Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Springing Up All Over

I stole a few minutes before and after my visit at the farm this evening for a much needed dose of sunshine. While I was soaking up all those rays, I spent a little time looking around, indulging my senses. The sounds, sights, smells and textures were luscious. In my home garden, the rhubarb is just exploding her tart self upward toward the sun; I wanted to divide her this year. I wonder how that will affect this year's production. Last year's mint is sprinting toward the lawn. I'm OK with that, as I consider lawns to be a waste of time; I'm all about biodiversity. The primroses came back, as joyful for spring as I am.
The plugs of sweet woodruff that I moved to the shady side yard have acclimated themselves nicely, and are spreading out toward the little sunny patch where I have my butterfly garden. Infant bee balm hangs on for the ride.
I was surprised by the pretty little plant below. I spotted it last year at our local reservoir. I've been calling it wintergreen for my entire life. I looked it up in my Peterson Field Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, and found that it's actually called Partridgeberry, or Squaw Vine. A very pretty plant. I brought home a small sample to photograph, because I didn't have my camera with me at the reservoir. Silly me.
The BIG find of the day was this funny, gelatinous fungus I found while following a deer path. Isn't it dramatic? It's called, appropriately enough, "Orange Jelly", and likes conifers. I found that in Bill Russell's Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid Atlantic. There were several patches of it there. It's pretty-much useless for human consumption, but I found it interesting to look at, and to poke gently with my finger. The white pine branches all around it (which had fallen in yesterday's wind storm) however, smelled wonderful, and do have traditional medicinal uses. You can look them up in Peterson's as well.
I find my walks in the woods to be so interesting and grounding; it's one of the times that I feel at my most immediate (a "Be Here Now" moment, for those of you who remember such things). I'm gong to try to make more time for them. They heal my winter-weary soul. I found myself laughing with the water, and thanking the skunk cabbage blossoms for being the first vegetable drama of the spring (our goat kids were the first animal drama). There can't be a more optimistic time of year. Is it any wonder we have our spring holidays now? I know I want to celebrate; celebrate new beginnings, the passage from dark into light, new birth, fecundity. Welcome, warm weather! Welcome, spring!

Goat Love

My good Farm Friend (and co goat-midwife) Amy is a new convert to the Flint Hill Farm School of Goat Love. She brought up the subject today. I believe the quote was "Everyone should spend an afternoon with the goats. Then they'd understand...there's goat love like there's dog love, and horse love like cat love." Well, I sure do believe in goat love, but if you ever asked a goat to sit or beg, they'd laugh at you. Or to stay? Never in a million years. But goats definitely love people they know, in their own goaty way. Take these goats below, for instance. Elvis, in the middle with the handsome hairdo, was visiting his ladies last summer. You see how they love to visit with friends? Unfortunately, this group was more interested in visiting than in working on this year's new kids. These girls seem to have taken the year off. The next group, however, later in the summer (August) got busy when they had a visit from George. George was way stinkier than Elvis; goat girls like that in a guy. Well, most goat girls. Faith, below, seems to have taken the year off as well. ("Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!")
The bigger goats were more successful at buddying up with George than the little girls; it may be wise to schedule two or more group visits next season, based upon the size of the does, so everyone gets some loving. Even though several of them don't seem to be pregnant, I haven't given up hope yet. The main birthing wave is certainly over, which may actually be a good thing; you should see the shenanigans those frisky kids are up to now! The barn has once again become a playground, with the momma goats functioning as jungle gyms and sliding boards. I'll post some new pictures of the little cuties tomorrow. In the mean time, I'd like to leave you with this:
A vision of things to come. From your friendly Caprine Lactation Specialist to you, with "Goat Love" (Thanks, Amy!)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pebbles' Secret

You may recall a close-up of this picture, which I posted on Wednesday, 3/24. Our girl Pebbles, with much vocalization and gnashing of teeth, delivered this healthy baby boy. Remember? When she was finished, we cleaned up, got the kid nursing, and went off to our various lives. Then there was Thursday. After school, I visited my mother and helped her out a little; I'll discuss that later. On Friday evening, I milked Pebbles because she only had the one kid. Her teats were plugged with some odd material that felt like cheese, so I removed it, and she gave almost a quart of beautiful, creamy milk. Hold that thought; it's more relevant than you know.
I attended a class with the master gardeners at the farm this morning, then hauled my good friend El and myself to the farmers' market in Gilbertsville, about an hour away. We make occasional pilgrimages there, for local meat and produce (in season), herbs, antiques, etc. We ended up spending the entire afternoon together. There were eggs to be bought, yard sales, thrift stores...I was in search of an old crib to repurpose as vine supports in my garden. El was looking for a certain piece of furniture for her sparsely furnished spare bedroom. We found lots of treasures, good food, and enjoyed an extended afternoon in the country. Upon our return, I dropped her at her car, then went back to Flint Hill to feed the goats. Miss "M", below, was there. She's a budding goat whisperer.
As I fed the goats, they clamored for my attention, as usual. Pebbles was particularly vocal, and I told her to calm down, that I'd get to her in a minute. Miss M asked me about Pebbles' baby, and asked me if she was going to have any more. I told her no, as the kid had been delivered several days before. M said that she thought Pebbles was going to have more babies. I kept feeding and watering the goats. M found something else to do outside.
Then all hell broke loose.
Pebbles started yelling again, and I glanced over at her; there were two little feet poking out! She had her baby on Wednesday! Today was Saturday! Was I confusing her with someone else? No...Pebbles has a very distinct voice, and she was using it. She was delivering AGAIN! I hollered for Kathy, and checked the position of the baby, who was lined up for the big dive. Pebbles started to push. Kathy came running. The human kids came running. Adult helpers came running. Miss "M", the budding goat whisperer, said "I TOLD YOU!" We delivered the first of THIS day's kids, another big boy, and Kathy checked deep inside and found another one! The final kid, a girl (HOORAY!) was born seconds later. Pebbles held out for three days!
Here's the happy family. Triplets. Baby buck #1, born 3/24. Baby buck #2 and his little sister, born 3/27. WOW.
Now, back to those teats. Do you suppose Pebbles might have been holding back her colostrum for her remaining kids? Although she nursed #1, she wasn't particularly interested in doing so, and he actually nursed from surrogate mommas in the pen with them. When I unplugged her and took that quart, I was amazed he had been getting anything from her; perhaps he hadn't. He's as healthy and vital a kid as they come, and is beating the two newborns to her udder now, BUT WE HAVE THAT QUART OF COLOSTRUM SAVED. Do you think she, in her infinite goaty wisdom, knew what she was doing? Nature is amazing. What a great day! And, Miss M...we grownups will listen more closely from now on. GOOD JOB!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Elvis...Has Left the Building.
(His Work is Done Here.)


Here's how it's been lately: one minute, the girls are calmly chewing their cuds, gossipping about the younger does, complaining about the noisy new kids and the buck that got them in this situation. The next minute, all hell breaks loose. This is "Guernica", by Pablo Picasso. Do you see that anguished horse in the middle of the painting? That could have been Pebbles. I was in the barn for a good hour, feeding, watering, checking udders, checking , checking, checking...walk away one minute, and I get called back to...GUERNICA. Pebbles was on her side with human attendants; human and goat hearts were racing, Pebbles was yelling, phone calls were being made. Cory located the front hooves and the little nose, so her kid was all lined up for his big dive...but that boy had ONE BIG HEAD. Poor Pebbles needed a little assistance, and assist we did.
And in about 10 minutes, we were rewarded with this big boy. He looks like he's a week old. And she looked like she was carrying triplets!(UPDATE:::SHE WAS!) After his head passed, it took one more contraction to push him into the world, with Cory clearing the way and me pulling (just a little bit). We cleared the mucous from his mouth, opened his airway, and just as I was getting ready to give him a breath, he took one on his own. The people in the barn cheered! Baby boy, born to Pebbles! YAY! He was on his feet in 5 minutes. He'll be reading and writing in an hour or two.
You know, if MY labor had lasted 10 minutes, and if I had delivered a kid who could stand up and go for her own dinner 10 minutes after being born, and if I had gotten applause upon delivery, my daughter might have had siblings. But I digress. He is awfully cute, isn't he? He joins the herd of his half-siblings. Check out some of the cuties we delivered this week, below; they look like their daddy, Elvis. I'll post a picture of him next, to remind you. He's pretty foxy. And he was pretty busy, apparently! What a stud.
That little guy in front with the lop ears just steals my heart. If I didn't live in a city, he'd be my house-goat. Darn city. They should just take a look at these sweethearts! They'd change their minds! And goats are so much tidier than dogs. God, I love my life right now; I'm so lucky to be a part of all this. Thank you, Kathy! Thank you, Nature! Thank you, Spring!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Georgia O'Keefe

She saw it; she had to, with her studies of lethal plants, bones, and desert places. That place on the edge, where life is precious. How very beautiful these things can be. How much they remind us that every breath is precious.
These are two of her Datura paintings; Angels' Trumpet is a Datura. aka: Jimson Weed. Deadly Beauty

On Balance

My friend Ron said it beautifully: "Some things of beauty just have to have that dark side associated with their natural condition. I suppose nature has the yin yan too!" We are nature. And, as beautiful as she is, she can be lethal. (Winter Aconite, below)

The beautiful Angels' Trumpet is poisonous. And exquisite. So is Datura. O'Keefe painted Angel's Trumpet. She saw the beauty; she also saw the beauty of bones and skyscapes. Certain beauties are both breathtakingly exquisite and literally breath-taking.

So here's my observation; it's obvious. Life is precious. Life is tenuous. For each perfect kid we rub dry and lead to the teat, there is the potential balance of loss; the stillborn kid, the badly positioned birth. As I've rubbed the living babies to vibrant health, I've wrapped a few still, never breathing infants in their soft-cloth shrouds. And sent them back to the cycle of nature with a prayer. I'm glad this doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
It's the potential for death that makes this life so bittersweet. A human baby is borne to an online friend; my neighbor's elderly mother is dying. I carried a still-wet goat-kid's body away yesterday, then returned to guide his newborn brother's mouth to their mother's udder. Sometimes it's too painful to bear; and sometimes it's bliss. I only know that we're all a part of it, and that life in its infinite wisdom, has a way of going on. Welcome, Vernal Equinox, with your symbolic dichotomy. Welcome, Spring.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Winter Aconite aka Eranthis

Many thanks to my new friend Marion, who found a friend that knows this plant. I've been looking everywhere, but wasn't able to find it. This is NOT a medicinal or edible plant; it's quite poisonous (and also quite beautiful).
You can read all about it HERE.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I've Lost Count.

Babies have been raining down all day,
And we're still not done. Darla and her pretty baby with its long, long legs....
I'm not sure who these two belong to, but they seem to be pretty comfortable.
Jazzy always makes pretty kids.
I'm waiting to see Faith's baby (or babies). I wonder how her brindle coat will mix with her Toggenburg buck's coat and how her Nubian form will mix with his. I can't wait...

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Last fall, a close friend of mine said that if she was a deer, she'd try to join a goat herd for hunting season. Deer are so similar to goats in form: they're like their more graceful, more photogenic cousins. I can relate. I had a few of them myself. I'm the "goat" to Linda, Margie and Debby's "deer". I'm OK being the goat...but the deer sure are pretty.
Just look at those legs. Those girls are super-models. From space.
You have to admire their tenacity. These deer are within city limits, yet they remain invisible during the day, and find a way to thrive. Such clever creatures. Our graceful cousins.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Four in One, with a Dozen or so Holding.

Is there anything more beautiful than this? Could there be? A perfect, safe and easy birth, two vital, lively little doelings, an attentive mama...and life goes on. I melted when I saw them. Moments later, their male counterparts: two perfect little boys that will grow to be herd-building bucks. Don't they look like tough little guys?
Both mamas and their kids. Claiming turf. Reminds me of West Side Story.
Seriously, this is the best and most passionate time of year. Can't you feel it? The sun on your back, the quickening of pulses, the promise of new life... Babies are being born, and things are stirring underground. Our minds and bodies are shaking off the winter sleep and waking to the new spring sun. We drink the air like a fresh spring tonic. So do these goaty girls, with their new broods and their first tastes of spring paddock. Life is Good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Today's Plants

Here it is again, folks: the MYSTERY FLOWER! This is the same plant that I photographed a few days ago, only now, instead of being in a wooded park area, it's in an herb garden. And the flowers are open. The leaf is the same. I need to know what it is. I must find out. I WILL find out.
I know that this one (below) is mullein. This was one of those "aha" moments , when I read about it in the herbals. I used to play with this plant as a kid. It grew by the railroad tracks across the street from my childhood home. So did chicory. But I didn't know that then. Mullein, according to "The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook" by James Green, Herbalist, is: "expectorant, an extremely beneficial respiratory remedy that tones the mucous membranes, reduces inflammation, and stimulates fluid production, thus facilitating expectoration." That's the teaser. Buy the book to find out more! Mullein. Who knew? I used to pretend it was a pet bunny. Right now, it feels exactly like a newborn goat kid's ear.
And last, but not least, the ubiquitous garlic mustard. You'll have to research that one yourself. Now that I've found it, I'll never confuse it with ground ivy again. They may look alike, but they FEEL different, and smell different too. I can't wait to try my foraged greens out tonight! What a wonderful time of year!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And Everything Emptying Into White

"I build my house from barley rice,
Green pepper walls, and water-ice,
Tables of paper-wood, windows of light;
And everything emptying into white."
I assisted at the delivery of twin goats today; beautiful, white babies. The first one wasn't positioned correctly, and after a very long effort on the part of both mama and her human staff, the little doe was delivered unsuccessfully. A sad moment for all. Seconds later, still numbed by our sorrow, Kathy helped deliver and revive her twin brother, a beautiful little white buckling. I'll insert photos tomorrow. I was actively involved, and ill-prepared for pictures.
Life is fraught with joy and pain; the loss of one infant, the birth of another. This close to the edge of that circle, you feel the exquisite emotions associated with each. It's horrible and beautiful. That moment of birth: you aren't, then you are. The little doeling died before her actual birth, from the trauma. The buck revived after seconds of inactivity: a flutter of an eye, a given breath, a gasp and shudder, and he was born intact. And it was beautiful. An hour later, he had forgotten his ordeal, and was being nuzzled by his week-old cousin. Mama was standing still, watching. Exhausted.
My husband once said that the most meaningful things occurred at the edges of things; the changes of states (liquid/solid); the membranes and interfaces that separate distinct areas are where the most meaningful change occurs. So here we have it; an extreme moment of new life, and loss, and the passion of creation all in a moment or two. Even with the loss, it's beautiful; part of the cycle. The little white buckling is vital and alive, and his sister will go back to the cosmic mix. Life goes on, and it's a miracle.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wildflower DuJour

Since beginning this herbalist course, I've become excruciatingly aware of the burgeoning life around me. This gang of boisterous little flowers was nearly rioting for my attention yesterday. I'm not sure what they are yet. May apples which have similar leaves have a single white flower, later in their cycle. I'm wondering if they're a wild yellow lupine? I'll check back in a week and see. Does anyone know what they might be (other than wonderful)?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Aloe There!

Aloe has been very, very good to me. I've always tried to keep an aloe plant nearby; first, because I liked their looks. After that, I learned about their healing effect on burns. As a late-teen, I sustained a bad burn on my forearm while I was baking a custard pie. The aloe healed it nicely. Aloe in the kitchen is a good idea.
When I moved to the Allentown area about 10 years ago, I noticed that the local Latino people were buying large aloe leaves in the grocery store. When I finally asked a lady how she prepared the aloe (I assumed it was a food), she indicated that she took it for her stomach. I searched the web, and found several entries about the use of aloe as a soothing plant for the digestive tract; the inner aloe gel, that is. The yellow sap under the skin is supposedly a strong laxative (though I haven't found that to be the case, personally). Below, you see the large aloe leaf from Elias, and my younger home aloe sitting on the toaster oven behind it. In the jars are sprout seeds: mung beans, alfalfa and radish.
To begin, cut the aloe in pieces then remove the spines with a sharp knife. Cut the flat side skin from the leaf.
Use a sharp knife to "fillet" the aloe gel from the back, curved outer skin. It's very slippery, so hold on tight.
Cut the gel into tablespoon sized pieces, and put them in a jar. The jar can remain in the fridge for several weeks as you use the aloe. I eat two chunks a day when I'm having stomach or intestinal pain. If the flavor bothers you, put it in the blender with some fruit juice.
I scrape the skins with a spoon, and use the remaining gel for topical use. Since it might contain that sap I mentioned to you, I'd be careful about eating that part if you're sensitive. But it does great thing for your skin!
You know, the fact that it took me 30 years to find out that a plant that I've known forever is such a gentle and effective solution to the chronic pain I had, makes me wonder what else I'm missing. There are so many plants in our lives, and so many uses for them. This is a magical, prolific world we're living in. We just need to slow down and explore it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Looking Ahead

The wicker chair gave up the ghost (I bought it for $5 at the local thrift store 2 years ago), but the wheel-barrow remains.
The picnic table and strawberry arbor will take up residence in the back half of the driveway, giving me a gated garden. I'll still have one parking space. The wisteria should be pretty big this year.
The white planter will grow snow peas this year. The trumpet vine will work its way up the shed. The rhubarb down in front should be divided soon; this is its 4th year. The mint to the right spreads each year, but since I mow around the front of the bed, that's fine. The pretty metal lawn chair came from the curbside; I repainted it, and I love sitting in that spot in the spring afternoons when I get home from the farm. A glass of wine, a book, and a little afternoon sun in my face: heaven. And there's the container garden by the back door. Herbs, vegetables: I've got it all. And it's just around the corner. Welcome, spring!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Lower 40

Do you see that yard? That's my home farm. It's about the length and width of a small car. We have a little space in the side and in front as well. I DO have a community garden plot at Flint Hill (Thank God!). You can see why I added the sunroom and deck; I needed the light. NEEDED IT, I TELL YOU! In my little garden, I have grown many things. I have perennial rhubarb, hens and chicks, dandelion, sweet woodruff, primrose, thyme, strawberries, parsley, bee balm, butterfly bush, trumpet flower, wisteria, mint tea, lemon balm, wild plantain, hosta, lavender, roses, lilies...the list of perennials goes on. What I'm starting this week are the annual crops in my little "urban farm".
This old wheel-barrow, which I rescued from the curbside, will house kale this year. I planted it yesterday, and it's raining this weekend. GREAT timing. That's an old window on top, making it into a cold-frame.
Right next to the steps, in the barrel that will hold my cherry tomatoes, I've planted mesclun. Yummy salad lettuce. Soon. I'm already harvesting from the indoors containers.
Broccoli Raab...oh WILL be mine. (I'm eating early small plants for greens already).
And here, where they'll be able to climb and taste the mid-day sun...snow peas. I love snow peas. There are three chrysanthemums in this bin from last fall. I'm thinking I'll fill it with edible flowers after the peas. My rhubarb lives directly in front, with mint and rose-of Sharon on the right, and hosta on the left. A trumpet vine cut from a close friend's garden twines out the rear-right. Just wait, spring will soften the hard edges, and fill in the spaces. And it will be beautiful.