Happy Holidays!

It's the second-to-last day of December and we still have no snow on the ground. I harvested this salad from beneath the row cover a couple weeks ago - delicious, nutritious, and a surprisingly successful experiment in winter gardening.

Christmas on the farm was lovely once again; good company, good food, and presents more than made up for the lack of snow. I want to leave the tree up all winter.

The goats enjoyed a delicious Christmas dinner of spent grains from neighbor Justin's last brewing.


Barn Progress

Last week it snowed again. It was quite dramatic there for a few hours, but ultimately unremarkable. We are incredibly grateful for this, and for the generous help of friends. Brian and Kasia came up from NYC last weekend to help us get the floor joists up. Fin and I had spent a frustrating day the previous weekend trying to do this without help, to no avail, but with a few extra hands it went smoothly.

Hoist Those Joists!


Autumn is Sexy Time

Oooh, Autumn, you are hot! With the balmy temperatures we have been experiencing this year, we have been walking around like it's the tropics, in little more than our underwear. And long underwear, jeans, warm socks, boots, and a few layers of thermal shirts. Sexy time! 

The goats have grown out their winter coats, and their thoughts have turned to love. Let's call it love. Breeding season went more smoothly this year than last, as we humans know our goats a bit better. They can act like loony, moony teenagers and talk trash for days, but once those tails start flagging, it's on.
Juniper and Pansy Sunbathing in December
Juniper was first to take her "field trip" in mid-November. No extended singles cruise this year. We drove her to the breeder one morning, and we were pretty much in and out. As it were. When we got home, Pansy took one whiff of Junie's buck-smelling coat and lost her mind, so we got her up into the truck (for those of you who know her: Yes, this is a minor miracle, considering we could not get anywhere close to her at this time last year, but all our patience - ok, mostly Farmer Fin's patience, not mine - paid off and she has become a sweet girl a lot of the time), and turned it right back around. Her deflowering was pretty unceremonious, and we were done for the day. Sassafras had her field trip a week or so later, and Violet on the exact same date as last year, right before Thanksgiving.

Veronica, Vernon, Sassafras, and Violet
It's going to be a very busy (and very cute) April 2012 for us. This year's kids are seven months old, but they still look pretty small (and pretty cute) to me.
Veronica Likes To Be on Top

And then there is Destiné, speaking of growing up fast. Even Destiné is not immune to the charms of Autumn. I saw him trying to hump one of the Beatrixes yesterday, proving for good and all that he is, in fact, a rooster. And a handsome one indeed.
Big D Scheming on the Ladies
Well, that's about all I need to share about this sexy time of year. May winter find us all snuggled up with the ones we love, doing as we please.

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Barn Work Day 2

The last weekend of October brought us 8 inches of snow. We were lucky this time, in that the lights stayed on, unlike some of our neighbors in MA and CT. And it was pretty much melted by last weekend, so we could get back to work on the barn. Again we had a great crew, and a beautiful day too -  just look at that blue sky! The first story is up now in the front and the back.
Teamwork Holdin' it Together
Danny Directing from on High
The next step was to get the crossbeams in place so we could start on the second story hayloft floor.
Tractor Moving the Crossbeam into Position

Eric, Brian, Justin, and Kasia Strategizing

Mortises, Tenons, and Braces, Oh My!
We got the western beam in place right nice, thanks to monkey people and strategy.

We had an amazing auxiliary too, including Amaya, Laura, Scarlet, and Cassie. It was a beautiful day on the farm.

Run Amaya Run

Bird Soaking up the Sun on the Slab
By sunset (which happens at 5:00 now, thanks to the time change), we had all those big heavy crossbeams on top of the first floor frame, ready to be maneuvered into place. Time to hang the floor joists and get to work on the top story. 

It's a race against snow. Hopefully we win. Either way, we'll keep you posted.


Barn Raising

On Saturday, we began the barn-raising process. We have wonderful friends with all sorts of strength and skill, and we made some progress. I can't thank you all enough.

Ready to Raise




It's UP!
Northwest Bent

Go Teamwork!
More upright timbers and photos to come!
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This is what I've been doing to keep off the streets, keep up with my garden, and prepare for the zombie apocalypse (or just winter).
The garden continues to produce, and I continue to look for a job. Since I took this picture I have canned eggplant caponata, red wine pickled beets, and another batch of ketchup. Apples this week, then I should be finished for the year. Now to find more room in the pantry...
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Manifest Destiné

This year we ordered meat chickens on the internet. On McMurray Hatchery's website, when you check out, there is a box you can mark if you wish to receive a free "exotic breed" chick with your order. When Farmer Fin asked me, "Should I check the box?" I was like, "Hell yeah! Of course! Why not?" He picked them up at the post office one Thursday in early August and installed them in the brooder while I was at the day job. Even the meat chicks are cute at two days old, but you could tell that little exotic one was something special. For the first time it occurred to me that the free exotic chick might be a baby rooster. But I figured it was just as likely a hen, statistically speaking, right?

Little baby chicks
The meat birds we called Jimmy II (Electric Boogaloo). See last year's chicken post: http://cottonhillfarm.blogspot.com/2010/08/chicken-bird-or-chicken-meat.html for the story of the original Jimmy. But the exotic chick was no Jimmy. After a few weeks I decided it needed some kind of name, even if it was a rooster. 

"We need an exotic name," said Farmer Fin. "You know, like an exotic dancer."



So, remember that big hole in our yard in early August?

It's coming along.

Fortunately, the foundation wall was not washed down the hill by Irene. The storm and the flooding did set us back a little though. It has been pretty soggy here, and the excavators (both the man and his machine) have been down in Schoharie helping out these last few weeks. Finally, though, it all came together last week for the last concrete pour: the slab!

It's beautiful!

So, it's getting pretty barny here. Now we just  have to figure out how to get the timber frame up.
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Maybe the Best Thing I Learned This Summer

One June day, craving fruit, I stopped at a farm stand. It was a hot afternoon and the strawberries looked a little squishy, but the farmer seemed nice, so I wanted to buy something. I settled on a quart of chanterelle mushrooms.  I'm not sure I had ever had a wild mushroom. Upon closer examination of the fungi, though, I had the feeling I had seen them before, like recently, maybe while walking the dog in the woods behind our house.

As luck would have it, our friends Brian and Kasia were visiting that weekend. Kasia is from Poland, where apparently mushroom hunting is a national avocation. She is a mushroom queen. When we all went walking in the woods, I pounced on a little golden growth in the field at the top of the hill. "Not so fast," she cautioned, showing me how the ribs on the bottom of the cap stopped suddenly where the cap joined with  skinny stem. Not a chanterelle at all. Oh well.

Not yet, that is. For just a little way down the path, more apricot-colored fungi poked out of the forest undergrowth. These had thick stems with ribs partway down them. They smelled kind of sweet. And they were everywhere in this section of the woods. I took the bandanna off my head to collect them and soon ran out of room, so Fin took off his long-sleeved shirt and we loaded them into his shirt too. At various spots on the trail, Kasia the mushroom queen would pointedly detour. We'd follow her to whatever random mushroom den she had miraculously located with her eagle eye and collect them. When we got home, we had a huge pile of chanterelles! I did a spore print to make sure. We ate them the next day and didn't die. In fact, they were delicious.

2 1/2 pounds - we weighed them
There's a bolet in there too.


Harvest Moon Harvest

The harvest moon has been shining bright the past few nights, but I harvested these eggplants during the day. Over half a bushel!
Vardaman the cat endorses these eggplants
There's more out there too. This is the first successful eggplant crop for me. We started them in late May with fabric row covers that gave us a head start and also protected the plants from flea beetles, which usually devour my baby eggplant seedlings within a week. In late June or early July, when the plants were ready to flower, we took off the row covers. Nothing really happened until August, when suddenly there were eggplants everywhere!
Some of them, I grilled and pressure-canned. The USDA does not recommend canning eggplant at all, so hopefully we will not get botulism when we make baba ghanoush all winter. I made a batch of baba ghanoush to eat right away too, of course. Here's how:
4-5 small-medium eggplants
1 cup tahini
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1-3 cloves of garlic (you can probably guess where I stand on the garlic spectrum)
salt & pepper
parsley (chopped)
Roast or grill the eggplants until they are mushy. Let them cool and scrape the mushy insides into the bowl of your food processor. Add the tahini, garlic, and olive oil and puree. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in parsley last so the whole thing doesn't turn green. Eat it on pita, with crudite, or on sandwiches.


Building an Ark on the Hilltop

It’s Wednesday, September 7th, and it’s raining torrentially again. I’m feeling antsy, wondering what’s going on in the valley. A week and a half ago, Hurricane Irene swept through here, devastating Schoharie County and many other places in upstate New York. More rain is the last thing we need right now.

This is the view from Vroman's Nose in Middleburgh on Monday, August 29. The Schoharie Creek normally winds around those submerged trees at the bottom of the hill in the back of the photo.
Photo from the Albany Times Union

Irene was forecast to be a pretty big storm. Fin, my friend Clara - up from Brooklyn for a visit - and I spent Saturday morning preparing. We cleaned up the yard, filled a couple of water buckets, brought all the houseplants and hanging baskets inside, got some movies at the library, and hauled out the generator, just in case.

We awoke to rain on Sunday. Shortly after that, the power went out. It did not come back on until Friday night, almost a week later. We spent the day reading, napping, knitting, snacking, and comparing notes with friends downstate. Outside, the wind blew the rain horizontal. The tiny stream that runs next to our house overwhelmed the culvert and there were several inches of water on the road. The rain slowed down in the evening, and we milked the goats and made grilled veggies and couscous in the twilight. Before we went to bed we watched a strong wind blow the remaining clouds away, revealing a sky full of stars, brighter for the lack of electric light anywhere in the vicinity.


The Emperor's New Barn

We broke ground on our barn yesterday. Hooray!
There's nothing like coming home from your day job to find that your lawn is now a giant hole.
There it is! The new barn! Can't you see it?
Stay tuned for progress reports, when I'm not busy jumping up and down and clapping my hands with glee.
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Moon Flower!

I am a killer of houseplants. It's not that I forget to water them. Rather, there is some perverse impulse in me that will look at a thirsty houseplant and deliberately not water it. Between these neglectful urges and a history of herbicidal cats, even plants that are widely touted as indestructible have died on my watch.
I need the help of Mother Nature. The garden, with the help of unlimited sun and occasional rain, is generally fine, and now that I live in a house and not a city apartment, I can bring my houseplants outside in the summer. As a result, I have managed to keep a few of them alive for years. Years! Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf. Haha.
The latest and greatest addition to my houseplant collection has been absolutely enthralling. It was a gift from my good friends Frank and Scarlet, the proprietors of a lovely cottage business in plants and flowers. You definitely want one of these, so here's their website:
And here it is, the enchanting, entertaining, and extremely fragrant MOONFLOWER!
Above, Moonie on Sunday, just starting to unfurl


Early Encounters

Anyone who grew up in upstate New York probably remembers the Catskill Game Farm. You could get up close and personal with baby animals and even feed them from little bottles.
Here's a little gem my mom uncovered of my first encounter with the caprine kind.
I think maybe that goat was a little TOO close and personal. Either that or I'm gazing into its eyes and seeing a future of getting up very early, trudging up a hill in the snow with a five-gallon bucket of water, and spending countless summer afternoons inside making pounds and pounds of cheese.

Of course, there's really nothing I'd rather be doing. I mean, just look at me now.

I guess I haven't changed that much.
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There is a lot going on in the garden right now, and out of the garden too. Definitely time for a Cotton Hill collage.

Outside edges, clockwise from top left: Raspberries about to bust; my favorite garden bed right now: yellow marigolds and yellow melon blossoms; being patient with tomatoes; sungolds aplenty; nascent eggplants and onions; pretty flowers; moonflower waiting for full moon; Bird with some of the potato harvest: look at the giant one on the right; baby baby watermelons; superlate beans and romaine; the garlic harvest curing in the woodshed; giant green pepper, please turn red.

Inside: cool cauliflower, crazy cukes, and cute chicks!

Life is good. Recipes coming soon.
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Haunted Hill

One amazing thing about our house is that it does not seem to be haunted. Although I'm a pretty grounded person, as insensitive to the supernatural realm as I am to most things (thanks again for putting up with me, old friends), I have experienced places where I felt spectral presences. Hearing footsteps when nobody was home, lights turning on and off, feeling like someone is watching you - all that mildly creepy type of stuff.

In a 160-year-old sprawling farmhouse one would expect to encounter all manner of phantoms, but any apprehension I've felt in that moment before I turn on a light has been utterly unwarranted so far. The basement is damp and the attic has what looks like a noose over one of the rafters, but overall, the house has pretty good vibes. Or so I thought...

Good Vibes?


Not So Fantastic, Mr. Fox

I first saw the fox on Friday (not last Friday, but the one before that; the blog runs about a week behind life, generally). Bird and I were coming back from a walk, and halfway down the hill I noticed something in the lawn. A face. Ears. A moment later it noticed me too, and ran into the tall grass by the garden. A fox. Five feet away from my chickens. They looked alarmed. Bird never saw it.
Before I moved here, I never saw a fox. Since I moved here, I have seen quite a few. Every time I see one I feel as though I've been given a gift. The thing is, the feeling is bittersweet. Foxes are beautiful and fascinating creatures, but I'm a farmer now, responsible for animals who definitely would have been eaten by something already if it wasn't for me. When Farmer Fin and I watched The Fantastic Mr. Fox, we realized with a sinking feeling that we kind of identified more with Boggis and Bunce and Bean. We rooted for Clooney anyway, of course. But we knew deep down that some day soon, it would be Us vs. Fox.
Fin came out later with the rifle. He waited until he saw the grass move where the fox had gone, and fired a couple times into the ground. The fox was clever and did not move. Eventually we gave up.
For a few days, we didn't see it. Perhaps it learned its lesson, we thought. Wishful thinking. On Tuesday, Fin heard a commotion from the hen houses. He saw the fox four feet from the chickens, who were yelling their heads off. He ran outside in his underwear, rifle in hand, no shoes on his feet, aimed, fired, and dropped it with one shot. The picture below is not as gory as it could be, but is probably not for the faint of heart.
RIP Foxy

I was at work, and when I came home, Fin was digging Foxy's grave. He called a local trapper who said a summer pelt was worthless, and cautioned him against mange. The fox had a cute face, but really big teeth. We felt bad, but mostly relieved that it was gone and our chickens were safe, for the moment at least.

The chickens had quite a scare, especially Celeste, who is older and wiser. Below, left, is evidence of her terrible shock.

The Egg of Terror

Farmer Fin has earned his farmy stripes this year, bringing life into the world and taking life out...all while I was stuck at my day job. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

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