Pigging Out

Two days before we went on our annual Vacation On The Beach, our friend Bernie the Pig Farmer and his wife, Amie, stopped by for a visit.  They’d come all the way from New Hampshire, just to have a look at Bubble and see how she was doing.

We were immensely grateful for this because Bernie just knows so gosh darned much about pigs.  We thought for sure he’d be able to tell how soon she’d be pigging out and whether she looked good in every other way.

She didn’t.

Bubble, trying to deliver a ten-pound poohglet

Bubble, trying to deliver a ten-pound poohglet

Bernie looked her over and decided that all was well; until he got to her backside.

“What’s going on there?” he asked, pointing to a large, impacted collection of poop causing her rear to bulge horribly.

“Yeah, that’s been like that for about a week.”

“She hasn’t pooped in a week?”

“No, she has; but then it just goes back to looking like that.  Is that bad?”

“Yeah… that’s nawt good.  We gotta get that outta her.  Get a board and a bucket of warm, soapy water.”


And so we cornered her in the shed, where Bernie unceremoniously removed every last bit of that unwholly agglomeration.

Next, I got to chuck bucketfuls of soapy water at her butt.  

And THEN she was ready to pig out.

But Bernie and Amie felt certain that there was little chance she’d go while we were away.  Judging by her demeanor and her teats, they said, she likely had one to three weeks.  This was wonderful news!  We could go away for our annual Vacation On The Beach and not worry about a) missing the birth or b) not being there to handle any issues that might arise.

What a relief.

We left that Sunday and had prepped our caretakers with all the information we thought they would need to handle the pigs, goats, chickens, and gardens.  We’d stocked up on feed and hay and even posted notes here and there to make the process easier.  After all, these fine folks are also on vacation; animal care should be fun and simple, right?


Bubble and her brood

Bubble and her brood

They awoke Wednesday morning to find 11 pink and healthy piglets and one slightly blue, not so healthy one.

We couldn’t believe it.

Thankfully, our friends handled the situation like the pros that they most certainly aren’t and we didn’t even have to drive back home once.  They managed to separate the dying piglet (an emotionally Herculean task in and of itself), run a length of fencing to separate Squeak from Bubble and the babes, run another length of electric wire because Squeak continued to bust through the fencing, extend the hose for watering, compost the placenta, and, in the middle of it all, discard our long-suffering chicken who finally died after weeks of staring at the wall in the mud room all day.

Meanwhile, we were at the beach.

As a further boon to our particular good luck, Jeff Bush happens to know his way around a camera and, as a result, the rest of this post will be filled with adorable pictures of piglets.  Enjoy!

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Back in December, we put down a deposit on a one-week beach vacation for the end of August.

This will mark the ninth consecutive year that we’ve rented the same house and, every year, friends and family join us for what is always a lovely and memorable time.  The house itself is big enough to comfortably accommodate 10-12 folks.

There will be 17 of us there this year.

This may be pushing it, but this is probably our last time there and, well, we like to push it.

Going on any vacation necessarily means leaving behind our responsibilities for a time.  This is, more or less, the point of going in the first place.  Europeans seem to understand this concept far better than we Americans, but many Americans seem to understand it far better than I.

I have such a hard time leaving.

And it’s not because I don’t want to leave (because I really, really want to leave), but this year is proving even harder that those previous.  While our Brooklyn restaurant is in uber-competent hands, we are only two weeks away from the opening of our newest venture, a cheese and specialty foods shop in Chatham, New York.

Opening a new business of any kind at any time is daunting and exhausting and stressful.  Leaving for a week on the beach immediately prior to opening is straight-up Crazytown.

But the money was spent and the plans were made and the friends are coming and we’re doing it and it’s going to be relaxing if it kills me.


The Perpetually Pregnant Pig

Oh, and did I mention that Bubble the Pig is still pregnant?

Obviously, we were mistaken when we thought that she had conceived back in March, which would have had her pigging out on July 17th.

If you know the exact date of conception, then you know the exact date of birth.  Pig gestation is always three months, three weeks, and three days.

They are like the pound cake of the animal world. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pound_cake)

But, apparently we were VERY wrong about the date of conception.  As it turns out, pigs don’t get pregnant just because they’ve been porked, as it were.  As with humans, it takes as many tries as it takes.  In Bubble’s case, it took at least a month; perhaps longer.

So, as we start to think about packing our bags, we have to wonder whether there will be piglets born while we’re away and, if so, how our house guests/farm sitters will be able to handle that situation.  We’ve set them up with as much information on the bees, chickens, goats, and gardens as we could, but the enormous x-factor is Bubble and her piglets.

Bubble and Squeak, in the marriage bed

Bubble and Squeak, in the marriage bed

And Squeak.

We were encouraged by Bernie the Pig Farmer to separate the two pigs as Bubble gets closer and closer to pigging out.  The possibility of Squeak trying to mount her and causing a miscarriage of sorts should be avoided.  Also, rumor has it that once the final piglet is born, Squeak will climb mountains to start trying mate with Bubble again (which, in and of itself is like climbing a mountain) and could inadvertently hurt or kill a piglet in the process.

The wire and hog fence depression-maker

The wire and hog fence depression-maker

We separated them with a length of electric wire and another length of hog fencing.

While this successfully kept them separated, it also kept them both utterly despondent.  Our usually smiling and friendly pigs became sullen and brooding.

It was totally depressing.

After four days, we couldn’t take it anymore and we took the fence away.

Now, we just have to hope for the best for the piglets, Bubble, and our house guests that everything works out in a lovely, death-free way.

If you need me, I’ll be on the beach.

Probably worrying.



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I was looking around my Facebook feed the other day and noticed a post by a friend. She had posted Something Awful and was asking folks to sign a petition to help make the Something Awful stop.

These kinds of posts bother me tremendously for two reasons: 1) I cannot stand to see intensely important, awful, and sometimes criminal things pop up when I don’t expect it over my morning coffee, and 2) while I completely see the need to raise awareness about a whole host of issues, I don’t necessarily agree that random Facebook posts are the appropriate forum.

In this spirit, about a minute after the original post went up, one of my friend’s friends responded in the comment field, “Done!”

And this bothered me as well.

It occurred to me that we have become a society, largely through the fault/assistance of social media, that interacts with the world at large by skirting the periphery. This woman read the story (or watched the video, or got the gist of it by scanning the article, etc.) and then took a moment to click some links and fill in some fields to cast her vote against (or perhaps for legislation banning) whatever the Something Awful happened to be.

And then she went on with her life, presumably feeling that she had Done! something that contributed in a meaningful way to the problems of the day.

And maybe she had.

But, I have to say that I’m not sold. I find it difficult to believe that clicking a link on the computer from your kitchen table will stop Something Awful from happening. I truly hope that I am wrong.

But this is not what this post is about.

This post is about what the woman who wrote “Done!” made me realize about my life and my responsibilities lately.

These days have been considerably busier than before (for the record, before was plenty busy). Now, in addition to the farm, we are into year ten of owning a reasonably popular Brooklyn restaurant, year 14 of keeping two children alive, and year one of opening and running a cheese and specialty foods shop in Chatham, New York.

Because getting a new venture up and running is a full-time job on its own, all the other stuff seems to take a back seat. The problem is that there isn’t much on a farm of any size that can take a back seat to anything because a farm is comprised totally of living things.

Since we aren’t (completely) horrible humans, all of our animals remain well-cared for, always receiving plenty of food and water and treats and love. The gardens, however, have received the lion’s share of the neglect we have to offer. This is where the “something’s gotta give” seems to have given.

The other day, we finally committed to, roughly, six straight hours of weeding.

The weedy, weedy broccoli patch

The weedy, weedy broccoli patch

On an organic farm, weeds are king. Unless you have A LOT of spare time or a staff of full-time weeders at your disposal, weeds will be a large part of your life.

If you actually manage to find the time to attend to it, however, there is something really gratifying about getting down in the dirt and dealing with them.

We managed to get through the carrots, radishes, brussels sprouts, half the kale, the majority of the delicata squash, and the broccoli.

When I started the broccoli, it was a challenge to determine where the broccoli rows even were.

Weed-free broccoli!

Weed-free broccoli!

The weeds had fairly taken over and so I hunkered down to the hugely daunting task, pulling weeds that were more abundant and certainly larger than the edible plants themselves.

But, when the job was complete, the pigs had quite the feast and it really did seem like something had been accomplished.  These plants now stood a chance.  A difference had most certainly been made.

All this, without the push of a button.



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Goat Milk?

Janie The Precocious Goat is still making milk.

Back at the beginning of May, I wrote a piece about Janie making milk without having been bred (you can read that post here: http://applewoodfarm.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/shes-not-kidding/).  At the time, we really didn’t know whether the milk would continue and, for a while, it did seem to taper off.  A couple of weeks ago, however, I noticed that her bags were REALLY FULL and she clearly needed to be milked.

Since we hadn’t milked in several weeks, I did the ol’ pump-n-dump (a favorite for breastfeeding mommies who went ahead and had that second glass of wine, thank you very much), contributing the milk to the bottomless charity that is the pig trough.  This system went on over the next week or so; Janie would need to be milked every other day and the milk would be immediately donated to the pigs.

Then, last week, I went to feed the goats, saw Janie’s milk-packed udders, and realized I’d forgotten to bring a container.

The thing about goats (ours anyway) is that once you’ve gotten within 100 feet of them and/or they’ve heard your voice, there is no going back.  The bleating starts in earnest and they run around as though they’ve been trapped and abandoned forEVER and they have not had anything to eat since last month, and I don’t care what you forgot, get in here NOW!

So, I looked around for something improvisational.

The only even remotely possible substitute was the plastic quart container (think Chinese soup take-out vessel) that we use to scoop their feed/alfalfa mixture.  A total absence of choices always makes decisions easy.

Milking Janie, backwards, on the stanchion

Milking Janie, backwards, on the stanchion

Now, unlike most goats, Janie will not be milked in the stanchion.  She hates it.

I can’t say that I blame her, really.  I don’t imagine it is pleasant to have your head locked in a brace that prevents you from moving, even if there is a bunch of food right in front of you.

Luckily for me, she will allow herself to be milked as long as we do it wherever she happens to be at the time.

Sometimes she’ll actually stand right on the stanchion, but backwards.  I have to admit, I kind of admire that level of defiance.

So, I’m milking her into the quart container and she’s got A LOT of milk this time.  As I’m going along and the foam settles, I realize that I’m precariously close to the lip of the container and Janie’s bags are still quite full.  Hmmm…

I stop for a moment, bring the container around to her face, and let her smell it.

She dips her tongue tentatively into the warm froth and then, without hesitation, she literally sinks her entire muzzle into the container and almost drains it within seconds.

And now there is room in the container for me to finish milking her.

Sometimes these things work themselves out.

We go along like this for a day or two before I get a call from my friend Sue.  Sue is connected to a wonderful wildlife sanctuary nearby called The Wildlife Center.  She is wondering if we have any goat milk to spare for a small group of fawns who are being rehabilitated and cared for prior to being released back into the wild in a month or so.

Well, Sue… funny you should ask.

So, we start milking Janie to SAVE BABY DEER!  We went from chucking it into the pig trough, to returning it right back into the goat from whence it came, to really making a huge difference for four beautiful fawns.

Sure, it'll probably get hit by a car or shot by a hunter, but for NOW… so cute.

Sure, it’ll probably get hit by a car or shot by a hunter, but for NOW… so cute.

The girls and I had the good fortune to meet said fawns during today’s milk drop-off.

And before you go on and on about how the deer population is out of control and the last thing we need are MORE deer and isn’t this all just nature’s way of dealing with a problem… just look at how sweet they are.

I’d never come into physical contact with a not-dead deer before.  They are soft and sweet and beautiful and friendly and they chew on everything.

In fact, the fawn pictured here was trying to eat the button right off the pants I was wearing–the same button that the goats are always angling for.

They are like some perfect dog-goat hybrid and I’m pleased to be able to help give them a running start before hunting season.


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These Chicks Have Two Mommies (or, It Takes a Village)

One by one, our hens have gone broody over the past two months. Fifteen new chicks have joined our flock in that time, hatched from four broody mamas.

And now there are even more.

These new chicks came from a clutch of nine eggs that had been started by a broody hen who gave up on being broody after a couple of days. I don’t know whether she got bored or distracted or just had a change of heart about becoming a parent, but whatever her reason, she left one day for a pack of smokes and never came back.

Two broody hens, sitting on nothing but pine shavings.

Two broody hens, sitting on nothing but pine shavings.

As luck would have it, two of our other hens went broody that same day. They plopped themselves side by side in the small coop and hunkered down for a sit. The only problem was that neither of them was on any eggs.

You’d be amazed at how unimportant the presence of actual eggs seems to be to a hen ready for sitting. I always wonder if they think the chicks will appear miraculously at some point; I certainly do my best to help maintain the illusion.

Noticing this shift in parentage, I grabbed the nine abandoned eggs and stuffed five under one hen and four under the other. Then we all waited three weeks to see how many MORE chicks we’d have (answer: seven).

But here’s the really interesting/weird/unusual/it-takes-a-village/co-parenting/communal-living/when-two-hens-love-each-other-very-very-much part: The two mamas are almost never out of direct physical contact with one another.

This is exceptionally strange because new mama hens are territorial, hyper-protective, and even aggressive, if need be.  They typically want no one, hen nor human, anywhere near their babies.  I’ve never seen one act any other way.

Until these ladies.


Raising chicks the Dr. Sears way

All of their eggs hatched within eight hours of each other.  Another eight or so hours later, I moved them each down to a crate on the floor with their respective chicks.  When I checked back later, they had moved themselves together.

I decided that the one hen must have moved because the sideways bin was easier to access than the upright milk crate.  I figured they’d eventually come to some sort of highly-evolved, civil agreement that would sort itself out in the form of a shared living arrangement that suited everyone.

But, no.

Outdoor snuggly antics

Outdoor snuggly antics

This morning, they took their snuggly antics outside.

And lest you, dear reader, are misled to believe that these ladies are too besotted with one another to care properly for their young, please rest assured this is not the case.

If you look closer, you will see evidence that they are not only snuggled together, they are also snuggled atop their (now shared) clutch of newborns.

All seven of the little ones are tucked safely underneath both mamas.

The Gang of Nine

The Gang of Nine

And this Gang of Nine goes nowhere without each other.

At no time does one mama break away from the pack with her own chicks.

I’m starting to wonder whether they even know which chicks were hatched by whom.

I’m starting to think that neither of them really cares.

And I’m really starting to wonder if this hen couple wasn’t already a couple long before being further united by broodiness.  I mean, this whole story reads quite a lot like our two girlfriends who wanted children and found a sperm donor and ended up with triplets.

I’m just sayin’.



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How to Hard Cook an Egg

We harvested our garlic today.

Garlic is one of the few crops that seems to require almost no farming experience, to say nothing of its self-sufficiency.

You don’t need to weed garlic; heck, you don’t even need to water garlic. It is the only crop we have that grows exactly like a weed. Except way more delicious.

For the past three years, we’ve planted garlic in the late-autumn/early-winter and then harvested it sometime in July. From each harvest, we selected the biggest, firmest, most beautiful cloves to set aside for seed garlic for the next year’s planting–an exercise in allium eugenics that would’ve made Francis Galton proud.

You can't make this stuff up.  Oh, wait... yes you can!

You can’t make this stuff up. Oh, wait… yes you can!

And that exercise has paid off. This year’s garlic harvest is unquestionably the most fantastic and robust so far.

From the 200 or so plants we (Dave, actually… I wasn’t even home) pulled today, we’ll again choose the biggest, fattest ones to set aside for the fall.  Estimating roughly five cloves to a head, we choose however many heads will give us the yield we want for next summer.  Since we can’t seem to leave well enough alone, I’m guessing we’ll be looking at stashing somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 heads so we can have 300 plants.

Because… y’know… that’s even more.

But what does any of this have to do with hard-cooking eggs?  Well, let me tell you.

So, to make room on the drying rack for today’s harvest, we had to take down the remnants of last year’s harvest.  There were roughly two dozen heads left–scraggly, humiliated looking things that had been left on the drying rack (in the barn rafters) over the endless and freezing winter.  The resulting product was frozen, yet usable; but not plump or pretty, to say the least.


Frozen, yet usable. Not plump or pretty.

I grabbed a large egg carton to hold the heads as I cleaned them.   As I was cutting away the stems and roots of last year’s leftovers to prep them for storage, I noticed instructions printed on the inside lid of the carton.  It said, “HOW TO HARD COOK AN EGG.”

Intrigued, I paused from my bulb bathing to see what wisdom the box lid would impart.

And, wouldn’t you know it, the box lid gave horrible advice!

When you can’t even trust the inside lid of your egg carton, who is there left to trust, really?


How NOT to Hard Cook an Egg

Anyway, what it said was the same thing almost all of us were taught from our mothers, home-economics teachers, and even (yes, it’s true) culinary school chef-instructors.

It said to put the eggs into cold water and bring it to a boil.  It said that once it’s boiling, to cover it with a lid, remove it from the heat, and let it sit for 12 minutes.  It said to cool the eggs under running water and then peel.  And then, in the added “TIPS” section just below, it said that if your eggs are difficult to peel, you can roll them in your hands to crack the shell.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to call Shenanigans! on this misleading bit of direction.

We all know that this method doesn’t always work; it has frustrated countless humans; it is imperfect and there has to be a better way.

And there is.

And here it is.

HOW TO HARD COOK AN EGG:  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add eggs.  Boil for 15 minutes.  Cool eggs immediately in an ice bath.  Peel.  That’s it.

I personally guarantee that if you do this exactly this way, every single egg you ever hard-boil for the rest of your days will be perfectly cooked and ridiculously easy to peel, every single time.

And if I’m wrong, I’ll give you a head of garlic.



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Ripe for Renewal

Growing up, I had two brothers and three first cousins with whom we were very close.  The six of us didn’t see one another very often, but when we did get together, it was fun and familiar and the connections were strong.

As we grew older and went our separate ways, we saw less and less of each other.  In 1992, my first nephew was born.  He was the first child born to any of the six cousins.

Immediately following his birth, my aunt (the writer Sue Sussman http://www.susansussman.net/), wrote a letter to my brother and his wife.  As a writer, she had some lovely turns of phrase and beautiful insights.  The one that stuck with me to this day, however, was her comment that our family was “ripe for renewal” and that Judge’s birth signalled the start of that renewal.

Now, 13 children total comprise the next generation of our family, ranging in age from five to 21.  We have been sufficiently renewed.

I thought of Sue and that phrase today as Dave and I were setting up The Chicken Nursery.

As you may or may not know, we have endured a spate of chicken losses over the past couple of weeks and we’ve really, quite frankly, had enough.

As fate would have it, all but two of our broody hens have hatched their eggs over the past three days.  We have now replaced our seven losses with ten beautiful new chicks, all snuggling with their mamas in (what we hope is) their safe new enclosure.

The chicken renewal is decidedly cuter than our human one (no offense, kids).

Here are several pictures of mama hens and their adorable, newly-hatched chicks for your viewing pleasure.

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