Archive for July, 2012

Opossum Update

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The opossum  problem I wrote about last week has finally been resolved. We caught the mamma last Friday night and each night since we have caught one of her litter. Finally, last night, after setting traps every night, the trap was empty for the second night in a row. So, I think we’ve caught and relocated all of the juvenile youngins  – 6 in all.

Because of the attack and the uncertainty over whether or not the remaining meat chickens have been exposed to rabies they were destroyed. An expensive loss for our small homestead, but a necessary one. No sense in taking any chances.

Another mystery has also been solved. From the first  night we caught the mamma opossum our egg production has gone up. After not getting any eggs for weeks and thinking my girls were too old and needed to be replaced we are now getting 5 to 6 eggs a days. A pleasant turn about.

Plans are in the making for another batch of meat birds and new ideas for more secure meat bird housing is also in the works. So – come September we’ll be back in the chicken business, and none too soon either. The freezer is getting a little thin where poultry is concerned.


As crops shrivel and die from lack of rainfall across the country food prices will undoubtedly go up in the months to come. First will be prices on short cycle commodities like eggs, poultry and milk; followed by spikes in meat and other products that utilize corn or corn by-products in their processing.

Now is the time to stock up on items that could be out of your reach in the future. It is also the time to get serious about growing your own food. In many parts of the country there is still time to plant short term crops like root veggies and salad greens. It is also a good time to plan your fall and winter garden, taking advantage of seeds that may be on sale now.

Take advantage of summer sales on meat and lay aside items that you don’t or can’t raise yourself. I’m keeping an eye on beef and pork sales, both commodities that will be hit hard by the current crop disasters. Even if I do decide to raise a pig this fall it will be months before I can enjoy the fruits of that labor. Filling in gaps now will keep me eating well until my own pig is in the freezer.

If possible, stock up on livestock feed you can use in the next few months, pushing out the sticker shock that’s bound to come. Non-molasses based feeds like lay mash, lay pellets, pig chow and the like will take a big jump in price as the corn and other grain crops wither in the fields. Be cautious with molasses feeds though as they can go rancid if not used in a timely manner.

Speaking of other grains, they too will likely follow suit, or food distributors will take full advantage of increasing prices on corn and jump on the price-hike bandwagon, pushing prices higher to make a bigger profit. Stocking up on wheat, flour, corn meal, rice, barley, millet, etc. could help keep your family eating well over the winter months.

Remember too, grains are long term crops, meaning they take months to go from just planted seeds to a harvestable crop. A decrease in price is not likely to be seen until mid- to late- 2013, if at all. I can still remember the huge jump local fruit prices took during a grocery store strike in the early 2000’s. Prices went from under a dollar a pound for most fruits to almost $2.00 a pound and prices have never come back down. Disaster situations, like the current drought, seem to be a way for food manufacturers to increase prices whether or not the products are directly affected by market conditions. What goes up does not always come down.

This is also a great time to reevaluate how you use the food you grow or buy.  Americans throw away millions of dollars worth of food because they buy more than they can use, don’t store it properly or just don’t plan to use it before it goes bad. Buying less per trip could be a solution in managing your grocery budget. Getting creative about using up everything you buy is also another tactic to keep your food budget under control.

At our homestead we try to plan meals that use up bits of leftovers to serve filling and satisfying dishes. It’s amazing how small amounts of leftovers or fresh items can be transformed into an entire meal. Case in point…tonight we will be enjoying a skillet full of beef stroganoff made from a few mushrooms, half an onion, a small amount of chuck I bought in the clearance meat section, beef broth made and frozen last winter and a dab of sour cream. I always have noodles in the pantry and a small piece of French bread and a small salad of fresh greens will round out a perfect budget meal.

Stay tuned, folks. As times get tougher you’ll see a lot more tips on how we stretch our food dollars and make the most of what we buy.

Opossum Trapping at Midnight

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The mystery of the missing chickens has been solved…at least partially. Brianne and I woke a little after midnight to the sounds of a chicken being attached in the barn. We both raced to the patio door, grabbed the flashlights that sit on the counter, just in time to see a large furry creature dragging a dead meat bird across the yard. We opened the door and shined our lights on him, which made him stop and try to hide. It took me a while to figure out what it was, but eventually realized it was a opossum rather than a raccoon. I was relieved, a little. He began to move faster, dead chicken in tow, to the north side of the house. As I opened the door a little farther to get a better look the cat shimmied through my legs and darted out into the yard. OH SHIT! All I needed was a cat vs. wild animal fight to round out an already distasteful night.  Not really knowing a lot about opossums I told Brianne the cat was on her own. I was NOT going to get in the middle of a fight. I have already seen a dog vs. raccoon brawl and it still makes me shiver when I think about it.

With nothing more we could do we tried to go back to bed, which meant Brianne went back to Skyping and texting her friends about what had just happened. I laid in bed for a while and then realized sleep was out of the question so I got up and began surfing the net for information about opossums, chickens, predator control and so forth. After about a half an hour of reading I felt comfortable enough that our little guy posed no great danger to us or the cat, the chickens however were a different matter, so I headed back to bed. I had no more put my head to pillow when we again heard the tell tale sounds of chickens fighting for their lives. I immediately launched myself out of bed, four letter words flying, pulled on my jeans and a t-shirt, ran to the back door slipped into my muck boots and headed to the barn, grabbing a pitchfork along the way for protection. As I slowly crept up to the barn, trying not to spook the opossum and provoke an attack (in case the information I read was wrong), I scanned the outside of the barn for movement then moved very slowly toward the barn door. I could hear movement from the chickens, but nothing from the opossum. Confident he had either slipped out of the barn or was hiding I made my way through the barn door only to find our furry murderer cowered in the corner of the meat chicken pen with another dead bird laying at his side.

Brianne was still on the patio with her flashlight. I called to her to get out here and bring more light. With enough light to assess the situation I gingerly caught each of the remaining meat birds and stashed them in an empty rabbit hutch for protection. Then I just stood there staring at the opossum. Leave it to a teenage to cut to the chase though. With two flashlights beaming on the little guy who was now trying to figure an escape Brianne blurted out, “now what, mom”. I hadn’t a clue—yet. But, it came to me rather quickly. I had two choices…kill him right there inside the barn or capture him and release him. Killing him seemed unappealing, but not for the reasons one might think. If I stabbed him with the pitchfork and he fought I would have to stab him again, making a mess I would have to clean up later. If I had a rifle, which I don’t, I could shoot him, but in my semi-city area that would sound like a cannon going off bringing the Sheriff that lives across the street running. I would have taken care of the opossum, but potentially land in jail all in the process. Not appealing! No…capture, albeit a scary proposition, was a better option. So there it was…how to catch a opossum.

I looked around for anything I could use; cardboard box, no, he could chew through it; empty feed can, no, he could escape trying to put the lid on. Then, staring at the rabbit carrying cages hanging from the rafters it came to me…the dog crate. I turned to Brainne and told her to get the large crate out of the garage, quickly. She looked at me almost horrified that I was sending her across the yard away from her pitchfork welding mom, protector. But, like a brave farm girl she handed over the flashlights and headed to the garage. All I could do was stand there blinding the poor guy with light to keep him from moving. When Brianne returned dragging the largest crate behind, I moved the fence panels out of our way and set the crate down just inside the chicken pen. This immediately scared the opossum who then started hissing and bearing teeth. This of course made Brianne turn in retreat. So— as she headed for cover, leaving me in the dark with an angry wild animal hissing and snarling I’m yelling at her to keep the light on him so he wouldn’t move.

At this point I had had enough of this marauding murderer and with that stoved up anger and fear, I shoved the crate towards him, used the pitchfork to scoop him into the crate, all the while Brianne is screaming, “don’t stab him!!!”, flipped the crate up on end and shut the gate. Brianne and I both let out a huge sigh and stood there staring at each other in amazement. This is not the first time I’ve experienced an attack by wild animals, but it is the first time I have not used a wildlife trapper for the capture. We were impressed with ourselves.

With the little vermin caged, Brianne and I carried him out of the barn. As we were walking Brianne asked an obvious, but not yet answered question, “What do we do with him now, mom?” My response…”not a damn thing”, and with that I let go of the cage and it fell to the ground with a loud thump. “Nice, mom,” Brianne exclaimed as we both headed back into the house.

Our nighttime episode ended about 2am and we were more than ready for a soft bed and some sleep. Sleep would not come easy though, as we soon found out. With bodies nestled in bed we heard scratching and clambering from the side of the house where the opossum had taken his kill. Brianne called from her room, “Mom, do you hear that?” To which I responded, “Unfortunately, yes”.

Our story would continue tomorrow.

When I woke this morning a gently fog lay over our farm. It was a surreal picture compared to what had happened over night. I really didn’t want to get up and assess the carnage in the harsh light of day. But, with the little shit (Brianne’s name for him) still caged and sitting in the middle of the barnyard, and the source of the post caging scratching noises still uncertain I reluctantly got up and got dressed. All seemed pleasantly quite outside, the hens were happily searching for morsels or fluffing around in the dirt taking dust baths seemingly unaware of the tragedy that befell us just a few hours earlier.

The biggest mystery, however, came to the forefront when I entered the barn. There in the midst of the quickly dismantled meat bird pen and the litter of chicken carcasses was a lone unharmed meat bird. Brianne and I were shocked! Where did her come from? Why didn’t we see him last night? And, where was he hiding to miss the attack? We may never know, but were glad to have one more survivor. Not wanting to spend a lot of time dwelling on the situation Brianne and I carried the dog crate and set it in the back of the truck, then headed out for breakfast. No sense in ruining our morning plans.

After a quick bite we drove five miles out of town, past where the county maintained road turns into dirt; past small farms and horse stables to where the rock quarry entrance begins; there we found a widening in the road and pulled off. We slid the dog crate to the edge of the tailgate, opened the gate and tried to dump the opossum out into a faraway locale, but we never saw him hit the ground. On closer inspection we realized he was grasping onto the metal vents of the crate, clinging for dear life. We shook, bounced and rattled the crate trying to dislodge, but nothing worked. Finally Brianne suggested we flip the crate over hoping he would release his hold in the process. So, with one quick motion we turned the crate over, the opossum let go and fell to the ground below. I proudly announced, “he’s out!” and at which point Brianne screamed, “oh shit”, let go of the crate and clambered to the top of the cab, the crate slipping out of my hands and landing smack on top of the opossum. Dazed and confused he managed to wiggle out from underneath and stagger off, tiptoeing through the dried underbrush, a far cry from the lush farm he had annilihated the night before.

Howling with laughter over the comedy unfolding and the trapping that led up to it Brianne and I got back in the truck and headed home, not lost on the tragedy that brought us to this point.

Some may find it odd or even distasteful regaling these events with such comedy and laughter, but I guess you had to be there. Now all that’s left to do is find out if the remaining chickens are safe to eat. If not, they will be disposed of and our batch of meat birds will be a complete and total loss. Such is the life of a farmer, no matter what the farm size. In true farmer fashion though we will pick up and carry on at a later date.

By the time pumpkins don the front walk there will be homegrown chickens in our freezer, you can count on that.

It’s been awhile since I brought you all up to speed on our farm happenings and for that I apologize. It always amazes me how life can take over and you are doing good just to put one foot in front of the other. And — if anyone tells you getting a kid off to college is a fun bonding experience they are dead wrong.

So — here we go — the update.

The meat chicks are about 5-weeks old now and I have to say honestly I am not thrilled with their progress. I tacked on an order of 15 with my friend Angela who buys from a different hatchery than I usually use. In the first four days after their arrival I lost 3 for no apparent reason. They are slower growing than what I’m use to and I may need to keep them longer to get them to a decent butchering weight.

They are out in the barn now, which has had its own problems. First, I came home from running errands, walked in the barn to check on everyone and realized I was missing 4 chicks. As I looked around I noticed one in the nursery that borders my property. I was able to catch him and return him to his friends, but never did find the other 3. Then a few days later I found one dead on the floor of the barn and another one injured, which I put down this morning. In all my years of raising meat chickens I have NEVER had so many problems and lost so many chicks. It’s a sad commentary indeed to lose half your flock of birds to mostly dumb luck. I don’t like it at all!

On a brighter note…the greenhouse I have so desperately wanted for years is well on its way to completion. Normally I would have taken it upon myself and a few begged for hands and build it myself, but this time I wanted instant gratification and was happy to pay for it (for a reasonable price). Jordan set the foundation piers in just half a day. When the cement had hardened overnight he came back and built the floor; a deck type flooring with spaces in between the boards so the dirt could fall through. One week and a new baby later he returned with a friend to build the walls and install the antique windows and door I had collected. I will attach the siding myself over the next few weeks and when Brianne is firmly settled in her new college housing Jordan will come back to put the roof on. Hopefully, all will be finished by September, in time to start a few winter veggies and some flowers. Three cheers for a long growing season!

On the veggie front we are not faring very well this year. We have had a raft of damage from rabbits, birds, squirrels and rats. My beautiful pumpkin patch, which looked like it was going to produce a nice selection of field and pie pumpkins, was wiped out one foggy day a few weeks ago. I did plant new seeds hoping they will ripen in the 90 – 100 days stated on the package. We’ll see. The squirrels decimated my peach crop, again! Even with the protective netting and now something is going at my tomatoes. It is what it is folks, and with Brianne leaving in just 25 days I’m loathed to replant anything until I have time and will be  home enough to tend the beds. So now I’m leaning towards a nice fall garden that, with luck, should take us into December before the weather gets too cold.

Last week we traveled to the state fair so Brianne could compete one last time in a competition she qualified for at last years county fair. It was strange to be there with no animals. But, even stranger was the energy and vibe of the livestock barns. There didn’t seem to be the camaraderie and friendly competition overtones we’ve seen in past years. All of her friends are gone (aged out of their respective programs) and the new comers are people we don’t know. The competition was on Sunday so Friday we drove over to Petaluma and visited the Baker Creek Seed Bank. It was great to see row after row of their heirloom veggies, made me want to buy a whole new garden right then and there, but I held off. I still have seeds from this year and I want to use what I can in a fall garden before buying new. I did satiate my urge and buy a few packets of hollyhocks to plant around the greenhouse and one pumpkin I just had to have. If you’ve read this blog for long you know my love (or obsession) for those orange globes no matter how big or small. On Saturday we visited four of the cheese factories/shops on the Sonoma Cheese Trail I wrote about before. It’s a long list and with the distance between them, shopping in the area and having lunch those four took us all day. But, it was wonderful to taste cheeses that are not available in any of my local shops. The whole area is very food oriented and we enjoyed seeing shops and restaurants proudly serve local grown and local made. One shop in particular caught our fancy…Petaluma Pies. All their pies (sweet and savory) are made fresh daily from ingredients grown in the county. We savored the sweet peach and plump berry right from the oven smothered with hand-churned vanilla ice-cream on their outdoor patio after a long day of driving and shopping. Perfect, and perfectly wonderful.

I did get one pleasant surprise though. The sunflower quilt I made for Brianne arrived from the quilters before we left for state fair. I’ll take a weekend and attach the binding and stitch it down, hopefully in time for her move to college.

The dog days of summer have hit the mid-point here and our weather has been all over the place; cool and foggy, stormy with a few light thunder showers, but now we’ve hit a typical So Cal heat wave (not unlike the rest of the country) with temps in the mid-90s. Not many farm chores get done in the heat. We wait until the cool of evening or scurry around in the early morning hours before the suns rays can beat down on our little place. Most of our time is spent filling water troughs and watering plants, it’s a circular dance that seems to go on forever.

This whole summer scenario has gotten me thinking about how much I wish fall was here. I like summer don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something about a crisp fall morning or the way the evening sunset throws a golden glow over the whole farm that makes me want to hunker down in front of a warm fire with a hearty stew and a chunk of home baked bread smothered in butter. Those days are months away, I know, but a girl can dream can’t she.

When I woke today it smelled of a fading storm, remnants of some far off monsoon, made myself a glass of tea, turned on the garden water, killed a chicken, cooked breakfast, readied myself for work, wrote, cleaned, and did laundry. Just an average day on a small farm at the edge of town. Gotta love it. Right?

Fall is on its way, I can feel it.

Mason Jar Meals

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Warm summer nights are the perfect time to enjoy the freshness of the garden — when clear skies beckon and staying inside seems impossible. This is also the time of year when many towns and cities explode with outdoor activities like concerts-in-the-park, art shows, plays and festivals. It’s a time to sit around a lake and let the cool summer air drift over you or lull around listening to the crashing sounds of ocean waves. So grab your picnic basket and stake your claim on the great outdoors with a well worn quilt and a pile of soft, plump pillows. Surround yourself with family and friends and an iced cold glass of fresh lemonade or tea.

Take the garden with you with fresh seasonal salads, which are more easily transportable and attractive when packed in a single serving Mason jar. Try a tangy and aromatic salad featuring a medley of heirloom tomatoes, haricot verts, Persian cucumbers, sweet Vidalia onions and shallots tossed in light champagne vinaigrette and topped with fresh minced dill, basil and oregano. How about a sweet Asian cucumber salad, a Greek salad of tomatoes, cumbers and onions, or, use your favorite veggie combination to make your own creations. Paired with a crusty bread and fresh made cheese it’s bound to make any sultry summer night even better.

Summertime Teas and Lemonades

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hot summer days, sweaty farm chores, or an afternoon of running errands always has me wanting a thirst quenching cool drink. Instead of grabbing a sugary soda I reach for an icy refreshing pitcher of fruit infused tea or lemonade. The kick of energy I get from the tangy fruity concoction hits the spot every time.

Lemon trees, whether they be Myer, Eureka, Lisbon or the less common variegated Pink are on practically every street in Southern California. There is hardly a yard without its own tree, and lemon inspired drinks are always on the summer menu. The versatility of lemonade makes it a fun drink to experiment with too. We are fond of incorporating ingredients from our own farm. Herbs and flowers are especially good at toning down the tartness of lemons and make for a great festive alternative to plain lemonade.

SO — I thought I’d share a few of our favorites with you.


Blueberry-Lemon Iced Tea

1 cup fresh or 16 oz. package frozen blueberries

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

4 cups water

3 family-size tea bags

3/4 cup sugar

  • Bring blueberries and 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl, using back of a spoon to squeeze out juice. Discard solids. Wipe saucepan clean.
  • Bring 4 cups water to a boil in same saucepan; add 3 family-size tea bags, and let stand 5 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar and blueberry juice mixture. Pour into a pitcher; cover and chill 1 hour. Serve over ice.


Lavender Lemonade

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lavender buds
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
cold water and ice

  • In a small saucepan, bring water, sugar, and lavender to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Allow to cool. Strain the lavender liquid into a pitcher.
  • Add in lemon juice with ice, and about 4 cups of water. Taste for strength.



Rose Water Lemonade

The antique and old roses in my yard smell so good right now I just want to eat them. Fortunately, I can since I grow everything organically. So, inspired by the lavender lemonade recipe we love so much I decided to experiment with the fragrant rose petals.

In a colander I collected about a cup of the freshest looking blooms, after the dew had dried from the petals. I chose a mixture of pink and magenta flowers, thinking the combination would produce a deeper color and flavor. As I gently pulled the petals off, I discarded any that had brown on the edges.

I placed the petals in a glass bowl and covered them with 2 cups of boiling water and allowed the petals to steep for 30 minutes.

While the rose petals were steeping, I made simple syrup of 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, gently boiled until the sugar dissolved completely, then I set it in the refrigerator to cool.

When the rose petals were finished steeping, I strained them through a cheesecloth lined colander, capturing the liquid in a measuring cup and placed it in the refrigerator to cool for an hour.

While the rose water and syrup was cooling, I squeezed the juice from 3 lemons and strained it to eliminate any pulp. I then poured it into the cooled rose water. When the syrup was cooled I stirred it into the rose water and lemon mixture. Voila! Rose water lemonade – the perfect summer drink.

Moonlight Yoga and Moving On

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I had the most wonderful evening last night. My dear friend, Anne, and I went to a moonlight yoga class at the beach. What a wonderful experience. We got to the park, over looking the ocean at about 7:45pm. The weather was cool and the fog was just beginning to roll in off the calm sea. The grass had just been mowed and the smell of sweetness mixed with the salt air made the evening even more relaxing. The class started out slowly with lots of easy stretches and deep breathing; just what I needed after these last few weeks of hectic schedules and preparations for Brianne leaving for college next month.

As the class progressed I could feel the tension in my body drift away. I have to admit I did think about my ability to move the next day, but frankly didn’t care I was having too much fun. The sun began to set and the fog thickened as we moved into longer and more difficult poses. We breathed in the damp air, looked out over the horizon and watched the stars get brighter. The moon began to shine, hanging low over the horizon. It was amazing…cool air, stars, moon, crashing waves. By the time the class finished darkness had fallen completely. We laid on our mats for a few moments longer, not wanting to leave this quiet place.

When I woke this morning I had none of the feared aches and stiffness I expected. I was refreshed and rejuvenated, eager to start a new day and a new way of living. This is my beginning of a life that does not revolve around sheep and shows and a daughter.

And, I am beginning in earnest. My long awaited greenhouse now has a floor and the walls will be finished by the end of the weekend. I will post pictures as we go. I’m excited about all of it. I can now keep my gardening supplies all in one place and the planned for patio on the front will be a nice place to sit and look out over the garden area. There’s so much I want to do there doesn’t seem to be time for it all, but I’m having fun making plans and setting projects in motion.

I’ll raise a glass tonight as I enjoy a country western swing concert followed by our annual fireworks display. Here’s to moving on into a new stage of life!

Happy 4th of July!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I, like anyone, likes a good holiday. It means a day off work, more time on the farm, free time to do something new or time to spend with family and friends. But, the older I get the more I look back at how the life I lead today was but a dream for most a few hundred years ago. We in our modern world can’t even imagine the struggles our forefathers had to endure, the drive it took to carve out a living in a new and uncertain world, the strength it took to stand firm to their convictions. We have so much in our fast-paced instance gratification world that we often times lose sight of the enormity of what people went through to make our country free. So, as we party and BBQ and watch the colorful array of fireworks this fine summer day let’s not forget how it all came to be, how much we have to lose and how grateful we should be.

Enjoy my friends. And have a safe and wonderful holiday.