Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Just Call Me the Turtle Whisperer.

So today, I took the roundabout way home. I cruised up and down some forgotten county highways, took little side roads and waved at some farmers working in the fields. And then, finally, I picked up good ol' County F and headed south to the Farm. It's a nice, dippy road. Curvy and windy, bordered by farms, forest and the lazy Hay River. And on one of those dips and winds, I saw something that made me stand up on the brake pedal. Scrreeeeeech!

A lonely, horny shelled snapping turtle was smack-dab in the middle of my lane. He was the size of a medium roaster pan, probably several years old, and determined that yes, he was going to cross that hot pavement and make to his pond on the opposite side. Unfortunately for him, it was a busy time of day to be on the road. School was out, the afternoon rush to town was on, folks coming back to the Farm from a day away working somewhere--basically, he was turtle tofu waiting to happen.

It was a lucky moment when I was the only car on the road. So I hopped out, went around back, popped the hatch and hauled out my portable, collaspable hand truck, guaranteed to haul 250 pounds without a wheeze. After setting it all up, I rolled it over to the stubborn, snappish creature and, sliding it under his bum, heaved him up into the air. I think he thought he was levitating. He didn't like it.

Avoiding his snappying jaws of doom, I started to wheel him over to the side of the road. Of course, it probably would have been better if I had managed to do this without witnesses--but, as luck would have it, a dude on a Harley came roaring up. He slowed down, raised his sunglasses, looked at me, to the handtruck, to the hissing turtle, back to me, lowered those shades and roared on.

I suppose a Harley dude has seen stranger things in his travels.

In any case, I managed to haul the turtle across the road and tip him into the ditch without him catching me by the leg or the finger. I like to think, once he calmed down, he viewed me as an annoyingly persistent turtle guardian angel. Perhaps he will share with his scaly decendants the tale of the fat girl with the levitation device, and advise them not to bite me should they see my toes above them in some river or pond on a hot summer day.

The legend of the Turtle Whisperer will live on for another day. Moral of the story: Don't leave home without your hand truck.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

So Much Garden, So Little Time!

One of my favorite movies is The Secret Garden. I have watched it a thousand times, and I could watch it a thousand more. My favorite line is "If you look the right way, the whole world is a garden." Around this time of year, when the dirt is warmed and the rains are soft and the whole yard cries out to be planted already, that sentiment rings so true.

This weekend, I put the veggie starts in the ground. Jalepenos, poblanos, rainbow cherry tomatoes, prudens purple, anna russian, in they all went. Lettuce seeds, sunflower seeds, cylindra beets and yellow scallop squash, all in the lovely ground. It only took me about two hours to wrestle the soaker hose into submission, and then another 20 minutes to figure out where all the kinks were that interrupted the water flow. I planted my straw bales in front, with squashes and pumpkins and watermelons. My square foot garden (a raised bed with 1 foot grid across it) is starting to sprout, and soon I will have radishes and tiny Parisian carrots. I can hardly wait for that first taste of spring, crispy crunchy spicy salad all from my garden!

The chickens are all doing well, with the fuzzy little silkies in their new tractor home and the meat birds growing into small feathered tanks. On warm days, I leave the shed door open and prop an old screen in the doorway to keep them inside & safe, but get more air into their home. My mystery chicks are growing feathers and the layers keep laying. Both little turkeys didn't make it, which is sad, but next year I may try again. Or maybe not...time will tell!

It feels like summer today, hot and muggy and a breeze that promises a thunderstorm when darkness falls. Bees are humming and buzzing about--I think I may have a nest of hornets somewhere, but so far no stings. I have a hummingbird who is in love with my pink petunias and trailing geraniums. My climbing roses are waking up, and my clematis is ready to burst into purple blooms. And the herb garden....oh, the herb garden! I love watering it, all the scents rise up and make sweet perfume. Who needs foreign travel?? What a wonderful way to spend a weekend, playing in the dirt and making things grow!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

What Are You Lookin' At, Turkey?

That's right: As if my little place didn't have enough livestock, I have added a couple of turkeys to the mix. They are a heritage breed called Midget White. "Heritage" doesn't mean that they were here when the Pilgrims landed (those guys were pretty much wild), but it refers to any breed of animal that (1) was bred for farming, (2) was really popular for a while and (3) has now fallen out of favor and is in danger of not sticking around in the farm catalogs. Midget White turkeys were primarily developed by the University of Wisconsin to meet the smaller sized table needs of most American families. These little lovelies grow to be about 10 pounds at most, and being white in color have a very appetite-pleasing appearance when cooked. They also happen to be the ONLY domesticated turkey developed solely for meat that can "do it" all on their own. Any other turkey, including those massive ones that come shrink-wrapped from Jenny-O or Butterball, need to be artificially inseminated in order to reproduce. Just think of the heights we have come on the food chain, everybody: We have made our meat supply so dependent on us that the poor creatures can't even screw like normal animals should. Wow, what a long way we've come!

(Sorry to sound preachy. Just watched Food, Inc. last weekend and I am completely grossed out by American food production. Ewwww, nasty.)

In any case, I am hoping that these two little poults survive the next few days and grow into luscious birds. They should be ready in time for the holiday season, and I will honor them with all the trimmings. Right now, they sure are cute and gawky. I don't think I have ever seen a little creature fall over their own feet so much! Of course, I've never been a turkey--I suppose those giant stalk-like feet are hard to coordinate. In addition to the poults, I came home with two mystery chicks. They were in a pen labeled "assorted pullets: $3.50 each" and were irresistable. Well, irresistable to me, that is. What's a couple more chickens, in any case?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How many feathers are there on a duck?

Answer: Waaaaay too many!

Today was a cold, blustery day that belonged in March, not May. It didn't get much above 50 degrees, and sleeted off and on until about noon.

It was also butchering day for the ducks.

If you recall from past posts, I have brought my chickens a few towns over to be butchered, cleaned and packaged, ready for the freezer in a couple of hours. I had planned to do the same with my ducks. Less mess all around. But upon calling, I discovered that they do not butcher ducks--so I was on my own.

The ducks turned 8 weeks old this week, so it was either take care of business today or wait until they were 6 to 10 months old (after feathering out for the first time, ducks immediately begin molting and become un-pluckable for several months). Since I don't have the space or the inclination to keep ducks until December, I rounded up my canning pot, some loppers, some rope, and set to work.

I won't kid you: Killing an animal isn't pleasant. The goal is to accomplish that act quickly and humanely, and I think I did pretty well. It's a bloody, messy act, but it really connects you intimately with your animal, and the future meal that it will become. Plucking, on the other hand, is tedious, time-consuming, and frankly irritating. Ducks have four kinds of feathers, all of which are hard to pull out, stick to everything, and finally need to be singed off. Burning feathers is a very unpleasant smell! In the end, I had three not-neatly plugged ducks which are now aging in the refrigerator for the prescribed 36 hours. After this time, I will rewrap them and place them in the deep freeze to be enjoyed later. I am certain that they will taste absolutely delicious, and I can tell my guests: Yes, I knew this bird intimately, and boy howdy, does he taste wonderful!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chasing Ducks

Today was one of those classic early May days: Started off lovely, albeit chilly, and turned into a messy, windy afternoon with sporadic rainshowers. I suppose the positive thing is that we are finally getting a bit of rain--Smokey the Bear is having heart palpitations when anyone goes for a drive in his woods right about now.

In any case, the wind was rather ferocious during my drive home from work. As I headed into town, I thought: Hmmm. Wonder if the ducks' yard is doing okay.... And turning the corner, I found my answer. The wind had, in fact, moved the side of the yard and the ducks had gotten out. Not that they went far, mind you. They had moved about six feet to the left and set up camp in the lee side of a straw bale, where they were peacefully enjoying the gentle spritzing of a rain shower. Once I pulled up, the peeping and quacking resumed, and six little webbed feet hit the dirt at a dead run.

Actually, I made an important discovery: Ducks do not run all that fast. In fact, they waddle rapidly for a little while, but then get out of breath and slow waaaay down. A half dozen laps around the new purple shed, and they were tired of this new fun game. I was as well. They decided to make a break for it running through the orchard, but miscalculated badly. Their new route of escape led them straight into the chicken coop, where they were swiftly caught (mostly because they can't waddle their way through plywood walls).

It was at this point I made another important discovery: Picking up three large ducks at once is not an easy manuever, but it is possible. Simply scoop up two of the birds under one arm, dodging windmilling webbed feet all the while, and grab the third under the other arm. Walk very quickly to the duck yard, as the bird to the inside of the first arm will begin gasping for air because he is getting squeezed between your arm and his pudgy ducky friend. Be very thankful it isn't a long walk to the duck yard, because those webbed feet have very sharp nails on them and three ducks happen to be fairly heavy. Gently drop all birds into duck yard, close the gate, and repound the stake holding the side in place. Go indoors and find a beer. After recovering and washing off stray poop, hop on the computer and research how to butcher a duck.

It's the only way to really duck-proof a yard, folks.