Beautiful weather, a clear morning with a light breeze and pleasant temperatures greeted Lawrence as we got up at 5:30 Saturday morning to load the truck for the first market of the 2010 season. Seeing as the past 3 years have introduced the market in a mix of snow and slush, we were exuberant with freshness!
So many goodies harvested the day before! The Swiss chard forest in the high tunnel barely saw a dent though we cut enough stalks to fill two 7-gallon red crates, the beds of over wintered lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson, Ruby and Oak leaf) yielded crispy thin morsels with nary a slug (ok, maybe one or two to soak out) and the spinach seemed to have sprung to life over the course of 2 nights so that there was ample to harvest from that bed as well.
In the wild greens category we take full advantage of the persistence of lamb’s quarters, it likes to keep company with almost every crop we have – spinach, radishes, lettuce, carrots, clover and Asian greens. It’s most easily picked like basil – by pinching off the top whirl of leaves just above the next set of opposing leaves, this encourages branching, more and fuller leaves.
Another vivacious wild is garlic mustard, growing in hoards in the forest near the brown barn on the west side of the property. Picking it I felt akin to the little girl in the old fairy tale who wanders just outside the garden gate to pick the pretty flower when she sees another, then another, and by the time she looks up to take stock she can no longer see the garden gate; at that point I’m sure the big bad wolf comes and gobbles her up, but the moral of my story is that picking garlic mustard captivates your senses and fascination in a way that – 30 minutes later – you stand up from your stuffed-to-the-gills bucket to stretch your hunch back and realize that though it doesn’t look like you’ve picked even a 1/3 of the blanket around your ankles called garlic mustard, you in fact have ventured far from the garden gate and it’s time to wash the insane amount you’ve picked and move on to more cultivated crops.
Enter lemon balm, Greek oregano, salad burnet, lemon sorrel, cilantro, arugula, arugula flowers, mustard flowers, violet flowers (all edible additions to salads, muffins, ice cream sundaes, etc.) radishes, chives, green onions and the previously praised Jerusalem artichokes. All picked, washed, packed and moistened under a wet sheet in the cool of the wash house for quick pick up early the next morning.
After a thoroughly fielded day, I came in with a pink glow atop my skin to create some kind of delectables in the kitchen for our picnic supper. What I came up with: curried lamb meatloaf (in a heart-shape pan, for all the lovers out there ;) salad burnet, arugula and garlic mustard pesto, herbed cornbread and some Morning Glory! muffins topped with red buds for dessert. Paired with some wonderful local Boulevard Wheat brew, a bottle of sweet white table wine and the sound of waves lapping up on the shore of the lake behind us, Team Pinwheel dined their first (of many, hopefully) crew picnic dinners. Blaine and Matt are 2 local guys who volunteer on the farm a few days a week to help feed and water the sheep and help with general farm tasks. Tim, the new WWOOFer who just moved into the house last week and has already demonstrated a great affinity for all things mechanical, was also present with a couple of his good friends from Kansas City (to the locals, that’s “Kancity.”)
In case you’d like the recipe for those Morning Glorious muffins – I’m sorry, you won’t be getting one. Because, I’m (in)famous for not following a recipe, ever – to the sheer horror of my mother, the degreed Home Economist that she is.. But I will tell you that a mix of pineapple, dried pears, raisins, candied ginger and love (topped with those redbud blossoms) gets 5 out of 5 ‘Yums’ around the dinner table J
The sheep keep bleating along, one new baby is all this past week has to speak for. But some other good news is that we’ve started utilizing the milking stanchion (so much easier!) All we’re having to do is reorient the one sheep that we’re milking into the new routine of climbing the ramp up to the stand so that we can fasten her head into the slot where she can poke through to the alfalfa grains or hay while we quickly and peacefully are able to get the milking done in about half the time.
The babies on milk replacer, while not quite as filled out in their haunches as the naturally suckling lambs are lively and full of energy, and of course, as adorable as can be.
Working beside Natalya here with the sheep has taught me a lot about patience and the natural instincts of humans and sheep. It truly takes a different kind of person to shepherd a flock of animals like sheep. As stated in previous posts these sheep are far from dumb, they just prefer to do things differently than we do. They tend to move as a group, dodging and evading you if you try to single one out and come right at them with a leash. Natalya swears they can tell if you’re thinking about one of them, so if you want to catch one imparticular, think about the one on the other side of the barn – I have yet to attest to this with the whole-heartedness that she claims, but I’m open to anything.
They are creatures of habit and it takes them about 3 days to get acclimated to any new addition or variation in their care. That means no quick switches to different kinds of hay, slow integration is the way to go; even where you throw the hay can get them in a tussle because they might have been used to getting it thrown at them inside the barn for the past few days and when you go to throw it to them outside they kind of trip over each other because they weren’t expecting to have to move in that direction.
They don’t ask much, just some water hay and bedding. A few licks of mineral now and then, shade and air flow when it’s hot, protection against drafts (especially Northern) when it’s cold, and they’ll give you all the camera time you ask of them. “Go out and make sure the lambs are still cute,” is one of Natalya’s favorite additions to the chore list. And a good addition it is; sometimes as a shepherd, a watchful eye is all that’s needed, hours of calm observation can be an education in itself. You get to know the look of each of the sheep’s udders, how their flanks look as they near birth (they get extremely hollowed out around their hip bones and hind legs,) you can see any changes in the rate of their breathing, notice how much affection a mom is showing to one of her lambs versus another. Some days the milk replacer bucket might stay at a constant level for hours, then suddenly get sucked dry in half an hour. Which bottle-fed lambs are getting more than their share? Which sheep are more affectionate and open to human touch when you enter the pen? These are all extremely relative issues – relationship is essential to good husbandry.
When it comes to animals, efficiency has no place without effectiveness. Try as they might, CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) simply can’t provide a superior product, happy animals (or often, happy workers) simply due to the fact that they overlook so much of what is needed with fellow created beings; care, respect and a pushing aside of one’s ego. I may not want to go milk Annie in the dark with a headlamp on, or check on milk replacer levels first thing on a cold morning, or tip a sheep up onto it’s back so I can massage her swollen, clogged udder that’s bridging on infection – but it’s not about me and my preferences, it’s actually coming to be about expanding my preferences and practices.