Who needs health class? We have a farm!

We spent part of Saturday and Sunday breeding rabbits.

Down to our last package of rabbit from the last round of breeding, I decided it was probably time to get those bunnies producing. I wasn’t quite sure how well it would go because we needed to “break in” a new, young buck. Last month he showed no interest in the does and didn’t really know what to do, so, nothing got done.

What a difference a month makes! Fudge (a New Zealand/Flemish Giant cross) knew EXACTLY what he was expected to do and hopefully was able to get three of our does successfully bred. Cookie, Misty and Applesauce were bred. Cross your fingers that they took!

Apparently, breeding three does is quite exhausting for a buck. We gave Fudge a couple hours break between breedings just so he could catch his breath as he was quite enthusiastic about the process once he figured it out. We repeated the whole process Sunday, just to increase our chances of pregnant does.

We have four does, but only bred three because the fourth one is being treated for ear mites. Fortunately, the mites are confined to just her right now and I didn’t want to risk passing it on to the buck or any of the other other does. It’s enough of a pain in the butt to treat just one, much less four more.

Kayleigh helped with the whole process, retrieving the does from their hutches and delivering them to Fudge’s house, then pulling them back out and putting them back in their own homes with a big handful of fresh clover as a reward. She’s pretty excited about being a “grandma” to new kits once her doe, Misty, kindles, but understands they aren’t going to be pets. She’s more excited about adding a few more rabbit pelts to her collection with the ultimate goal of making a rabbit pelt blanket.

She watched the breedings, laughing at Fudge when he couldn’t figure out which end was the “proper” end of the doe and encouraging him through the whole process. She knows what’s going on, not just with the rabbits, but with the chickens, too, when the rooster gets particularly randy with the hens. Her reproductive education has been pretty explicit, out here, on the farm.

Which is a darn good thing, in my eyes.



Redneck Entertainment

When you live an hour away from malls and movie theaters, you learn pretty quickly how to find and devise your own fun.

Out here, there are quite a few forms of what we like to call “redneck entertainment.”

We have been known to blow things up. We shoot things. We build a lot of bonfires. The possibilities are practically endless.

And, we like to sit on the deck with a drink in hand and watch the chickens or the bug zapper. You’d be surprised how entertaining  watching a bug zapper on a hot summer night can be. It’s almost like fireworks! And when a big one hits it and makes a lot of noise? Bonus!

But when you combine the two?

Well, I call it the Redneck Bug Buffet and it’s pretty darn fun to watch.

It’s just the end of March and the bugs are already crazy thick. The zapper is clogged with dead bugs every single morning and every morning since they discovered it’s back out and hard at work making breakfast for them, the chickens run straight from their house to the zapper as soon as they are freed in the morning.

They figured out where the bugs come from and that black hen will stand there, head cocked, watching the zapper, waiting to snatch up the next crispy bug that goes into the light.

I know, I know, it probabably doesn’t seem like it could be quite as entertaining as catching the latest blockbuster movie or spending a few hours at the mall, but there is just something relaxing and entertaining and so very simple about just sitting back and watching the things around you just do their thing.

It’s a secret!

Guess what time of year it is here in the midwest?

Well, aside from spring and planting and green things and warm sunshine and sitting on the deck enjoying a cold beverage, of course.

It’s morel mushroom season and they are popping up everywhere.

The weather has been absolutely ideal for mushroom hunting, if you know where to find the succulent little morsels of deliciousness of course.

Last season my mushroom hunting efforts failed. Not a single morel did I find, most likely because I went a week too late. Oh, I found plenty of mushrooms: Shelf mushrooms, black mushrooms, delicate little orange mushrooms, fairy ring mushrooms… none of them edible to my knowledge.

My knowledge of edible fungi is limited exclusively to the morel. It’s easy to identify and can’t be confused with a poisonous variety.

I prefer to remain alive after I enjoy a mushroom meal, so, I stay in my mushroom hunting comfort zone with the morel.

I grew up eating these spongy, delicate things sauteed in butter and garlic after soaking all night in salt water. There are all kinds of delicious ways to cook up a batch of freshly found mushrooms, but I’ve only had them simply sauteed or dipped in batter and fried. The worst thing about them? Ants like ’em just as much as we do and it’s not uncommon to find one of these fleshy fungi full of ants, but, a shake and a soak gets rid of the ants.

Hunting for morels is a lot of fun, it’s kind of like being on an Easter egg hunt, but instead of standing out brightly against the background like Easter eggs do, the quarry instead blends very well and can be a challenge to spot, especially for untrained eyes. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a walk in the woods on a gorgeous spring day? Not only do you get the chance to find some edible wild food, but the wildlife is out and the wild flowers are blooming in profusion.

Once you spot them, heaven! I’ve been known to do little dances of joy when I find a patch of morels. That’s how delicious they are and how exciting it is to be able to gather your own food. Remember to gather those mushrooms in a mesh bag so as you hunt for more you can spread the spores from the already plucked ‘shrooms to new areas for gathering next year.

Around here there are legendary morel gathering spots that are kept a closely guarded secret by their finders. These mushrooms are so valuable (they sell for over $100 per pound in season) and the season so short that good gathering spots are never revealed.

You can bet I’ll never tell where I find my morels!

But I’ll definitely share my find with you, cooked up deliciously, maybe served with a side of fried catfish, a salad of fresh greens from the garden and a cold beer, enjoyed on the deck under the warm spring sun.

Wild Thang

My daughter is rarely bored out here on the farm. There is always SOMETHING to do to keep her busy, whether it’s stomping through the woods, climbing trees, building forts or hunting for critters, a little curiosity goes a long way. Her favorite season, like mine, is spring, when everything starts waking up and moving around. One of her favorite past-times in the spring is turtle and frog hunting in the pond and creek.

She has never been able to get one of the great big snapping turtles that live in the pond. They are way too fast and disappear beneath the water before she even gets close.

Finally, this weekend she got one and I was pretty sure her head was going to pop right off she was so ecstatic.

Yes, that poor grumpy, algae-covered snapper is in a net. A fishing net. He weighed nearly 20 pounds and was on the extra-cranky side, even for a snapper. Snappers tend to be quite defensive out of the water and can be dangerous and really don’t give a rat’s patootie what they are snapping at when they start striking away. Those beak-like jaws are capable of snapping a finger right off or taking off a big chunk of flesh and when they get something crushed in those jaws, convincing them to let go is rarely successful. For a big turtle that appears to be slow, those jaws are lightning-fast, especially when they are in grumpy-defensive leave-me-alone mode.

This one was especially cranky. I imagine he just woke up from his winter hibernation and was looking forward to a good first meal when Kayleigh snuck up on him and snagged him in the net. I’d probably be kind of grumpy too if someone crammed me in a net and lugged me up the driveway to plunk me on the deck for all to see.

Of course, she had to keep him around until her friend came over and could see him. She was quite proud of her lucky catch.

So, poor Mr. Grumpy Pants got pulled out of the net and put in an unused rabbit cage. As soon as he was in there he started lunging and snapping at the bars and promptly grabbed onto one of them, refused to let go and bent it.

ImageHe was not a happy camper during his short time with us, but, when Kayleigh refused to let me turn Mr. Grumpy Pants into soup, he had to go back to the pond. This time he traveled in style: He took the Wheelbarrow Express back to the pond where he was tipped unceremoniously back into the drink.

Once he was safely back in the pond, I told Kayleigh to leave the big snappers IN the pond because they are too dangerous to be toting around in fishing nets. Unless, of course, she plans to eat one and is bringing it home for the soup pot.

Snappers that size also explain why ducks avoid raising their ducklings on our pond! I’ll bet ducklings don’t live for very long with those huge jaws on the prowl.

I hope he’s a bit smarter about kids with nets and at least got a good meal or two to ease that super-cranky attitude!

Ahhh…life is good. The adventure never ends!

Dirt beneath my fingernails

I love that slightly dirty tinge my hands and fingers tend to take on this time of year. The dirt presses deep into the creases in my fingers and stains the flesh. It sticks firmly beneath my fingernails and no matter how much I scrub with the nail brush and a bar of Lava it refuses to budge.

I have been busy, busy planning for the spring planting season and so excited about it this year I can barely contain my eagerness to get out there and plant!

This year, I’m tripling the size of my veggie garden and since I live in an area with fairly dense, clay soil, breaking new ground and tilling in compost is intensive, hard work. Last weekend I managed to break new ground in about a 20′ X 12′ area…and it took hours. My shoulders and arms were killing me. Those front tine tillers are killer on the whole body and will shake the crap out of you on hard, unbroken soil.

Why so much more garden space? Because I’m a glutton for punishment, of course!

Not really. My goal is to have enough growing in that garden that I can freeze, can, preserve and store enough vegetables to feed my family through the winter as well as have enough to try to make a little extra money at some local farmer’s markets. This year, I’ve gone with almost all heirloom varieties so I can save seeds for next spring. My biggest expense has always been the seeds/plants to start my garden. I get the compost (thank you horses, bunnies and chickens!) for free. In fact, I usually have way more good compost than I can use.

I ordered quite a few of my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds out of Missouri. In addition to all the normal veggies, I also ordered purple pole beans, yellow, orange and purple tomatoes, banana melon, Queensland blue winter squash and a variety of white, yellow and orange summer squashes. I’ve started a couple flats of veggies (which are looking great!) and will get peas, chard and spinach into the ground this weekend if the weather cooperates.

I’ve already planted a whole new garden of wildflowers and am planning at least two more. I still need to pick up one each of cherry, pear and peach trees and two more apple trees. We had zero production from the pear and peach trees last year because, duh, I meant to get second trees of each variety for pollination but, um, kind of never got around to it. Those varieties are not self-pollinating, unfortunately.

My list of “to-dos” seems to be getting longer as my time to get ’em done seems to grow shorter so I work harder. But the harder I work, the more satisfaction I get out of good work done well. 

The #1 thing I need to get done (aside from working the soil and planting the seeds) is to get a chicken-proof fence up around the garden. I shared most of my crop with those thieving little hens last year, I’m not eager to do it again this year!