Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Money Laundering Day

After deep cleaning several rooms in this 120 year old farmhouse (the mold in my shower had evolved into a lovely hunk of Brie), feeding the pigs, mowing for two hours, riding my new bike in 90 degree heat (cause I'm a  bafoon that's why) and weeding the garden I am too tired to give you anything more than cheap humor.

Tomorrow, should be better.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Secret Garden 2014

I started it three years ago.


I always wanted a small spot on our farm where I could be alone to read, to write, to read about writing, to write about reading, to plant, to weed, to count our wads of chicken egg money.  A place full of color and the perfect amount of shade vs. sun. And thus The Secret Garden was born, or at least carved out of a small patch of weeds.

We enclosed the long rectangle with old hog panels and leftover gates covered in chicken wire (I swear when I get Alzheimers Keith will control me with the same technique) Friend Jay laid a brick path, all recycled from a chimney we tore out of our farm house, seeds were sown, chairs were placed.



In the spring of this year, the weeds were massive back there and I debated..."WHY?!" Speaking in regards to, why did I want to put any effort into this space if indeed we are selling the farm? The answer was clear.


So then, with that clarification made, I figured I might as well make my future burial spot attractive. It took several sessions to clear the weeds but slowly the joy of working in that area resumed and I was back in love with this narrowly minded zone.

Dingy chair cushions will go this year and the wood fence
behind them will be painted. Blue? Purple? An ombre mix of this two?

Of course the brick path has weed issues but as of today, I have many blooms shining through. Also a few rugs placed on the bricks to help kill the buggery creeping Charlie. Flowers that are blooming today are daisies, peteunias, hollyhocks, morning glories, dahlias, coreopsis, dianthus, hosta's, lavender and vincas. Soon to bloom are tall zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers and a butterfly bush.

I hate plastic chairs. This one will be replaced soon.

For years I tried to grow Shasta Daisies on our farm. Only when planted in
The Secret Garden did they ever thrive

The wall to the right covered with morning glory vines,
 decorative gourd vines
and sunflowers.

The Entrance.
The mailbox holds gardening tools , books, magazines and maybe
 a bag of nuts. I'm not sure.

Definitely not a formal garden. The patch of grass in front of the daisies
holds one pillow and one supine gardener.

Black hollyhocks which are more blood red.

Because this is their third year many of my perennials have taken off, spreading nicely. I still have a couple small areas where I will transplant more long termers like some lilies and phlox. The wire wall between the Secret Garden and our veggie garden is now thickly covered with sunflowers as well as unruly vining gourds. This barrier does indeed make the garden impossible to see from the outside and so I can, as plan, sit back there with a good Anita Shreve novel, and not be noted.

As long as I don't slurp my beer too loudly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Raw Honey, Worth its Weight in Gold.

Even our bees got a late start after our cold winter and for a short time we feared too many had succumbed to the sub zero temps but never fear, the honey is here and baby...it is SWEET!

Last week, our farmer friend Ann, another bee owner, and Keith harvested the bees hard work. Running it through our centrifuge and draining it into a large bucket, all I had to do was strain it again (several gallons worth) and bottle it, and cap it, and label it, and put it in the store.

None of that is technically difficult but still I mange to get one sticky kitchen by the time I am done. Cleanup is easy though. I just lay on the floor and start licking.

Like our milk, we sell our honey raw, never heated or pasteurized. Raw honey is an alkaline-forming food that contains natural vitamins, enzymes, powerful antioxidants and other important natural nutrients. These are the very nutrients that are destroyed during the heating and pasteurization process. In fact, pasteurized honey is equivalent to and just as unhealthy as eating refined sugar.
Why should you care? For the following reasons:

Raw honey from bees who thrive on local flora is best for those of you with allergies to those same plants. It has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

It can be used to heal wounds, (including acne) and to moisturize skin and hair. It can relive minor burns and rashes as well.

It promotes digestive health, can stabilize blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure and heal stomach ulcers. You can cook with it, bake with it, even wash your face with it!

It can decrease coughs, colds and it effectively helps with asthma and bronchitis. Got one of those dry irritating coughs that keeps you up occasionally at night? Chuck the Nyquil and swallow a tablespoon of honey instead. You'll be amazed at how well it works to stop the cough AND soothe your irritated throat.

It has a very long shelf life, some say it is indefinite due to its high anti-bacterial qualities so you can stock up in the summer, fill your pantry and be set for a very long time. If it crystallizes just throw the bottle in a pan of hot water and it will revert back to its liquid state.

It is also a natural sleep remedy. A spoonful of honey before bed on its own or in warm tea is far better than OTC medications. My Aunt Bernie's friend Helen (who died at age 100!) would put it in her small snifter of Brandy each night but of course that makes it a little difficult to assess which liquid was really helping her sleep. But at her age...did it matter?

Be warned, unless the bottle says "Raw Honey" it most likely is not. Buy your honey in your own area. Getting honey from several states away will not help with any allergies you might have to the native plants in your area. And honey from overseas is poorly regulated and often contains additional cane sugar, water etc...

Know your farmer, know your bees.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Raw Milk Monday...Milking our Pigs

Going to take a tiny break from the IDPH raw milk issues and just tell you how we use raw milk for the non-humans on our farm.

Our pigs are very selective, they like their milk well cultured. Here's how we get that delicate balance of probiotic dairy for our fine hogs. First we take a cow.

And milk her. Then the milk is stored in a big cold stainless steel tank where customers come and fill their jars. Every other day the tank is emptied and cleaned cleaned and any leftover milk goes into one of our large white plastic barrels which Keith has fitted with handy spigots at the bottom.

While this whole, grass fed, organic milk sits in the barrels it goes through an amazing transformation becoming part cottage cheese, part butter, 100% of the good bacteria hogs guts (bacon and chops) thrive on.


Each day we drain the milk, which gets thicker and thicker as the milk sits, into buckets and carry them to our hogs. You might think that milk sitting out in the open, in the sun, in the summer might smell...horrible. But it does not. It smells rich, like good yoghurt or expensive well made cheese.
Little feeder pigs get less milk and bigger feeder hogs get more milk. It's all deeply scientific. Our breeder hogs, sows and boars do not get raw milk as being too fat can mean difficulty with breeding, conception and farrowing. Once a sow is a week or two from farrowing  we do supplement her grain with milk to help her keep up with the nursing demands of the future 10 or 12 hungry mouths.
Our pigs become real hogs when it comes to "milking time". They scream like women (some women)at an end of season 2 for 1 clearance sale.
Some in fact are so greedy they've been known to take drastic measures to ensure they get (more than) their fair share of milk.

 The end result? We get an amazing layer of very tender juicy fat on our chops, bacon, roasts. Once known as too lean, our Red Wattles have busted through that urban myth as well as a few of their hutches. They are frankly just a bunch of fat happy pigs.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Chemical Free Farm House

Well, I wish I could say we are chemical free, but truth is there is no such thing. I mean come on. Chemicals were used to create the keyboard I am chicken pecking away at. (ouch, bad grammar) And I'm positive some sore of chemical was used to create the pleather chair under my ample seat. But overall we are using far less chemical cleaners here on South Pork Ranch.

In the barn and milk house we are required to use only organically approved cleaners but in the farmhouse I could use whatever I wanted, so I did. In fact I discovered that The Works did a pretty good job of removing nail polish from my toes. It also took care of that nasty extra digit I had on my right foot. Then one day, I realized being unable to breathe while swishing the bowl, was probably not so good.

It's not like I had this big anti-Windex epiphany or anything. Nor did I go rushing about one day dumping all my brightly colored cleaners down the sink cold turkey style. It's just that as my fingerprints began dissolving from my phlanges I started thinking about the harshness I was enduring. All for the end result of what? A shiny faucet? A squeaky clean toilet? But long ingrained habits are hard to break.

In my early adulthood years I thought a sign of wealth had nothing to do with the car you owned or the house you occupied but everything to do with how many laundry pre-wash bottles you possessed. An under the kitchen sink cabinet was suppossed to have at least 10 bottles of various cleaners was it not?

At a minimum you needed floor detergent (gotta love that Pine-Sol, my mother sure did) , a floor wax, a window cleaner, a counter top spray, something more powerful to clean the stove, an over cleaner, some type of furniture polish (I thought Pledge smelled so good I often substituted it for cologne) a toilet cleaner, a mirror cleaner (foam, not just plain Windex), laundry soap, fabric softener, fabric whitener, bleach,  shower cleaner and the list went on and on. Some housewives would carry all their cleaners around the house in a plastic tote.

I preferred to use my kids little red wagon.

Then I started making soap. Great for the skin. Tried it on my hair. Great for that too. Used the left over pieces to make laundry soap. Placed the even smaller leftovers in a bottle with water. Instant dishsoap. Added a little vinegar to another bottle of soap scraps and water and I got  stove, counter top cleaner. And the evolution began.

To date, 4 years after my first homemade soap batch, I have eliminated shampoo, shower gel, hair conditioner (I use almond oil now) glass cleaners, etc... etc...My entire household cleaning supply consists of just the following:

Homemade bar soap
Washing Soda
Baking soda

And embarrassingly, I still have commercial dishwashing tablets but I'm working on a homemade formula for that. Anyone got a recipe to share?

Now, if any of my sisters are reading this blog they will certainly be making the comment "Yeah, sure she doesn't use commercial cleaners and her house is a MESS." They would be correct. My house is cluttered.  Currently the dining table is covered with hundreds of empty and filled honey bottles, canned green beans and soap labeling supplies. The kitchen counter cannot be seen much for last nights dishes and my bedroom floor is littered with clean laundry that will soon be dirty laundry again if I don't get it folded soon.

But at least when I do get around to cleaning again I won't have to worry about keeling over face first in the toilet from all the toxic cleaner fumes. But I am a bit sad about my fingerprints being more visible. I have undercover spy work still on my bucket list.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014



It seemed we would never have more piglets on this farm after last winter. As always we watched and recorded all breedings, yes we are voyeurs in that sense. We have to be since none of them will keep handwritten logs of their romantic activities and we're too small for hidden candid camera stuff.

So, sure we saw our girls being courted in Jan. and Feb. and thus we fully expected piglets the usual 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, 3 dog nights later, which would've been in May and June. But the belly growth was slow.

Our first "spring" litter was born, quite independently I might add, on July 4th. Dot, our last crossbred sow  was bred to Mad Max in January or so we thought. But May came and went and so did June. Apparently Max froze up during the coupling, not enough heat to keep things moving in other words. Or maybe they were never mating at all, just hugging for warmth.

But the dry spell was broken with Dot's beautiful litter of 10 half breeds. (It's OK to use that term in this situation as pigs are not at all politically correct...ever)

Since she is one mixed up pig, our last confinement piglet purchase 6 years ago and was bred to a full Red Wattle, that would make her piglets...super cute! Some have dots like their mama, some have wattles like their daddy and one has stripes like the postman pig who visited the farm 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days and 3 dog nights ago.

I apologize. Should've just done the 3 dog night joke just once but come on...it's funny!

The low temps affected Max's other wife, Clarissa as well. We thought she would farrow in June and here we are July 9 and still no stork.

No piglets either.

Our other boar apparently could not take the chilly bedroom activities any better that Mad Max. Wally had been left with 4 Red Wattle sows this past winter and 2, Mrs. Dalloway and Sklar, had expected farrowing dates also in May and June.

They are now wearing their biggest stretch pants and will most definately be mothers soon but they obviously missed their projected farrowing dates too. We should see babies from them in a couple weeks. The other two gal pals of Wally, Marie and Lydia, were due in July and August but the August girl Lydia, did not take at all and was rebred just last month. Now her litter won't come to fruition until OCTOBER!

So what does that all mean? Well customers who reserved carcass hogs, breeding stock and feeder pig stock are now having to get them later then they had planned. Which means their customers will get their bacon later than they had planned. Which means our expected income for this summer will also be delayed. Which means our GK's will not get good birthday gifts which means their self esteem will plummet which means their grades will suffer which means they will never get admitted to anything more than those fake degree colleges listed on the back of matchbooks. 

Once again, I regress.

We encouraged our customers to call other Red Wattle breeders to see if those farmers had piglets available sooner and a couple did call, but seems there is indeed a great shortage of all kinds of hogs here in the Midwest. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus anyone? So all these customers (as well as these two farmers) are waiting patiently for their piglets and their future bone-in pork chops to arrive.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Insane American Farm Lawn



From this...


To This.
 I grew up on the north side of Chicago, in a two bedroom, third story walkup apartment, my early childhood spent on rickety wood porches and hard concrete. When we finally left for the burbs there were 7 of us living in that tiny space, my folks and their 5 kids. The sixth child was smart enough to wait to be born until we had a real YARD.

Being last in the birth order has always had it's benefits whereas first borns like myself had to pave the way for them.

Our yard in Warrenville, Illinois 1968 was actually a tiny lot but we thought we lived on a football field with all the grass we had to play on. Happy days it was. Then 4 years later, my folks bought a real country home in Elwood Il. complete with five acres.

Let the serious mowing begin!

But, in the country back then, yards around the farms were still manageable in size and pastures were allowed to grow as livestock needed a place to run (and food to eat.)

Todays American Farm is very different. Drive for 100 miles in Central Illinois and you'll be lucky to see a few cattle out and about, but pigs on pasture are very rare and sheep almost non-existent. We here (not here on South Pork Ranch but "here" in the United States) have evolved into the use of enclosed buildings for raising our livestock and the farm lot that became a farm yard in now a farm lawn.

Lawns...what a waste. It's not like anyone ever puts up a Badminton net or plays croquet anymore.

So what has happened to all that pasture we had for livestock? Well, most of it has been planted with corn or soybeans or perhaps soybeans and then corn depending on the farmers rotation. And the American Farm Lawns have gotten massive. This time of year the air is filled with the sounds of the ever running mower or the chemical sprayers to keep weeds under control.

Rarely is it a push mower we see or hear but more likely the riding mower or the zero turn mower or the HUGE zero turn mower. We mow and mow and mow chopping up grass that could be perfectly good animal forage.  And then we purchase feed for our livestock who now reside in buildings that are far better climate controlled than this old farmhouse and we go to the grocery store to buy our meat. Instead of raising critters out front of the farmhouse as past generations used to do we raise a flag and curse the stray alfalfa plant or dandelion that interrupts the sea of perfect weed-free lawn grass.

We too are part of this insanity but we are working hard to break the habit. We do not use any chemicals in our yard (I love the rogue dandelion) and do less mowing overall, even though that might be hard to believe if you drive up our lane. But if you look closely you might see the grove of trees we allowed to take over a patch that used to be all grass just 19 years ago. Our GK's call this area "The Woods."

You might also notice  the self seeded patch of sunflowers growing crazy wild this year when last year the area was a hog pen and five years before that goat pasture and before that...just more grass to be mowed.
Inside this patch of sunflowers we cut out with hand clippers,  a circular area for a possible GK fort or better yet a writing alcove for this Midlife Farmwife.
I'm thinking I'll find an old circular rug-faded Oriental?- at a garage sale, a couple of chairs, a wet bar and call it good.
Off to the north of this area is a throughway between our farm store and the feed shed. We used to mow a 20 foot wide strip here but narrowed it considerably in 2014. Now the path is just wide enough for one or two to walk on .
And I have to say the butterflies, birds, ducks, chickens and myself all enjoy the wild flowers
 that border this path now. Not unlike the overgrowth of plant material all along our driveways.
I used to mow up and down both those lanes at least once a week. I think I've only done it three times so far this year. Again, more flowers for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.
One more region of grasses allowed to reach for the sky is the area around our old 1949 International M tractor. For at least the first decade we lived her I insisted it be mowed. But one day I came home from work and Keith had fenced the area off with hot wire and blocked one of the drives with a saw horse so the cows could graze. Now, we never mow it and we run cows on there a few times each summer.
As you can tell I need a new sign. It used to read House to the Right and Barn to the Left. We do still mow around the sign but who knows why since the sign can't be read for all the peeling paint!
Even the areas around the wind breaks are no longer kept tidy. It's like our windbreaks created from trees and bushes we've planted over the last two decades have their own windbreaks.
The short grass on the left is the horses pasture. She does her own kind of "mowing."
But with all my talk of land not mowed, or mowed with a push mower and attached bag with the clippings given to calves and pigs...we still have our areas of weakness. Like just in front and back of the house.
Ah well, the farm is still up for sale and the average country dweller/potential buyer likes lawn. So for now I'll still tool around on my riding mower, getting a construction worker tan and the dry elephant skin that goes with it.  But I will continue to dream of the "no mow" lawn, which we plan to have at The Poor Farm.
There...we will have no one to impress but the livestock who will be thrilled to have the endless pastures. So until then, as me old friend Stacey L.used to say...
Mow is me.