Friday, June 20, 2008

Lamb's Quarters

While we dog paddle to keep our heads above all the information in this, our information age, the real knowledge drowns. Some of this real knowledge is about the nutritious native plants all around us.

Lambs Quarters are in the large family of Chenopodia, which translates as “Goosefoot” in allusion to the shape of the leaves, which resemble the webbed feet of geese. Although lambs’ quarters and related chenopodia are widely regarded as a weed, the species was once an important part of the native American food system, and was a fully domesticated greens and grain crop. The agricultural record suggests humans were collecting these plants from the wild by 4000 BC, then gradually modifying them by selective collection and cultivation over a period of centuries.

While the chenopodia are largely considered weeds today, they are extremely delicious and nutritious plants. Find some at your local farmers market, or in your garden-- and give them the respect they deserve . . . enjoy them for dinner.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rain, Rain, Rain

Another Rainy Harvest Day

by Aozora Brockman

The story on the farm this year so far is rain, rain, rain, especially--it seems to me--rain on harvest days.

This Tuesday and last Tuesday, we picked for the CSA in the rain and through thunderstorms and Daddy says they are calling for rain and severe weather all day tomorrow again.

Last Friday thunderstorms and dark rain clouds dumped water onto the soil that had just finally dried out enough to plant. Of course, Daddy knew this was going to happen, so as soon as the soil was dry enough on Thursday, we proceeded to plant every seed and transplant every plant possible before the rains came. The planting marathon spilled over into Friday, which meant having to plant and harvest for the farmers market at the same time, which was a relatively new experience for me.

While Kazami harvested wild arugula, Grandpa regular arugula, and the interns (Matt, Rebecca, and Daniel) plus Mommy sorrel, Asa, Daddy and I planted lettuce with the tractor.

The skies started to rumble as we were finishing up and the rain started to pitter-patter down while Daddy expertly maneuvered the truck up the steep hill leading to the wash area. It wasn't until we were safely under the barn's high roof that the droplets crescendoed into an angry downpour. While we eagerly ate the scrumptious food Mommy cooked for us, I listened to the thundering water hit the barn roof and watched as it washed off the side and hit the soil below. I couldn't sit mesmerized for long, though, because the twenty boxes of beautiful emerald spinach and a few boxes of mesclun that we had picked at daybreak were waiting to be bagged and boxed.

The rain let up a little as that huge job was conquered, but the sky above was still overcome with black rain clouds, letting little light pass through. Despite this, Daddy declared that it was time for us to make another round to the bottom field, while it wasn't raining so hard.

I got on the truck with the rest, and marveled at how our huge, multicolored raingear-orange, red, green, yellow-- topped with our two-sizes-too-big boots made us look like a clown act at the circus. Perhaps we could get the job, since the extra weight from the mud on our boots caused us to hobble around hilariously. The truck sliplessly made its way down the hill, past the alfalfa and clover field, and rounded the corner to reveal the ford across the stream that divides our two bottom fields. It came to an abrupt stop, which sent Asa on his feet to exclaim, "The ford! Look at the ford!"

The ford, which just this spring had finally been completed by adding medium sized white rocks to the slabs already there, had overflowed. Grandpa told us later that we got three inches of rain that morning (and still more to come). The stream, usually small and obedient, had suddenly risen after the cloudburst, its rushing waters three times as large and 10 times as vicious.

With one look, I decided it impossible to cross. Daddy and everyone else seemed to think so too, except Asa. "Let's cross it, just for fun!" he said with a grin. Much to his disappointment, Daddy drove us back up to the barn. While he did this, lightning flashed and the clouds opened up again, filling the air with the sound of their fury.

But Daddy rounded us all up and we went off to the greenhouse to harvest the beets and carrots, while the rain pounded down so hard on the plastic roof we had to shout at each other to be heard over it. By the time we finished, the thunder and lightning had calmed down a bit and the infamous truck, loaded with its troupe of multi-colored clowns and taking the long way around to skirt the ford, rumbled its way onto the main road off our driveway, past the upper field and partway down the small hill leading to the rhubarb patch.

Horrified, we stared at our beloved bottom field. At first we all thought Walnut Creek had overflowed its banks, since there was so much water everywhere. But then we saw that the little trench Daddy dug to channel water from a ravine into our stream had backed up with debris and overflowed. With nowhere else to run, the water was flowing in a huge sheet straight across the bottom field. Mini streams were building up and causing even more water to flood.

Daddy woke us all up from our stupor and set us to work. Kazami and Daniel scrambled off to find suitable shovels and then we were ordered to dig into the trench to make it wider and deeper. Rebecca and Daniel took off to gather wood to block the water where it was jumping the gully and heading into the field. Meanwhile, Asa cleared the gully of debris all the way to the stream.

I was in the middle, trying to convince my shovel to dig into the trench and dump the dirt onto the sides. The task was more difficult than you would think, since tenacious roots of grass growing in the bottom of the gully kept getting in the way, and sometimes I would lose my dug dirt in the water. Even more frustrating was that my shovel's handle kept coming off. Originally I had scored a better shovel, but Asa switched his with mine. Of course, I had known there was something wrong with it, like maybe the shovel was dull, but never that the handle would actually come off. During a particularly hard dig, I tried to pull my shovel up. I failed miserably, as the handle popped off and I was flung into the trench water. Daddy laughed and helped me up. I giggled a bit as I got up, but then I realized my boots had just filled up with water and glared at Asa. I stuck my shovel back together again.

In the end, we got the flow of water directed straight into the stream again and the trench was a success. The water on the field was eventually soaked up by the soil and the roots of the plants, but Daddy says a lot of the broccoli and cabbage aren't going to make it because they have been in standing water too long. Soaked to the skin, sweaty and dirty, boots laden with mud, we trudged off to the field to pick the rhubarb and the radishes and finish a long, long, wet, wet harvest day!

Goat Notes

Goat Notes

by Aozora Brockman

Every morning, I open my eyes to the high-pitched beeping of my alarm clock. On a good day, reaching out my hand to turn it off forces my brain to operate, so I jump out of bed as quickly as possible, in a lame attempt to jumpstart my body.

Also every morning, I grab an empty re-used yogurt container and sleepwalk my way through the hazy morning air and into the fenced-in area housing our lovable goats and chickens. I grab a small white bucket and fill it with corn, oats and wheat. As I open the door to the pen, I swish the feed around with my hand. The door latches shut behind me.

A female black goat with white fur splattered randomly across her body waits for me in the goat shed. Right beside her is a brown-coated female goat, with a patch of white fur on her forehead resembling a star. Mandy, the black goat, had quadruplets in the early spring. I milk her every morning. Star, the brown goat, is pregnant. I will start to milk her after she gives birth, which, judging by the size of her belly, will be soon.

I open the shed door and Mandy trots down the ramp to get milked. I set down the bucket of feed to get my hands free, and quickly close the shed door to trap Star inside, much to Star’s displeasure. She brought this on herself, though, because of her immense loving of all things edible, especially grain. She would always steal feed out of Mandy’s bucket while I was busy milking her, causing Mandy to stomp her feet in annoyance. Disaster would sometimes ensue as Mandy’s feet came dangerously close to smacking the milk-filled container-- and often would, spilling milk all over. After a couple exasperating times of this scenario, I decided to get smart with Star and keep her locked in the goat shed where she could do no harm while I am busy milking Mandy.

Star is now safely out of the way, but Mandy is gobbling up grain at such an alarming pace that I am afraid none will be left to distract her while I’m milking. I try to pull the bucket away from her, but knowing this routine, she sticks her head into the bucket further. “Mandy!” I scold with a grunt, grabbing her collar and dragging, with great difficulty, her stubborn face out of the bucket. Finally she lets up. Grateful for this opportunity, I snatch the feed and put it on the milk stand. Thankfully, Mandy jumps up on the stand without hesitation. I breathe a sigh of relief and get to work.

The quadruplets wail without so much as a breath from inside their pen while my hands milk as fast as they can move. I put the baby goats in their pen each night so that they will not drink all of Mandy’s milk. Even though they are able to swallow grain and grass now, it seems that nothing can compare to their mother’s milk.

One of my nightly chores is to put the quadruplets in their pen. Star’s naughtiness comes into play here as well, since when she sees the bucket of grain- -meant to lure the baby goats into the pen-- the bucket lures her too. She eagerly hoists herself up into the cramped quarters, while I dump the grain into the metal holder. Suddenly I find myself stuck in the tiny pen with one huge goat and four little ones milling about. To make it worse, I am bent over, since the low ceiling makes it impossible to stand up. In this position I plow my way out, at the same time lurching Star forward toward the pen door and out into the open. I frantically push Star out of the way so that I can latch the pen doors shut before Star or the baby goats can think twice. Then I stand there, panting a little, and wonder how in the world putting fours little goats in a pen could take so much mental, emotional, and physical work. Star stands near me, no doubt muttering to Mandy, “I will get your grain in the morning.”

My yogurt container is almost full with fresh bubbly goat milk, and apparently Mandy has finished her grain, because she is starting to fidget in the stand and cries to be let off. “Okay, okay. We’re done.” I say to her, in mock surrender. I grant her wish and let her off the milk stand. Next I set my milk container down so that I can unlock the shed door. Star stares me down from inside, questioning with her piercing eyes, “How dare you fool me into not getting my grain!?” I pat her on the head, right on her pearly white star, “That’s life, Star. I’m sorry.”

The baby goats come scrambling out when I open the pen door. They are full of pent up energy, as usual, and run out to play and to explore. The chickens squawk from the chicken shed, calling Kazami to come let them out, let them out.

As I shut the fence door and make my way to the house and then down to the fields to work, I realize that another day has just begun.