The internship so far…

I can’t believe it’s already been a month! You heard all about my first day on the “job.” Days #2 and #3 were cut short due to some off-farm commitments Cyndi had, but last week we got to spend the whole beautiful morning on the farm. We had a guest along for the morning as well. We weeded, again, fed the bees, re-arranged some fence panels in preparation for loading the two beeves on Sunday, and “cleaned up” the pig pen. No, seriously, that’s what we did! I’m asking questions like crazy, trying to learn everything I can before my time is up. I just wish I could spend more time out there – there aren’t that many more Thursdays between now and April…

I think I will be able to have bees in our next home, so I’ve been really excited to learn about them. Some neat things I’ve gleaned so far:

  • Beekeepers harvest honey once, sometimes twice, each year.
  • Wax comes in lots of colors, from white to deep brown.
  • Bees use tree sap (in Georgia, they use pine sap) to plug the gaps and holes in the hive. This nutrient-dense material is called “propolis” and it is harvested and used in natural medicine. Read about all the great uses for propolis here.
  • When looking at a hive, the bottom “box” is called the Brood Box because that’s where the queen lives. The others are known as Supers.
  • The bees fill the hive with honey from the bottom to the top. Beekeepers add supers as the lower levels become full.
  • Beekeepers tend to situate the hives with the opening to the east – so that it gets warm in the morning as early as possible.
  • Hives with solid bottoms are placed on a slight tilt to allow rain water to drain. For even better drainage, some hives are equipped with a mesh/screen bottom.
  • During the winter, if you notice a hive with a glass jar on top, it’s full of sugar water. Because there aren’t any flowers to visit during wintertime, beekeepers have to feed the bees to keep them IN the hive; if they get too hungry they will leave. However, one doesn’t want to feed the bees too much, or else they might become dependent on the sugar water and refuse to leave the hive in the spring! Also, over-feeding the bees over winter could cause them to think it’s spring, which leads to more bees, and demands even more sugar water.

Beehive

In other news, we’re trying hard to sell our home here in Athens. We had our first showing today and have another one scheduled for Friday! Tripp also spent last weekend in PA searching for our next home. He visited about 10 places, and drove by a few more. We’ve narrowed it down to three, the one I mentioned before is now #3, due mostly to the price. #1 is a really cute, historic home on 10+ acres. #2 is not very cute at all, but is super safe and has a pool. I believe we eliminated #2 from the running today when we learned the owners were not willing to come down on the rent, putting it outside our budget. Here’s a picture of MY #1:

Could this be the future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

First Day at Lazy B

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from my first day as an intern with Lazy B Farm, so I wore jeans and boots and brought my notebook and pen along too, just in case. I was greeted by half of the children on the farm, and had a lovely conversation with them while we waited for Cyndi to finish up a little household stuff before we headed outside.

First, we fed the animals. Chickens, guineas, cows, dogs and goats. We gathered a few eggs from the henhouse and then we did some gardening. I have a small plot of a garden in our backyard, but it’s never produced more than a few very tart tomatoes, so one thing I am really hoping to learn more about this year is gardening. The UGA Cooperative Extension (just like most Cooperative Extension offices throughout the US) does a Master Gardener class every year, on Tuesdays. It just so happens that this mama, with two days off, filled them up so quickly I was shocked at all the great opportunities I have had to turn down. So instead of gardening, UGA is teaching me to compost. Maybe when we get to PA I can take a more intensive gardening course. Until then, I have Cyndi.

So, anyway, we weeded a bed that was previously home to tomatoes and is currently home to the most delicious-smelling Dill you’ve ever smelled. It was slow-going, carefully pulling handful after handful of Henbit from around the dill, but the smell made it worth it. (Made me hungry too, but that’s another story.) It turns out the chickens and goats really love to eat the stuff, so we filled our buckets and tossed it over the fences, making a couple beasts very, very happy.

After the gardening we headed back to the henhouse. Cyndi had to move some hay, so she instructed me to “gather the eggs, clean out the boxes and then put in some new shavings.” Confession: My first day on a new job is all about figuring out the boss. Does she prefer 100 questions or would she rather I give it a go and ask questions later? So, I chose B, and with the aid of Cyndi’s youngest, proceeded to to about half of what Cyndi expected from me. Luckily, Cyndi was just a quick phone call away, “So, you want me to clean all the chicken boxes?” “Uh, ya, all of them.” So I got back in there, and cleaned out the rest of the boxes. And I added clean shavings to all of them (just to have the silly birds come in and scratch and kick and knock about 50% of it on the floor. Thanks, ladies). Cyndi checked on me, began putting away her tools, and headed for the house, leaving me to finish in the henhouse. When I was finished I went to let myself out of the chicken house and found the door LOCKED. Yes, locked. I thought, okay, you’re an adult, you can figure this out. Is it really locked? Not just stuck? No, it was really locked. Is there an indoor lock I missed? No, it’s a slider bar lock like in a public restroom, on the outside. Hmmm…. I knew Cyndi and the girls were all inside, so yelling probably wouldn’t help. I looked behind me at the door the chickens use to get in and out and seriously wonderered if I could make it through. I called Cyndi’s cell only to get her voicemail. So, I was forced to make my exit through the tiny door the chickens use. But I made it, and walked across the yard to the fence/gate and let myself out. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was a farm-hazing-style prank. I’m still not 100% convinced it was an accident, but, oh well. I’m out, the ladies gave me some yummy lunch, and all is well. More next time!

Clockwise from Upper Left: Ready for Planting, Happy Chicken, Locked In, More Happy Chickens, Weeds

So Much to Share!

Okay, first things first: my husband has accepted a job that requires our family relocate from Athens, GA to Pennsylvania – IN APRIL. We made our first trip up there this past weekend to scope out the area and searched for three straight days for a home to rent that is reasonably close to his new place of work. The problem is – he will be working out of western NJ for the majority of this year, and then from Central PA starting in the fall. That means, finding a place that is “reasonably close” means not really close at all. We’re talking about 45 minutes or more – each way. Coming from our current commute time of less than 15 minutes, that’s going to be a pretty huge adjustment for our family. We are working on a few different ideas to make it as easy as possible, but some compromises might mean putting some of our homesteading plans on hold. We have a few cats (and dogs) so finding a pet-friendly rental will be difficult to begin with. But finding one that allows for a substantial garden, laying hens and bees is probably going to be next to impossible. Luckily, we found one that’s for rent, allows pets, HAS CHICKENS, a GARDEN and BEE HIVES already in place! Only trouble is, it’s about 45 minutes to work. Right now it is #1 on our list, but we will most likely make at least one other trip north before making our decision.

Future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

NEXT: Tomorrow is my first day interning with Cyndi Ball of Lazy B Farm in Statham, Georgia. Cyndi and I met in July at the Ladies Homestead Gathering which she generously hosts in her home. I knew right away that she would be an important person in my journey to farming, and sure enough, over the past 6 months, I have grown to care for her, her farm, and her family very deeply. Truth be told – she was the first person I told about our possible move to PA way back in November. We had begun talking in September about me doing an internship beginning this month (now that both of my children are in a morning program two days a week) and it is this opportunity and her friendship that I will miss the most. BUT – we get to enjoy a few months of fun and sweat before we make our move, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be out there tomorrow and every Thursday until we leave this place, and you’ll hear all about it!

Folks, This Ain’t Normal was my favorite book of 2011. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my mom and one to my dad, insisting that it would change their lives. Well, Folks, I was RIGHT! Just two weeks into it and my Dad has made HUGE progress in taking his hard-earned money OUT of the Industrial Food Complex and has, in his own words, “begun to locate sources for local food; eggs, raw milk, produce, meat, butter. Grown locally, purchased right off the farm.” How cool is that?!?! I was so thrilled to read those words (in his entertaining blog, Tadventures©) that I had to call him straight away, grinning ear to ear. I have a couple of friends making the extra effort to eat locally, but it means so much to me to know my Dad is doing it too. Just last week I was telling a friend that my Dad and I had recently started talking food (he is, afterall, the first person I knew to own a modern pressure cooker, and the person that encouraged me to get one) and here he is going out, talking to farmers, and buying RAW MILK! [For pet consumption only, of course.] Needless to say, I’m beside myself excited to have such an important person on this journey with me.

Compostiong Class: I am two weeks into the 8-week program and am, therefore, 1/4 of a Master Composter. I hope that after this program I will be able to not only start and utilize my own compost, but have the depth and breadth of knowledge to teach others to do the same. Before the end of the class we have to present a project, it can be just about anything, to the group, showcasing what we’ve learned, and demonstrating how we will use that knowledge to teach others. I’ve asked Cyndi if I can present a Compost 101 for the LHG in March, so I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

One of the blogs I unabashedly adore is Soule Mama. Amanda Blake Soule is an author, an artist, a sewist (sewer just doesn’t seem right), a mother, a gardener, a homeschooler and an inspiration. I was introduced to her a long time ago I have no idea how, and have found her constantly weaving her way back into my life over the past two years or so. So I was reading her blog last week when I came across this:

And today I joined up. From the website:

Whole Food Kitchen will be a place for absorbing, exploring, and transforming. This workshop will teach and speak to a mostly plant-based diet, but is not exclusively vegan or vegetarian. You will find [the] classes infused with a non-dogmatic, inclusive approach to nutrition. In life and in food, [the] focus is on simplicity, patience, keeping it real, and common sense.

Having already committed myself to a local, whole foods diet, I think this workshop will do great things for my less-than-stellar abilities to come up with something to have for dinner, based on the seasonally-appropriate foods and bulk items I am able to procure through the local food co-op. I feel like I’m in college again – only this time I’m taking ALL the classes I LOVE! Plus, Heather has already inspired me to take back my pantry! LOOK:

Community Garden

I just came across this link and it got me thinking – what a totally terrific idea! Set aside an acre or two and rent them out annually:

Background
Kinder Farm Park’s community gardening program consists of about 125, 20 * 30′ gardening plots. More than 100 gardeners rent plots each year for $40/plot to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, and flowers. A program teaching eco-friendly and sustainable basic vegetable gardening skills to families is located at the Apprentice Garden and is sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension Office Anne Arundel County Master Gardeners.

The community gardening program remains a highly-regarded leisure-time pursuit for many of the park’s neighbors. The waiting list for plots has increased with each passing year. a recent resurgence of people cultivating home-grown food is sweeping the country. Both President Obama and Governor O’Malley have installed their own vegetable gardens in 2009 at the white House and the Maryland Governor’s Mansion, respectively, increasing news stories about gardening (with references to the famed “Victory Gardens” that were popular during WWII).

Community Garden
photo courtesy kinderfarmpark.org

Of course I have no idea what the demand might be, but it’s certainly something to consider! One of my greatest desires for this farm is a strong relationship with our community. I hope to grow a farm-to-school program and even a Heifer International-type program for local needy families. Knowing that our family cannot consume all the milk from even one single cow, I would like to start a Dairy Share program to help finance her upkeep, the milking equipment, and the time involved in caring for her and her calf. So many exciting opportunities – I’m still just trying to decide where to begin!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

We are due to finish up our first book club selection, Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin, and after a vote, we have chosen to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver next. I read this book a few years ago, shortly after The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. AVM had come highly recommended from more than one good friend, so I knew I would at least like it. But when I discovered the author was writing about her family’s farmstead in rural Virginia, I knew I would love it. And love it I did.

It’s been a few years, and while this book certainly helped get me started down the path to homesteading, I look forward to re-reading it. I hope to find even more great information and ideas.Animal Vegetable Miracle Barbara Kingsolver

Become a Master Composter

NEW Master Composter Program

If you enjoy working with people, digging in the dirt and talking “trash”, we want you to become a volunteer Master Composter with the Athens-Clarke County Master Composting Program! Become a home composting expert and teach your family, friends, neighbors, and fellow community members, “How to Compost”.

Master Composters are an elite group of volunteers who have undergone an extensive training class in all aspects of the composting process, and then use that information to teach others how to turn their organic material into a beneficial soil amendment.

Master Composter Program Information Expectations:

  1. Complete the training course and field trips – (8 classes and 2 field trips)
  2. Complete class project
  3. Volunteer a minimum of 40 hours back to the program


Typical Volunteer Duties:

  1. Teaching or assisting staff with compost workshops.
  2. Staffing composting information booths at various public education and outreach events.
  3. Giving lectures on composting to various civic, community, and garden groups.
  4. Giving hands-on presentations or assisting staff with school compost programs


Program Details:

DATES: Tuesday evenings, January 10th – February 28th, 2012 including two field trips on Saturdays (February 11th and 18th) to exemplary commercial, farm, and residential composting facilities.

TIMES: 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

LOCATION: ACC Solid Waste Department Administration Building Training Room, 725 Hancock Industrial Way, Athens 30605

COST: $100

TO REGISTER: Contact ACC Cooperative Extension at (706) 613-3640

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit athensclarkecounty.com/recycling or download the registration form here.

~ Special thanks to my dad for this awesome Christmas gift,
even if you do think it’s weird to love compost! ~

Garlic & Cayenne Oxymel

When I came down with my 2nd nasty cold of this season, I decided it was time to test my apothecary skills. While on our Ladies Homestead Gathering Retreat, we were honored to attend an herbal class with Patricia Kyritsi Howell of BotanoLogos School of Herbal Studies in Mountain City, Georgia. (You can check out her website at WildHealingHerbs.com) She brought along her knowledge and ingredients to make a few winter-time remedies for us. We discussed three remedies in great detail: Elder Rob Syrup, for use at the on-set of illness; Garlic & Cayenne Oxymel, to loosen a stuffy nose and soothe a sore throat; and Elderberry Wild Cherry Cough Syrup.

So last week I tried my hand at medicine-making and brewed a batch of Garlic & Cayenne Oxymel. And lest you fear I re-printed this recipe without permission, worry not! I cleared it with Patricia before publishing this. (As a new real-life blogger, I often forget to document my work as I go along, and thus, have no in-progess photos to share with you. My apologies…)

Garlic Oxymel

8 ounces cider vinegar
1/4 ounce each crushed fennel seeds and caraway seeds
1 bulb fresh garlic (approximately 10 cloves), pressed
3 fresh cayenne peppers
10 ounces honey

Put the vinegar in a pan with the seeds and bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add garlic and cayenne peppers. Let mixture cool. Strain back into pan. Mix in 10 ounces of honey. Warm over a low heat until thinned slightly. Store in a sterile jar in a cool place.

To use, take 1 tablespoon and dilute in 1 cup of warm tea. Drink as often as needed to clear congestion and soothe a cough.

Shelf life: Approximately 1 year.

My adjustments: I did not have any fennel seeds or caraway seeds so I omitted them. I did not have enough fresh garlic, so I used dried garlic. I did not have any fresh cayenne, so I used dried cayenne. But other than that…! It was delicious and effective, nonetheless.

Image

Hard-Working Mama

A few weeks ago we attended a wood cutting party at a good friend’s 60-acre farm in Madison County, GA. We spent the day using chainsaws, axes and even a gas-powered wood splitter to clear out a few downed trees on her property. By the end of the day, I had a pickup truck load of practically free firewood! So today I got out there and stacked it all while the kiddos dug around in the dirt.

Ready for winter!

Our first farm visit!

A couple of months ago I contacted a land owner via the VA FarmLink,

an online database designed to link farm owners interested in exiting agriculture with those seeking farms and farm businesses.  The database is the primary component to date of the Virginia Farm Link programwhich was established in 2001 by the General Assembly to provide assistance in the transition of farm businesses and properties from retiring farmers to active farmers.

I have contacted a few other farmers/land owners, but this was our first visit. We spent the holiday weekend with family in Chesapeake, Virginia, and headed up to Orange, VA “on the way home.” It made for an extremely long day, but it was an awesome opportunity.

Pros:

  • Lots of land
  • Flexible lease/ownership
  • Location – halfway between Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, VA

Cons:

  • The land is pretty chopped up, difficult to utilize
  • No hardwoods/timber
  • No useable buildings
  • No dwelling
  • Very far from potential off-farm job opportunities

Ultimately, we’ve decided this property is lovely but isn’t a good match for us.

Orange, VA Farm

Ladies Woodcutting Party

This weekend I spent a day with some great friends, on a beautiful farm, chopping wood. And even though almost every part of my body is in some degree of pain, I had a blast!

Our fearless leader had already spent hours teaching us how to use chainsaws and axes safely while on our Ladies Homestead Gathering Retreat, but we were eager for more practice. When she mentioned having a few downed trees on her property in need of removal, we jumped at the chance to help. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout – over 20 adults and nearly 10 children! And, in LHG style, we enjoyed the most amazing pre-Thanksgiving potluck picnic!