Archive for June, 2012

Oh, tomorrow…

It rained today, and that was the good part. Great, actually. We NEED it.

Today was not a good day for the farm. The morning began well enough, for once ahead of schedule on chores, much-needed rain in the forecast, and almost ready to head to work, not late but early! Feeding the chickens, I didn’t notice Goldie and her usual squawking, scolding self, and thought… maybe she’s laying an egg? For once? Because in spite of or because of the oppressive heat yesterday, and the hot-weather indicated Chicken-ade electrolyte boost, we got THREE eggs from the elder matrons in 24 hours, including a hard-shelled one from the mostly-retired and paper-shell layin’ Barred Rock. I opened the coop door to find Goldie sprawled out dead in the nest box; a fly buzzing around her closed eyes. F*ck.
I went inside. Made myself more coffee, wrote about it, called the fellah, who said what I knew he’d say… go get some rubber gloves on, get a trash bag and woman up- you wanted the chickens and you’ve gotta deal with it. Sigh. Ok. I know. I psyche myself up, and finally do the thing, using a broken half-shovel to sort of scoot her limp remains into a trash-bag lined bucket and throw the lid on lickety split. A real farmer would have eaten her months ago, and we were going to… but she was so nice and friendly albeit useless it never made it to the top of our things to-do list. Good meat, gone to waste, and I can’t even bring myself to skin her for the dog. I get ready to head to work and it starts POURING. Which is amazing, because it’s so dry and we really need the rain, but I bike. And I’m not made of sugar and I won’t melt, but heading out in a torrential downpour if you don’t HAVE to is dumb. I do the dishes until it’s just sprinkling, stop at the community garden to plop in some transplants in the empty drought-killed spots in my two raised beds of (free) rock-hard clay muck soil there, ride the 7 miles to work, stopping on the way at the grocery store, which is out of distilled water, which my intern needs to clean the nutrient testing probes at work, and which was the main reason I stopped… luckily she also picked some up on her way in.

So, I’m about to head home when I finally remembered to consult the interwebs about the leaf-curling and burn that’s affecting, oh, almost all of my garden, especially the parts that I heavily top-dressed with *mostly* composted horse manure that I got delivered for a song from some guy on Craigslist. It was eight months old delivered, at least a month ago, but (I thought) just still cookin’… I expected to affirm this, and be told yep, just hold your horses (manure) and everything will be fine. Instead I find this…

It’s not that that compost wasn’t done… just that the pasture that the hay those horses were eating in the stable where they craigslist dude picked up his free manure that he composted to sell to unsuspecting “organic” gardeners was probably sprayed with a persistent herbicide to kill broadleaf weeds. Could take months or years to break down- a season or three if we mix good soil in with it, up to 5 years if it just sits in a manure pile as is. Dow chemical, you are F*CKERS. F*cking f*cker f*cks.

Honey, can we move to the country? Where we can raise our own good clean manure from good clean pastures? Sigh. Cue “when I was a kid” speech: we got rid of thistles with a pair of post hole diggers and leather gloves and old-fashioned hard work, not by spraying toxic-tomato-killing persistent nasties. That’s what farm kids are for- we didn’t get grounded, just had to dig holes in the ground instead. Builds character.

My tomatoes, potatoes, beans, and anything planted straight into this stuff or a 50/50 or so blend of it looks like this… and some stuff that was only top-dressed does too. Fiddlehead fern-burn city. Luckily I didn’t put much around our lettuce, which is doing fine except that it’s all bolting in this insane heat-wave. I feel better now that it was probably bioterrorism, and not poor husbandry on my part that murdered so many of my seedlings and sowed crops (including ALL my leeks) this year… but only a tiny bit better. Mostly bitter.

I particularly like their own advice to worried British gardeners who had this happen to them via contaminated bagged compost from the store:


“The data shows that using worst case assumptions the residues would not cause concern and while the product is not authorized by UK regulators for use on food crops, these crops can be eaten.” Thanks, Dow. That makes me feel SOOO much better. I like, totally trust you, man.

“Crops known to be sensitive to picloram, clopyralid, or aminopyralid:
Beans, Carrots, Compositae family
, Cotton, Dahlias, Eggplant, Flowers, in general, Grapes, Legumes
, Lettuce, Marigolds, Mushrooms, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes
, Roses, some types, Spinach*, Sugar beets*,Strawberries*, Sunflowers, Tobacco
, Tomatoes, Umbelliferae family, Vegetables, in general

Up until that last one, I thought… at least I can grow corn? That’s grass, right? Because what the world needs now, is more corn. I want to f*cking murder the chemist who came up with this s*it.

On the up or down side, the folks who stole the last yard or two of unspread compost in the side lot it turns out did me a favor, and karma really is a PITA.

No more cheap dirt for me. Would have been better off taking my chances with the lead that is probably in our actual soil.

Oh yeah, here’s that egg-head. Cute, huh.

I’m going home to pack for a night away, and not a moment too soon. We’re headed up to our buddies place in Wisconsin tomorrow, along with a dozen or so city-folk friends, for some much needed woods-walkin’, 22-target shootin’, beer-drinkin’, bonfire, cookout, grillin’ and other serious chowin’, rompin’ doggies fun-time campout…in that order. Thank Gaia, I need it. Catch you kids next week…
Some snaps from our last trip up to WI in the fall when the creek was a’froze…

standing on ice as clear as glass

there be a critter under that ice!

here be the critter, under the ice… some sort of larval nymph thing that was crawling upside down in the unfrozen water clinging to the ice. Really. Nature, you kraaay.

a very fancy tandem. Some of my not-so-fancy friends. Thats a complement.

These were the best sausages EVER.

That’s why there are two pictures.

I can’t wait to get back there.


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So, it’s been REAL quiet around here lately… I know.  I know.  Our slumlord landlady at our studio decided that internet would no longer be an amenity of our building, as some people downloaded too much and then others complained about it and really, she’s just horribly cheap… and she gave us two days notice before shutting it off. I’m trying to keep up with email from work three or four days a week, and we’re still deciding what we’re doing about the whole connectivity thing otherwise… suggestions welcomed, cheap preferred.  We don’t have cable or a phone line at the house (will never have the former, may get the latter if one of us gives up our cells in the future…).  I liked having the house ‘net free, as it was easier to write and focus on other things there, but that’s probably where we’ll end up plugging in…

Lots of updates, lots to write about, but instead… here’s a picture of an egg wearing a hat.  Yes, it came that way, plucked from the nest box with a pale fluff of feather stuck to the pointed end, like a coquette in a rakish cap.  Thanks chicken.  I needed that.  It’s hellishly hot and I am a cranky, cranky girl… but not too cranky to appreciate this. 

Nooo! Data cable is at home… we’ll try that again tomorrow, ok?


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Summer is almost upon us, and though we’re in the midst of a scorching drought, there are some berries to be had. The Factory Farm has yielded a few handfuls of strawberries…

and Caroline raspberries… which have been small but full of concentrated flavor.

But the real bounty is over at the house… the mulberry hedge just won’t stop (I think that’s a good thing, and so do the chickens when they get to go out in the yard)! I pulled out a tarp and shook down a bowlful to make jelly, with lots of lime juice and a bit of zest as mulberries on their own can be a bit insipid. The fellow’s dad asked what I planned to do with that bowl of mulberries, as he’d never heard of anyone making anything out of them (other than stains on their driveways, perhaps)… this coming from a guy who lived on squirrel while in engineering school in Missouri. He has a pretty dry sense of humor, so this was probably one of the times he was making a joke when I thought he was serious, which is most of the time. They make a fine jelly! Next time I’ll use pectin… it has a quite cooked fruit flavor from simmering long enough to thicken on its own, but still pretty tasty. There are some seeds in there, as the jelly bag for the strainer was back at the studio and I didn’t want to go back again to get it… but no matter. Good stuff, especially on the homemade rolls leftover from the bbq the night before! Those are mulberry leaves in the background. Our backyard looks downright bucolic in photo stills… the camera may not lie but it can sure leave a lot out if you want it to.

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oh my mayo

Ever wonder what about 45 or so pounds of potato salad looks like? Kinda like that. For reference… that bowl is about 3 feet in diameter. I really had to fight the urge to climb in and roll around for a bit… I love potato salad. I really do.

Mixing and scooping that will give you buff forearms, lemme tellya.

Seven half-pans worth, heaping…

And the start of two pasta salads… 16 boxes of pasta, two ways- creamy and vinaigrette. Another 14 half-pans. Two very full fridges worth of foods… and one very pooped chef-farmer. Though I think I’m going to revert back to my original half-jest job title of Food Czarina, at least for tomorrow…

Oh, and four pork shoulders slow roasting, half-pulled, half to-be-pulled in the morning… nom nom nom nosh.

Bring it, open house! Oh yeah, if you’re in Chicago you should definitely be at The Plant Open House, 12-5 tomorrow!

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the troubles…

Before we bought the house, and all the while when we were still looking for a home, I foolishly hoped that having our own place would make me feel safer… that I could let my guard down a bit and enjoy our little piece of land, however small. But I know now that fences are not fortresses, and fire, footsteps, angry words and worse pass through them like the rustling in the trees overhead. I can’t understand most of the words that drift through our windows from the streets, but their tone is clear… intense, sometimes angry, sometimes simply raucous, as the bottles clink, sometimes smash, and shouts fly… I have always been anxious, but now there are both real and imagined things to fear that are sharper than failure, harder than hurtfulness… the staccato of voices sometimes punctuated by shots in the not-too-far-off distance. The next door neighbors are warring over something… there was an ominous cluster of guys gathered in front of the neighbor’s house when I came home, and the shouting and shoving and name-calling has escalated over the course of an hour or two… seems to be over a girl, or a real or perceived slight over a girl, though the language they use for her is not so polite. On my ride home this evening, again pulling a trailer, a boy in a group of others who couldn’t have been older than eight or nine yelled at me lewdly, “Damn, I’d like to be behind that bitch!”. I yelled back firmly that he should watch his mouth. My heart hurts for these kids who aren’t allowed to be children, who feel they must be hard and tough and full of sexual swagger when they are only babies… and seethes at these so-called-men who act like grown children fighting in the street, setting an example for the kids watching them from windows and porches. I didn’t have a perfect childhood, and had to grow up fast in a lot of ways, helping to take care of my younger brothers when my parents split up… but as hard as that was, we were still lucky. We didn’t always have a lot, but we always had something, and most of all, we had each other, and the land, books to retreat into and beauty all around because we knew where to look. It’s here, too… but sometimes harder to see.
It’s cold tonight, at the first of June. I’d consider lighting a fire if the woodstove weren’t surrounded by piles of construction materials and debris. A week ago I was sweating in a tank top, and now sit in a fleece and sweater under piles of blankets. I have so many things now that I’ve wanted for so long… a house of our own, however humble (it’s more of the idea of a house than an actual place to live right now, and for the indefinite future…), a dog, chickens, bees, a vegetable garden and fruit trees… and sometimes our life seems so happy and carefree. Munching mulberries from the wild hedge around our little lot, watching the bees fly east from their hives into the morning sun, and the dog romp and the boy and I laughing, laughing, laughing at the luck of it all… but still there is endless worry. The worries of our own we can handle… the house will get done (someday). We will live in one place. Life will be simpler, and while we’re not rich, we’re never hungry, for food or for love… but the things and people outside of our sphere of influence are endlessly troubling. The shouting outside has stopped for now, thank stars, as the fellow should be home shortly and I was worried about him walking into the middle of a tense scene… I called to give him a heads-up, and he’s generally better than me at reading people and situations, but still I worry. I crave quiet. Bella is curled on the floor at the foot of the bed, content that I am here, and I too am comforted by her and her quiet vigilance and deep sighs. And he will be home soon, and I will be able to relax and sleep soundly and forget about the troubles until tomorrow.

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bedlam and bad men

Someone was in our yard yesterday… sometime between 10:30 AM and 9ish when we got home… our locked chainlink gate was askew (pushed inward, so I know the dog didn’t do it before I put her in the house when I left for work) and the black city garbage cart had been rolled from in front of our gate to the fence.  The plastic lid was dented down where they used it for a springboard, and then hopped to the top of the compost bin (which is now uncovered so as not to serve as a step-stool).  It looks like they moved our smoker and garden cart slightly and then discovered that they were chained to the double-barricaded-from-the-inside-and-scissor-gated-from-the-outside entrance to our basement.  Our biggest fear was that we’d find chickens missing- a friend recently lost most of their flock in two separate thefts from their *locked* backyard coop. All lay-dees were accounted for. 
A piece of hundred-year-old trim that we removed from the eaves behind the gutters (for safekeeping (and probable lead-paint removal) until some other work is done and it can go back in place) was moved across our yard and propped up against the back gate, as if they’d thought about taking it with them and then changed their mind?  Or were just leaving us a clear message that they’d been inside our yard, and could return if they pleased?  The chain on our gate was cut shortly after we bought the place… the gate left wide open, nothing missing… just a message.  You can’t keep us out. 

A creepy crazy man who goes by Montgomery Ward walked by singing late the other night, as we fumbled with the front door lock that was jammed (we finally removed the key that was broken off on the inside of the lock years ago and it works great now)… The fellah swears he heard him sing, “I touched your door, now it won’t open” before going back to a rambling bellowing version of “American Girl”… “oh yeah, all right… take it easy baby… HUSH THAT NOISE, PUPPY! Hush THAT NOISE, PUPPY!! (to our rottweiler, who was leaping at the fence with snarling throaty-growl stiff-bark force at this guy)… make it last all night!  She was… an American Girl…”.  We sat in the dark on our covered back porch and listened as his song faded into the distance until we were sure he was gone…

doesn’t she look tough? She has one job, and she takes it very seriously… she’s a secret sweetie though, with serious separation anxiety… but she’s a very good girl. Mostly.

An acquaintance of ours, who goes by Sledge and is a frequent volunteer at the farm where I work (he got his nickname from the many days he’s spent doing demolition work on the building- jackhammering, sledgehammering, and moving piles of rubble all in the name of the cause), was jumped less than half a block from our studio last weekend.  He hangs out with some kids who have an art space down the block, and we’d seen him riding around that evening, when he rode with us for a few blocks as we were headed to a barbeque in Logan Square before he headed back south… he stumbled upon a gathering in the side-yard of our SWAT-team/chef dad and homeschooling mom/realtor/chicken-keeper extraordinaire neighbors, and had helped them move piles of dirt around in their backyard/sideyard farm.  They and their rowhouse tenants farm three city-owned lots, and have a top-bar hive, a turkey hen and at least a dozen chickens in a strawbale coop, and a big ole dog pack (theirs, and neighbors dogs dropped off for informal doggie daycare) led by their lanky jet-black and tan german shepard, aka, “The People-Eater”. Sledge had never met these neighbors, but saw that they were working, introduced himself, and helped out for a few hours. That’s the kind of guy he is.
We met these neighbors a similar way, just walking by… except there were already so many people helping to build their chicken coop that night that we helped in a way only we could- we came back and knocked on the back gate, holding growlers of homemade beer, after first quickly debating at home…”Are they doing what I think they’re doing? They’re building a strawbale structure, they have chickens, and they live down the street. We have to meet them…”. Fast forward to fast friends. She helped us find our home, introducing us to the former owner of our “cabin” while he was in town to close the place up after his tenants moved across the street… foreclosure threats piling up from the banks in the mailbox. She gave me antibiotics that saved our Wyandotte chick from certain death (the feed store was closed, the baby needed them THAT DAY). We gave her sourdough bread and endless thank-yous, and buckets of spent-grain for chicken feed. But back to Sledge…

After leaving our neighbors yard, he was taking pictures of rust-stained stone blocks from the sidewalk under the rail tracks, when he was approached by a guy who offered to sell him drugs… Sledge declined, but proceeded to strike up a conversation with the guy “about basketball, rhythm, and Yahweh.”  He rapped with the dude for a minute, and thought they were having a good conversation, and gave the guy the four bucks he asked for to get on the train.  As he turned to leave, the guy cold-clocked him in the face, and punched him several times, knocking out his crowns (Sledge sports even more false fronts than me, also from bike-induced face-to-ground contact…) and giving him a black eye.  He pulled himself up, swinging back at his attacker while grabbing his face (and probably after spitting out his teeth), and asked him incredulously, “But what about Yahweh?”  He said the guy continued to hit him, now while quoting scripture, then emptied his pockets (cell phone and wallet with $200) and ran.  He shook his head while recounting the tale- “I should have known better… I was at a rave the night before and was surrounded by so much love and goodness, that I let my street-smarts go out the window”.  It’s sad, but you can’t trust anyone around here that you meet on the street… everyone’s got an angle.  I wish it weren’t true but it’s how it is.

Buying Bedlam Farm is looking pretty good right now.  The fellow is buying us lottery tickets today… a girl can dream, right?  He has family and we have some good friends out that way… and the countryside reminds me of the Ozarks where I grew up, and the tree-covered hills my heart aches for still, and room to roam that I took for granted before coming here 13 years ago… just how precious it is on this hot, flat, and crowded earth to be able to hike for an hour without seeing another human soul if you choose… 




Any angel investors out there want to chip in towards the Alewyfe B&B at Bedlam Farm? And Bedlam Brewery? Surely there’s room in one of those out-buildings for beer. The door will always be open for you, and your pint glass never dry…

But always, even when the world seems rotten… look for and remember the goodness… and the promise of peas.

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