Sunday, August 30, 2009


I've been really getting into learning about our food lately and what's happening with it. I've seen four movies I'd like to recommend to anyone who might be interested in learning more. I guess I never really thought about it all much until we moved out here to the country and starting setting up farmkeeping. I'll warn you though, it's a slippery slope and the more you learn and the more your eyes are opened, the harder it is to go back. Ignorance may be bliss, but it won't make you healthy. Knowledge will also come with a healthy dose of guilt every time you go or take your kid to McDonald's or let her eat Beanie Weanies or candy or most of the stuff you get in the center of the grocery store.

I think I REALLY started thinking about FOOD when I first read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". It's about a family (Barbara was already a writer) who moved to Appalachia and only ate food they could find locally or raise themselves for a year. It wasn't perfect, they made some exceptions as any sane person would. But it lead me down other paths and along other tangents until I ended up consuming almost EVERYTHING Michael Pollan has published on food and our food systems. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" was the start. Which led to "In Defense of Food", "The Botany 0f Desire" and then to other authors like Mark Bittman's Food Matters, Paul Robert's book "The End of Food" and countless other articles. The is an entire Mother Jones issue dedicated to FOOD this year.

The four movies I've seen in the last few months (two THIS month" are

Food, Inc.

Fresh, the Movie

The Future of Food

King Corn

These all have the common theme of showing how industrialized our food supply has come at the expense of nutrition, diversity and humane treatment of the animals AND farmers who provide it. They also bring home what a MONOPOLY Monsanto has on our food AND it's future. Monsanto has patented LIFE. They control the majority of our seeds now and 80% of the corn you eat (and let me tell you, we are EATING a LOT of corn under a variety of names and guises) is genetically modified. There aren't any long term studies of what that is doing or will do to our health or our future crops. We should be worried about that. At the very least, we should be aware.

Lots of the information is rehashed and repackaged but it's presented in such a way that it is compelling and it makes you want to do something about it.

This year, we'll have been eating our own farm raised chicken, eggs, pork, and more. We've been buying hamburger from Real Farm Foods, Rockin H Ranch in Norwood at the farmer's market and as much organic food as we can justify buying.

We aren't perfect. Some weeks are good, others are not. Today we had McDonald's breakfast, about every junky offering available at Silver Dollar City and Pop Tarts for dinner. Sad but true. But I figure every time we choose something better is a feather in our hat and a blow against the enemy. The enemy is BIG FOOD and Monsanto. But the enemy is also ourselves for continuing to choose to support them. Change is hard and convenience is king.

But we can do better and our family will just keep on trying.

Look who's coming to dinner...

I picked up the second batch of broilers last Wednesday and the picture above was of the little guys fresh from the hatchery and not even quite one day old yet. If you wonder just how FAST they grow...the picture below is them today at 10 days old.

It's insane. They'll probably be ready to put outside by next weekend at this rate. I'm already ready for them TO GO outside. I can hear them cheeping in the garage in the middle of the night from our bedroom and I have to keep the garage door down all the time so Ruger won't get them. He's a mess.

I've been surfing the internet for electric poultry netting too. I think that might be the next plan I try with them. It would be nice to be able to let my hens out more too without worrying about Ruger, or bobcats, or coyotes or COUGARS or WHATEVER else might be out there in the wild woods.

And YES Virginia, they are the Cornish Crosses. Sigh.

Things around the farm have slowed down lately. The garden has gone to hell in a hand basket with the squirrels taking ALL of the tomatoes. I'm thinking electrified poultry netting might cut down on THAT problem too. Of course with $200 of fencing plus a charger around it those tomatoes are going to get pretty expensive. At this point it's just a battle of wills and money. I have the will and I can get the money. Squirrels only have the will. Pity the squirrel. Or fry it maybe. Yeah, I'm voting for fry it.

Look Mommy, up in the sky...

We were driving home the other night and Grace noticed a cloud in the sky and said, "Look Mama, that cloud is a poodle." Sure enough, it looked just like her pink poodle we call Polly Buff and here is the proof...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tumbling Tower of Texts

My bedside reading has gotten a little out of control lately. I finally had to consolidate my piles on my nightstand, beside the nightstand and on the end table by the couch lest someone be overtaken by them. I thought is was kind of funny that they were all mostly about food, gardening or vampires. I don't know what that says about me exactly but I've definitely been "consumed" in one way or another lately.

My magazines at the bottom are really piling up too. There are just not enough hours in the day no matter how late I stay up.

So many little time.

Bees are a bust!

This was not a good year for bees on the Medley farm. I got off to a bad start in the spring when I saw the bees were dead and placed an order late in the season. I ordered from Walter T. Kelley this time because Rossman Apiaries was not taking any more orders by the time I finally got my act together and decided to give it a go again.

The bees were to arrive in late April and I hived them on April 29 (a day later than they were supposed to arrive priority mail from Kelley) and they didn't fare well. Half the boxed bees were DOA and I filed the insurance claim and they refunded the money encouraging me to go ahead and hive what I could salvage. I did and then had to physically release the queen myself after the bees didn't get her out three days later.

I left them alone for a while and decided to give them some time and space. That was probably NOT the best idea as it turns out because I don't know if the new queen was sick or injured or WHAT but when I finally went back to check on them about three weeks later, there was NO queen activity AT ALL. There should have been lots of eggs and brood by then in the hive body if all was well but there was nada, nothing, zippo. Just a reasonable mass of bees buzzing around still.

I called Rossman Apriaries up and thankfully they did still have queens. Twenty five dollars and two days later I had another new queen and I popped her cork and plunked her down into the hive. I checked a couple of days later and the bees had eaten through the sugar cap and she was out, supposedly to start doing her queenly duty.

I moved the hive back behind the barn this spring before this whole fiasco started thinking I would be more apt to keep an eye on them if they were closer and it wasn't such a hassle to schlep out there all the time.

I didn't treat the hive with anything last fall or this whole year and decided what would be would be. I just don't want to use those Apistan strips anymore. They are a nerve agent from what I've read and I just don't think that's probably a good idea really. Sure they'll keep the varroa mites at bay, but at what cost? I just don't know. You can't eat the honey that they strips have come in contact with but can eat the honey that the bees produce after the strips have been removed. You can't tell me there isn't still probably Apistan in there.

Anyway, today I finally went out there in the stinking heat and opened up the hive hoping for the best but it was not to be or bee. There were no bees, a few dead one's on the bottom of the hive, a bunch of roaches running for cover, a bazillion ants and several maggots from the wax moths that were preparing to take over the residence. That was all I could take. I cut the out every comb from every frame, scraped the whole hive down and cleaned it up as best I could in my pissy state and piled it up in the barn against the wall.

I kept one big bucket of wax thinking I might try to make a solar wax melter and melt it down, but do I even really want to use that wax for anything if some of it's had the Apistan strips near it? I don't know. I Googled solar wax melters and my heart just isn't in it. I piled the really gross wax comb up in the woods for whatever wants it. Knock yourselves out wax moths.

My bee suit is tumbling around in the dryer right now after it's first and only every washing. Maybe I'll use it next time I paint. Or to clean the chicken coop.

I'm done with bees for a while.

At least until spring, when the bug bites again...or maybe not. I'm feeling pretty disgruntled right now. I'm thinking I'll just buy my honey from someone who knows what the heck he's doing and has much more patience than me. I think I need pets with fur or feathers. Or maybe not any at all.

God Bless the beekeepers.

They need it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

First Day of School

Yesterday was Grace's first day at big school. Well it was PreK but still, it was at the Niangua Elementary school instead of the church daycare so we call it big school. She's been pretty emotional the past couple of weeks as we counted it down but excited too. We went Tuesday night for "sneak peek" and she got to see her new class room and meet her new teacher Mrs. Duboise. Mrs. D is the tiniest and nicest little teacher I've ever seen. I think they'll all get along well.

Grace asked me why her teacher was so little and I told her that was just how God made her so she could be a preschool teacher. Grace can NOT pronounce her last name so she's just been calling her Teacher. Seems logical.

Grace still isn't too sure of everything, but she should get to ride the school bus in the morning if everything works out. I know WE survived riding the school bus, but I just can't help imagining her getting off that bus at school and not knowing what to do or where to go and since she doesn't speak particularly clearly, I know it will be hard for her to be understood, if she even will speak up.

Where do you draw the line between Mama Cougar Stalky Mom and Mama Free Range Kid?

I hope we find it soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Mystery of the Secret Ingredient

Grace has been watching a LOT of Scooby Doo lately. In fact, our entire DVR is filled with it and hunting shows right now. Sunday evening we had our own little mystery and thanks to some quick super sleuthing the mystery was solved asap.

I spent WAY too much time struggling over our "local" lasagna to freeze for book club next week and then foolishly decided to make chicken and noodles for us for dinner Sunday night. This was Grace's request. If you ask her what we should fix for dinner it's almost always chicken and noodles.

I put a half chicken into the stew pot with some herbs from our garden and set it to boiling while I was doing six other things. I had a couple of bags of chicken stock saved in the freezer from previous chicken dinners and sat it out on the counter too. I'm notorious for saving little bits of this and that in the freezer in ziplocks of which I hardly EVER label.

The afternoon progressed and the Hugglers were visiting with us while we cooked supper. We tried to get them to stay for dinner but they had other chores at home to tend to.

Bryon pretty much put together all the ingredients I'd pulled from the freezer: carrots from our garden, chicken stock and the diced organic celery I'd just bought. He assembled it all and boiled the noodles up while I did ... well I don't even remember what I did but I'm sure it was vastly important.

As everything came to a climax he asked while looking thoughtfully into the cookpot, "Um, why did you put potato chunks into the chicken noodle soup?"

"I didn't." I answered and came over to investigate. Hmmm, sure LOOKED like potato chunks. "I did NOT put potatoes into the soup," I said again. "Maybe the garden carrots just lost their color in the freezing, thawing, cooking process?" I ventured.

"No, no," he said trying to puzzle it out. And finally he says, "It's pineapples. There are pineapples in the chicken noodle soup." Hmmm, guess that's what happens when you don't label.

Luckily he fished them all out (about a dozen in total) and I was the guinea pig who tasted it first. Tasted delicious. No trace of pineapple at all.

I laughed so hard I almost threw up. Well, I laughed AFTER it turned out okay. I would have just thrown up otherwise after all that hard work!

I told him no one ever had to know about this little fiasco, lest my loyal readers see behind the Wizard's curtain and learn what a screw up I am sometimes.

Of course, I can't keep a secret of any kind so here it is for all to see.

The Mystery of the Secret Ingredient was solved and all was well.

Scooby Dooby Doo.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chicken Update: August

We let the hens out to free range yesterday and BOY HOWDY were they happy. It was the first time they had been free in months. Probably about six months. I'm too lazy to go back through the blogs and figure it out.

The garden is fenced and the ding dang squirrels have been eating all the tomatoes anyway so we figured we didn't have too much to lose. The hens are starting to molt for the first time so they are looking pretty rough. I thought they need a little pickmeup.

I swear all that trouble and turmoil with those tomatoes, first the seed starting fiasco, then finally buying plants from Baker and now we have AWESOME huge plants and lots of green tomatoes that end up in the dirt every day with bites out of them from what could only be SQUIRRELS.

Color me NOT happy.

I told Bryon he may have to take a vacation day and sit out there and pick them off one by one.

I'm about ready to build a six foot fence around the garden, cover it in chicken wire and put a cage top over it. Extreme yes, but seriously, how much more can we be expected to take?

Sure we live in the middle of the woods but these animals just aren't fearfully respectful enough of our dominion. We are scary mean creatures who wish them harm, seriously.

At least the chickens had a good day.

Ruger, however, was penned up all day. The twain shall not meet so one of them had to take one for the team. It was Ruger. I finally let him out after the hens roosted and he was prancing around like he just discovered birds for the first time. He sniffed EVERYTHING they touched the whole day. He was pretty excited about the whole thing. We probably ruined his bird hunting skills yesterday.

On another birdy note, one of the quail flew the coop last week as well. I opened it up to haul out their soiled waterer and out it flew. I knew it was just a matter of time before it happened but it was still surprising. Grace and I tried to catch it but it was a goner. I'm not sure if it's still alive of if Ruger finally tracked it down but I haven't seen it in several days. I'll be it was wishing it was back in the coop after a night out. I figured it was probably the ONE quail that was laying eggs but we have since had several little eggs so I guess not.

The rabbit hutch is not necessarily the best setup for the quail considering I have to open the whole top up to get into the thing to clean, feed and water but for now I guess it's going to have to do until I can convince Bryon to build me an even BIGGER chicken tractor for my fryers.

After much reflection, questioning and consternation, I finally called this morning and ordered a dozen more Cornish Cross chicks. Sorry to disappoint you Liz, I didn't get the Buff Orpingtons, and here is why...

I asked my farmy hippie friend Liz what contribution I was really making to the "cause" of real, natural and clean food by buying heritage or heirloom breeds of chickens if we just plan to eat them anyway and not try to propagate the species. Liz's thoughts are that by not demanding or supporting the production of the greatly hybridized Cornish Crosses (think Tyson chicken here) and demanding slower growing but heirloom or heritage breeds instead ultimately it will come down to supply and demand. If people don't WANT the crazy Cornish Crosses, they'll stop producing them.

I know in my heart, she's probably right in her thoughts, but ultimately it comes down to what I CAN do and what I CAN NOT do with the small amount of time I have to "farm" and work a full time job too. If I can spend 6 weeks taking care of chickens, morning and night, and still feed my family "natural" and healthy foods apposed to spending three-four months doing it. I think that is time better spent, for me at least. Besides that, Bryon says he can't help butcher chickens during deer season (when the Buff's would have been ready for slaughter). I could do it myself or ask someone to help me, but for this time I decided it's just going to be better for us all to stick with the freaks.

The deciding factor was talking with Cody from Real Food Farms on Friday at the Marshfield Farmer's Market.

They are organic and can still justify raising Cornish Crosses. I gave Cody the Liz argument and he sees it that the biggest challenge is not necessarily in WHAT you raise but how you raise it. Not confined to a chicken sized cage unable to move or forage at all, never seeing the daylight and being fed chicken byproducts, antibiotics and worse.

For the record, this was also part of Bryon's original argument. But of course, like all good journalists, I have to have a least three sources before I take his word for anything. It drives him crazy, but what can I say, it's just inherent in my being. Luckily, he loves me anyway.

He also thinks we should be able to take advantage of the "improvements" in breeding that are to our benefit, ie large breasts, fast growth, minimal feathering for easier plucking. I still feel guilty about it.

Yesterday we had chicken and noodle soup and mashed potatoes. Most of the meal was from our farm: our chickens, our carrots, our herbs, our potatoes. I have to say it was pretty yummy.

If you are wondering what makes a chicken a Heritage Breed you can find out here: Cornish Crosses are like the chicken Anti-Christs.

So if we aren't "perfect" does that discount all the good changes we HAVE made. No. But it doesn't stop me from wanting to do and be better, so we'll just keep working on it. I can still have my heritage breed hens: Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpingons, Red Sussex and New Hampshire Red and we'll eat the Cornish Crosses. When these hens get old, I plan to have all Buff Orpingtons and get a Buff rooster, then maybe we can help the cause a little more.


Tomorrow is the last day for Grace at First Kids. Wednesday morning she'll begin her school career at Niangua. She's going to be going to all day preschool there. They actually only have a 1/2 day program, morning and then afternoon, but have given permission for her to attend all day. We aren't sure what that means exactly for lunch time or "nap time". I'm thinking she just won't really have a nap time which will probably be okay with her even though she's still been taking a 2 hour nap every day at First Kids.

She's been pretty upset about it all. We've tried to prepare her telling her how fun it will be and exciting but we know it's scary to her too. She's been at First Kids since she was 12 weeks old and Miss Sandy (her absolute favorite teacher ever) has been there every morning of that time to greet her with a hug and smile.

Grace has been very emotional at bed time for the past few weeks. She's been crying a lot and says it's because she misses her friend Riley who left daycare in the spring to stay with her dairy farming daddy. We thought she was scared because she's been watching too much Scooby Doo. Grace says no to the Scooby Doo theory. She knows the monsters are only guys in masks.

Last week one night as I was putting her to bed she said. "I'm not going to big school and you can't make me." I said, "Yes you are and Yes I can." We decided to not talk about it anymore that night.

It's been very heavy on her mind. Last Monday they "promoted" at FKs and she moved to the coveted B Hall. They split up the class and Andrew (her best bud since the beginning) is the only regular in that class now. Her friend Mattie went to the other class.

This morning when I took her to class, we walked in and she said she didn't want to go (meaning Niangua) and started sobbing. Real heart wrenching sobs. I got all teary too. I tried not to but what can you do? I'm a weeper. Miss Chasity finally took her to the door to wait and wave at me as I drove off.

That was the worst crying she's done when I left since day one. It was a killer.

I figure tomorrow will likely be more of the same and I don't know what the heck will happen on Wednesday when I drop her off at Niangua.

We go tomorrow night for "sneak peek" and to meet her teacher, see the room etc. etc. etc.

I want to go with her.

I don't think they'll let me.

It sucks.

I talked to Mom this morning and told her what was going on and I told her I didn't remember my first day of school. She says I was rearing to go. I certainly don't remember it being traumatic and it obviously didn't scar me for life.

I hope this doesn't and won't either. It probably won't...much.

Mom said it was harder for her than me. Boy do I see THAT now.

If feel like I'm leading a lamb to slaughter. I want her to be confident and tough which of course she IS, but change is scary and this is her first big kid change that could set the tone for how she sees changes to come.

We went to Walmart yesterday and bought her school supplies, a new outfit and a new lunch box. That was the FUN part! Now comes the hard part... actually going.

I'm hoping she can eat lunch with Ashton our neighbor who she knows briefly and will be entering Kindergarten. Ashton's folks have the dairy farm next door and about a million kitties. Grace LOVES those cats. They will at least have some things in common. I'm also going to ask if she could nap with the Kindergarten kids. I don't know if they'll let her or not but it's worth a shot.

We'll know much more tomorrow night I hope.

It may be a long Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Change is good, right?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Oh South Dakota!

We had a great vacation to South Dakota last week. We left July 24 and got home Thursday night. We went to the fair Friday night, stayed home Saturday and finished out the vacation with church today and a long nap and swimming for Bryon and Grace and Food Inc. at the Moxie and Borders in Springfield for me. It was a great vacation. I do NOT want to go back to work, alas, I still have not won the lottery so off to work I go tomorrow.

We left at 4 am Friday and drove straight through to Hill City, SD (Mt. Rushmore basically) on Friday and got into town about 10 pm. We travelled with the Shockley's most of the way with stops to the Corn Palace and Wall Drug and then parted ways just before the Badlands. We went on through the Badlands even though it was getting late and Bryon and Grace even managed to get in a little hike down a few canyons while we were there. The landscape was really amazing.

We sure packed a lot into our trip and pretty much wore out South Dakota. We went to Mt. Rushmore for the lighting ceremony Sunday night and had all the kids together even though it was too dark in this picture to see Mt. Rushmore in the background. Of course our camera battery died just as Bryon was about to take a lighted photo of the monument.

I have about a million photos, okay actually 337, at if you are really incredibly bored and would like to see them. You can also see them on the link on the right of the page if that doesn't work.

We saw the Corn Palace, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Deadwood, Sturgis, Needles, the 1880 Train from Hill City to Keystone and back, the Circle B Chuckwagon, Spearfish and Spearfish Canyon, Devils Tower, Reptile Gardens, Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, SD. Mom and I almost had to get into a fist fight over our pathetic massages at the Springs Bath House in Hot Springs, SD. Suffice it to say they now have a blistering "review" on their Google site. If you would like the entire sordid story you can read it here

It was a deal.

All and all it was a really great trip. Grace was awesome and didn't whine or complain the entire time. Neither did Nana, ha! It was great having Mom along and I hope we can have more trips like it.

There is a great rails to trails trail out there called the Mickelson Trail It's 109 miles long and someday I would like to go back to ride it on our mountain bikes. I think we could do it in three days. We won't, however, be staying in Hot Springs. We had planned to stay in Hot Springs the bulk of the trip but after a quick appraisal of what there was or actually was NOT to do in that town we changed plans and only spent one night. Which after our massage fiasco we were REALLY glad about.

We went back to Hill City with no place to stay three days before the 69th Annual Sturgis Bike Rally. We totally lucked out and stayed at the nicest and cheapest cabins of the trip at the Trail's End Cabins just off the main street in town. It was cheap, clean and quiet.

Probably the most exciting part of the trip was on the way back from Devils Tower. We were going about 80 at about 10 pm a half mile from Sturgis on the main highway when a HUGE mountain lion ran right in front of our Pacifica. The thing was ENORMOUS and took up the entire lane! Bryon realized in retrospect it had been sitting on the shoulder as we approached but his brain didn't register what it was until it leaped out in front of use. He slammed on the brakes and it was the longest two seconds of the trip while that lion leaped across the road. I don't know how we didn't hit the thing but Bryon and I sure got the ENTIRE full view in the headlights from the front seat. It was AWESOME to see.

It was the third cat Bryon had seen in his life and the first for me in the wild. Bryon and Gary actually saw one about a 1/2 mile from our HOUSE a few weeks ago. People had been telling us for years that they'd seen one before in our front field by the highway but we'd never seen it or any sign of one. Bryon and Gary were coming home from looking for deer one night and saw a coyote in the field by our neighbor's orchard and then there against the trees they saw a mountain lion too. I have to admit I'm a little more wary about Grace being outside playing alone now, and the other night she said there was something in the woods by her playground. I made her come inside. It probably wasn't anything other than a squirrel, but you never know.

So now, here I am, up too late the night before going back to work. I'll probably end up sleeping in Nana's room because chances are Bryon is already snoring...

Life is back to normal... and life is good.