Spring Hopes…Eternal!

Goodness, it seems as if Spring has sprung here at the farm and despite the fact that the calendar still says winter, Mother Nature promises to continue marching along these same spring-type lines all next week as well with day time temps predicted to be in the mid seventies. Although there are plenty of other things to worry about, (such as the required number of days below freezing that the blueberries require for production purposes!) we decided to just go along with our activities this weekend (its not as if we can launch a protest or a defiant march or anything!) and act as if it were actually March (instead of mid February).

We stubbornly persist in all our efforts here at the farm with a popular little motto, ‘hope springs eternal’, as we constantly go back to square one to try and get things ‘right‘ or ‘even more right‘ each year. Today Dave so aptly turned this adage around by saying to me in an “oh well, here we go again” sort of way – with fingers crossed – as he started plowing the fields, ‘I guess Spring hopes eternal!’ something I found so endearing and can identify with in every way! I guess we can only hope that the promise of this early spring is eternal and doesn’t go fickle on us! To that I say, hope springs eternal!

So, today we harvested the last of the fall spinach and will give this late crop directly to the chicks in several batches since we expect these leaves to be less tender than we prefer to eat ourselves. IMG_2287.JPGWe also finally harvested the Brussels Sprouts that love the cold weather but benefited from the added protection of a cold frame for the last several months. Here are a mass of plants…IMG_2442.JPGAnd some details of the lovely buds we can’t wait to roast. I cut the leaf matter away and will feed it to the chicks in the coming days. IMG_2441.JPGThe fields are very dry right now so Dave was able to take advantage of this situation to spread an application of lime today followed by tilling everything under in a pre-plowing phase, something that is usually too wet to do with such large machinery at this juncture. Because of the dryness and the lime application, he wisely wore a kerchief while rumbling thru the fields today on the tractor churning in months of chicken poop fertilizer as he went! IMG_2455.JPGThe bees also continue to take advantage of all this warm weather but will find very little in natural food sources so today I gave them some pollen patties. Yummy, right? It turns out that they are much like other active athletes and could use some carbs when there is so little viable food outside at this point in the year. So I supplied them with some purchased pollen from my bee supplier. I hope they enjoy this supplement and continue to thrive despite the crazy weather.

This weekend was also celebratory as Saturday was the opening day for the Seven Oaks Farm & Orchard Egg Subscription! Yay! I hinted at this in the previous post but it came to fruition yesterday when after much coordination with friends, family and neighbors we endeavored to find a way to distribute 7 dozen eggs on a weekly or bi-weekly basis (we have held back sufficient numbers for ourselves) so as to share our lovely eggs. Here is how it worked. Those who have signed up come to the screen porch of the barn on Saturdays between 8-11am to fill the ceramic egg crates that I have supplied. Here is the tray of crates with a money jar and log book in case I’m not around. IMG_2379.JPGSubscribers fill their crates to take home with these lovely, colorful eggs that are set out on another table. I think there are those who enjoy the thrill of selecting their eggs a la carte this way and learning more about where their food (eggs) come from.   IMG_2375.jpgOne enthusiastic subscriber communicated with me that she hoped we could work on an egg subscriber cookbook! A gal after my own heart…Sue and I will plan to work on this in the future!

Today was another Full House or Royal Flush of egg laying with all seventeen hens providing us with a daily egg for the 3rd time this month. Yay!

As the chicks are now at a peak laying time they seem to have out grown the initial 3 nesting boxes which I’ve been watching out for crowding as things progressed. Here they are in a stadium style line of gals waiting for the “bathroom”. In a typical early morning rush to lay, you can see eight of them vying for 3 spots with some already doubling up in some boxes if you look closely!IMG_2130.jpgWe decided to add two more nest boxes to alleviate the crowding. One is an official wooden box that we place each morning on the drop box where the New Hampshire chick so consistently wanted to lay her eggs in the past. The decision to put a moveable box there during the day has become very popular as illustrated by the cluster of eggs from various hens laid here! This nest is called #5 in our record books. IMG_2280.JPGThe other nest is one we bought and is the least appealing to me since it is a plastic form that one can hang from the wall with 4 screws, but despite my snobbery, it has also become very popular with the girls, perhaps due to the darkness it provides them. We placed it under the drop board across the doorway from the original nests and it is nest #4 in the record book. IMG_2008.JPGOf course Seven Oaks Farm eggs played a part in little Coulter’s Valentines Day as I prepared little packages for him to give to his play group teachers that day in addition to the ones he made with his mom and dad for his classmates. He handed each teacher a bag containing a heart shaped egg crate full of colorful eggs, no less! IMG_2332.JPGHere he is busily considering the contents of his Valentines bag…IMG_2339.JPGAnd happily out for a walk with Nana and Gramps in his ‘chickie sweater”, no less! IMG_2346.JPG

Shakshuka (Gazoontite) and Other Yummy Egg Recipes!

Hello, February, or is this May? Where is winter?

Yesterday’s temperature here was 74 degrees! How nice for everyone who visited the zoo, local parks or just got out for a walk but yikes, how will our orchard react to this spike in temperatures? Our blueberry plants require a certain number of days below freezing for good production which is now concerning when the climate is so topsy turvy but more worrisome than that, we do not want to trick all the fruit trees into thinking it is time to bud out. Yikes! Indicative of that, the bees are out and about looking for food and there are reports from other local beekeepers that they are already bringing in pollen in our area which is at least 6 weeks ahead of schedule. If only this was exciting news but I fear it could backfire.

I got this tidbit of bee info after spending all of yesterday (from 8am til 5pm) at a local beekeeping seminar with presenters from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. (No, that is not a typo, but just try pronouncing that fun word!) It was interesting to hear the Canadian beekeepers describe their scientific experiments (which included isolating bee colonies on two islands for genetic breeding purposes) but it didn’t really relate as much to our experiences here since they are not only in a dramatically different weather climate but also adhere to vastly different government rules and regulations that determine which pesticides/herbicides can be used in their agriculture AND what treatments they are allowed to use on their bees for the current diseases affecting the bee population.

The state of our US bees (diseases, fungi, and other colony collapse issues) is such that although Canadians welcome refugees from all over the world, (YAY CANADA!) they long ago closed their borders on the importation of our bees so the only kind that cross their border are the ones that fly  across! Despite my whining, I’m fortunate to get some real-time, continuing beekeeping education and look forward to the coming season when we hope to expand our bee yard.

I can’t tell you how many people try to console us with the idea that this must be the time of year when we take a vacation from the farm. The limited number of daylight hours somewhat restricts our outdoor activities, and yet we are still pretty busy here. Besides the ongoing maintenance of equipment and grounds, our two major winter initiatives have been building the retaining wall on the north side of the barn for the new gravel access road and preparing for the expansion of the deer fencing along the north and south property lines.

Fencing: In order to replace the existing 903 foot expanse of North/South fencing with new deer fencing, we have been clearing the existing fence line of 30 plus years of overgrowth. Dave has been working on this tirelessly and I join in when I can but as you can see, it is tedious at best.  IMG_2316.JPGIMG_2312.JPGHere is an example of the stubborn over growth entwined in the fence after we chopped away as best we could. We are carting away piles and piles of debris from this project. IMG_2317.JPGWalls: The wall we are building is on the north side of the access road next to the barn. Our friend, Jon Lanaghan wears so many hats in our lives as he is our talented arborist but also knows enough about masonry to help us build this stone retaining wall.  Here he is recently getting the base of the wall established, moving about 4 tons of rock in one day. img_2064From what looked like a huge rock pile, he created a baseline for a wall! img_2078And demonstrated how these 82 pound blocks could be hefted from one spot to another with relative ease using the proper tools. img_2076While all this fencing and wall building is taking place, I can tell you that the chickens have been hard at work as well. We have now experienced a “Full House” meaning that each hen laid one egg in a single day providing the 17 colorful eggs you see below. (Hens will normally lay one egg every 26-30 hours so given that cycle, you cannot expect an egg each day per hen for any longer than a two week span at most.) Here is what the excitement of that looks like…and we had this TRIFECTA twice in the first week of February, so what do I know? Best of all is the ceramic tile of our prep kitchen back splash in the background of the photo, illustrating wee chicks flapping about! img_2069We are now selling eggs both at The Artery and to friends and neighbors alike. Subscriptions are now available on a limited, first come, first serve basis so that we can consistently provide to those who are interested.   img_2065Besides being so prolific in the egg department, I find our hens to be artistic as well…here is the impression they left for me this morning as a wing span imprint in the inevitable dust of the nest box lid in the coop…it is almost archeological in nature…or something one might see on an ancient wall in a cave in France?  IMG_2311.JPGCooking with eggs is a current passion of mine and I’m finding some recipes to be regional favorites such as one called Shakshuka. Despite being a wonderfully fun word to say, it is not the sound that you make when you sneeze, but rather a dish of North African origin that is often associated with Israeli cooking. It is another example of incorporating eggs into the lunch or dinner menu. I found various versions of this simple dish and followed one from Molly on the Range despite finding similar ones from favorite sources  Yottam and Smitten Kitchen.

Each version brings me inspiration in that I find alternative ingredients that basically sends the message that one should make a veggie ‘stew’ that simmers on the stove top to which one adds freshly cracked eggs that then simmer in the sauce until baked. No matter which veggies ones uses, the outcome is a flexible feast that uses what one has on hand along with some middle eastern (yet common) spices, topped by the cracking of some eggs; something that nearly defines me as I stand at my stove these days.

So, the easiest way to share this is to link the New York Times recipe so as not to violate copy writes of the recipes from Molly’s or Yottam’s books. Yes, they vary in interesting ways…Molly adds Israeli couscous which we loved for the added oomph at dinner time.

Nearly all versions start out with sauteing onions and adding spices before the addition of the other veggies and stewing a bit on the stove top. Here is my version after adding the couscous which has been fragrantly simmering and was ready for the eggs. IMG_2030.JPGNot all recipes add feta, but OMG, what a favorite of my mine…how can you lose…so here it is with a bit of feta and parsley. The eggs simmer in the sauce and become amazing bits for each plate after a round of time in the oven! I shared a skillet of this with the Wards with good reviews. Shakshuka, gazoontite! IMG_2029.JPGI also experimented with a simple combo of eggs/cheese/ham that I shared with the Wards recently which they now call “Eggie Yum Yum”. This general recipe can be found on line here and is so simple to adopt using other ingredients you might have on hand. I started out with ramekins lined with Canadian bacon…IMG_2088.JPGAdded the sauteed onion and spinach…IMG_2090.JPGThen the eggs on top followed by some of the cheese…IMG_2091.JPGThen cooked for several minutes and viola! IMG_2094.JPGServed with cheesy garlic bread! Yum!IMG_2095.JPGLittle Coulter is happily enjoying all that spring has to offer. We don’t want to take advantage of his good nature when it comes to helping out on the farm, but he seems to think that collecting gum balls is a bit of fun…we won’t break his bubble on this just yet! (The scraping sound is Dave’s rake on the asphalt!)

We also took him to the recent members’ day opening of the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood exhibit at the local Magic House and I’m afraid we miss judged the crowd size and he was one among hundreds of little ones trying to get a handshake with the Neighborhood friends and it was pretty intimidating…for him and for us! Ugga mugga!  IMG_2194.JPGIMG_2213.JPG