A story about wood and warmth.
I’m heating primarily with wood. It’s been a year where I’ve been going through a lot of it. My friends and neighbors who use wood tell me I’m not alone in this. My wood is delivered by the truckload. Typically it’s a regular size dump truck. The men who bring wood around these parts count on me and other folks for their livelihood.
I have done enough of my own hauling of wood and splitting it to know their work is beyond hard and demanding, and possibly dangerous. I admire them greatly and I depend on them, because, while I’m living on a mountain on property mostly covered with forest, bringing down trees is not and never will be in my skillset. My capabilities bottom out at hauling fallen deadwood of a max of 2-3” diameter and sawing it into lengths with my trusty Stanley Fat Max hand saw. I know I could get a little chain saw, but they can buck and I live out here alone. We have volunteer rescue, the nearby hospital recently closed and there’s that. All in all, I’m erring on the side of caution concerning a chain saw. I wish to spare my loved ones the news their mom and granny bled out and was eventually found in who knows what condition given the amount of scavenging wildlife and Turkey vultures in these parts.
There’s a skill to setting a good fire in a wood stove. It takes forethought and planning . Weather watching is an important part of this planning because, obviously, wet wood doesn’t want to burn. If you must use dampish wood, you’ll be forever tending it to get up a fire hot enough to be of any value on a really cold night.
It takes more than those nice dry hardwood split logs that I have delivered to have a fire. There’s need for tinder and kindling and smaller, maybe softer wood lengths of not much diameter. You can use some poplar or pine for this but poplar burns fast and doesn’t give much heat . The burning of pine is not recommended except to use in small pieces to stat a fire. Too much pine and you’ll get a build up of residue in your stovepipe and chimney that could start a fire. If your stove is drawing smoke really well and giving a good hot burn, you probably haven’t too much to worry about in terms of chimney fires. It is, however, good to have your chimney and stove pipe checked and cleaned every season . You might skip one year, but I wouldn’t let it go past two.
Hunting, gathering, spilling, hauling and burning wood is one of those learn by doing life skills I’d never have imagined mastering ten years ago. Now, it’s just part of my lifestyle. I get some pretty good exercise In these winter months.
It’s lovely to sit in the evening and watch the flames dancing through the stove window, dogs stretched out. on the floor, maybe with a cup of tea or glass of wine, knitting, listening to an audiobook or binge watching a British TV series. That’s what winter evenings are all about, taking it easy, after the hard work is done.
How it has come to be the beginning of the last third of August is just beyond my understanding. Seems as if I was getting garden beds ready just a little bit ago and now they are coming into full fruit. I have a late season here being in the forest and on the mountain, or actually the ridge with an elevation 2981 or close to that.
I just came in from making turning large wood into smaller pieces and looking at what there is to be done. I am already feeling behind in my winter wood procurement. But winter is coming and one day some loving or kind soul will come along and take care of the bigger logs for me and I will appreciate it so.
While I was doing this, realized the forest was creeping closer to the house. Oh yes. Forests will do this. They want to take back to themselves that which we borrow. We need to remember it’s a loan. Never the less, I realized a week or so ago that I had a considerably shorter view into the tall trees behind the house. Summer with it’s many rainy days has helped the little maples, black locust and assorted other greenery come along and take back about thirty feet in some places. Many of the new young trees are much too close to grow to maturity. They are already crowding one another out, hungry for the sunshine at the edge of the cleared lot. I took a lot of them down with sturdy pruning shears and carried them off to the goat pen. Nothing is wasted if you watch and harvest it at the right time. The goats think the leaves are a wonderful treat. They will leave the branches and in a few days I will clear the pen and take those back for kindling.
I love my chores. Well, I love that there is great variety in what I need to get done. Recently it has been about watching what is ripening and figuring out the best way to use what is coming along. Shall I can, dry or freeze the wonderful fresh things my gardens are providing? It will be a long time before the yield here will be totally sustaining. This is the third year and I am learning. I buy produce from the farmer’s market too. I am never sure what, of the many things I plant will actually be the vegetables to thrive. I thought I planted many varieties of squash but there was never a single zucchini in sight. I have an abundance of patty pans. Those are the little round space ship shaped squashes. I have learned to love them and to dry and freeze and take to the market. If I am lucky, I may get a pumpkin or maybe two and if I do they will be my treasures. It looks as if I will get a lot of potatoes pretty soon. Maybe a green pepper or two and three or four egg plants. It has been a wonderful summer for beets and I love every part of beets. The greens and stems have their place on the plate as well as the gorgeous root. I see pickled beets and dried beet chips long into the winter months ahead and sauerkraut made fresh from the local mountain cabbage grown by a farmer whose makes this his specialty.
My strawberries gave me enough to make some preserves and I picked enough blackberries before I noticed the bear scat to put by few jars of jam. I bought a box of peaches because I could not resist their beauty. From my twenty five pound box I shared several for simple eating pleasure, froze a big bag for later on, made a cobbler, and processed seven half pints, and one full pint of preserves that also yielded a pint of syrup with the best peach flavor, just perfect for a liqueur.
Fiber from the alpaca and the Angora goats has been sent off to be processed and will come back in the middle of October, just in time for cool weather projects and for holiday gift giving. I should have a nice amount to offer for sale. It is always so exciting when the box comes back from the fiber mill! So many people at the market asked me if I spin, I have begun to learn to use a drop spindle just so I can say yes. I am creating about forty yards each time I use it as that seems to be the amount the spindle can hold. My product is a very irregular homespun. I will dye it and use it to accent hats and scarves.
The silk scarves classes I have been teaching here and at other venues have been popular. I have to comment here that photos really don’t do them justice. I think silk has to be worn and seen moving to truly show itself off to best advantage Each scarf is 100% china silk with a hand rolled hem. Each is hand painted making it a unique piece or wearable art. I am looking forward to filling an order for a wedding party. These will make such wonderful accent pieces for the bridesmaids as well as a lasting keepsake of the special day. Don’t you think so?
I hope, I always hope, to get back with updates much sooner that I usually do. So until next time, love life.
I have to say Roger and these ladies bring me a lot of pleasure.
I enjoy watching them out on their daily forages out an about the property. Generally I let them out after the girls are finished with their laying activities so they will be less likely to start a nest in some place that is difficult to find or reach once discovered. This happened once.I found about eighteen eggs under a thicket of brambles. These went scrambled to the dogs as a nice treat over the course of a few days since I had no idea how long those eggs may have been out in the woods. It turned ot they were fine and the dogs were pleased to have them.
That was before Roger joined the flock. He’s a gentle fellow and I think very handsome. He was a much appreciated gift from a neighbor who had another rooster who treated Roger unkindly, it seems.
I have seven laying hens and get on average five or six eggs a day while the sun is high this time of year.
Every once in a while there will be a three or four egg day and occasionally a even egg day.
I let them out in the afternoon and later on, at dusk, they take themselves back home to the coop. While free ranging, they go about their chicken business of scratching in the compost created by the goats and alpaca. They enjoy taking dust bathes in a couple of locations they have collectively selected for that activity. They treat themselves to cool drinks where there is a pot that captures runoff from the outside spicket. On hot days, they like to lounge under a shed that is up on blocks allowing for the storage of left over wood waiting for future projects.
They have their own chicken language of contentment, irritation, alarm and alert. As they preen and nestle under the shed or in their dust bowl, they murmur, cluck and chirp quietly. They can be mean or kind to one another while they definitely have a pecking order, they also develop alliances. I have to say, watching a flock of chickens can be a fascinating way to spend a little time.
I am in love with biscotti and sharing it at the Stuart Farmer’s Market in Virginia on Friday mornings. Made with mountain turned butter and my farm fresh eggs provided by my happy ranging hens.
It has been awhile since I added a new entry to my blog. I keep promising to be more consistent. Here’s a story from the beginning of May It is about two bunnies I had the privilege to rescue.
A lady found out that a bunny was sheltering under her son’s house last fall. All winter long the bunny stayed under the house. Finally the weather got warmer and the son and his mother were able to see the bunny and realized they needed to capture it and find it a new home. They called what they thought was animal rescue only to find that the folks who came to get the bunny took it to the pound. This terrified the lady! She had not rescued the bunny to have it put down. So she quickly put the call out via friends and face book friends and then went down to the pound to get the bunny off death row. she did this by adopting it and hoping a permanent new home would turn up.
I have had Angora rabbits in the past, and being a farm with a focus on producing fiber and keeping fiber producing animals, it seemed I could find a way to help the lady and the bunny. Doors opened and there were good signs that this was meant to be. A friend offered me a cage that with just a little retrofitting turned into a perfect bunny home. So, I made a plan to meet the lady and the rabbit and bring it back here to the farm. Guess what? It turned out that there had been another bunny discovered under the house. They were buddies apparently because they were both Angoras. And yes, I took that one as well.
Now for folks who do not know very much about Angora rabbits, they are the producers of this delightfully soft fiber. If angels had hair and you could touch it, it might feel like Angora Rabbit hair. It is whisper soft and fine. It is extremely warm and durable. I have an angora sweater I have owned for twenty five years and I still wear it on occasions. It is an elegant and very expensive fiber and garments made with it are to treasure. There is a reason for this. The fiber needs to be harvested from the living animal either by combing weekly or in some cases by shearing twice a year, maybe once. This depends on the breed of the rabbit. I want to keep with my story so I won’t get too far into the harvesting of the fiber here.
Let us just say that this grooming is extremely important to the rabbits well being . Rabbits like this have been bred to produce fiber and to be dependent on people. One does not find them hopping around in meadows or forests. This is why it is so rare to find them under a house and surviving all winter long on their own. The lady knew if the rabbits were not cared for they would die in the oncoming warmer weather because it had been months since they had been care for and they would succumb to heat exhaustion if not relieved of their coats..
When I first met them, they appeared to be blocks of matted fiber that reminded me of very stale marshmallows. It was hard to figure out where the bunny started and the matted fur ended. It was an extremely painstaking process for us both, bunny and me to begin to free up and find limbs. After about four hours at the first sitting, I managed to find feet and legs and get them loose so the little thing could hop and move without restriction.
Happily, for many reasons, my daughter was finishing up a class at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina at the beginning of the month and she came for a visit. She was able to help me with the grooming of both bunnies. We managed to get all the mats off them. In the end we had piles of matted hair twice the size of the actual bunny In some places we used manicure type scissors and went little quarter inch snips at a time. In the end all went well and it was certainly worth it to be able to see them able to hop around, explore part of the house and enjoy a little freedom. They are really nice animals. they are curious and animated and seem happy and are now a part of the fiber bearing assortment of animals here on the farm.
Angora rabbits can be house broken and are usually friendly. They need to be groomed regularly and have their nails trimmed. They also need some soft wood to chew on and good food and some hay for roughage and fresh water daily. Bunnies live for quite awhile. They should never be considered a casual pet for a child unless he or she is very interested in the breed, fiber production or the breeding of Angora rabbits as well as a long and lasting relationship caring for an animal.
Up on the mountain, you would be hard pressed to believe that these days! We are just coming off three days of being iced in complete with power outages and frozen fog! It was a tough winter, with cold temperatures and significant snow events. But all this moisture is bound to be good for the gardens.
In the Vegetable department, some parsley and spinach have been started inside. We are focusing on producing more herbs this season using many varieties of garden plotting. So far there are row beds, terraced beds and square foot raised beds. This season we are going vertically to see what sort of yield we can get with veggies that tend to vine.. There are also plans for a pumpkin patch to be placed in a sunny spot far from the other gardens so there will be lots of space for the plants to ramble. Looking ahead there are plans for fresh sprouts and shiitake mushrooms as additional crops. As a micro farm using organic gardening principles in a forest setting we are constantly experimenting with the permaculture the property offers.
The goats and alpaca have made it through the snow and ice with fine fleeces. They will soon be sheared and the fleeces will be skirted, and then sent off to small fiber mills. A few weeks waiting will be well worth the time spent in anticipation when it all comes back as beautiful soft yarn. This year we sold shares so interested knitters could reserve their 250 yard skeins in advance. Thank you folks! It feels as if we are all working together to bring this batch of fiber back in the form of elegant and luxurious sport weight yarn.
Creative arts classes continued to be offered here at the Farm. Spoon Mountain Farm is the home of an active creative arts studio. We have offered classes in fiber felting, fiber dying and silk scarf painting. These classes are offered periodically on a rotating schedule. Additionally we have offered classes in producing all natural bath and body products using herbs, salts and beneficial oils. More classes are scheduled in native plant identification and botanical drawing this spring. They can be found advertised locally as well as on Facebook on Spoon Mountain Farm’s page. Please go visit and like the farm page!
The fog is creeping in and around the tall Yellow Poplars out back with the same stealth approach as the cat coming down the path from the barn.. It’s an inside day. The forest is fading away in a cloud. Lately nature has been doing a little two step dance of sorts around here. There’s been a day for hard and heavy outside chores followed by a day that gives permission to stay in and do comforting things. Things such as bake and sort through drawers to find the missing put asides and get around to it later bits and pieces of living. Today is that sort of day. Daylight is diffused through the mist but not so much for the need to use lights.This pleases me. I don’t like artificial light during the day. It seems irksome and redundant. So this is a day to wander around with my head in the clouds. I’m surrendering to it and taking my cues from my surroundings. There are still the outside chicken and goat and alpaca chores that will take me out to do the rounds a little later. I’m going to pick up some lichen and twigs and things to bring in and use for subjects in a drawing that has been wandering through my thoughts. It’s blessedly peaceful here today and if I had something to say or someone to talk to I think I feel inclined to whisper..
Well, actually that is not exactly right. The first recipe is an anytime type of thing. The second falls more into the category of cold weather fare.
I love pizza. There is a fine place for pizza actually down the road about seven miles. Not bad when it’s not icy. It’s called Crooked Road Café and not only do they have great pizza but they serve Greek specialties as well. I would highly recommend giving them a try. I am sure you won’t be disappointed. Mostly they are open on the weekend, so that is yet another reason why I like to make my own. I can have it when ever I want it any way I want it, and also for breakfast.
Here are the ingredients: . A cup of warm water, a teaspoon and a half of active dry yeast, a tablespoon of honey, 2 1/2 or 3 cups of flour to which a half teaspoon of salt has been added. I like to use artisan bread flour which I can find at the local (forty minutes from here) Mennonite store called Miller’s . They are very nice folk and always friendly and helpful. Any flour will do but I think bread flour is the best and if I ever am in a pinch and need flour other than my favorite, I use King Arthur’ s unbleached flour.
So anyway, put the water in a medium-sized bowl, add the yeast and the honey. let that sit a bit to dissolve and then give it a little gentle swish with a study wire whisk, sort of mix it up. To this add the flour and salt mixture, pretty much all at once. Leave about half a cup to add if you need it stiffen it up some. You know, dough can be finicky depending on the humidity, how hot the room is and all that. When the dough is stiff enough so it holds together, state mixing it with your hands and form a ball right in the bowl. knead that for about two or three minutes, not too long and transfer it to a bowl which you have coated with a little olive oil. Now find a warm place and let that sit for about an hour or until it doubles in size.
This recipe can make two 12 inch pizza crusts or you can use it for a couple of calzones or four personal size pizzas or calzones. So, now separate that dough anyway you want and roll it out nice and thin. To assure my pizza crust is crispy, I dust the pan on which it will cook with corn meal. this technique allows a little air between the cooking dough/crust and the pan. that’s why it doesn’t get soggy. I often roll my pizza on a flexible cutting board or a piece of parchment paper and transfer it onto the pan by simply flopping it on and gently peeling the parchment paper or flexible cutting board off.
Now you come to the topping. This can be anything! Traditional red pizza sauce is easy to make and find, or you can let your imagination be your guide. Recently I made a pesto pizza topped with mozzarella, Monterey jack, parmesan cheese and diced tomatoes. I made a second companion to that with a little olive oil on the crust, sprinkled with dry oregano and basil from the garden. I topped it with the same cheese combo and an onion that I had sliced in circles and a bit of spicy sausage that needed doing with. Bake the pizza in an oven that has previously been heated to 400 degrees for about fifteen minutes and there you go!
This second recipe is for Kale Soup. The traditional Kale Soup I grew up with has as a featured ingredient a Portuguese sausage called Linguica and I hope I spelled that right, as it is not in spellcheck. Anyway, I can’t find it in any of the stores around here so I recently used Andouille and that worked out pretty well, not the same but good. Now to the basics. Take about twelve cups of water and put that in a large stock pot. To this add a nice large onion, diced up small and three good-sized potatoes, also diced small. Add a 15 1/2 can of black eyes peas, or the equivalent of frozen black eyed peas. If you have all the time in the world you can use dried beans also. I often do this and begin by soaking them over night, and making more to keep on hand to have at another meal. So now you add in a whole mess of chopped up kale, easily four or six cups, as this is going to cook down. Now add the sausage, and some salt and bring that all up to a boil. Bring the heat under it down to a simmer and just let it cook until everything is tender, maybe 45 minutes to an hour. I like to let my soup cool and then heat it up again to serve. Seems to me, these hardy soups improve over a day or so and this recipe will make a nice amount of soup so maybe there will be left overs. I like it served with crusty bread buttered and put under the broiler with a little parmesan cheese.
Well, this is what will. be cooking up here on the farm sometime later in the week. If you try it let me know what you think.
Happy December 1st! Just another 20 days and winter will officially arrive! I love winter. I love the” all snuggled in” feeling I get sitting in front of the wood stove. Usually I have three dogs and a cat in close company. I love the beauty of the forest in it’s bare and occasional bleak austerity. The Black Locust and Yellow Poplar are standing naked. Some are wearing their beautiful crowns a hundred feet in the sky. I love the white pines that stand sheltering me from the wind coming up occasionally from the south west. Those were planted some long time ago by a dear soul since departed. I get the impression they were set to mark the side of an old cart road barely, discernible these days.
Here some simple lessons I seemed to have forgotten since the last of the previous season’s freezing rain, ice and snow season and just had the opportunity to remember last week during those three wet and freezing days we had up here on Spoon Mountain Farm.
Work harder and more when the sun shines. Do the heavy work early in the day. Take breaks before you have reached your last gasp. The work will still need to be done twenty minutes from the time you feel you are about to drop. Have something warm to drink and sit down for a few minutes, but not on anything too comfortable. Take hot water out to melt a hole in the layer of ice in the goat’s and Alpaca’s frozen water buckets. That way you can stick your finger in the hole and remove the inch or so of ice that has formed during the night. Get waterproof gloves. Pay attention to were the sun shines longest during the day. When ever possible, put your buckets where they will get the most sun. This means paying attention to where the sun is because it moves and a couple of weeks can make a difference. The buckets will take longer to freeze up again if the sun is on them. Do not kick the rubber buckets. It only hurts your foot. Keep the water you are pouring into the bucket well away from your boots. Pouring cold water into your boot is not any kind of fun to walk around with while doing the rest of the chores. Make more trips with lighter buckets. You’ll last longer at the chores and feel better at the end of the day. The same goes for hauling the hay. Give everything fresh water every day. Make sure the chickens have some bedding to keep them warm even though they prefer to roost. Try to keep drafts out of the coop. Very cold water is no where as uncomfortable as freezing water when you mistakenly pour it into your boot while transferring drinking water for the livestock from the bucket you are hauling to the bucket they’ll be drinking from. Carry your jack knife and cell phone religiously in the snow, and ice. Buy a pair of YakTraks . Attach them to a pair of sturdy boots and wear them every time you go out. They will tear up a good pair of boots if you are always taking them on and off. Lastly. Indulge your self without reprisal when it comes to making delicious food with more calories than you generally would eat in warmer weather. Recipes to follow in my next entry.