Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Planting Procrastination

I am the biggest procrastinator there is....I believe it is a genetic defect as my mother is worse than I! So, with that said, I recently discovered something that I totally forgot about and was supposed to have completed last fall!! In the trunk of my car was a bag of 100 daffodil bulbs hidden under a big sign. Poor things. The yellowed sprouts that had emerged were begging for soil and sun. Two weeks ago, I had purchased 6 tiny blueberry plants, 2 small but sturdy 'Heritage' raspberry plants and 10 dinner plate dahlias. I had some work to do and yes, I did complete all of my planting. I even weeded around my hyacinths without getting stung. There were many bees and wasps buzzing in and out of the blooms. Wouldn't you know the weather man was calling for a tempurature dip down to 32 degrees so I overturned small plastic buckets to protect my new little berry babies. Three of the blueberry 'stems' even have tiny delicate blooms.

Last year, we received an early frost just as my dahlias were in the height of their glory. I thought maybe this year I would start a few in pots to get a head start before planting in the ground after Mother's Day. Around here, it is discouraged to put out summer plants before that date. I planted maybe 5 bulbs and the containers are next to the brick wall on the back porch. Ok, the planting is done, now what is left that I have procrastinated about....hmmm, weeding, edging, buying bone and blood meal, spraying pasture pro on the paddocks....the list goes on and on! Maybe I will wait until tomorrow~

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hay is for Horses

Today was hay day! The equine dentist was scheduled to float Jessie and Blue's teeth this morning but his filly's chiropractor was hours late which in turn caused him to reschedule his 40-50 horse appointments in our area. Just goes to show that all of us do indeed affect each other's lives at times...I am sure this woman was oblivious to her blatant inability in keeping this man's appointment and creating such a ripple effect. I say that because I have heard from more than one disappointed client that this is just her way...tsk, tsk.

Back to hay... I have a 78-year old hay man named Earl. He was a former trainer in the California racing industry and tells amazing stories of the yesteryear racing world. He co-owns a farm in Washington where superior hay reigns and ships prime 3-string 125-135 lb. bales all over the world. My 'ponies' eat timothy only which has the lowest protein content, maybe 10-11% unlike alfalfa with upwards of 18+ percent. This hay is like no other...no weed, no mold, no grass mixture, no blister beetle, no heat, just awesome timothy with excellent head. My horses do not waste it and eat every strand. I have purchased local hay for years only to be totally disappointed with having to return moldy bales. This has happened with three different suppliers and that gets old fast especially since I have to reload the bad bales and haul the hay myself with no reimbursement for my expense. It is so frustrating to put up maybe sixty 35-40 pound 2 string bales (by myself) and find that several bales are useless. So, I made the decision to travel to Lexington and buy the best. My horsey friends think I am crazy, but I think it has been worth it for three years now. Well, I thought so until today... my cost per bale was increased which makes no sense since diesel is way cheaper than it was last year. Oh well, maybe I can find some decent summer hay that hasn't been put up wet.

It was a long day for me. Little Bear woke me up at 4 am which is now her habit. Just as I began to doze back to sleep, the electricity went off. Thankfully we have a generator but the disturbance created the second unhealthy sleep interruption making it difficult to fall back to la la land. I fed early and cleaned the stalls early out of respect for my equine dentist so no sleeping in which farm owners cannot do anyways...

Earl and his grandson (who will inherit the business) loaded my 2-horse gooseneck filling it with 29 bales. It hauled well and the trip back, thankfully, was uneventful. Upon my return, I was greeted by Callie, Cricket, Coty, and Nugget, showing their faithful love to their mama with wagging tails and kitty rubs against my legs. The good husband was watching the BB games, so I grabbed a quick snack and backed the trailer down the hill into the barn, well, a few feet into the barn, since I have no room to properly pull out and back it in straight without damaging the numerous tractor implements left in places where I would not put them.

Ahhh, now the looming task of handling 3,770 total pounds of hay and stacking the bales in an orderly fashion. The lower back was already protesting since it hasn't fully recovered from the surpise meeting of those four unforgiving steps a month ago, not to mention stiffness had begun to set in resulting from the 2 hour drive home.
I think I finished in about an hour and wouldn't you know, the good husband arrived when I was handling the very last bale. He provided a much needed boost to shove the final bale into place. He quickly exited fearing that I might request more help and pretended not to hear 'honey, help me feed the deer'. Off he went in his Kubota, worrying that he might miss those important basketball plays...uggh, men's sports....

Well, there you have it...this middle aged farm girl is quite pleased that she alone was able to stack five high and remain injury free. Hail to the good strong Fuller (Grampie, Floyd Fuller) and Davis (Great Grammie Fred) farm genes that still live on today! ps... I may be eating these words tomorrow after the lactic acid invades my aching body....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Baking At Its Best - Picture Cookies

On the December 2008 issue of Martha's Living magazine, I was instantly drawn to the most beautiful cookies! No gooey layers or sloppy ingredients, just simple shapes but with little scenes etched on the tops each cookie. A horse drawn sleigh in front of a farmhouse, a snowman, birds, flowers, bunnies, religious icons; the designs were intricate and eye catching. I discovered these cookies have been around for 100's of years and are named Springerle cookies. I wanted these molds! They were mostly made of wood and one could hang them for a unique kitchen decor. Go to http://www.houseonthehill.net/ so you can see what I am describing. This is a small company located in Massachusetts and they were flooded with orders when I called (and omitted some of the molds I wanted), but now I am sure business has calmed down.

The springerle cookies require a 24-hour drying period so I decided not to try that recipe but found in the little book that accompanied my order, several other recipes including the best sugar cookie...Vanilla Sugar Cookie. Unlike any other sugar cookie recipe, this one requires dissolving the sugar so have fun and try them yourself! They come out soft and tender and can be stored for up to a week in a metal tin. You can even purchase the special paint and give them some color! Try them with your favorite hot tea on a dismal rainy day (it rained yesterday!).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cricket Capers

Yesterday was rainy but that didn't stop the barn brat from being a playful kitty. From chasing his mother, Callie, and jumping over her while she too is running, to climbing the tree way too high (in Grammie's opinion); he was on a roll. Meanwhile, big Daddy Cat watched from a distance while his son entertained us all!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Maple Syrup Time!

Tis' the season for the Vermont farmers to be tapping their maples for that awesome goodness: pure Vermont Maple Syrup! I truly cannot understand how anyone would prefer a store bought syrup to this pure sweet concoction. As a child, I remember my grampie, Floyd Fuller, used to sell it from the 'new' house in Randolph Center. He used to tap his own sugar maples on his dairy farm for decades; but when I came along, they were retired from farming, had sold the farm and lived on a couple of acres with a couple of horses. Grampie always had to have his beloved horses.
Grampie is a legend of sorts up there. He describes his youth in a series of interviews that can be digitally accessed on the Vermont Folklore Cultural website. You can hear how as a 12-year old, he had to spend an entire day in the sugar house boiling the sap - by himself! That is a lot of work for such a young kid! I miss both Grammie and Grampie tremendously but these old photos of their life on the beautiful farm seem to help in a small way. I have dedicated a web page to Gramp and can be accessed by clicking on this link... Floyd Fuller, Vermont's Legendary Horseman.

My favorite memories of Vermont maple syrup is 'sugar in the snow'. As kids we would all gather around the dining room table. In the middle of the table was a huge mound of frozen snow with lots of little grooves. I don't remember now, but the syrup was boiled to a certain point and then drizzled in the holes. We would then spoon it out and it was like candy. I am also in love with Grammie's baked beans which to me are far superior to any baked bean in the world! The 'soldier' beans are slow cooked with pure Vermont maple syrup and of course other ingredients. I should make some soon. Hmm, Vermont maple syrup, maybe I will make some barnyard waffles and gobble some of that goodness this morning!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Woods Walk

Sunday was a good day for a walk in the woods before the ticks, snakes, chiggers and weeds could do their annual biting, burrowing and scratching. I was hoping to find some naturally shed antlers or maybe even an occupied deer bed. First I climbed the big hill, stopping to be sure the spring fed well remained covered so that the deer could not fall in like Nub did last November! (see Defying Death for that horrific story) Looked good to me.

I reached the top. My good husband cleared it last year much to my chagrin...A year ago, I had our excavator cut out a little maze of trails that wound around the trees and brush. Some dead ended so you had to pay attention where you were going! Didn't see any deer or hear the birds but I did notice a couple of huge buzzards soaring above the tree tops. They came back about a week ago. Last year they were perched in the trees and didn't seem to fear me. It was neat seeing them that close.

I followed a trail that led into the woods, still looking for deer rubs on trees and hoping for a antler, but not a thing so far, not even a rustle in the leaves. It was still very quiet. I decided to check the big fox den to see if it was still active and sure enough the entrance was clean of debris. I pity the poor deer that don't see these mean daggers!

The horses were happily grazing and looked up with surprise when they saw me coming down the hill. I noticed a fence rail had been kicked in two. Blue! Did he think he was in a karate competition? That horse...he is always kicking something! The 'river' was pretty but no ducks nor the huge Great Blue Heron could be seen or heard. A flock of robins flitted about the branches near the river bank. I checked the horses water level in their 100 gallon tub and noticed yellow blooms in the cemetery out of the corner of my eye...maybe some dandelions? Wow, I had no idea these wild daffodils were here! One of them looks to be like a 'double' bloom!

After about an hour, my walk ended seeing no wild four legged creatures or finding my much desired antlers. It was time to clean stalls. Low and behold I discovered something with fur! A little 'pretend' wild cat was partially hidden in the tall weeds taking a sun nap...Cricket! Thankfully nothing was captured between the strong pointed fangs or the long sharp claws.... just a kitty enjoying a quiet day. I scooped him up in my arms and off we went to the tack room. All is well on the farm!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Big Blue and Bad Deer

Had to work today but got some time to ride Blue after the barn chores were complete. Jess was happily munching the tiny green blades that have pushed through the worn soil in the small paddock. I was reading in Equus about fat horses last night and I guess it is time we both work on our weight.
He was mouthy with the bit but very good overall in the big field. The 15 acre flat field is a good test for any horse. With the surrounding woods, a twig could snap from an unseen deer, a noisy squirrel could suddenly rustle dry leaves or a stray dog could show up, all good reasons for a spook! It is away from the barn and a brisk windy day could spur a bolt home should a horse be fresh or frisky. Blue's shies are usually manageable. He would have rather skipped the mandatory 10 minute warm up walk and begin trotting but with varied exercises he finally settled down. He gets bored easily and it is imperative to keep him thinking by changing his routine with circles, bending, halts, etc. He trotted well and halted well in his downward transitions without too much pulling on the reins. I think secretly he likes to be under saddle but doesn't want his mama to know. We only worked maybe a half an hour. I am trying to be careful with his back so the muscle spasms and soreness do not return. I think more time is needed in getting his muscles and ligaments in good condition before taking any jumps. And the weight...that doesn't help things, I know.

Upon our return, the dogs were in and the deer were out in the front yard which is very unusual. I heeded George Morris' advice, 'there is no need to give the horse the reins while under saddle'. I wanted to chase the deer out of the yard with Blue but I just told them to come and eat corn and sure enough, they headed to 'their' yard. They are smart too!

While feeding corn, Callie joined me and again a yearling decided to play 'threaten the cat' and was following Callie who was not near any corn piles so, this was deliberate. I used my voice only once and this yearling tossed her head and turned tail. But....Miss Shy One decided to continue the game! She lets me get close to her. In a soft tone I scolded her and she stopped to look at me. Shy One is Brownie's two year old doe twin. She is very dominant and can be very mean. She is unlike Brownie who is dominant, but in a patient and kind way. Shy One means business! I scooped Callie up and on our way back we saw Bossy's Boy go after Daddy Cat who quickly escaped around the corner. I guess it was 'be mean to kitty' day for the deer.

I am a bit worried about Brownie and Nub. They each have a spot of missing hair. The deer are still shedding making their coats look scruffy but in the two years that I have gotten close to them, there have been no bare spots. Brownie's is in the shape of a triangle near her mouth and isn't as red as yesterday. Nub's is larger and in spots on his flank. I do notice tufts of hair in the deer yard so maybe they got 'hooved'. The young bucks do not hesitate to go after anyone who is eating corn. They raise up on their hind limbs and strike the offending deer, usually on the back. Ouch! The girls do it too; to other does or yearlings, but never to an antlered buck. Bandit is sporting only one now and Bossy Boy is the only buck who has both. Other than that, all is well on the farm! Guess who was waiting for me on the driveway! So cute!!!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Murderous March

Spring is here! The bulbs are blooming and I can smell something sweet in the air, but along with all the beauty on the farm, trouble comes for some.
I have concrete evidence of this recent disturbance and usually it doesn't occur until May. In the past, I have tried to prevent the loss of life. Mostly I am too late and once again, poor little innocent beings have found themselves a victim of the resident serial murderer....Cricket!

A gorgeous young green snake was beheaded last week. Its body was slung around in the washrack, the feline dungeon of doom. I have never seen a green snake before and sadly had to hide its hardened form in case of ingestion. With Cricket, you cannot tell what he will eat. I managed to steal a poor tufted titmouse, still warm, during the 'throw the dead in the air' game just a few days ago. I hid it since Cricket gets sick from eating birds. He looked a long while for that bird.

I finished those awful taxes yesterday and had two social engagements to attend that evening, so everything was rushed. Callie decided to follow me when I went out to the cemetery paddock which I try to discourage in case she might want to wander off and then get eaten herself. She likes to linger near the huge sycamore tree at the gate. All the deer were feeding and sometimes the yearlings don't know what to think of the cats. They raise their 'flags' and begin a slow approach accompanied with the unusual warning stomp. If they get too close then I'm the one that does the stomping which immediately startles them. I was too busy to watch with both horses walking briskly towards the barn. I did glance back to see her crouched in the middle of the lane. I put the horses up and called and called but no Callie which is unusual; she is the best cat and like a dog, will come running. Of course worry set in, what if she got stomped? So back up the lane I go, loudly calling for Callie. Nothing. Daddy Cat followed, trying to help with his incessant meows. Cricket was in the tack room for the evening. I finally spotted her in the tree by the pond perched comfortably with one arm dangling. She wasn't moving. I threw old sticks at her and she refused to budge. (When I picked up a stick close to the water, I noticed something with no head....after more study, it was a poor frog. Cricket!) After a good 15 minutes, I told her she was on her own and Daddy Cat and I walked back to the barn. Down she came. I picked her up and lugged her to the barn and put her in the tack room. Bad kitty.

Oh how could I forget, a little possum lost it life at the base of the bird feeder in the beginning of the month. Little Bear! She is notorious for killing teenage creatures. The baby bunnies will be born soon and I dread that the most. I usually name May the murder month, but it looks as though this disgusting behavior from my well fed cats and dogs is going to begin early this year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Farm Fog

Yesterday evening was really strange. Thick eerie fog was creeping up all around the farm around 8 pm. I had to run back and grab the camera. My Cannon Rebel doesn't do well in the evening, no matter what type of photo I turn the button to...night portrait, landscape, auto, etc., so the only shot I can get is 'flash off', otherwise the photos are all blurry or dark and indistinguishable. Jessie and Blue were turned out late so they enjoyed about 4 hours of grazing on young shoots of grass. I usually do not turn them out in the small paddock so I can let it recover, but it was late and I was lazy.

Today my brain will be in a fog since I must stop procrastinating and begin gathering my tax info for the CPA. It will be a challenge as we are to get a 65 degree sunny day. The good husband has been hounding me to get this done, so I better get to work!