Category Archives: Farm

Spring Has Landed and Chicks are Here!

Spring has landed and it’s hard to miss around here. Despite the weather roller coaster that we’ve been on in Virginia, we are finally back to “normal” spring weather with beautiful sunny days, chilly nights, and colorful blooms taking shape.

There are still a few daffodils ready to open but many of them blossomed early under warm temperatures, only to be swept away during the past two storms and hard freezes.

Blue Grape Hyacinth Blue Grape Hyacinth cover the roots of the ash tree

Thankfully, the grass is starting to fill in all of the patches created from ongoing construction last year, and the peonies are just starting to poke their heads out of the ground. It’s definitely one of my favorite times of year.

Heirloom PeoniesThe Peonies beginning to rise above ground through the periwinkle

The Hatchery

About five weeks ago, we put over two dozen eggs into the incubator, thanks to my friend Dave. Las year, I traded him four guineas pullets for four of his buff Orpington chicks. Unfortunately, we ended up losing all but one to a fox. The late winter weeks were particularly hard as predators, primarily fox and coyote, roamed the area looking for any available food. Our flock seemed to be their all-you-can-eat buffet! Dave was kind enough to save two dozen fertilized eggs for me to try again this season. With better predator guards in place, I’m hopeful for this round.

Eggs in the Incubator

The egg colors were stunning and I couldn’t wait to see what would pop out. There were sure to be a few Orpingtons, some Sex-links of black Australorp, Copper Maran, and Easter Egger. My primary goal this season is to have some hearty layers to keep my kitchen well-stocked all year. Having only bought one dozen store-bought eggs last year, I got spoiled with a steady supply of the very best, richest farm eggs.

New-born Chicks

After just 21 days, we saw our first pip. It didn’t take long before a few had sprung free, running around the incubator like little dinosaurs, bumping into other eggs and each other. We ended up with twelve chicks of different colors and varieties, two requiring a bit of assistance to break out of their shell walls. It’s a very difficult thing knowing when to assist their hatch and when to let Mother Nature know best. There’s no doubt that had we not assisted in the last two cases, they certainly wouldn’t have made it.

Mother Goose

The chickens aren’t the only ones with eggs this year! After much observation and deliberating, we have finally decided that our two geese are indeed a happy couple. Mother Goose now has about 10 eggs in her clutch and we hope they are viable for hatching, assuming she gets broody along the way.

Mother Goose

They are definitely impressive, rich-tasting eggs, each equalling about a half-cup of liquid. I equate their texture and taste more to a chicken egg. One of our favorite recent recipes was from our friend Lolli who placed an over-easy goose egg on top of a bed of corned beef and potato hash. Can you say perfect? Although I have loved baking and cooking with them, I plan to see how she will treat her current clutch considering they are only good layers for a few months out of the year.

As the season progresses, I have a lot of work to do in my garden (I’m really behind this season).  When I’m not working to pay the bills, other moments have been dedicated to sitting by the fire, eating oysters, and enjoying good company. I hope you are able to enjoy the same this spring.

Springtime Fire

O Christmas Tree, the Virginia Way

Roaming the woods searching for the perfect Christmas tree is easier said than done. My fourteen year-old black lab, Miss Bit, ran along beside us, keeping a keen eye out for stray rabbits that might require a good chase.

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A quick stop along the way for much-needed pets

Remembering scale is the toughest part of the job; an eighteen-foot tree simply will not fit under a ten-foot ceiling no matter how many twists and turns you attempt – and no matter how perfect it might look in the middle of a field. With a resolved sense of reality, we found the perfect eastern red cedar. My newest toy, a Ryobi battery-powered chainsaw, took care of the job with no problem. I got the tree loaded up on the small trailer and headed for the house.

Christmas Tree

I cut down the tree with my new favorite toy, a Ryobi battery-powered chainsaw that goes anywhere!

With a little trimming, the tree fits perfectly in the living room at about nine feet tall, and there was just enough greenery left to fill the mantles. The wonderful smell of freshly cut evergreen quickly filled the house. Each whiff makes me wonder why we can’t have fresh greenery all year-long.

Christmas Tree

For the past three years of holiday seasons, we have been under renovation and I simply couldn’t muster the holiday spirit. The energy and motivation required were hidden amongst the daily reminders of a wrecked house. There was no room for holiday cheer.

This year is different. Many projects were checked off the list, and our spare time, although still limited, has been partly spent doing things we enjoy. After much baking, broiling, and roasting in the new kitchen, I have spent many evenings and mornings resting by the lit Christmas tree.

Christmas

The dining room lit and decorated for the season

Christmas Oysters

Christmas dinner of fresh Mobjack Bay oysters roasted with Iberico ham and Pecorino 

Although we aren’t rushing the season, we are already looking toward our next projects. First will be to complete the cosmetic work on the upstairs guest bathroom so that we can host overnight and weekend guests more frequently. We hope that you will all come and join us for a night in 2017.

Peace to all this holiday season!

Bliss is an Old Homestead with a New Kitchen

The feeling of divine satisfaction settles into my bones as I sit here with my computer, writing from my new kitchen island. Cup of coffee in hand, homemade muffins in the oven, and a little music to keep me company. I can’t imagine a better morning. Oh, how I missed this. After a full year of a makeshift kitchen in an upstairs hallway with a single hot plate and microwave, I didn’t realize how much I needed something so simple to feel human again. It’s amazing what new cabinets and a little paint can do!

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The new copper countertop on the kitchen island

Over the past year, I was pushed to the outer boundary of my capacity. I have never felt so destabilized and unsettled. It is in reflection on this past year that I realize the social and interactive importance of our personal and communal spaces. For me, a kitchen is not only an important outlet for my creative expression, but it’s a space where friends and family gather to share stories and provide the collective cheer that we all so desperately need.

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The dark and dreaded hallway kitchen – it can finally be a hallway again

My nineteen year old cousin came to visit from Florida a couple of weeks ago. She was the first weekend house guest since we bought the farm and began restorations 2.5 years ago. It was a push to get everything done before she arrived, but the joy her visit brought to the house was exactly what we needed at just the right time. We spent time sharing recipes, cooking meals, telling stories about our kin folk, and just getting to know each other.

And isn’t that the beauty of these old homesteads? This has been a family home for at least 230 years. I intend to continue that tradition and provide a space that celebrates the joy of sharing good food, drink, and meaningful time with friends and loved ones. What an amazing gift that we live in a time and country where that’s even possible.

It’s going to take some recovery time after a long year of stressful renovations, but I’m loving this place more and more each day. And I’m starting to feel like my self again. It may not be all butterflies and sunshine around here, but it’s a hell of a lot better than another year cooking on a hot plate!

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The driveway is on fire with blooming tiger lilies 

Ducklings

In other news, the baby ducks have hatched! Although we lost a couple to a six-foot black snake that crept its way into the brooder pen (that’s another story), we have two cute little ducklings running around. Their favorite thing to do, besides playing in the water bowl, is to perch on mom’s back while she squeaks at the guineas running by.

Although I wish that we’d had a higher hatch rate, I learned so much going through this first cycle and look forward to another round next year. But for now, I’m looking forward to a renovation break and time to enjoy everything that has been hatching over the past year – feathered and otherwise!

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The Birds and the Bees

I can’t believe that two months has flown by without a new entry. I guess that’s what happens when you’re having fun… or at least terribly distracted by a million other things. Spring has definitely arrived complete with rain storms, weeds, flowers, bee swarms, baby birds, and lots of chores.

Peonies

The last time I shared news, we had just lost three of our four muscovy ducks. One day since, I trekked through the woods and found the fox den marked by an abundance of white duck feathers. I think the evidence speaks for itself.

Minnie, the only survivor, was definitely not herself after. She moped around, barely ate, and wasn’t very interactive… until I brought home Renard, another drake her age. Let’s just say, to keep this a family post, the fireworks started in the first thirty seconds! They have been fast friends ever since and she is now setting full-time on a clutch of 19 eggs.

Ducks

Renard (above left) and Minnie (right) following along. 

Duck Eggs

It has been a fascinating process to watch as she carefully turns the eggs each day, feathers her nest, and has dutifully protected her prizes from those noisy guineas.

Duck Nest

And speaking of guineas, they too have been laying eggs, but seem to do so more haphazardly. I find the oddly shaped, small eggs in the strangest places including under the feeder, in the yard, and even on the ramp going into the house. It’s as if one of them was just walking along, felt the need to lay an egg, did so, and then just kept walking. Guineas are indeed a strange bird, but they lay a very delicious egg. In addition to their foraging, the proportion of less white and more yolk makes a very rich and creamy egg. The only challenge is cracking them as the shell is thick and hard, but the reward is worth it. PopSugar posted a convert’s experience with guinea eggs here. I did save about fifteen eggs to start incubating and currently have seven that are viable. If all goes well, they should be hatching this week.

All in all, this has been a good start to the season, and I’m thankful that we’ve had enough rain to keep things blooming and healthy. But after a week of rain, it’s time for some sunshine. Irises

 

Death Comes to the Farm

For those who have been following the flock, the four Muscovy ducks are just about seven months old. Just a month ago, I came home one evening to find one of the Muscovy duck sisters covered in blood and crying for help in the yard. The poor dear had been attacked by what I have since deduced to be a hawk. She let me pick her up and carry her into the house where she was treated to a warm shower, her wounds were dressed, and she slept on a tufted pillow for a full week while she healed.

Despite the inconvenience of having a duck in your bathtub (and the shock of forgetting she was in there when you got up in the middle of the night), it was a perfectly wonderful experience to nurse her back to health. It was evident that she agreed by her very engaged and warm change in behavior. At the end of the week, she went back to the duck house and everyone was happy to see her, especially the drake, who has since picked her out as his clear favorite. This was her pecking the camera at the end of the week:

Muscovy Duck

And yet, it wasn’t enough. Last night, three of the four ducks were killed by a predator. It’s hard to tell what did it, but I suspect a fox by the pattern. Despite thinking it will never actually happen to me, it’s the sort of thing you always suspect you’ll find at some point. You anticipate it almost every time you walk out to the yard. I just didn’t think it would be my drake and the two sisters. The drake was my favorite. He was affectionately named as a duckling by Karen as “Marguerite,” until we quickly realized that Marguerite was actually Marcus! Chris holds him:

Chris and Duck

As my friend T put it quite succinctly today, “it sucks!” And it does suck. But this is part of it. This is part of what we signed up for. It can’t be overlooked what a joy it is to raise and care for animals, whether as pets or for profit. In either case, there is a very definite connection to them and it’s hard to ignore the big picture of life’s ongoing cycle. We’ll just have to do a better job on the next time around. Minnie is the only one remaining. She seems pretty confused at this point, but hopefully with good weather coming and the promise of new ducklings, her spirits will lift along with ours.

Here’s to the daffodils that bloomed today. I think they knew that I needed it.

Daffodils

Blizzard 2016: White Plains Lives up to Its Name

Blizzard 2016 rampaged through Virginia last weekend leaving a blanket of snow and ice across White Plains – even more than last year. Two years ago, during the last big winter storm on the Northern Neck, I spent the weekend at the farm by myself. We lost power early, the temperatures dropped into the teens, and the fireplaces were shut down from lack of repair. I huddled on the couch with the cats and dog, and listened to the trees creaking under the weight of ice and snow.

Needless to say, it was a cold and eerie way to spend one’s first winter here. It didn’t take much to imagine what it was like during the great Washington and Jefferson snow storm of 1772.

Blizzard 2016 - White PlainsThankfully, we were much better prepared this time around. A last-minute generator purchase ensured that we kept power (it’s still in the box, ready to return), I bought ample amounts of snacks and adult beverages, and I made sure that Netflix, books, and house projects were close at hand. For a few days, the hum of civilization quieted and everyone hibernated. It was three days of homesteading bliss. On Sunday, the sun came to visit, but didn’t do much to help with snow removal.

Snow 2016 - White Plains

Being on top of the hill, we got much higher wind gusts and snow depths than usual, totaling an average of 24 inches with frequent drifts of three and four feet. Reality set in when it came time to dig out the truck through four-foot drifts along the 400-foot driveway.

Blizzard 2016 - White Plains

It was at this point that I realized we should have purchased the snow blower, not the generator!

Blizzard 2016 - White Plains

When that didn’t work, we tried the golf cart… that didn’t work either.

Blizzard 2016 - White Plains

And don’t think the birds were any happier about digging out than we were. While the ducks won’t have anything to do with the snow (they like to stand in the doorway and stare it away), the guineas were more than happy to be “guinea pigs.” The confusion on their faces was priceless.

Blizzard 2016 - White PlainsBlizzard 2016 - White Plains Thankfully the bees were all bundled up with a layer of snow insulating their hives. I checked on them this morning and they were very slowly moving around – a great sign. I am hoping the extra fondant (winter bee food) that I ordered before the storm shows up quickly since they will be out of food soon.

Blizzard 2016 - White Plains

There was a fire pit somewhere in the arrangement below. I can barely see the top.

Blizzard 2016 - White Plains

All in all, I think that we successfully survived this year’s historic blizzard. Hopefully it’s the last big one for the season! How did you fare? What got you through the days of Mid-Atlantic hibernation?

Duck, Duck, Guinea

Four weeks ago today, I arrived home with a poorly taped cardboard lawnmower box carrying 15 guineas and 4 Muscovy ducks from Gardienne Wings near Sumerduck, Virginia. Val was fantastic walking me through the research and purchase, but it was one of those moments similar to grocery shopping while hungry – you’re susceptible to every visual opportunity. And holding just one of them, in all its cuteness, completely disintegrates any ability you may have had to make rational decisions.

Muscovy Ducks

Clarence the Duck at one week old.

The guineas were in the plan all along as a last-ditch effort to rid the place of so many ticks. Having gone through the nightmare of lyme disease last year, I knew that something had to be done. Spraying the property wasn’t a solution that we were comfortable with – partly due to the bees and partly due to our close proximity to the wetlands and feeder streams of the Rappahannock River. Old wives tales tell stories of guineas eating their weight in ticks, relentlessly foraging in packs across several acres. The trick is homing them to their new location and putting up with their constant squawking!

And since the guineas would be the work animals, the ducks would come home as pets. So far, they are keeping the guineas in line and being the cute companions that I had hoped for. It won’t be too much longer before the double in size and really rule the roost!

Guineas & Ducks

Guineas at 8 weeks and Ducks at 5 weeks on their first days outside in the new run.