Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Jason might be out of a job!

Ok, so I must admit that I feel just a tad proud: I got up before Jason this morning, donned his work boots and did the chicken chores all by myself. There were a few times that I looked towards the house hoping no one was watching me at it (I'm hardly a graceful or experienced chicken tender, but I did it!). So I think I'm officially ready for him to go to an overnight conference in two weeks, but hoping for no major snow storm to complicate matters. And I'll need to stay practiced (maybe my goal of doing it weekly?) so I'm ready for his 10 day birthday trip in late March/early April.

I was gifted with the most spectacular sunrise this morning as I was moving the coops and letting chickens out onto fresh pasture. Not a bad way to start the day! Of course I did not bring along my phone or camera so the photos included here were more from the other day when we did chores all together and Jason's got me in action.

The moving and opening coops part was largely uneventful, other than me noting once again how I need to work on my upper body strength. I feel like such a popular figure when opening the door and letting the birds out for their first stretch and run around of the day. Though that doesn't compare with me coming around with food bucket in hand. I soar in popularity then.

I was doing great prepping my scoop of feed so I could get it into the feeders before the excited birds came out of the pen to help themselves. When I got to the rooster condo I followed Jason's instructions to open the four compartments a few inches - more efficient than opening/closing them one at a time I guess (though I might employ a different tactic till I'm not such a novice). I thought I was clear on which rooster was likely to try to jump, but while on the one end I noted a head pop up on the other end. Once again being the beginner I am, I did not move fast enough. While I got my hand on Checkers, that was as far as I got. He was free and my heart sank as I thought of having to go in and admit defeat on solo-chore-day #1.

Anytime I approached him, he moved farther away, so I decided to give him some time to explore around (and miss his hens) and I finished up the chores on that coop while I stewed over my predicament (this was one of the times I was looking towards the house, hoping not to see faces in the windows!). I didn't see Checkers on either side so I made my way slowly to the front. Ah, what luck! He and another rooster had discovered each other and Checkers was up at the wire trying to start a fight. He didn't even notice me as I got in position behind him and, this time, boldly went for both legs. I held on tight and hung him upside down (which calmed him enough for me to carry him around and return him home). PHEW! I had a little spring in my step as I continued my rounds.

That boosted my confidence enough that I even got over my squeamishness and emptied the mouse trap and reset it in the composting coop (we pretty much catch a mouse a day in there). No more mishaps or escapees and when I got in Terah and Jason were happily enjoying eggs and polenta for breakfast!

It may seem like a small thing in many ways, but it feels rather monumental for me in other ways. It is crazy to admit that in the 11 plus years that we have been at Tangly Woods, I've never done the chores before. I've collected eggs and shut in chickens and I think I may have helped a time or two, but our roles have been so delineated out by what we are best at or have the most interest in or sometimes just how we can keep this ship afloat. So in some ways it feels like a luxury (or a good sign) if we venture into each other's domains. For me doing the chores alone today demystified it. And, while I'm still impressed Jason does this every morning rain or shine, it helped me to confirm that I can do it (either if I need to due to Jason being gone or sick or in some other way unavailable or just if I want to get more involved in that part of our homestead). This might sound rather drastic but I will admit that when I think of something tragic happening to Jason, I often think about how I'd have to give up our home place and chickens, since there'd be no way I could do it.  There was some glimmer for me this morning as I stepped into the composting chicken coop, that maybe I've underestimated how much of a farm girl I can be. I don't think I'll ever be a chicken breeder, but I think I could keep some chickens alive and happy!

One of the things both Jason and I look forward to doing as our kids get older is crossing over into the areas that right now we each tend to do solo. We got married because we really, really liked being together and enjoyed working and playing together. While we keep trying to soak up all the wonderful things about this stage in our family life, we also do pine for the time that it feels like the demands of our household lower just enough that we don't always have to choose the most efficient means of accomplishing the daily tasks. It will come, and then while we garden together we'll share about the good old days when the kids were young and underfoot!

Monday, December 26, 2016

December book report by Jason

It is almost time to wrap up this year, which means that it is also time to deliver the last in the series of book reports that correspond to my new year’s resolution for 2016.  Small-Scale Grain Raising (Second Edition): An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers, by Gene Logsdon, is probably the most iconic book of its kind.  So I read it.
Why a book on grain raising?  Grain is pretty cheap to buy, so growing our own doesn’t make much financial sense.  For that matter, neither does growing your own much of anything (except maybe tomatoes, peppers, squash, salad greens, sweet potatoes, and a few other high-value items).  If money is to be the exclusive deciding factor, then the most reasonable thing to do (I am fond of saying), is to squirrel oneself away in the cheapest apartment one can find, work as many hours as one can tolerate at the highest-paying job one can land, get lucky in the stock market, cloth oneself (if at all) from discount and second-hand stores exclusively, swear off all hobbies and procreation, and eat the cheapest food that will support one’s survival until one reaches an age and point of health where one can no longer earn money, at which point one ought to proceed swiftly to the cheapest available method of suicide.

Obviously a pointless existence.  Nobody lives that way, and nobody believes it is a good idea.  It doesn’t take much reflection time to realize that for everyone (with partial exception for those with a money-making addiction), money is there to support the life they want to live, and everyone does many things that are not “efficient” by the money standard.  Each person, each family, each social circle, each community has its own economy of value apart from money, and I personally find it fascinating to try to tease out how these economies function.

In our family’s value economy, a small amount of grain raising is starting to make sense.  Grain species (besides corn, generally) tend to make use of marginal agricultural soils (our kind) and can in fact be part of a strategy for improving those soils, which is why we started with small grains.  And lacking power tillage equipment, we find that working with the soil after small grains and their partners have improved it is easier once the plants have matured their seed…all that stands between us and homegrown grain is harvesting and threshing the ripe seed heads.  So grain is basically a by-product of soil improvement in this system.  This year for the first time we threshed out enough rye to be eating bread that uses it as a major ingredient, and we have token amounts of buckwheat, millet, wheat, and barley to dabble with.  And then there is the corn!  Even in our modest soils, we gathered enough corn to fill probably over two bushels, shelled.  Only a small amount of that is popcorn.  Most is flint, flour, or dent corn, and two bushels is starting to be a real contribution to our diet!  Time to start paying attention and see if we can make better use of this part of our garden program to support our lives.  Hence the reading choice.

Funny book.  In the promo blurbs on the back cover, Carol Deppe (a hero of mine) refers to the late, great Gene Logsdon as “…one of the founding curmudgeons of modern garden farming and sustainable agriculture.”  Agreed.  And interspersed with his dry, sometimes sarcastic wit, a person can here find some very practically based and experience-tested helpful advice for producing small amounts of grain for home production of human food and/or animal feeds.  Logsdon never couches his tips and information in prose designed to make him look the expert.  One gets the feeling when reading that he is just trying to help us would-be growers of grain bound for our own pantries to achieve our aims; it is about us, in other words, not him.  Despite that non-expert ethos, Logsdon has managed a pretty thorough treatment of a wide variety of grain raising issues, filling in a number of gaps in my own knowledge.

Absent from the book is much by way of human nutrition savvy, especially with regard to how to overcome some of the drawbacks of grains for human diets.  We’ll have to leave that to Sally Fallon and the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Anyway, given the quotability of Gene Logsdon, and the minimal amount of nuance available to comment upon in the book and its approach, I think I will take the ‘nugget’ approach to this report.  I will indicate when transitions to new chapters occur.  Sorry for the very long report!  Here goes:

In the introduction, Mr. Logsdon makes a politico-economic case for the topic of the book:

“Whenever in history a new, more economical way to do anything is discovered, it will take over the market, no matter how hard entrenched big business and government try to stop it.  Not all the forces of power, with their sickening subsidy mentality for the rich, can prevail forever against economic reality.”

“…the methods I describe and argue in favor of do not promise what the agricultural experts call ‘top profits,’ but only good food and the satisfaction of producing it on a scale that society can afford. 
We have become a nation dangerously dependent on politically motivated and money-motivated processes for our food, clothing, and shelter.  In the world we must live in from now on, to produce our own food is the beginning of independence.  To accept that responsibility is the first step toward real freedom.”

Chapter 1: Homegrown Grains

Page 6:
“…the special advantage of grains for the organic gardener and farmer is that you can grow them more easily with organic methods than you can fruits and vegetables.”

Page 7:
“A bushel of wheat makes about fifty 1-pound loaves of bread.  Two ears of corn make enough cornmeal for a meal’s worth of corn muffins.  The grain…expands as it cooks with water, and so gives more food to eat than you would think the uncooked grain represented.”

Page 9:
“You don’t need much space to raise at least some grains.  A normal yield of wheat grown organically would be at least 40 bushels to the acre.  So you’d need only 1/40th of an acre to produce a bushel.  That would be a plot of ground 10 feet wide by about 100 feet long.”

“A hen needs about a bushel a year, but if she has ample free range, she needs hardly half that and in a pinch perhaps none at all.”  Always a tantalizing prospect for the cost-conscious chicken raiser.

Chapter 2: Corn: America’s Amazing Maize

Page 11:
“Corn is my grain of first choice for all purposes because, first of all, it is tough stuff.  It will survive adversity better than other grains.  Also it can be planted and harvested on a few acres with mostly hand labor.”

Page 15-16:
“I could go on and give detailed and expert formulas for how much and in what portions you should feed corn and other grains to animals.  I won’t, though, because most of that kind of advice is mere marketing palaver put out to sell commercial feeds or to sell more grain than an animal on free range needs, or to help the commercial producer of meat and milk gain the absolute nth degree of so-called efficiency…The small-scale grain grower, with good pasture, can ignore most of that kind of information and rely on common sense and experience…The ‘right’ way in large-scale commercial agriculture is not necessarily the right way for the homestead gardener and farmer.”

Page 16:
“Planting [corn] in strips is not necessary but a personal preference of mine.  In a corn field, the outside rows always yield better, and so with strips rather than a solid plot there are more outside rows.  Also, the soil in the strips is not as shaded as is the soil in a plot planted solidly to corn, so when I sow clover into the standing corn after weed cultivation for future pasture or hay, or sow rye for pasture or grain in the following year, these crops grow better.  I have also inter-seeded oats into standing corn in July for winter grazing, and the oats need all the sunlight they can get.  Also, if you are planting in a sloping field, the strips can often reduce erosion significantly compared to a plot entirely of cultivated corn.”

Page 19:
“Corn is rarely completely dry even when you harvest it late in the fall.  Commercial corn growers almost always dry it artificially, with natural gas as a fuel.  This is a very big expense and in my opinion a poor use of fossil fuel.  Before corn was harvested as shelled corn, the whole ears were stored in slatted cribs no more than 4 feet wide, and air-dried naturally.  That is how I do it.  Once corn is cribbed, it can be used as needed, although before you mill it, if you do mill it, give it a month or more in the crib to dry completely.”

Page 27:
“…the economic tunes the commercial farmer must dance to have a far different beat than the songs the homesteader sings…I can raise the grain I need so much cheaper per acre than the commercial farmer that it seems clear to me that commercial farming as practiced today is a dinosaur on its way to oblivion unless it is subsidized heavily.”

Page 33:
“Some seaweed and sea-product fertilizers contain potash and trace elements, as do some special mineral and organic blends…Much controversy rages about these soil amendments and fertilizers, and I do not know who is right or wrong.  I’ve never used any of them, and my crops always seem healthy so longs as it rains (but not too much).

Page 34-35:
“Commercial hybrid corn can be planted as thickly as 30,000 kernels per acre if plenty of fertilizer and moisture are available, but don’t you do it.  Organically, you’d need at least 25 tons of good manure per acre to support that kind of plant population.  Moreover, you’d have to plant the corn in rows not more than 30 inches apart, a move that will facilitate neither hand harvesting nor sowing a cover crop in the corn in late summer.

If you are going to plant an acre of corn without chemical fertilizers, you’ll be better off to shoot for a plant population of around 18,000 kernels.  That means a spacing of about 8 to 9 inches between stalks in the row, with rows 40 inches apart.  Such widely spaced plants will make good use of normal, natural fertility of green-manure crops and manure, and will produce big ears, easy to harvest and process by hand.

If you plan to plant pole limas or pole string beans to climb the cornstalks (saves having to put up poles) the corn plants in the row should be even more widely spaced, one stalk every 12 to 15 inches.  When the corn plant is 6 inches high, plant a bean on either side of it about 6 inches away.  If moisture is normal, both corn and bean will grow well, the latter fixing a little nitrogen in the soil for the corn to feed on.”

Page 46:
“…you can cut the [corn] stalks when the leaves are still a little greenish and the ears still in place on the stalk, tie the stalks into bundles (about a dozen stalks to a bundle), and stand the bundles up into shocks.  This is the cheapest and best way to dry and store your corn right out in the field.  Shocks of corn are what you see in pretty calendar pictures but rarely anyplace else these days except on Amish farms.”

Page 51:
“When the corn was shucked at the old husking bees, the husks were not always broken off the ears of corn.  Often they were braided together in most artistic ways.  As much as a bushel of corn could be thus tied together and hung up like clothes on a line, where it could dry properly without rodents getting to it.”

Page 58:
“I am a little prejudiced against grinding corn for animals.  They can handle whole corn about as well as ground corn.  If you put some hog manure in a bucket with water, stir it up and pour it through a sieve, you will find that much of the milled yellow outer coating of the corn has gone right through the animal just like the outer coating of sweet corn goes through you.  So the argument that milling makes the corn more “digestible” is not really correct [so long as it is chewed, I must add].  It just means the animal will eat more and make the miller more money.  It seems to me that we citizens of mighty America, the most powerful nation in the world, have the attitude that to handle whatever confronts us, first it is necessary to pulverize it.”

Chapter 3: Wheat: The Main Source of the Staff of Life

Page 67:
“You should plant whatever kind of wheat that grows successfully in your area…Bread from the soft wheats is just as good as from the hard wheats, we think.  The latter, with more gluten in them, make bread more ‘efficiently’—at lower cost per pound of flour—so these are preferred by commercial bakeries.”

Page 70
“Wheat is not nearly as demanding of fertilizer as corn is.  Keep your pH for wheat as close to 6.4 as you can and plant in well-drained soil, and half your growing problems are avoided.  Wheat doesn’t like acid soil and hates wet soil.  Wheat will get enough extra fertility from what was applied to corn the year before, or what is left over when soybeans precede it…I never use rock powders any more.  I mulch with tree leaves, grass clippings, spoiled hay and manure and that is enough for me.  I do not yearn to become the Michael Jordan of garden farming.”

Page 73
“If you would like to use your wheat for the dual purpose of grain and grazing, the most practical way to do this on a small plot would be to let chickens peck the green blades away.  A light grazing by sheep or a cow would be okay too, but if the ground is muddy, as it might be in late fall in the East and Midwest, the animals will trample and pack the soil too much.”

Page 75
“The worst problem in raising wheat organically is weed control.  Because wheat is customarily planted ‘solid’ rather than in rows, you can’t easily weed it, so without very good management, you can get too many weeds…In organic farming the crop before wheat should always be a row crop that has been cultivated intensively for weed control…If you are organic and growing only a small plot, it’s better to plant your wheat in rows and cultivate it like the Chinese do.  American farmers may laugh at you, but the Chinese have forgotten more about raising food than we yet know.”

Page 84
“Wheat has more protein in it than corn but less carbohydrates.  It takes about one-and-one-third times as much wheat as corn to produce the same increase in weight, which is another way of saying that corn is more fattening.  And since wheat is worth more as human food than as animal feed, it is not widely used to fatten animals.  But it can be.  Whole wheat and corn mixed half and half makes a good scratch feed for chickens.

I’ve mentioned that I like to feed chickens wheat in the bundle so the chickens, instead of me, do the threshing.  The drawback to this method is that, in the bundle, the grain is more vulnerable to rodent and weevil attack than when the grain is threshed and stored in a rodent-proof bin.  My solution is to feed all the wheat bundles from harvest-time until the corn is ready, before the weevils and rodents have time to do much harm.  Then feed corn through the winter.”

Page 85-86
Remembering collaborative threshing work:
“There had been at least as many women involved in preparing the food as men involved in harvesting the grain.  Not all the women who came to help with the food did my mother remember fondly, and among the men there were individuals who despised each other.  But all of them knew that they depended on each other for survival.  Every strawstack was an expression of faith between farmers.”

Page 87
“But the strawstacks are mostly gone now except on some farms of the stricter Amish sects.  And on too many farms, the animals are gone too.  In winter, the barn lot is an empty, windswept, forlornly cold place to be.  The old barns stand as silent as mausoleums, replaced by modern stinking, chemicalized, electrified, concrete-clad “systems” where animals are crammed together like fistfuls of maggots.”

"The strawstacks have disappeared, the barns stand empty, and the farmers hope to go to Florida in the winter.  Their children have gone away too.  You will find them sitting stolid and impassive before the television set, watching Disney films that show them how children used to learn about life: caring for animals and sliding down strawstacks.  No longer do children have the blissful independence to relax like Little Boy Blue, ‘under the haystack, fast asleep.’”

Chapter 4: The Sorghum Family

Page 93
“When it comes to the feed grains, corn gets all the glory.  Point out that grain sorghum is almost equal in nutrient value and that it will outproduce corn in dry climates, and in fact, will grow in dry climates where corn won’t, and you are met with silent disbelief.  Point out furthermore that grain sorghum makes a fine flour for human diets and the silent disbelief may turn to not-so-silent snickers.  A great many people have never even heard of grain sorghum.”

Page 93-94
“Yields are comparable to corn, about 100 to 180 bushels per acre on unirrigated land, depending on fertility.  But where corn will only yield 80 bushels per acre in dryland western growing conditions, sorghum can yield 100 bushels.”

Page 96
“Plant grain sorghum about ten days after the proper corn-planting dates in your area.  Because sorghum can be planted later than corn, southern farmers can plant it after harvesting wheat in June and so get two crops from the same field in the same year.  Also, the later planting date of sorghum gives the small farmer or homesteader greater flexibility.  If your corn planting gets delayed by bad weather, or your old equipment (or primitive hand-tool methods) is too slow to get the corn you need out on time, you can plant the rest of the acreage to grain sorghum.”

Page 98-99
“Harvesting sorghum by hand is easier than harvesting wheat.  When the seed heads are ripe and dry, the grain comes out of them easily enough; in fact, it will shatter out if left in the field very long after ripening.  Go down the row after the seeds are hard, but not dead, falling-off ripe, and cut the seed heads off with about a foot of stalk…Tie the stalk heads together into bundles and hang in the barn, or spread no more than two or three bundles deep in a clean, out-of-the-way corner.  Hanging or laid out, the clusters can dry until you need them.”

Page 99
“After chewing on the stub of my pencil for a fifteen minutes, my calculations say that a row of grain sorghum 200 feet long can be expected to yield at least one bushel of grain.  And that might be the right amount for your first venture into grain sorghum.”

Page 107
“You can get a thousand brooms from an acre of broomcorn.  Takes a lot of work, but so do strawberries.  It’s something to think about, anyway.  Need I have to say that today most of the broomcorn for brooms comes from China?”

Chapter 5: Oats: The High-Protein Cereal Grain

Page 111
“The first commandment of the wise garden farmer is to learn how to make good food out of what grows well in one’s own climate.”

Page 113
“If you keep horses, sheep, or rabbits, it will pay you to grow oats.  Even a small patch in the garden will save money on your rabbit-feed bill.  You don’t even have to thresh the grain out, just feed it, stalks and all, to these animals or other kinds of livestock.  Recent experiments by Ohio State in the southern part of the state indicate that oats, sown in late summer, can provide high-quality winter grazing for cattle and sheep.”

Page 118
“If you have gardened a long time, you have noticed, I’m sure, that almost every year there is a short period of dry weather in early spring when the ground does dry out enough to till.  The temptation, which most of us give in to, is to plant some early vegetables.  About half the time this planting amounts to very little because the ground is still too cold for good germination, and more cold weather is going to come anyway.  So instead of planting vegetables at that time, plant a patch of oats and you’ll be ahead on both counts.”

Page 119
“…you can plant, in the garden, in rows wide enough apart to get the cultivator through.  In this case some weeds will grow in the rows, but you can take out enough of them to keep the oats growing fine.”

Page 120
“I know a farmer who used to cut and bale his oats as he did hay, and then feed it by the bale to his animals.  His livestock ate the oats and some of the straw.  The rest of the straw became bedding.”

“You can cut the oats when the grain is just beginning to harden, and the stalks have still a little green in them.  Tie the stalks into bundles…and place the bundles into shocks, where the oats can finish ripening and drying somewhat protected from the rain.  Then rank the bundles in a barn or even outside like a double stack of wood with the butts of the bundles to the outside and the heads inside to protect them from rain.  Feed the oats by the bundle as needed.”

Page 122
“The Internet bristles with requests for information on where small, kitchen-sized hullers can be obtained, which means that interest is high.  I’m sure that when entrepreneurs realize this, they will rise to the occasion.”

Page 123
“Your blender will cut up the groats to any size you want, but it cuts up the hulls too.  All that fiber may be healthful, but not tasteful.  You can run the blender briefly and sift out or winnow out some of the hulls to get something approximating good oat flour.”

“Fortunately, there is another way out of the dilemma…a rarely grown oats, Avens nuda, or naked oats.  This species does not have the tight hull around the groat.  Although it is available from many northern farm-seed companies, it has not become mainstream because it doesn’t yield as highly as other oats and because birds love it.”

Page 124
“A common practice among strawberry growers used to be to grow oats in the strawberry patch for mulch.  Instead of having to buy straw and transport it to the garden, gardeners broadcast-sowed the oats over the entire strawberry patch in the early fall or late summer.  The grain would grow tall but would not have enough time to produce seed before frost killed it.  Dead, the oat plants fell over and maintained a protective mulch over the berry plants.”

Chapter 6:  Dry Beans: The Poor Man’s Meat

Page 128
“…the basis of natural, sustainable farming is the working partnership between grasses (grains) and legumes (beans and clovers).  Grasses grow well in rotation with legumes because the legumes draw nitrogen from the air to invigorate the grasses.  When the grasses (grains) use up that free nitrogen and weaken a little, the legumes or clovers come back strong and charge the soil with more nitrogen.  Farmers who take advantage of this partnership to its fullest can avoid spending lots of dollars on expensive nitrogen fertilizers and save inestimable amounts of natural gas, which is used extensively to make that fertilizer…At least as long ago as Virgil, who sang the praises of partnering grains and legumes in his Georgics, this truth of good farming has been recognized.  I believe that the garden farmer would do better to heed the words of poets like Virgil (or Wendell Berry today) than the money-inspired science of modern farming.”

Page 130
“The soybean is the number one 'cash grain' crop in America, so it gets the most attention in farming circles.  I think soybeans can make wonderful food for humans, as Asian civilizations have shown for centuries, but I wonder, all things considered, if we should feed them to our farm animals when oats might be cheaper and generate a more sustainable kind of farming.  Before the soybean came to America—'before farmers went crazy,' as my father liked to say—American farmers grew corn, oats, wheat, and hay or pasture crops, in that order of rotation.  Now much of the Corn Belt is an endless rotation of corn and soybeans, which amounts to almost a monoculture.  Fields in soybeans erode worse than fields in oats, and thus, with so many millions of acres in vast fields of soybeans, erosion problems are more severe.  Soybeans do have more protein than oats, so they are a good food, properly prepared.  On the other hand, because of the large quantities needed for farm animals, oats might be a better choice because they produce more grain per acre than soybeans and can be fed to animals without cooking.  But, of course, oats do not put nitrogen in the soil the way soybeans do.  
So I guess it’s a draw.”

Page 131
“I think legume hay and legume pastures, with perhaps a little oats as a supplement to corn, is a better livestock feed than soybeans, and the manure won’t stink as badly as manure from soybean meal.”

Page 134
“Some scientists think inoculation can be overdone.  They say a field that has been regularly planted with inoculated legume seed may not need further inoculation at every planting.  Other agronomists disagree, demonstrating that Rhizobia populations tend to decline, especially under intensive cultivation and dry weather.”

Page 135
“On some intensively farmed soils, trace-element deficiency is showing up in soybeans and possibly other dry beans.  In this situation, manganese and boron are the two micronutrients the beans are usually lacking.  Both deficiencies cause yellowing of the beans or a pale greening.  My neighbors add manganese to their fertilizer as a matter of course, applying it to the crop that precedes soybeans in their rotations.  In a garden-farm situation, where the soil has not been stressed into trying to produce the very highest yields and where regular green manure, compost, and animal manures are applied, trace-element deficiency should not be a problem.  I suppose there are exceptions to that statement, but I haven’t run into them in seventy years, so I say stewing over trace elements should be dropped down to about eightieth place on your list of worries.”

Page 141
“[his uncle] Carl in his later years was seized with a strange idea.  He quit growing corn.  To quit corn in the Corn Belt is tantamount to losing one’s mind in our community.  Carl did not mind being scorned because he had his own peculiar outlook on everything.  Once when we were discussing the sudden upswing in the number of swimming pools in town, he opined: 'Yep, and most of those people don’t have their bathtubs paid for yet.' ”

Chapter 7:  Rye and Barley

Page 150
“…rye’s popularity continues because of its amazing tolerance for cold weather, which makes it an ideal winter cover crop and a desirable pasture plant for livestock in fall and spring, when other pastures have quit or just started to grow…Rye’s second advantage is that it will produce a crop on land too poor for wheat.  In the cold climate of northern Europe, where soil is poor, rye is an important and dependable source of bread flour.”

Page 154
“All rye used for seed should be clean and ergot-free.  If you use seed that is over a year old, you may automatically control ergot because the sclerotia lose viability after a year’s time and hopefully won’t carry the disease over to a new crop.”

Page 160
“Each shock, when finished, [has] to be 'capped' to keep out rain.  The cap was just another bundle fitted over the shock to make an inverted V 'roof.'  To bend the bundle, or break it as we said, the shocker had to clasp the butt end against his stomach with the left arm and bend the straws over that arm with the right hand, almost as if he were folding a blanket.  The bundle could then be set over the shock.

Page 161
“Barley rather than corn is a good crop to follow potatoes since scab disease in potatoes can carry over on corn but not on barley, I understand.”

Page 161-162
“Researchers…have found that barley grown in rows 14 inches apart produced as good a crop a solid-planted barley, even though less seed was used…What’s more, research reported much greater efficiency in fertilizer use, and weeds could be controlled by cultivation in the early stages of the crop.

For garden farmers, planting small grains in rows, however untraditional in America, makes sense.  They, too, can use less seed, can use precious compost and organic fertilizers more efficiently, and can cultivate for weed control instead of using herbicides.  Also, for hand harvesting, grains in rows will make bunching the cut stalks into bundles easier.”

Page 162
“An easy way to sprout small amounts of barley for a few farm animals is to soak the grain heads when they are still attached to the stalks in tied bundles.  Do one bundle at a time.  It should sprout in about five days at a temperature of 60 F.  Eventually, you’ll know how much barley to keep in the soaking process so as to keep a steady ration coming every day.  The barley will sprout right in the head, and you can toss the whole bundle or part of it to the chickens.  They get excellent feed, the stalks make excellent bedding, and you don’t have to thresh the barley.”

Page 165
“Some farmers tell me that if you blow the grain through a silage chopper against a silo wall, the considerable force of grain striking concrete will loosen about 60 percent of the hulls, be it barley or 

Page 166
“One reason I think the garden farmer should grow a variety of grains is because that makes controlling weevils and other storage insects easier.  If you use up your barley from harvesttime in June until late summer, you aren’t going to have bugs in it.  They don’t have a chance to become entrenched, so to speak.  Then you can feed up your wheat and oats in the fall, then go to your corn and soybeans until the following summer, since weevils don’t bother them much.  If you have only a little harvested grain in bins for no longer than six months, and the grains are of more than one variety (so that one kind of weevil may not like one grain as well as another), and if you clean the bins or barrels out well when empty, you just aren’t going to have a lot of insect damage.
In fact, on a well-planned, small-scale schedule, you could get by without having to store grain at all.  Feed rye and barley right out of the field in early summer, wheat and oats in late summer, buckwheat and sorghum in fall, and corn out of the shock or off the stalk all winter.  You’d have some loss from weather, but not much.  Garden farmers have only begun to innovate commercial agriculture to their own purposes, and more new thinking like this will surely come along.  We’ve all got a lot to learn.  As an old English folk song that dates to the Middle Ages put it: 'Neither you nor I nor anyone knows, How oats, peas, beans, and barley grows.' ”

Chapter 8: Buckwheat and Millet

Page 171
“The Agricultural Research Service has developed tetraploid buckwheats that have more uniform seed size and thicker stems to resist lodging.  These new varieties have not necessarily increased yield potential, however.  Breeders have also discovered a buckwheat flower type that is self-compatible, and inbred lines are being developed, which in turn will lead to better varieties.”

Page 172
“To get around the problem of the buckwheat grains not ripening all at the same time, he cut and swathed the crop, which allowed most of the buckwheat “grains” (buckwheat is not technically a grain) to dry and mature more evenly.

Page 173
“As green manure, buckwheat will make three crops in one growing season.”

“Buckwheat has few disease or bug problems, which is another plus for organic growers.  You can plant it by broadcasting the seed over a worked seedbed.  No need to grow in rows for weed cultivation; in fact, you don’t want to.  Solid stands of buckwheat…will more than compete with most weeds.”

Page 173-174
“If you don’t want to dry it in a windrow as described above, wait until after frost has killed the plants and the more mature seed has had time to dry.  This usually means harvesting at about 17 percent moisture, then drying the seeds down to the necessary 12 to 13 percent with artificial heat or spreading out the seeds very thinly in a dry environment.

Small amounts in the garden can be harvested by hand.  Cut the stalks with a scythe (or sickle-bar mower), tie them into bundles, allow to dry well under cover, then proceed as with threshing wheat by hand.  Buckwheat threshes easily.  You can shake much of the seed out of the bundles when it is dry.  Or rap each bundle over the edge of a bucket or the edge of a pickup truck bed.  Or put the bundle in a sack and trample or flail as described earlier for wheat…Winnowing must then be done to separate out the chaff and stem bits.

With a garden patch of buckwheat, you can gather a cup or two at a time for breakfast from the standing plants, using your fingers to strip the dark brown, pyramid-shaped grains off the stems below the still-blooming tops of the plants.

Chickens like buckwheat.  Rabbits do too.  I just feed them the plants, with the grain still intact on them.  A crop will not go to waste in any event, because, if you let the unharvested plants stand through winter, the wild birds will have a feast.”

Page 174
“The ground up hulls are good fiber, but like oat hulls, too many means less tastefulness.  I like whole-buckwheat pancakes, but I prefer to have most of the hulls removed.  With a commercial huller this is no problem, but at home, using a blender or kitchen mill, hulling is more difficult.  We have used our blender to grind all grains (it will wear out sooner, however) and have found that if the buckwheat is toasted a wee bit or at least heat-dried well before grinding, the hulls will shatter off better, and many of them can be sifted out in a flour sifter.  Well worth the trouble.”

Page 177
“Millet is grown in the United States mostly for pasture and hay.  Only proso millet is grown seriously for grain.  It is used for animal feed, flour for humans, and birdseed mixtures.  It is nutritionally superior to many of our common grains, containing more essential amino acids than wheat, oats, rice, barley, and rye.  It lacks only lysine, the amino acid buckwheat is high in, making buckwheat and millet a good combination in your diet.  Also, while most grains form acids in your stomach, millet, with its high alkaline mineral content, counteracts acids and is more easily digested.  Millet, not rice, is the basic carbohydrate food in China, especially norther China.  The Hunzas, whose reputation for health and longevity is well known eat millet regularly.”

Page 177-179
“The word millet is used to refer to plants in four different families, and therefore leads to a tremendous amount of confusion, including mine.”

Page 179
“Proso millet, Panicum miliaceum, is the only millet grown for food in the United States.  It is sometimes called broomcorn millet because the open heads of the plant resemble small broomcorn heads…This family of millets is the one used from earliest times for grain and flour, especially in India, China, Japan, Manchuria, and Russia.  Proso is usually milled for livestock as well as humans because the seed coating is so hard.  Chickens can handle it whole.”

Chapter 9: Rice:  The Oldest Garden Grain

Page 185
“One could say without exaggeration that the culture of most of Japan, China, India, and Southeast Asia is built on—and survives because of—a cottage rice industry.  We Americans may not possess the keen Asian taste for rice, or may live where rice cannot be grown, but we can learn from rice the economies of grain gardens and how to develop a technology that serves such economies rather than a technology that forces grain production into the hands of a few human land hogs, some of whom already tell me they would rather not be called farmers anymore.  (I have honored their request.)…Certainly more people eat rice than eat wheat, but more wheat is consumed.  Rice is not nearly as 'commercial' as wheat.  The bulk of the former is produced at home for home use.  In fact, the United States, which produces only about one percent of the world’s rice, is the leading exporter of the grain!  A comparison between rice growing in America and Japan can be almost soul-shattering.  A father-son team in Texas may handle 500 acres of rice or more, but barely make a good living by our standards.  That many acres of rice in Japan supported one hundred families comfortably up until a couple of decades ago, and still does to some degree.  And yet we insist that we are the efficient ones.”

Page 187
“The Japanese have learned to grow [rice] successfully as far north as Hokkaido, which has a climate similar to our southern New England.  Upland rice—varieties that grow without flood irrigation—will produce a crop in Thailand at 4,500 feet above sea level, and at twice that elevation in the Himalayas…Upland rice is grown about like spring-planted wheat.”

Page 187-188
“The typical Asian farmer has been loath to switch to direct seeding despite the labor-saving advantages.  He seems to prefer longer working hours to the higher cost of chemicals and machinery that would be necessary in place of labor.  Agricultural experts seem to think his attitude is stupid.  But the Asian farmer knows he is not going to gain a whole lot in net profits anyway by adapting new technology, and he runs the risk of becoming much more vulnerable to financial disaster when he substitutes cash and chemicals for labor.  His American counterpart hasn’t learned that yet, but, oh my, the lesson is well underway.  When technology offered the American farmer the bait, he swallowed.  Technology said: 'All you farmers are farming 500 acres and barely making it.  I can make it possible for you to farm 1,000 acres and get rich.'  The farmers accepted this as faith, not understanding that for every 500-acre farmer who went to 1,000 acres, some other farmer had to give up his 500 acres and go to work at something else.  Now, when the 1,000 acre farmers find that they aren’t doing a whole lot better than when they farmed 500 acres, the technological answer is to farm 2,000 acres.  And again, the farmers believe it.”

Page 189
“[Gene’s Uncle Carl] hoed the weeds because he wanted his field to look beautiful.  And to farmer eyes, his weedless field was art.  In all this county full of herbicides and monstrous cultivators, only his field was without weeds.  And farmers stopped along the road to admire it, and admire the work that made it so.  He admired it too.  He shared with the ‘old-fashioned’ farmers a wisdom the new technologists can’t comprehend.  He had raised his daily work to the level of art, while the technologist slaved away all his days hoping to reserve a little time in the end for art purchased from an antiques store.  Whose 'economies of scale' were the wiser?

Page 190
“Output per man, by our standards, is extremely low, but efficiency in terms of number of people fed per unit of fossil energy used is extremely high.  As F. H. King pointed out in his classic work, Farmers of Forty Centuries, in 1907 Chinese, Korean, and Japanese garden farms were feeding five hundred million people, almost twice the population of the United States today, on an area smaller than all the improved farmlands in the United States at that time.  And doing it without any of today’s big machinery, commercial fertilizers, or herbicides.”

Page 191
“If you want to try a small plot of rice as described at the end of this chapter, use a variety that’s recommended for your area.  If none are, proceed at your own risk.”

Chapter 10: Some Uncommon Grains, Old and New

Page 218
“The Goshenhoppen historians at East Greenville, Pennsylvania, keep alive the craft of linen-making, and I was lucky enough, in the 1970s, to observe the whole process performed at their Goshenhoppen Folk Festival.  You almost need to watch such a demonstration to learn the craft of linen making.”

Chapter 11:  Legumes:  The Overlooked Partner in Small-Scale Grain Raising.

Page 220
“A farm or garden, even the best ecological farm or garden, is essentially an assault on nature.  You carve out a plot of ground and grow upon it what you want to grow, not what nature would have naturally provided there.  Lessening the impact of that assault, by allowing the greatest number of 'all creatures great and small' to live and die in mutual beneficence on that plot of ground, should be a major goal of the garden farmer.”

“…quail will proliferate naturally on your farm if provided brushy cover for nesting and protection.  Quail can, in turn, control the chinch bugs who might otherwise ruin the outer rows of your cornfields or armyworms that might otherwise move into wheat fields from the fence lines.  An unthinking farmer will cut down his brushy fencerows, which would have provided cover for quail, in order to gain four more rows of corn, and then he must spend money to spray the bugs that would ruin those four rows.  Worse, the farmer must then travel to some wilder place far away to hunt quail.”

“Nature abhors an excess as much as she abhors a vacuum.  She obeys, unerringly if blindly, the basic dictum of self-preservation: In equilibrium lies survival.  This is the essential principle of organic farming.  It should be the essential principle of foreign policy, too, instead of the suicidal notion now in vogue that bombs are the way to self-preservation.”

Page 221
“…when you think of grains, don’t isolate them as modern agribusiness does with its gigantic fields of grain.  Think of grains as just another link in the food chain leading from the smallest microbe in your soil to the biggest animal in your barn and the healthiest mind and body in your family.  And understand that you are not just increasing the variety and balance of your gardens or fields by growing grains, but exponentially increasing all the species of plants and animals that give sustenance to your grains as well as feed upon them.”

Page 225
“Clovers for hay or pasture will give you weed control if managed for that.  Beans and peas won’t.  With alfalfa, the control of weeds comes mostly from repeated mowing for hay along with the heavy growth after mowing shading out weeds.  When the alfalfa crop is cut three or four times a year for hay, and that practice is followed for several years, excellent control of most weeds is obtained.  Then a follow-up crop of corn, for instance, is almost free of weeds for the first month or so after planting, when weed control by cultivation is difficult for organic growers because the corn plants are so small at that time that the cultivator or hoe might cover them with dirt.  The more fertile the soil, and the lusher the alfalfa, the more complete the weed control.  If, however, alfalfa grows four or more years on the same field continuously, it will thin out, and weeds and grasses will gain a footing.”

Page 228
“Organic fertilizers with a guaranteed analysis of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are available and ideal for my situation, but too expensive for me to use in large amounts.  My ‘bias’ is that an organic farm must be producing its own animal manure for fertilizer if is to be profitable.”

Page 230
“August is harvest month in the garden…I will also want to go fishing and sit in the shade a lot.”

“In October, I [harvest corn]…moving down the row of stalks methodically unless I spy a flint arrowhead on the soil surface, which happens regularly in this area.  Then I stand there awhile contemplating the artifact and wonder if its owner planted corn here too.”

Chapter 12: Feeding Grain to Animals

Page 234-235
“Another way to look at feeding livestock on your garden farm is to compare the process with feeding babies, crude as that might sound.  Some folks believe it is more convenient to buy a variety of canned baby foods at the supermarket, and believe, at the same time, that they are reasonably assured that baby is getting nutritious fruits and vegetables.  But does that mean, as commercial baby-food manufacturers would like us to believe, that mother can’t prepare her own baby food as nutritionally good or better than what she can buy.
If grain mills for animal feeds were as inexpensive and easy to operate as baby-food grinders, there would be little reason at all for garden farmers to buy commercial feeds. Except to save time and labor.”

Page 235
“…the first time you go to a feed store to try to buy feed or to get some advice on feeding your animal, most often the person in charge will seem to believe (I’m convinced some really do believe it) that an almost mystical health value attaches itself to a commercial sack of feed simply because it comes from a commercial feed company, or because it has passed through a commercial grinder.  The contrary garden farmer feeding homegrown whole grains and homegrown processed feeds is considered a witless apostate and his animals will all wither away.  It is as if the animal nutritionists who work for the commercial feed mills hold secrets of healthful food that the rest of us are not privy to.

Within the framework of modern confinement feeding of farm animals, that mystic faith has some justification.  If hogs live their entire lives on concrete and are fed through augers one diet of milled hog feed their entire lives, then that feed better contain every known mineral, vitamin, protein, and carbohydrate that their hog needs.  And the fact that confinement-fed animals still do suffer disorder and disease proves that the scientists haven’t yet solved all the mysteries involved.”

Page 236
“If the animal consumes more in a given period of time than he would roaming free-range, he will likely gain weight faster, and that’s the name of the commercial game.  It is also why we have such a dreadful number of obese people in our society.”

“The garden farmer can feed mostly whole grains with satisfactory results.  In fact, in many cases the homestead animal is overfed.  Our twelve laying hens receive no milled feed at all anymore.  They lay just about as many eggs on whole grain—or no grain at all when they have ample room to roam through field and woodlot. I’m more inclined to use milled commercial feeds for baby animals.”

Page 237
“When I was a boy, we put a trough full of loam from the woods (soil that had not been farmed and therefore not depleted of natural fertility and trace elements) in the pen with baby pigs.  They rooted in that dirt and got their iron from it.  If they had been on pasture, they could have gotten their own iron.”

“Animals will generally be healthier grazing a slightly weedy pasture than in one where only one type of grass or two are allowed to grow.  Variety is the key to feeding animals in the natural environment of the garden farm.  If your livestock have access to many kinds of food, they will balance their diet on their own. The only exception is if you live where soils are naturally deficient in certain essential trace element, like zinc or selenium.  Where organic matter is high in the soil, trace element deficiency is extremely rare, but under intensive farming, zinc, boron, selenium, and other trace elements may be lacking.”

Page 239
“Commercial feed salespersons usually advise soybean meal for protein supplement because it speeds up the fattening process.  But you don’t have to feed out a hog in four-and-a-half months on a garden farm.  If your hogs don’t reach the butchering weight you want until they are six months old, what’s the difference to you?  A longer period of feeding out the animal won’t mean losing money, as it might for a commercial hog producer.  The meat might be an itsy-bitsy degree more tender if fattened faster, but will have itsy-bitsy less taste to it, too.  A longer feeding period could mean saving money for the garden farmer, in fact, by not using as much expensive protein supplement.  Connoisseurs of pork, especially of smoked hams, maintain that hogs fattened more slowly (especially on a diet supplemented with acorns) produce better-tasting meat anyway.”

“Some corn contains more protein than other corn, even within the same variety.  In some tests, normal hybrid corns sometimes contain more protein than special high-protein varieties, the difference being the soil, culture, and weather conditions.  In processing, almost everyone today will admit that corn dried with artificial heat sometimes gets too hot and is therefore less nutritious than slowly air-dried corn.  And some feeders believe that old, open-pollinated corn varieties are, pound for pound, more nutritious than the highly specialized hybrids of today.  All of which means that the identical feed formula on two different farms might have a different nutritional value.”

Page 240
“With [a variety of protein sources] you get a broader range of proteins, which not only means a healthier animal, but also more protein-rich eggs and meat, and a manure capable of producing plants with a broader range of proteins in them.”

“…remember that a few hens with the run of the woods and pasture can supply everything they need except in winter from foraging.”

“Usually in fattening poultry of any kind an all-mash diet will do a quicker job, as already noted.  Not necessarily better, but faster.  I used to feed my layers and broilers the same feed:  whole corn, whole sweet sorghum grain, whole grain sorghum grains, some broomcorn seeds (hens don’t much like them), millet, and buckwheat; alfalfa hay; some grass seeds that they pecked off the stalks when on free range; weeds gone to seed; sour grass (high in vitamin C) when the hens were penned up; plus some eggshells, oyster shells, a little bone meal sometimes, table scraps, garden wastes of all kinds, and a little commercial mash in winter. We feed new chicks a little bread and milk if they are acting unsatisfied, let them run on the lawn where they chase bugs and nibble at clover after they are about a week old, and keep commercial feed beside them at all times.”

Page 246
“As long as they have access to green plants and some water, geese and ducks will get through a summer without any grain at all, but a little extra shelled corn won’t hurt them, either.  When fattening the birds for market or fortifying them up for a season of egg-laying, feed a little grain if you want to be sure of more eggs.”

Page 247
“If [geese and ducks] have a pond to dive in, they can get by on much less…even to some extent in winter.  Look at those wild Canada geese if you don’t believe me.”

Page 247
“The way cats and dogs were fed on the traditional farm was efficient and nutritionally complete.  At milking time, the pets got a pan of milk fresh from the cows, daily.  When hogs, beef, chickens, and rabbits or whatever were butchered, they got parts of the carcass the farmer didn’t want.  They caught and ate rodents, to the farmer’s great benefit.  And there were always table scraps to paw through.  When I was a kid, buying commercial pet food was unheard of on the farm, and we always seemed to have about a dozen cats and at least one dog around all the time. If you live the traditional farm way, you won’t have to worry about your pet cats and dogs unless you allow them to overpopulate.  But if you don’t raise your own milk and meat, you will have to spend considerable money on pet foods to supplement table scraps and the occasional rodent the pets might catch.  In almost all cases, pets are fed too much and get fat, just like their masters and mistresses.”

That’s a good place to end.  Book recommended.  Enjoy!

Christmas retreat days!

On one of my precious walks with a good friend recently, I was commenting about how hard it often is for us to just relax and have fun at home, with all the pressing projects calling for our attention. It seems that so many people come to Tangly Woods and talk about how relaxed they feel. Jason and I often look at each other with this "if only we could feel what they are feeling" look! I've often wanted to find ways to nurture us enjoying our land and times together without the project list looming. From that walk was born the idea of a "family retreat day" at home where efficiency and productivity are not the supreme goals! And while we are trying out a new thing, why not dive in and do two in a row: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were slated as our first two "Myers-Benner family retreat days" and last night, when my head hit the pillow, they were deemed a whopping success.

Here's a few of the many pictures that I took to give you a bit of glimpse of all the fun we had. I will just note up front that "relaxing" is just not going to be something we (Jason and I) do at this stage of family life. The days were joy filled and full of precious moments all together, but I would not call any part of the time relaxing. With Terah in tow, that's not going to happen just yet...
Our preparations for the family retreat days started well in advance! In part so we could fit everything in that our dreaming sessions had cooked up and so that we wouldn't have to split ways and try to do things in the most efficient ways. We wanted to spend as much of our days TOGETHER. So a few days before, we roasted the girls Halloween decorated pumpkins to make a smattering of pumpkin desserts.
Mom graciously left her grinder with us for a few weeks and we've been making good use of it - most recently we ground the following grains we grew: millet, barley and corn. 100% millet pancakes are amazing! Previously we ground a bunch of sorghum that our neighbor grew and that was all prepped for our pumpkin pie crust!
Ready for feasting! Pumpkin pie squares with barley flour crust and local honey (we voted for the others that used maple syrup), crustless pies since Alida was sure she wouldn't want crust, and then she liked the one with sorghum crust.
Another pre-retreat day experiment was nixtamilizing some of our Texas gourd seed corn (simmering in ash water and soaking over night), dehydrating it, and then grinding it to make masa in preparation for corn tortillas for one of our Christmas day meals.
There was also lots of sneaky time in the girls' bedroom as they wrapped presents. And I imagine you won't be too surprised to know that they made their own wrapping paper. They learned the trick of carving potatoes to make paint stampers  from a friend and it was a hit! So while I used up old wedding wrapping paper they made festive Christmas prints for wrapping their presents.
Our first retreat day meal: Soaked polenta "grits," applesauce, eggs and our homegrown salt cured bacon. Other than the salt, it's a Tangly Woods (expanded to Fruit Farm lane for the applesauce) meal!
While presents were by no means the focus of our two days together, I will have to admit that once Terah learned that the things on the mantle behind her high chair and in the stockings were surprises to open, she was pretty interested in them. Thankfully she didn't care so much what was inside so helped all of us open ours and then was mostly ready to move on. The older girls were so sweet in their excitement to give presents this year. I was a tad overwhelmed by receiving fair trade almonds, an 88% cocoa fair trade chocolate bar AND organic fuzzy socks, which I'm wearing right now! Kali also made each of us a red finger knitted snail Christmas ornament - and admitted that they were the cause of some of her later nights recently!
First major non-efficient move of the day: we are ALL doing chores together! This was one of the highlights of the two days for me. While I would not want to do it daily, I'm pondering the possibility of doing them once a week to keep me more connected with the going-ons out of doors! The first day I mostly watched and learned...
First stop was to deliver some leftover bacon to Buttercup for a Christmas Eve treat. On Christmas Day she got some popcorn duds. 
Kali takes amazing care of her animals and is clearly supremely concerned about their well being - really struggling if a day goes by that she has not been able to let both her ducks and her pet chicken out to forage and enjoy roaming!
One of the only times we split ways was for Terah's first nap on Saturday - she was worn out by the end of chores and fell asleep quickly and easily for me. I worked just a 1/2 hour while others were finishing chores and then put my computer away (that was the only work done in those two days, promise!). I played some games with the girls until Terah woke and then we all scurried around to gather things for our Christmas Eve feast of pizza pockets over an outdoor fire!
The mealtime entertainment was the girls flying their balsa wood airplanes. It was Jason's idea of a Christmas present for the two older girls and they love themt! We got them stuck in at least 3 species of trees over our time outdoors - which of course meant some tree climbing for Kali (she didn't mind!)
I can't help it - another food photograph! I'm not sure when I have eaten something so delectable. Sour dough rye bread (thanks, Mom!), toasted with homemade butter, with homemade everything inside: parsley basil pesto, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, dried oregano, tomato sauce, and our pork sausage with dried sage and fennel. It was one of those meals I was full way before I wanted it to be over!
It was the first time we made a fire "just for us" and not for some big event. It has always felt like a big production so for some reason that means we only do it with company?! The funny thing is that it felt like less of an ordeal with just 5 of us and was really, really fun - so another thing we'll hopefully be doing again (not waiting for the rare retreat day).
This gal was happy, happy, happy outside! She loved it...
At one point she totted off for a little adventure all of her own. Initially she went down to the garden fence and slipped and fell on her back. She didn't cry at all but just lay there in the leaves looking up at the sky and finally made a little chirp of a "hey, I'm over here, can someone pick me up" sound. I almost didn't want to, she was so adorable laying there. Then she got braver and walked all the way from the fire ring down to the red coop to visit the chickens. If you look closely you might find her. 
We enjoyed a late afternoon walk together for Terah's second nap and visited a neighbor who is traveling through her first Christmas without her spouse (who was also our friend!). The girls had made her a set of hot pads and we brought some Tangly Woods fruit preserves. The sky was beautiful on our way home as the sun was setting.
The evening fun started with Kali shedding over a foot of her hair. She had decided to donate it at Christmas. I knew she was feeling a tad nervous about it in the days leading up but there was no turning back on the day of. Once this gal makes up her mind, she's committed!
Alida on the other hand (as is typical for her right now) didn't want Kali to cut her hair or didn't want certain hair bands used. So I not only had her open the present of about 100 new hair bands, but also her toy opossum to provide some comfort. She had wanted one for Christmas, but when she opened it she said "what is it?" We though that entry on her Christmas list was rather random and not all that thought through, but she loves it all the same. Though it pales in comparison to the doll Kali found for her at Gift and Thrift. It's amazing how this doll has a long history with us even though we just met her for the first time this Christmas. We are hearing lots about her life!
Ready for the big cut!
...and she's much lighter! It's super cute on her! And, in case you thought that was the end of our day, there was decaf coffee, and pumpkin desserts and game playing until Alida was begging to go to bed. She ended up falling asleep on the couch before we got to the nighttime routine all together...
Day 2: I watched the first time so Jason carried the baby and I did the chores!
I think my upper body would be stronger if I did this regularly. Some of these "movable coops" are indeed movable but with some muscles (and my arm muscles are not used nearly often enough other than carting around our 25 lb plus youngest!
Kali gave coop moving a try too!
The composting coop is my favorite - not only because I think the birds are the prettiest in there, but I think it's an awesome place to live. Oh to only have that big a space to keep up with. :) I would not be a fan of catching a mouse daily in my house though...
I also had to learn the duck routine! I got some glimpses into why Kali's duck chores often take her 2 plus hours. I will be cutting some corners on her routine when I do chores for her when she goes to another conference with Jason in a few weeks! 
Terah LOVES Buttercup! If she is within sight, she would really, really like to be touching her. We'll see how long until she begs for her own pet chicken. It's good he's got the Keezles breeding project going on...
Well, it appears that Kali's ducklings don't just trick Grandpa. After "not laying well" for a few days, Kali found 8 eggs (from 4 ducklings) in her free range coop. That, and the 3 in the fridge, provided all we needed for a double batch of nutty sweet potato waffles for our Christmas brunch!
Jason worked on frying up some more bacon, while I got the waffles going with the girls and also got our refried beans simmering for later in the day - and, for Christmas we went all out - all the dried beans used were grown at Tangly Woods (pretty special beans!). 

I was making waffles for a few hours (today's breakfast will be leftover sweet potato waffles french toasted!!)
It was afternoon by the time chores, brunch and presents had concluded. Terah had lasted amazingly well, but she was sacked out even before we got up the hill to pay a short visit to our neighbors and deliver some waffles!
Then for a Christmas Day hike to Hensley's Pond (I even got to enjoy holding Jason's hand and giving him a hug since the baby slept the whole way there and back - when she is awake it seems that I'm not permitted to give to or receive affection from anyone but her without her loud protest!)
I love these people!! 
So I didn't mention yet that for days leading up to our retreat and on the days themselves, Jason was fitting in working on a project in pockets of time, and often with Alida along for the fun,. Finally about an hour before dark on retreat day #2 we were ready to shoot some hoops!
Here's Terah making a basket in her alternative hoop. I love how she lifts her little hands up and then claps for herself. She was having fun (that is, until the large ball hit her, but she recovered ok):

She's an intense little gal with a mind of her own, but she's also such a fun, creative spark of curious, lively energy!
I could get into playing bball as a family! The long term goal is to pour a 24x24 concrete pad but no hurry on that, as the space already works great!
We even squeezed in some badminton and sandbox playing before dark! No pictures of this, but we all did the egg collecting and shutting in chickens and ducks before coming in to make dinner together (we skipped lunch today as our brunch of waffles held us quite nicely!)
Making homegrown/ground corn tortillas with masa: I must admit they were tricky and while delicious did not hold together great. But it was our first time! I was glad I wasn't doing it for company or by myself...
Here they are - tasty and special, and a tad crumbly. We;d love a tortilla making lesson from someone whose family has done this for generations!
After dinner, we squeezed in one more game playing session (no one had room for any more pumpkin pie after our taco dinner with the sweetest spinach from our garden!). Then it was off to bed - a worn out family from so much fun together! 

Terah is still sacked out in my arms but Alida is laying here on my bed with her new doll, Ashley (oh, and the opossum is Maggie). She just admitted that "I got it," meaning the virus that has been making its rounds. We thought she had been spared, but Jason noted she was fevered overnight and her eyes are a tad bleary this a.m. I didn't mention it, but illness was definitely part of our retreat days - Terah has had a cold for over a week and it keeps moving through different phases but has made her a tad more cranky than is typical for her and me less rested. I'm glad Alida felt good for our Christmas together and hopefully she'll be on the mend and feeling great in a few days when the Benners descend for our Christmas/New Year celebration together...

Now while it is Monday and Jason is out doing chores, while I work on laundry and breakfast and kiddo care and cleaning up the house from all our festivities and preparing for the next, I hope I can carry with me some of the ways that our Christmas weekend together was unique and special (and embed some of those components into non-retreat days too)!