Ghostwood Farm

Starts for sale!
May 1, 2014, 1:07 pm
Filed under: Farming, Veggies | Tags: , , ,

We will have several varieties of plant starts for sale soon. The peppers are coming on a bit slower than the tomatoes, but the soil here in southern Indiana is still a bit chilly and I for one don’t plan to move my peppers and tomatoes outside until the week of 18 May this year, a week later than usual. The peppers may go out a bit later than that, even. You know the old adage: “There’s nothing more productive than a June garden!”

I have provided links for each variety, mostly to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, from whom I buy most of my seeds. Many of them are quite limited in availability, and all are first come, first served. I will have starts at the Smithville Farmer’s Market the first few weeks (17, 24, and probably 31 May). Starts will be $1 each for the bigger ones, 2/$1 for smaller ones (at my discretion).  If you see something here you want, contact me to see if the variety is still available.

Here’s what we have:

Bell Peppers

Hot Peppers

Paste Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Full-sized Tomatoes


April 10, 2013, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I’ve been meaning to tell this story for some time. If you and I are connected on Facebook, then you may have seen a lot of this already–when I’m out of town and drunk, I post a LOT. The original post was made 29 January 2013, you can find it on my Facebook page if you were of a mind to do so.

I travel for my day job, not as much as some but more than most, I think. I’m gone 3-6 weeks per year. The last week of January I was in Memphis for the Ecology and Conservation of North American Waterfowl Conference. The conference was at the Peabody Hotel, just a few blocks from Beale Street. It was a cool location (though vastly overpriced and more expensive than I could afford if traveling for pleasure).

I spent a lot of time wandering Beale by myself, talking to the homeless and other locals. What I want to talk about here, though, is about two people I met at the hotel during a social.

At most of the socials, there was a cash bar, and the prices were like being at a ball park ($7 Budweiser? HA!). The second night, though, there was free beer. Needless to say, myself and some colleagues who are also underpaid state biologists were first in line, and in fact were early. The keg was not tapped, and was not even at the bar, but was on a luggage cart across the room. A couple of us offered to carry the keg to the bar, and did so, over what could only be considered mild protestations on the part of the bartender. We then offered to tap it, but the bartender did that.

I talked to the bartender for a bit. Her name was Sarah. She was well-spoken and intelligent. Somewhere along the line, she mentioned that she was related to William Faulkner. Her great great great(?) uncle was Faulkner’s brother. She prefers Hemingway. So it goes. She made me promise to read The Sun Also Rises.

Things got crowded. I am not fundamentally a social person, so I wandered around a bit. Before too long, I wandered up to the gentleman who had been standing by the door since we took the keg matter into our own hands.

His name is Lewis. Lewis’ job was to clean up after us. I opened with some small talk, but it wasn’t necessary–he was ready to talk. Lewis is about 5’5″ and slight of build. He’s 54 years old, African-American, with a light complexion. He has been working at the Peabody for about a decade. Before that, he was a chef, cooking in the school system and for private families.

He has six siblings with whom he shares a mother, although each has a different father. His mom married Lewis’ dad, who is now 82. His dad owns a 300 acre farm that has been in his family for generations, since one of his ancestors, who was share-cropping the ground, inherited it from the previous owner. Lewis and one half-brother will inherit it when his father dies.

Lewis is from Memphis, but his dad’s family is from Benton Harbor, Michigan. He still has at least one uncle up there who comes to visit Lewis’ dad and brings him down to see Lewis. His dad likes beer. When Lewis goes to visit him, he takes his dad two beers and himself two Diet Cokes. It sounded as if Lewis’ dad used to be a heavy drinker, as Lewis was himself. Lewis has now been clean and sober for 20 years.

Lewis owns his own home (two bedroom, one bath). His girlfriend also owns her home. Lewis spends $25 per week on groceries, splurging on ice cream and Diet Coke.

We talked about Ghostwood and the kids, and how nice it is to be able to raise them in such a place. Lewis told me that his dad says he wished he’d have raised Lewis on the family farmstead. Lewis wishes he had, too.

Lewis is a minister. He spoke a few times about how God finds ways to make people do good things. He did not talk of it much. Before I left the room, I told Lewis that I am not a believer, but I hope…Lewis broke in and said, “…to find Him?” I told him that I had found God once and I am now glad to be free of Him. What I hope, I told him, is that I made a good impression as an unbeliever. Essentially, I want him to believe that nonbelievers can be good people. Lewis said that whether one believes doesn’t matter, as long as one is a good person. That was good to hear–so many who believe think that one MUST believe to be a decent person.

I only tell this story, not to out myself as an atheist (not a surprise to anyone that knows me) and not to air all of Lewis’ laundry. I wanted to tell this story to show how amazing, how INTERESTING, people are, people that we walk by every day. I go out of my way, now, to talk to people that I normally would not have. One never knows what new perspectives one will gain, new insights, and even new friends.

Work Made a Farmer
February 8, 2013, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

An amazing post from Of The Hands regarding the patently offensive Dodge trucks Superbowl ad. Take a look? I for one find it inspiring and I’m thinking about having a part of it printed on huge paper to hang in the garage:

You got a farmer in you, like the ad says? Honor it. Don’t buy a fucking truck—that doesn’t make you a farmer. Work the land. Grow food. Engage the household economy. Learn to live with less, build your community, turn you back on global and corporate systems that destroy the land, destroy local communities, and make us all dependent on a rickety system with an ever-approaching expiration date. Come home and begin the long and hard work of staying in place, of strengthening the land on which you live, rather than tearing it apart for temporary luxuries.”

Work Made a Farmer.

Accidents will happen.
February 7, 2013, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Chickens, Farming, Wildlife | Tags: , , ,

When I was in North Dakota (1999-2001), my summers were spent at Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Alice is a truly amazing place. It lies just north of Devil’s Lake, a relatively famous walleye lake and a very interesting place in its own right. But Lake Alice is in a completely different class.

Lake Alice is (was?) a very large hemi-marsh. This means that it is approximately 50% open water, 50% emergent vegetation (largely cattail and bulrush).  In addition to huge numbers of breeding ducks,  Lake Alice also supports hemispherically-important breeding colonies of such colonial waterbirds as Franklin’s gulls, eared grebes, Forster’s and black terns, and black-crowned night-herons. Part of my job was to map these waterbird colonies. This involved canoeing and/or wading around the periphery of each colony with a GPS unit while being attacked, pecked, mobbed, and, shit upon.

It was GREAT.

I cannot say I loved every moment of it, but close. They were long days, some hot, some cold, all wet and smelly. North Dakota winds are something that must be experienced to be believed, even in summer. It was a beautiful place and an amazing experience that not many people, even people in my line of work, get to have.

However, there was death everywhere. Ducks were dying of botulism, which naturally occurs in the anaerobic conditions at the bottom of  marshes in the prairies. Warm water holds less oxygen than cold water. The water at the bottom is basically free of oxygen. Botulism thrives in these conditions. It gets into snails, which get eaten by ducks. One botulismed snail won’t kill a duck, but the toxin bioaccumulates in the duck’s body. Eventually, it makes them very sick. Frequently this manifests as “limberneck,” a lack of control of the head, which results in the bird drowning before it dies of the poison. Then, the flies come. The maggots, like the snails, are unaffected by botulism, but they accumulate the toxin. Other ducks eat the maggots, die, breed more maggots. It’s a vicious cycle that is amazingly destructive in hot years with low water, and kills at least some ducks every year.

The ducks,  in the final throes, would sit on the dikes. Most of the time, their nares (“nostrils”) would be full of leeches. On more than one occasion, I pulled leeches out of the nares of ducks and they would perk up, suddenly able to breathe. On other occasions, I wrung the necks of ducks that were suffering and clearly not going to recover. It was pretty horrible.

I understand that the French called Lake Alice “Lac au Mort.”

So, on one occasion, I was in a colony of Franklin’s gulls and Forster’s terns. It was late in the summer, probably the end of July. These two species tend to nest together in large colonies. The young birds were learning to fly, careening around the place. There was one juvenile bird that was swimming alongside the canoe. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t fly, until I realized he only had one wing. In place of the other, there was a healed wound with a chunk of bone sticking out of it. It had been eaten, probably, by a turtle or a northern pike. I let it go–it would freeze to death in a few months, but it was otherwise healthy and I couldn’t bring myself to kill it.

I do not believe I will ever forget one particular image: Hanging in the “fork” of a cattail, where the new growth was emerging, was a juvenile gull. It was dead and had been for a while. It had simply tried to land and hit the cattail with the bend in its wing, gotten stuck, and hung there until it died. Accidents will happen.

I have told this story countless times in my professional life to illustrate two things: that accidents are a serious cause of mortality among wildlife, and that nature is not all beauty. Nature is beautiful, awe-inspiringly so…but she’s a cold bitch too, and she’ll kill you as soon as look at you, usually in a horrible way. “Red in tooth and claw,” indeed.

I was reminded of this bird on Friday. I pulled into the driveway after having been in Memphis all week (more on that soon). I looked back to the chickens and saw what looked like a bird in trouble. I jumped out and ran back there, and what I saw was horrifying: Buzz Butch, the Sebright bantam rooster, was dead. He was hanging by baling twine over the wall of the greenhouse. Apparently, his feet had gotten tangled in the twine, which got caught on the greenhouse bench, and he went over the edge. He appears to have flapped and flapped until the stress or exhaustion killed him. It must have been terrible. Accidents will happen.

His loss was an important educational moment for me. There is no more baling twine loose in the barn or the greenhouse or near the coops. It won’t happen again. It’s too bad that Buzz Butch had to pay the price for me to learn it. Rest in peace, Buzz Butch. I’m sorry.

Buzz Butch.

Buzz Butch.

Nine deer.
October 19, 2012, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had an early morning meeting on Wednesday which necessitated my leaving the house at 5am. As I pulled down the driveway, the buck I’ve been watching, a big lovely 10-point, ran across the driveway. At first excited, I realized quickly with dread that he had a very bad limp in his left shoulder. I could not see, as his right side was to me, but I suspect that someone shot him with an arrow: Archery season opened October 1.


Deer One

The first deer I ever shot was the first season I ever hunted: November 2000, in North Dakota. In North Dakota, if private property is not posted, one can hunt on it without permission (at least, that was the case then). A friend, Eric, who had grown up hunting deer was helping me scout. We found some heavily-used trails along the Red River just east of the town in which we were living (Buxton). It was raining that day, about 40 degrees. I remember a red squirrel coming down the dead tree by which I was standing, getting within about five feet of me, and bitching up a storm.

I was hunting with my SKS. It was a Chinese made semi-automatic “assault rifle,” but the only rifle I owned. I bought some soft-tip hunting rounds and sighted it in alongside a black bean field. I had a doe license, which were much easier to get than a buck license, and I was only interested in the meat anyway.

The first deer I saw that day was a huge doe. She came busting down the hill about 20 yards from me. I remember it clearly: I thought, “Oh my God, is that the first deer I’ll ever shoot?” It was not. She winded me and shot north along the river.

Hours later, me freezing and fairly wet, a small herd of does came along. It was well within shooting hours (it is illegal to shoot later than half an hour after sunset). They did not notice me and were coming from the south. I picked what looked like the biggest one. I remember that she was darker and redder than the others. I lined up the shot, just behind the shoulder, right where her lungs would be, and squeezed the trigger. I remember for some reason watching the brass shell casing as it ejected. When I focused again on the deer, the herd was running. I went over to where I knew the deer had been standing. Nothing. I looked until dark, growing more and more frantic. No blood, no deer, and it was getting warmer.

On my way home, I convinced myself I missed. After all, she was only about 20 yards away, much much closer than I had practiced, and I had shifted my point of aim downward, perhaps too much. When I got home, Eric said he’d come out with me the following day.

I went to the south end of the woodlot, Eric to where I had been the day before. The idea was that he would drive deer to me by walking and making noise, giving me an opportunity to shoot one. After about five minutes, I heard him shout: ‘ADAM, DON’T SHOOT.” I went to see what the issue was. Of course, he had found my deer from the night before, not 30 yards from where I shot her.

I dressed her, with direction from Eric, and I dragged her out myself, shaking. We could tell that some of the meat was bad–it had been in the 40s overnight, and her body heat took too long to dissipate. We butchered her that afternoon, discarding some of the obviously bad meat, but not enough. Occasionally, we’d still get a mouthful that wasn’t quite right. I hated to waste what we did, and it was no one’s fault but my own. Interestingly, she had a 12 gauge slug lodged against her spine, just above her tail, that had healed over. She was a year and a half old.

I don’t think I’ve ever told that story. I think Eric is the only one that knew about me losing that deer.


That limping deer bothered me all day. I had to give a talk, but as I drove to and from the meeting (a total of nine hours on the road), most of what I thought about was how terrible it would be for that poor animal to have a broadhead wedged in its shoulder blade–a wound that would not be fatal, but excruciating for weeks or until someone else finally killed him.

It’s easy for such to happen, by the way. The point of aim for an archer is just behind the shoulder of the deer. The idea is to put an arrow through the deer’s lungs, which will kill the animal within seconds from massive internal blood loss. Miss by six inches forward with a rifle and the deer is shot through the heart. Miss in the same place with a bow and the arrow is incapable of penetrating the bones in the shoulder–you have a terrible, painful wound.


Deer Two

I was in Massachusetts for deer season 2001 and did not hunt. Deer Two came in early November 2002, during muzzleloader season in Virginia. I was hunting with a friend and co-worker, Brian, on his father’s farm. We had been hunting all day, and it was just about sunset. We were sitting, facing in opposite directions, with our backs to the same downed log. Earlier in that same spot I had seen a fork-tine buck and did not shoot–we were hunting on deer damage tags, and they preferred to take does. Brian said that I should have shot, so when he tapped me on the shoulder in the failing light and pointed, I got ready. It was, I thought, the same deer. He was scraping in the dirt, urinating in the scrape, and rubbing his face on a tree branch–just generally having a good time, marking his territory, getting ready for his first opportunities to breed. I took careful aim with my percussion muzzleloader and pulled the trigger. The cap went off, but the powder did not. I whispered, “No…you…didn’t.” The deer took no notice, being about 50 yards away and really into what he was doing. I was trying to figure out how to get another cap out when I saw the muzzle of Brian’s rifle moving past me. He was handing me his gun! I took it, and shot. The deer ran off and we followed a bit faster than normal, because the light was dim and it was fairly warm–it would be easy to lose the deer and it would mean losing most or all of the meat if we did. We walked right to him. It was a different deer, a spike. It remains the only deer I’ve killed with a muzzleloader, and I’ve never killed one with my own, despite hunting many seasons with it.


This year is the first year I plan to hunt with a bow. One of the big reasons I’ve avoided bowhunting so far is the higher probability of inflicting the kind of injury from which this buck likely suffers. One is also more likely to completely lose an animal when bowhunting, because deer can run quite a distance even while hemorrhaging. However, my job is such that I always have to work opening weekend of the firearms season. After that weekend, the deer completely change their patterns and are much more difficult to hunt, at least on the farm. Bowhunting will allow me to start early, hopefully allowing me to harvest an animal before the gun season opens.


Deer Three

Fall of 2002 again, back on Brian’s dad’s farm. He was hunting across the property and I was in a clearing, hanging out in the top of a blown-down tree. Just after lunch that day I had seen a herd of 30+ deer run by me. I stood there, slack-jawed and dumbstruck, as they ran by at top speed. I didn’t shoot.

I was hunting with my .30-30, a gun that remains my favorite deer gun and one that I wish I could use here in Indiana. It was not scoped–I prefer open sights because I don’t like taking long shots. If I feel confident I can hit with the open sights, it’s close enough to shoot.

About an hour before sunset, I heard Brian shoot. Thirty minutes later, three or four deer showed up, all does. Chances are they are the same herd from which Brian took his deer earlier. They were probably 90 yards away, right at my limit. I drew up on the biggest one and shot. I gave them a few minutes, then went to where they were standing. No blood.

I could see in which direction they ran, so I walked slowly, cutting diagonally across and downhill. Finally, 60 yards later, a giant gush of blood, and 20 yards further, there she lay. It was the longest shot I’ve ever taken.


When I got home, I took a long, slow look through my binoculars at the unmowed portions of the field in front of our house, hoping to see the injured buck bedded down. If I had seen him, I would have tried to sneak on him with my own bow, moving quietly from downwind (it was quite windy) and try to get a fatal shot. I looked very carefully, but he was not there. He was not bedded down in either of the unmowed areas closer to the house. If I wanted to find him, I would have to go looking the hard way.


Deer Four

I didn’t kill any deer in 2003, and not for a lack of trying. Brian and I hunted his dad’s place hard, and I hunted the Powhatan and Amelia Wildlife Management Areas as well. For my next deer, I had to go to a controlled hunt at Presquile  National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is a large island in the James River, where deer tend to concentrate. I was drawn in a lottery to hunt the refuge. The morning I hunted was the second day of the two-day hunt. The day before, 20+ hunters killed 40+ deer.

We rode in a ferry to the island, where we received orientation. It was shotgun only, and most hunters were using buckshot (which I despise). I had buckshot because I didn’t know if they required it, but I loaded my shotgun with a slug.

Not a shot was fired before lunchtime. I went to find a new spot, and wound up in a wet woodland adjacent to a marsh. Just across that marsh was the tidal James River. I had been in this spot for no more than an hour when I heard a crashing in the cattails to my right. A doe came…well, not “barreling,” precisely, for reasons that will become obvious, but moving. She came out of the marsh maybe 25 yards from me. I saw with what can only be described as horror that one of her rear legs was barely attached. She collapsed in a heap in some grass, right in front of me, maybe 15 yards away. She saw me, was looking right at me, but didn’t move.

I knew I had to kill her. She was not going to survive and was clearly suffering and exhausted. I took the slug out of my shotgun and put in a round of buckshot. With tears streaming, I shot her in the neck. I’m sure she never even heard the shot.

When I calmed down, stopped shaking and weeping, I saw it was even worse than I initially thought. In addition to her rear leg being broken and hanging by just a piece of skin, her shoulder on the opposite side was torn open and her shoulder broken by buckshot. This deer had been shot twice with buckshot, each time causing a horrible but non-fatal wound.

It was the first of only two deer shot on the island that day. When I butchered her, much of the meat in the damaged portions was rancid, meaning that the wounds were days old. It’s the only deer I’ve taken with a shotgun, and hopefully the last. It cemented my hatred of buckshot for deer hunting. Luckily, buckshot is illegal in Indiana for deer hunting.


When Melissa and the kids got home, I helped get their dinner together, then I took Melissa into the bedroom and explained what I had seen, and that I felt I had to go look for him. I took my bow and my .357. If I found him and couldn’t get a shot with the bow, I wanted to make sure I could put him down. I would just have to call it in to the conservation officers after the fact and hope they were understanding about it.


Deer Five

The last day of the season, very early January 2005. My last chance in Virginia, though I didn’t know it then. I was at the Amelia WMA, one of my favorite places. I was sitting inside a woodlot, just inside the edge from a large sunflower field. I was at the top of a hill; at the bottom of the hill was the Appomattox River. It was a lovely sunny day, and warm–probably 55 degrees at 9am.

I had been there for an hour and decided that another log, about 10 yards away, looked more comfortable. I had not been sitting at the new site for five minutes when a spike buck ran by me at full speed, not 15 feet(!) away. I almost shot from the hip he was so close. The bullet from my .30-30 hit him and he went down hard…then jumped up and took off. I waited, as one is supposed to do, then followed the trail. He had run downhill and died on the bank of the Appomattox.

When I dressed him, I realized how lucky I had been. Because he had been so close, I hit him much higher than I intended. I missed the lungs and the heart, but managed to just clip the aorta–just half an inch difference between this clean kill and either a live deer (bullet passes clean through with little damage) or a long, ugly, painful death.

The hill was not an insignificant one. It was just about all I could do to get him back to my truck. As I dragged him out, I came upon the carcass of a huge buck that someone had shot the night before and just cut the rack off. I got back to my truck, called my deer in, then called the game warden for Amelia County to ask if I could salvage a portion of the other buck. He said I could, so I cut out the backstraps (the hindquarters were probably no good by then, as warm as it was).

It still appalls me to think about that deer, lying dead, with nothing taken but the rack.


I put my boots on for the first time in weeks. I badly rolled my ankle three weeks ago and it is still swollen. I started by walking the field but saw no sign. I followed some deer trails down into the woods, walking down into the creek bottoms. My ankle was killing me (walking downhill was, unexpectedly, far more painful than walking uphill), it was coming up on dark, and it was warm. In addition, it was threatening rain.

The leaves are just starting to fall and it was windy, so it was tough to hear anything. It had not yet rained so everything underfoot was super crunchy–there was little chance of sneaking up on anything. The woods were full of squirrels, which are much louder than deer (really). I walked down into the creek, followed it to the property line, then took a breather, trying to decide whether to go up the hill toward the barn and pond, or go back the way from which I came.


Deer Six, Seven, and Eight

These deer were shot in 24 hours, within 48 hours of Thanksgiving 2008. We had moved to Indiana in September of 2005, and I was unsuccessful in 2005,06, and 07. In 2008 I hunted a friend’s pastured poultry farm and had good success.

I had scouted it well, and was sitting in exactly the right spot. A heard of perhaps eight does and fawns crossed the fence onto the property, maybe 35 yards away. I was hunting with my .44 magnum lever action now, since high-powered rifles are not legal for deer here. I aimed at the front doe, a big one, and fired. She collapsed, but then to my surprise, looked at me, alert. She made no sound, nor effort to rise. I waited a minute or so, then shot again. This was my first Indiana deer.

She was a large 2 1/2 year old doe. My first shot for some reason had struck very high, and hit her in the spine just behind the shoulder, paralyzing her back legs. She was probably not in much pain, but she couldn’t move. I got her home, hung her up in the garage and skinned her out, then went back to the exact same spot for the afternoon.

That afternoon, after not sitting there more than two hours, another doe ran by. She was moving at a good trot. I shot, and she ran off. I couldn’t find her right away, but as I neared a thicket of multiflora rose, I could smell her. Well, I could smell HIM. It was a 1 1/2 year old buck with one tiny antler hidden behind his ear! Luckily, I had two doe licenses and a buck license, so I was legal. It was the first and only deer I’ve ever found by scent!

I had to get my friend to help me get the deer in the truck–I was exhausted after the day I’d had. I got this deer home and wound up cutting the meat off the first deer that night, then skinning and hanging the buck.

The next morning, I was in the same spot. Foggy, cooler. The does came across in the same spot at the exact same time. The first one, a big grey doe, looked right at me. I aimed and shot. My bullet hit her in the throat, just below the white spot that extends for six inches or so below the head. I blinked and she was gone, a puff of steam where they had been. I couldn’t believe I had missed…and I hadn’t. She had collapsed right where she was standing, dead. Again, she probably never even heard the shot. It was 24 hours almost to the minute from when I shot the first doe. She as 3 1/2 years old, the oldest deer I’ve ever killed.

And now I had three deer to butcher and get in the freezer before we left to go north for Thanksgiving…the next day.


I decided that my ankle would not allow me to climb the hill to the pond and went back the way I came. I looked below the pond from above, but by this time it was quite dark. He wasn’t there, anyway. I expect he hit the mowed trail just off our property to the south and headed west, bedding down somewhere in our neighbor’s woods. I never found him or any trace of him.

I collected eggs, picked some collards and rutabagas, and went inside to hang out with the kids before they went to bed.


Deer Nine

Thanksgiving weekend, 2010, our first season here on the farm. My brother Matt was hunting (his first season) to my east. We’d been out all day and firearm season was nearly over. I was right on the property line, overlooking the very place I stopped to rest on Wednesday. From the west came a large doe. I was unsure what to do. Should I let her go? She might go to Matt, and that would be his first deer. Plus, she might be followed by a buck. But she seemed to be interested in cutting up the hill opposite me rather than follow the valley around to Matt. I shot. She fell in her tracks, dead instantly.

I started climbing down the hill and the closer I got, the smaller she got. The large doe I thought was 70 yards away was a button buck 40 yards away. It was the first deer I killed here at Ghostwood (so far the only one), and the first fawn I’ve ever shot. It was the last deer I shot, too. So far.


I tell these stories because I remember every one of them like it was yesterday. Every one of these animals was and is important to me. I’ve cried over some of them, and I’ve thanked every one of them. I hate like poison that some deer may still be out there with an arrow in his shoulder because I couldn’t find him Wednesday (and someone else missed their shot). I didn’t wound him, but I have empathy for him.

I intend to kill a lot more deer. I intend to kill deer with my bow, too, hopefully starting this year. And I’ll probably lose a deer at some point. Maybe I will exercise poor judgment and take an ill-advised shot that wounds an animal. It happens to nearly everyone who hunts, no matter how conscientious. I hope not. I don’t know how it would affect my future hunting. I hope it would make me more conscientious, and I hope it would not make me quit.

Killing is hard. Really. It should be hard, I think. I don’t want it to be easy. I think about the beans of mine they ate, and I think about the population that is very healthy–that’s the big picture, the population, not the individual. But I do have empathy for the individual, and I hope I don’t ever lose it.

So, this big, injured deer:

I’m a little sad that he probably won’t live long enough for me to shoot him, it’s true. I’m not a trophy hunter by any means, as is evidenced by the fact that I’ve taken three bucks in my life, and between them they had five points. I’ve been watching this deer since he was a spike yearling. He was raised on this farm, to some extent eating my produce. I’m more sad that he’s unlikely to be utilized (except by scavenging wildlife). I’m mostly sad that he is in a great deal of pain, and that it is possible (likely?) that at some point I will cause the same suffering in another animal. I cannot help this deer, but I can use the experience to focus on trying my hardest to be very careful, to take the right shot, to do the right thing.

May 16, 2012, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A good piece on how meat becomes meat. I know from experience how time consuming butchering is for the layman. If you don’t follow Tim’s blog, please consider doing so: He has some great food-related information to share.

Mulligan Stew

If you haven’t read the first post about breaking down a whole lamb, here it is. I’ve moved on to more serious territory, and if you’re a bit squeamish, try to make it through as much of this post as you can. I’ll keep it light. There will be no pictures of the slaughterhouse in this post. 

If you did read the linked post from above, you’ll remember that our butchers, for the last year, have been getting in whole lamb carcasses and breaking them down for sale in our meat department. As I stated in the comments, we come from a sterile environment of meat eating. Our meats come in shrinkwrapped packages with a sell-by date, and they have neither a face, nor a name. As far as we know, it’s what’s stamped on the package that gets us to buy things. Buzzwords such as ‘grass-fed’, ‘boneless/skinless’, and ‘organic’…

View original post 952 more words

Let’s go to beds, I: The trouble with corn.
May 14, 2012, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Farming, Veggies

I’m thinking a lot about the beds these days. The farm beds, that is, not the beds inside the house. Well, I’m thinking a lot about MY bed, too, but that’s another issue.

The farm is planted in beds. Most of the beds to this point (12 total) are four feet wide by 100 feet long. The first four run north-south, the rest run east-west. This is because as I planned last year’s beds, I realized that tall plants in north-south beds have the potential to shade shorter plants in adjacent beds. So I plant short stuff there. Lesson learned.

One of the four foot, N-S beds is planted to asparagus (250 plants). Asparagus is a long-lived perennial (which means it comes back year after year), so it needs to be in an out of the way spot. It was my northernmost bed until last fall, when I put in another bed to the north of it (for 250 more asparagus plants, which will be planted next year). However, I couldn’t afford 250 more plants this spring, so I put it in peas to fix a bit of nitrogen, with an eye toward next year.

Many people use beds that are four feet wide, so that the entire bed can be weeded, harvested, cultivated, etc. from one side, without having to walk in them. However, last year I put in an 8-foot bed for corn, because if corn isn’t planted densely enough, it won’t get fully pollinated, and the ears won’t fill out entirely. Well, my 8-foot bed was not wide enough. The field corn did not fill out, some of the ears remaining completely devoid of kernels.

The other contributing factor to the corn problem is that I planted it in the Native American style–corn, beans, and squash planted in hills together. This means that there were only 4 or 5 corn plants across the bed–not enough to ensure proper pollination. The field and sweet corn did poorly, though the popcorn did okay.

This year I’ve planted over half a pound of popcorn seed, plus two field corns and two sweet corns. I’ve planted them in 8-foot beds, 8 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. I expect much better pollination this year. In addition, the squash will get its own beds this year, though I think I will be planting pole beans among the corn to reduce my trellising effort (the beans climb the corn stalks).

You want some of this corn meal, don't you?

You want some of this corn meal, don’t you? Green cornbread? Green tortillas? Nice!

I’ll post more later on additional bed concerns.

Chicken Diversity, I.
March 9, 2012, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Chickens, Farming

You probably know this, but most (maybe all?) of the commercially-produced chicken in the US is one hybrid: the Cornish x rock cross. They gain weight extremely quickly and are very heavy in breast meat. Even many pastured and “free range” producers use this hybrid for meat production because it is the most efficient at turning feed into chicken. They truly are a miracle of breeding: They can reach a dressed weight of 3-4 lb. in only 6-8 weeks. The trade-off for this high feed efficiency is that they literally grow TOO fast: they often develop leg problems if they are kept, well, alive, for  too long. Also, as hybrids, they do not breed true if bred–to get them, a Cornish must be bred with a rock.

So what?

Well, just like in nature, diversity in our food supply is important. The genes that code for different colors, shapes, combs, wattles and the like can be linked to those that provide hardiness to cold or heat, resistance to disease and parasites, and other traits that are important to survival. A reduction in the genetic diversity of our food supply is future trouble of this highest order. And a large number of breeds of livestock are endangered, some of them critically. This is true in cattle, sheep, goats, hogs…and of course in chickens.

In addition to girding the food supply against future challenges, the so-called “heritage breeds” behave more like chickens. They grow more slowly, but they are capable of finding much of their own food. They mate naturally (and often!). They have less breast meat, but what they have is intensely flavorful. The constant movement and varied food makes for a very tasty chicken. However, their slower growth rate makes them more expensive, because they eat more before they reach butchering weight.

This is a long way to say that I wanted to introduce you more fully to some of the breeds we have here at Ghostwood. I’ll start with the roosters in this post, and move on to hens and egg production in part II.

The Kingfish.

The Kingfish, Head Honcho, Stud Bull--my oldest rooster, a Black Australorp.

This fella is the King of the Roost, the head rooster. He’s the only one I kept of my first roosters, as he was the biggest and meanest. He is a Black Australorp, and no longer the biggest, but far and away the meanest. The Australorp is a breed developed in Australia from English Orpington stock. They were bred primarily for egg production. They have a single comb, which make them somewhat susceptible to frostbite, as the comb can get quite large (as you can see here).

My Murray McMurray catalog assures me that they are quiet and gentle. HA! This fella has spurs nearly an inch long and knows how to use them–he has pierced the skin on my wife’s shins through jeans with them. If he hears another rooster mating with a hen, he goes running and beats the other rooster about the head and face. He is feared by roosters and followed constantly by hens. So it goes.

As an aside, even though he regularly attacks my wife, he gets to live. I WANT him to be mean. I WANT him to protect his hens. If an opossum gets in the coop, or if a raccoon wanders by during the day when they’re out, this bird will give it a run for its money. That is the primary reason I keep roosters–that is how they earn their keep.

Barred Plymouth Rock

Barred Plymouth rock rooster, low man on the proverbial pole.

This bird, sitting on the compost pile, is a Barred Plymouth Rock rooster. He’s just as big as most of the roosters and bigger than some, but seems to be pretty mild. As you may have guessed by the name, the Plymouth Rock is an American breed, and among one of the most popular breeds in the country. They are an excellent “dual-purpose” bird, which means that they are good for meat and eggs. This breed (though not in this color) is one of the parents of the “Cornish x rock” meat bird I discussed early in this post.

I haven’t noticed a great deal of breed fidelity among most females–they don’t seem to be too particular in which roosters they hang out with–but the barred rock hens tend to stick around the barred rock rooster.

We had a barred rock in our first flock of roosters who was particularly obnoxious (though he, too, was low in the pecking order). Melissa took such a dislike to him that he earned the name “Brat,” which stood for “Barred rock asshat turdface.” He became a roaster. These birds are a bit difficult to clean, but not as bad as the black australorps. It is fiendishly difficult to get all the black feathers off their white skin.

Buff Orpington Rooster

A Buff Orpington rooster. Pretty, eh? The hen in the background is a Black Star.

These are among my favorites of the breeds we raise: Buff Orpingtons. I have two roosters and a hen. They are pretty easy-going, so far. They have white skin, which makes them very easy to clean. I was excited to get them in my last batch of mystery chickens. I have only one hen, though. We’ll see how well she produces. These roosters are bigger than the Black Australorp in the first photo, but much milder. I am not sure if that is because they are younger, or because the breed is naturally more mild. I’m guessing Option A. Both of these guys seemed to have suffered a little frostbite on their combs this winter. That is one of the hazards of single-combed breeds, something with which the next two breeds (below) do not have to deal.

Silver-laced Wyandotte

This is a silver-laced wyandotte. Gorgeous, isn't he?

The silver-laced wyandotte was the most numerous rooster in my last batch of chicks. They grew a bit slower than the others, but they grew to a good size and were easy to clean. Also, they have a rose comb, and so are less susceptible to frostbite than the birds with the large single combs. This is definitely a breed I would get again. They were among the first birds to begin hanging out with the older birds. I try not to anthropomorphize, but it’s hard not to see that as “accepting.”

Mystery...wyandotte? Rose comb, similar pattern to the silver-laced...but green legs. Aracauna blood in there?

I don’t know what this bird is. I have two. They appear very much like a Wyandotte, but I cannot find any pictures on the web of any Wyandottes with this coloration. They have the green legs of an Aracauna/Americauna, but no cheek tufts. They’re mild-mannered and have grown to the same size and shape of the Wyandotte. If I knew what they were, I’d get them again. As it is, we’ll see how true they breed when I start raising my own replacement stock, I guess!

Stay tuned for Part II, in which I discuss the hens we have. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to post as this one did.

Baby, it’s COLD outside.
February 12, 2012, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Chickens, Farming, Veggies

I am working on a post regarding the diversity of chicken breeds that we have on the farm, which I will hopefully have posted in the next day or two. I just wanted to post an update on the weather:

It is COLD.

I was starting to get nervous. It has been raining all winter, and warm. The snow we have now, barely a dusting, is the first of the year that has stuck around for more than a few hours. I ordered and received my seeds for the coming season about two weeks ago. With the weather warm and the ground muddy, I was starting to feel pinched for time, like I should be considering planting the spinach, lettuce, and peas. Now, with the ground frozen hard and the temperature not forecast to warm up to freezing for a few days, I feel a bit relieved.

I DO have time, I DO.

I remain concerned about this spring, though. Last spring was so wet that I couldn’t plant or till properly until well into April. Our clayey soil does not drain well, so water stays and stays. It’s a blessing in the heat of the summer, but a curse in the spring. And so far, this spring is shaping up to be as wet as last.

As for the chickens, they deal with the cold very well. Their coop is warm at night, or at least warmer than outside. It’s ventilated but very well walled off from wind, and 50 birds keep it warmer than one might think. I get a bit worried about some of the single-combed roosters, because frostbite is a concern for them. In general, though, they eat more feed and forage less for themselves when it’s cold and snowy…so I prefer it to be a bit warmer!

Water is another issue. Yesterday the temperature reached only the mid-20s. Their water was frozen solid when I let them out in the morning. They managed to keep it open during the day, but my rain barrel’s spigot is also frozen, so I must bring them a five gallon bucket of water in the morning. I have a heated waterer, but it leaks faster than they drink it, and anyway it’s only three gallons–they drink about 4 gallons a day.

This morning, I took them a five gallon bucket of hot water and put it on the fount base, which was crusted with yesterday’s ice. They immediately run to the water when they get out in the mornings. The birds that are lower on the pecking order (yes, pecking orders really do exist) run outside and eat snow. Apparently, making eggs is thirsty work.

Finally, as I fed the birds this morning, I heard a hen in the barn, behind the hay. I look back there daily for eggs–with the loose hay it seems an obvious nesting place–and have never seen any. Today, apparently I looked closer than usual, and under some styrofoam, in what can only be described as more of a tunnel than a nest, I found 34 egg-cicles. I don’t know how old they are, but they were frozen solid, many of them cracked. That’s $8.50 worth! This is the wonder of free-range chickens: They lay wherever they want, and it’s up to me to find them.

Tonight, I will boil those 34 eggs and feed them back to the chickens. They love eggs. I try not to think about it.

Foggy chicken breakdown.
January 26, 2012, 2:38 pm
Filed under: Chickens, Farming

Or, “My chickens grow fat on the crusts of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

I’m home with a sick kid today. It’s a beautiful morning and I love how the different chickens look in the fog. Of course, the fog makes the pictures a bit fuzzy…

Foggy chicken breakdown, part 1

So, I just thought I’d throw some chicken photos up here.

Buff orpington rooster.

Buff orpington rooster. Isn't he something?

For the photos, I baited them in with table scraps–sandwich crusts, apple cores, an old hamburger bun, carrot peels–for the photographs. I throw the stuff out, then cluck like a chicken and they come running (I’m very convincing). If you’re wondering, I’m behind the fence, not them: The fence surrounds the back yard to keep the dogs in. The chickens are fence-free right now. I just lock them up at night.

A silver-laced Wyandotte rooster.

You don’t have to worry about any of the roosters in the photos. I think they’re all safe for at least a year!

We have two bantam chickens. For those of you not familiar with boxing terms(!), a bantam is a miniature chicken. Ours are golden sebrights. They are the only chickens we have that have names, since they’re the only ones that aren’t big enough to bother eating one day. They’re pretty, and they kind of keep to themselves. Luckily, they’re fast, because the bigger birds pick on them a great deal. They fly well, too, and tend to roost in the highest places in the coop (like on top of the fluorescent light fixture).

Buzz Butch.

They’re a bit smaller than pigeons, I guess. Very entertaining.

I tried to get a picture of the dogs inside the fence, watching the chickens just outside the fence, but I missed it. It’s a pretty entertaining juxtaposition, particularly when you can see just how badly the dogs want at the chickens. The chickens? They don’t seem to care about the dogs at all. I imagine that would change, if the dogs got out!