challenging and difficult, but all together a happy and exciting season of our lives. We have been praying for a fruitful year! We are so anxious to share with you what we have been growing, to have it feed your children, and nourish your bodies and souls. The reason we blog is to help you, our customer, stay connected to where your food is being grown, and to know us, your farmers. Thank you for following and supporting us on our winding journey into farming!
We are currently looking for two drop off locations in the city of San Diego. If you know of a local business, or would like to offer a garage that could accommodate 10-20 (preferably refrigerated) boxes once a week on Thursday evenings please contact us!
Our projected CSA start date is June 6, depending on how things grow.
Why we chose a CSA distribution model~
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Traditionally members of a CSA buy a “share” in the farm and receive a farm box every week or two of seasonal vegetables, or in our case…eggs and veggies!
:: You learn to eat in season.
:: You’re eating ultra fresh food that in most cases has been picked that very day! Which means it tastes way better, lasts longer in your refrigerator, and is better for you (the available nutrients in fruits and vegetables are depleted during the 5,000 or so gas guzzlin miles from Chile where it is picked way before it is even ripe).
:: You know for a fact where your food is coming from. There are no lingering questions, doubts, or concerns, because you know the farmer and you’ve visited, and maybe even picked some weeds or shoveled some dirt, on the farm where your food is coming from.
:: You expand your palate and learn (and your kids learn!) to eat and cook with food that they you normally wouldn’t. Even if you’re shopping at a local farmers market for your fruits and vegetables, you typically don’t pick foods you’re not familiar with. With a CSA you get what you get that week. Meal planning made easy!
:: There is a shared community, a “we’re in this together” mentality among CSA members. If the peppers get destroyed by aphids, we’ll be mourning the loss together. If we planted way too many tomatoes, well, a canning party is in order. Becoming a CSA member is the next best thing to backyard gardening.
:: It is a great way to support small farmers. Paying up front for a chunk of boxes allows farmers to plan ahead and afford growing costs, which are always front-ended.
A few words about our farming practices~
:: We adhere to Organic practices, use no herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or GMO seeds, and if you have doubts come see for yourself. This is a spiritual and moral obligation for us that we take very seriously- we want no part in the destruction of God’s creation. We promise to leave our soil better than we found it! (Check out this post I wrote last year on Why Organic)
:: Our chickens are fed only Organic feed, have a massive chicken run to free-range in, and receive a ton of weeds from our field and table scraps. In the evenings we open up the chicken yard so they can forage in our hills for several hours until the sun sets. They receive plenty of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, and their delicious eggs are proof! Eggs of this caliber go for up to $12 a dozen at many natural food stores.
:: This year, inspired by this On Being podcast with chef Dan Barber, we invested in better seeds, most of them heirlooms, with the bulk coming from Seed Savers Exchange. All seeds are not created equal! We hope this will result in more interesting vegetable varieties for you to try (that you can’t find in the store) and altogether more flavorful eating. Wait until you see the crazy squash we are growing!
In our first round of Spring boxes we are hoping to offer-
A dozen Organic eggs weekly
CSA sign-up information coming soon! If you don’t want to miss out on a spot, email us at email@example.com and we will be sure to contact you.
If you are following along from states away, support local farmers and find a CSA nearest you!
It’s been a week of game changers. We integrated the chicks (now 3 months old) with the rest of our flock. Things got a little sketchy at times, but overall it seems the big chickens and little chickens have made their peace. Today we both thought we heard our new Cuckoo Maran rooster attempt to squeak out his first “crow.”
We moved the baby ducks and turkeys (now 4 weeks old) out from their indoor brooders to brave the weather in pastured pens. The game changer for us- no more three times a day feedings and water changes, and we get our potting shed back! Thankfully we got a hot spell, with highs in the 90′s, and everyone seems to be doing just fine.
Thanks to said heat spell, preceded by 3 days of rain, our crops finally seem to be growing. The squash and fava beans are in full bloom (fruit to come soon!), I spotted the first flower on the sweet peas, we have radishes to harvest whenever we want, and the root crops are protruding from the ground. It’s about time.
We’ve transitioned from seed starting and planting, to maintaining our established plants. Every spare moment now is spent weeding (all the weeds go to our birds), trellising, mulching, feeding, and trapping squirrels, naturally.
What a difference a week makes! For the first time we are feeling encouraged and a harvest seems right around the corner. (We are currently searching for two small, local businesses (or homes) to use as drop off locations Thursday evenings.) We are projecting that the first CSA boxes will be ready June 6 so stay tuned!
Recently we responded at a moment’s notice to a Craigslist ad concerning a swarm of bees (thanks Allison for thinking of us!). It was a quintissential swarm- a large ball hanging from a tree limb, easily reached with the help of a ladder, and extemely docile in nature (they are engorged with honey and actively seeking a new home). We couldn’t have been more pleased. Not to mention it was an early swarm, therefore, it must be coming from a healthy hive (swarming season, really, is just beginning now). And a local queen to boot!
I’d like to think that each time we interact with these amazing, but still terrifying creatures we are slightly less adrenaline filled, more sure of ourselves, and move with just a little more grace (and wear a little less protective clothing!).
Still, with our hearts in our throat (but way less than the first time we raided a wild bee hive), we brainstormed the very best way to cut down the swarm and get it into our box, queen and all.
Finally we just went for it. Chris held the branch with the swarm while I made a few cuts with garden shears and slowly, carefully, we put the swarm into the box, branch and all. Our tried and true way of sealing the box (you don’t want bees loose in the car!): plastic wrap. Hunter, a very brave 12 year old, insisted on carrying the box to our car, wearing only his shorts and t-shirt. This was a friendly swarm indeed.
We grabbed some sushi in the city (our friends didn’t seem to be all that impressed that we had 25,000 or so bees waiting for us in our car) and then made our way back to our little mountain home. With a strong shake we dumped them into our top bar bee hive.
We are feeding them sugar syrup to help them get established, and further entice them to stay. Each day we check for signs that they are making our box a more permanent home. They are busy bees, and are especially noticeable in the orchard among the fragrant, blooming orange tree.
It appears they are here to stay, but then again, we don’t know anything : ).
Each Friday at 9:30 am I drive to milk the Nubian milk goats at White Mountain Ranch. I’ve been on a quest for local, raw milk for a while now. For a year I waited for a goat milking co-op to gain momentum through City Farmer’s Organic Nursery, only to have it fizzle out. I’ve responded to countless Craigslist ads for dairy goats and cows for sale, inquiring instead about raw milk availability. In the meantime, we’ve cut out most dairy products from our grocery list. (Which has created problems for my own ongoing dairy goat argument. Now Chris thinks we don’t drink milk!) Finally, after two years of searching I happened upon Cari at White Mountain Ranch.
Cari is young, full of newly acquired knowledge, enthusiastic, and like us, trying to make a go of it farming. She’s got mushrooms growing in her refrigerator, eggs incubating in her living room, and kombucha tea fermenting on the counter. Their ranch is home to rabbits, turkeys, chickens, ducks, sheep, and said Nubian goats. (They are looking for one more lamb CSA member and have lots of baby heritage chicks for sale!)
Not only does she sell me milk (not for human consumption, of course, I promised with a wink) and allows me to interact with the goats from which I am being provided this long awaited treat, but she lets me do the milking.
My hands are weak and uncoordinated. Right hand, left hand, pinch, then squeeze; a frothy stream slowly finds its way to my bucket. Sometimes I miss aim and the white gold lands on the milk stand to my embarrassment. What a lost art this is. Shouldn’t I have learned this in like, Kindergarten?!
I whisper to the girl on the milk stand to bear with me for I am new at this, and I give her an extra cup of grain to keep her occupied. I quickly move my bucket out of the way when she kicks out of impatience.
I travel home with my glass jar buckled next to me in the front seat, making grand plans in my head for che’vre and feta and mozzarella.
I thought this Friday was going to be like every other. Upon arriving to the ranch Cary announced that it was a special day. One of her pregnant Nubians was showing signs of imminent delivery and it could be any time now. She invited me to stay.
We got out her birthing kit, consisting mostly of stacks of clean towels. We waited around in the manure, heat, and flies for 5 hours. I started to feel a little lightheaded, as it was 80 degrees and I had only had a big cup of coffee, no breakfast.
The mama-to-be paced around the goat yard, pawing at the ground with mild contractions, her belly quivering and her breathing fast. Cary walked me through the many signs of labor. She was a first freshener (FF), as they say (first pregnancy).
Around 2:30 pm the mama placed herself downhill where her water broke and she arched her back, throwing herself against the fence in pain. This contraction was not like the others. Her loud bleating drew the attention of all the farm animals. Even the horses halfway down the mountain stopped their grazing to look in our direction with concern.
Out came a slimy hoof, and with it a nose and another hoof! (You want them positioned superman style- front legs and head first). A soft tug and out came the baby. A girl! I dried her off with a towel and positioned her so her lungs could expand and she could take her first breath. Then (much easier this time) came another girl! We milked the mama and gave them their first drinks of nutritious colostrum from a bottle. The firstborn baby, her coat a soft chocolate brown, slept in my arms as Cari assisted the mom with the after-birth.
With farming, and even more recently with all the swarm catching we’ve been doing, our days are never as we anticipate them to be. But what a beautiful unexpected chink in my planned day. Surely, as we are learning together on Sunday evenings, no matter what happens under the sun, it is good to be alive. Light is sweet and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.
I feel so privileged to have been able to learn from someone more experienced than I, and to have made a new friend in the process. I am tucking this experience away for the day when, God willing, we will birth sheep and goats of our own.
We are in the throngs of the spring planting. The greenhouse benches are jam packed with seeds in all stages. We seem to have finally thwarted our elusive greenhouse snitch, giving our bean, sweet pea, and corn starts a fair shot. Our new motto: if you can’t beat it, feed it (chicken scratch).
All of our spare time is spent planting, either starting seeds for the greenhouse, or moving established seedlings outdoors. I prefer the former. Today with Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov on audio, beans and peas went into the ground. We are using cheap, PVC and string trellising. The rest of the climbing peas and beans will be grown up all natural sunflowers and corn stalks, sans plastic.
We have planted an entire 300 x 75 foot field of vegetables, what we have come to call “The Fairway.” Most are doing well, some are not. We are celebrating small victories: the onions remain untouched by the rodents, the squash have taken hold and seem about ready to flower, there are new feathery leaves on the tomatoes, the beets and turnips appear robust, and the first of the potatoes have emerged.. This past week everybody was fed a hefty dose of 8-year-old compost and compost tea brewed for 24+ hours with worm castings.
All day long we problem solve. Rodents, predators, how to keep the pigs from getting out of their pastured pen for the fourth time this week, and money always at the forefront. So this is farming…
Despite all of the challenges and disappointments we will remain cautiously optimistic. And just keep planting.
Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve and hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve and hands to learn
~Mumford & Sons, Below My Feet
We opened up our hive this week, but the circumstances for opening it were not at all what we anticipated. The next time we opened our hive should have been to harvest a year’s worth of honey. Pounds and pounds, and mason jars and mason jars worth. It would be our first harvest, and I was giddy with excitement at the thought of it. We couldn’t wait to offer honey as an add-on to our CSA boxes and use it to feed our family, sweeten our tea, and ward off colds.
I received a text while in the ER Tuesday from Chris saying that our hive had swarmed.
Swarming is an important and natural part of the reproductive cycle of bees, and a sign of a healthy hive, but as my sister empathetically stated, swarming is like a cattleman losing all their calves.
Most of our bees are gone and they took all their honey with them for the journey ahead. We think they maybe even swarmed again. We should have checked on them more. We should have split the hive. We should have noticed the 15 or so swarm cells protruding from the sides of the comb. We should have added extra bars and created more space.
We are humbled- so much of what we are doing is so much bigger than us. Beekeeping especially takes years of practice, research, study, apprenticeship, and experimentation. And even then, swarming is sometimes inevitable and unpreventable, even for the experienced apiarist. But that doesn’t mean it is not devastating.
We are watching and waiting to see what happens with the hive. Maybe there is a newly hatched virgin queen who has taken her virgin flight. Or maybe we have a hive comprised entirely of workers and drones that will quickly die off with no queen to fertilize the eggs. All we know enough to do now is to watch and wait.
In the meantime, we are sending out emails, keeping spare bee suits in our cars, combing Craigslist, and reminding our friends that if they see or hear of a swarm, we will come get it.
Maybe next spring we’ll harvest. Maybe.
This week we added ducks and turkeys to our gaggle of farm animals. They arrived via USPS, a week later than expected making us ready for their arrival (for once). Chris says we have enough animals now- but I am still holding out for a birthday pair of milk goats, or better, a milk cow. Our landlord wants to buy us alpacas.
We both agree that out of all the spring babies, the baby ducks are by far the cutest. We received a variety of rare, egg-laying breeds.
In honor of their arrival, a friend from work shared some of her duck eggs with us, as well as one over-sized goose egg. I enjoy just holding it and can’t bring myself to eat it.
Duck eggs are much larger than chicken eggs, their white shells are more translucent, and the yolks are huge and a radiant orange in color. They are also higher in fat and cholesterol and especially good for baking. They were delicious in our crepes this week and I am already looking forward to making duck-egg ravioli once these girls get going.
We are starting their swimming lessons early, at a mere 4 days old. Chris reminded me from a second grade book report that their down coat protects them and keeps them warm. They prefer to swim with friends and must be supervised.
So far, besides making a mess of their water (which means wet, smelly bedding), they have been a cinch to raise and provide lots of entertainment with all that swimming.
The turkey poults, on the other hand, have proven to be much more fragile and unintelligent. Instead of running away, they run toward the giants in the room. Turkeys are known to “starve out” in front of a bowl of feed and water.
Things haven’t gone as smoothly as we would have liked…
We are raising Bourbon Red turkeys, a heritage breed, which are on the watch list. There are less than 5,000 of these breeding turkeys in the U.S. They date back to the 1800′s, but have been in the decline since the commercial adoption of the Broad Breasted White Turkey popular today.
Our turkeys will be able to fly, roost high up in trees (if we let them), and mate naturally. They will grow much slower than commercial turkey breeds and take 6+ months to reach their harvest weight. 6 months will put us right at mid-November. Yes.
I’m thankful that we are raising them from babies so I can get slowly get accustomed to them. Currently, I admit I’m scared of these hideous looking monsters who are mean by reputation. But I think I will one day find our adults beautiful and impressive. They sure are now.
It’s a lot of work to start a farm; our days are overflowing and it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get it all done. The ibuprofen bottle is kept an arm’s reach away and at night we pass the extra pillows between us for our sciatica (I mostly blame this on our quickly fattening pigs). We’ve already gotten way more sun than we should and I’m going to be the only 20-something with wrinkles.
Taj, the farmer we supply eggs to, says he’ll have free time to visit our farm in oh, 6 months. “Same here,” we said.
The animal feed bills are quickly adding up, making us second guess ourselves and our seemingly naive ideals concerning animal husbandry and care of land.
And there is the ever present fear, fueled by our neighbor’s adamant stories of failure, that maybe we won’t be able to grow anything in our new location due to the rodents. (The reason as to why we haven’t announced our 2013 CSA start date.) At night I have nightmares of waking up in the morning to fields that have been flattened by swarms of famished rabbits and squirrels.
In our moments of sheer exhaustion and self doubt we dream about just growing food for ourselves next year and the freedom and simplicity that would bring.
Thankfully in the month of March we had lots of visiors (and also two weeks off of the ER for me) and therefore lots of familial help and encouragement. In moments of tears, my Mom was there. Planting beside me, telling me to keep going, reminding me that this is a learning process and that we are doing a good job- the way only mothers can.
Here are a few things, thanks to the help of family, that we can check off our To Do list. It is weeks like these that we need to recount small victories.
Install automatic misters for greenhouse
Plant kitchen salad/herb garden just out the front door
Move chicks outside
Plant loquat tree and feed fruit trees
Put finishing touches on another top bar bee box
then put out for good measure
Build pig loading chute for transferring out to pasture
Craft two new owl boxes
Hang directly above our field
Till fenced in garden area and plant 200 bare-root strawberries
and paint front trailer door.
Capture swarm (or two!) like this one
Get massive vermicompost bin going
Continue killing rodents with pellet gun
Figure out what to do with this decrepit Langstroth bee box
Finish drip irrigation
Take it one day at a time
and try to enjoy the ride!