Happy Holidays

Happy holidays from the land of plenty. Plenty of cat:

Plenty of jars:

Plenty of pit bull cousins passed out in front of the fire:
Plenty of snow:

Luckily, the barn doors were on just in the (Saint) Nick of time! We here at the farm hope your dark season is warm and merry and bright.


Did I Miss Something?

Oh right, November. What can I say? I was working off the farm (like, for wages) and I kind of forgot about the farm blog. Acknowledging that I still owe the blog some attention, a few highlights:

The Annual Ethel Kamin Memorial Jell-O Mold

Best Use for Leftover Stuffing: Put an Egg On It

Fireside Dogbed Snuggle Times
Farmyard Snuggle Times...or a Two-Headed Goat
Here's hoping for a bloggier December.


Enjoying Fall While It Lasts (Before We Get Dumped On)

Bittersweet time, October. You know the snow's going to fly eventually, but not when, or how much, or for how long. So you prepare for winter, stacking firewood and changing out the storm windows and stocking the pantry and all. These logs came from our property, which is kind of satisfying.
At the same time, though, there's a little bit of summer still hanging on. Every tomato you eat might be the last one. This was certainly the last ratatouille of the year. It's nice to have the oven on for six hours on a chilly autumn day when you're too stubborn to admit that it's probably time to turn on the heat.

The goats are enjoying what remains of their time on pasture, with a few crunchy fall leaves thrown in for variety.

 They stay warm by eating all day and snuggling all night. Sounds like a pretty good life, doesn't it?


Autumn Morning Milking

Even though it becomes harder to get out of bed on chilly fall mornings when it's not quite light out, once we are up and out, we are instantly, generously rewarded. The air is crisp and cool. As we set out, we can see the sun rising through the trees. The hill is still in shadow.

Sunrise, 6:30 AM
When we reach the goatyard, the goats are already grazing. They yell and gallop and jump around, pleased to see us. 

Jasmine, 6:40 AM
As we settle into the milking routine, the rising sun begins to illuminate the tops of the trees in the west.

6:50 AM
Little by little, the sunlight spreads over the hill.

7:00 AM
When we head back down, it is fully daytime, and we are fully awake. I'm grateful to the goats for getting me out of my warm bed to experience the quiet majesty of autumn mornings.

7:10 AM


The Hardest-Working Woman on the Farm

Who is the hardest-working woman at Cotton Hill Farm? Not any of these goats, though their brush-hogging skills are impressive.
Water Cooler Gossip
Not the hens, although they are laying quite nicely, and not me, though I did make three cheeses at the same time yesterday afternoon. Certainly not Rose of Sharon.
Rosie's Job is Purely Ornamental 
No, the dedicated worker in question is a more shadowy figure, known to us only as Little Grey Cat, L.G.C. for short.
L.G.C. on the J.O.B. 
LGC has been around here for several years, maybe even longer than we have. Sometimes in the winter I've looked out the window to see her stalking some critter, her dark fur stark against the snow. Two summers ago, she had kittens in our garden shed; all but one died within a week. 

We've been seeing LGC around a lot the last few weeks, and the other morning I found three little black kittens and the head of one mouse in the shed. The kitties look like they're already a month old at least. Later that day LGC brought them at least two more mice. What a good mom!
Cute Kitten Eating Lunch.  
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That Was Summer

Last week, for the first time in months, we slept without the fan on. Last night, I noticed it was dark before eight. The asters are in bloom, the hummingbirds have gone, and the mornings are chilly. Summer is definitely on its way out.

The goats are making the most of what remains of summer. We had high-tensile fence installed around their pasture, so these days they are roaming free in the mornings, eating up the clumps that never made it into any of their pens. The weeds are so tall, you can't even see the kids. They go back to their sheds all fat and happy for a midday rest.

Meanwhile, down the hill, the vegetable garden is just getting good. I guess I was running a little late in the spring, so we still don't have mature eggplants or full-size tomatoes, but we do have a giant sprawl of winter squash. I'm also very excited for edamame - any day now.


Maybe when autumn is here I'll be a little more responsible about updating the blog. Enjoy the ends of summer, folks!
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I Kill What I Eat

This year, for a change of pace, we raised heritage breed chickens, instead of Cornish Crosses, for meat. To be honest, it was my inherent - shall we say - frugality that led to this decision. I'm cheap, and there was an ad on craigslist for 85-cent cockerels, so I did a little research and we decided to give a shot to raising more natural chickens instead of those fat hybrid freaks. 
Turned out they were Australorps, and they were hell-in-a-chicken-tractor to raise. Sure, they were less prone to suddenly dropping dead than the Cornish Crosses seem to be, but they were so...birdy. They seemed unhappy to be confined in their pen, despite our moving it to a new pasture every morning. This dissatisfaction was manifested in their attempts to escape by flying away every time we opened the pen, and quite a bit of chicken-on-chicken violence. Plus, you have to raise them for 12 to 16 weeks before they are ready to go. By 12 weeks, we were pretty sick of them.

In previous years, we have dropped off our live birds at a local farm in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon, ready for the freezer. This year, in the spirit of doing things differently, I found a flyer at Agway for a different farm, one that offered a discount if I would help process the birds. Last Saturday, I learned how to process chickens.

I was nervous, because I had never killed anything besides bugs and unlucky animals that wouldn't get out of my car's way. I wasn't sure I could do it, and this is something I've felt kind of guilty about for a few years now, but I was able to rationalize that I don't have to kill stuff if I don't want to, that maybe my part is just to give animals a satisfying, happy life before they become my food. Still, I felt like avoiding this part of the process was kind of irresponsible or something. That being said, this is where the vegetarians and the squeamish should probably stop reading.



Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the new addition to the Cotton Hill herd. She came with a name that was too cute to change: Buttons! Buttons is very sleek and has a very white face, as you can see.
At first her new herd-mates all loved her because she smelled like boy-goats. Then they all hated her because goats are kind of like middle-school mean girls who can't stand to have their status threatened. Now they are getting used to her, we think. She is a yearling, so Vernon and Veronica think she's kind of fun because they are all about the same size. 

Buttons likes green leaves and grain. She gives a remarkable amount of milk for a gal her size. When we are done milking her and she is almost finished with her grain, she likes to give us kisses on the face. She's a pretty good kisser, too.
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The Barn Right Now

I haven't posted any barn photos in some time, because for a while, progress had kind of stalled while we waited for the lumber and the time to continue framing and siding. Last weekend, with the help of Debbie and Olivier, the barn metamorphosed from an open-air pavilion to something more like an actual barn. Here's the progress report:
South Side
Watch Dog
East Side
West Side
The barn is a lovely place to hang out on these hot days. It's shady and the breeze blows through the center doors beautifully. Many, many, many thanks to Olivier and Debbie for the working weekend!
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Summer Solstice

The summer solstice was yesterday evening, around 7:00. I had just finished up the milking dishes and shade was finally spreading over the hillside, so Bird and I went for a stroll. We stopped to smell the flowers:
In the Garden...

And in the Wild
 We walked through the garden.
Stop to Smell the Garlic
 We checked on all the critters up the hill, who seemed to be bearing the heat well.
Not Broiled Chickens
Veronica and Vervain
Bird Is Very Patient
Finally, we came home and surveyed the fruits (and vegetables) of the day's labor: two pounds of  garlic scapes and a jar of asparagus pickled, eight quarts of strawberries preserved, and two nice cabbages fermenting into kimchee. Canning was not the smartest way to spend the hottest day of the year, but I think it was worth it. And it seemed a fitting way to kick off the summer.
Pickles and Preserves #1
 Happy first day of summer, everyone!
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Wednesday is Kale Day

Suddenly, it is summer in the garden. Almost all the beds are planted, and we have been harvesting radishes, spring garlic, lettuce, spinach, and other greens for weeks now. The spinach is amazing, but a close runner up is dinosaur kale, a new crop for me this year. Unfortunately, Farmer Fin got burned out on kale a couple of years ago, so it has become sort of a guilty pleasure for me, to be enjoyed on the days that he is in Manhattan.

Last night's dinner was so good, I have to share: leftover polenta and dino kale steamed in white wine with sauteed garlic scapes (just coming up this week; time to get out my canner and get to pickling). I made the polenta earlier in the week as a way to use up the remaining jars of tomato sauce in the pantry.  

I use the recipe in Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, with the minimum amount of water. Basically you boil 4 cups of water, add a cup of polenta in a slow stream, whisking vigorously, reduce the heat to low, whisk every minute for five minutes, then switch to a wooden spoon and stir pretty much constantly for 15 or 20 minutes. When it's cooked I stir in lots of good butter from Cowbella in Jefferson, NY. Spread some sauce on top, sprinkle with cheese (mozz from the store, cheddar and parm from the basement), and broil it for a few minutes. For the kale, I chop a few scapes and cook them for a few minutes in olive oil, then add the kale and some (lousy) white wine that was left in the fridge. I think I could eat this every day. I recommend it for you kale fans out there. 
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May Flowers

I know that lots of people live in cold climates, like Scandinavia, Alaska, Minnesota, and such. However, this is the farthest north I've ever lived (and really, would ever want to live, unless I succumb to the temptations of Maine - Vacationland! - or maybe Nova Scotia), and I'm still getting used to the delayed seasons here in the Helderberg Hills. This year, though, the month of May is just like the Mays of my youth in the mid-Hudson Valley, 1° south of here in latitude. 

It started with the apple blossoms. The first week of May smelled wonderful and buzzed with bees.
The Goats' Second Pasture
My birthday is in May. Farmer Fin took me for a shopping spree at the Barber's Farm greenhouses. I was like a kid in a candy store. Plus I had ice cream for lunch. 
All sorts of violets and other little wildflowers started bursting out everywhere, along with the wild strawberries. Then, the lilacs made the air almost sickly sweet. Also, something about this warm, rainy weather is encouraging all sorts of flora I haven't seen here before, like these columbines that popped up in the backyard.

Bees Love Columbines, and Hummingbirds Do Too