One Month In

sunset

The less you hear from me, the busier I likely am. Such is the case since my last update on the farm. I spent a week manning the farm by myself while the family headed down to Texas for the wedding of Sam and Katelyn, who run the urban farm in the Detroit area I visited a few weeks back (and again yesterday, for a brief bit). We’ve been planting in the vegetable garden, seeing the world through the new eyes of the baby chicks, and making progress on the food forest.

On top of that, the tax man wanted lots of money in the form of the self-employment tax, so I’ve been using my down time to make some extra scratch to send the government’s way. Finally, I was enjoying myself and didn’t bother to take the time to write.

Now that my justifications for lack of content are done, let’s see what’s been going on.

One Month Anniversary!

I can’t believe I’ve already been here a month. I’ve gotten into a routine by this point, and I feel pretty confident. The vegetable garden is mostly under my sole jurisdiction by this point, and the entire farm was left in my command the other week. That was a wonderful chance to see what kind of work is required to keep an operation like this going. Nature has a way of making sure things happen when they need to, so the farm survived my tenure with flying colors.

Of course, I had a little bit of help from Jack while I transplanted tomatoes.

jack helps transplant

Farm Marketing

In addition to my outside work, I was also tasked with creating a website and some flyers to hand out at the farmers market. The site is up at http://heritage-gardens.net if you want to get a sense of what the farm is all about. There’s plenty of work yet to do and lots of content to add, but you can get the general idea.

I was pleased with how the flyers turned out. Kudos to the local print shop on a job well done!

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The market starts up in May, so the clock’s ticking for us to get things ready.

In the Greenhouse

packed greenhouse

We delivered the Lacinato kale to the urban farm in Hamtramck yesterday, which opened up a lot of extra space in the greenhouse. It’s just in time, since the peppers, tomatoes, and herb seem to be expanding every day. There’s plenty of transplanting to be done to get the little plantlings ready for the market. Every plant gets her own little cup, which serves as an apartment until someone takes her home for good. Since Kathy has planted a number of new seeds in the greenhouse, space is at a premium.

In the Vegetable Garden

The vegetable beds are coming along, and it won’t be long before we have lots of little sprouts coming up. I’ve planted beets, radishes, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, peas, leeks, onions, and potatoes so far. Soon to come are the carrots, beans, and melons. When we can trust the weather to stay warm, I can put out the peppers and tomatoes.

Animal News

Teddy, the golden retriever, continues to have a blast running around and saying hello to everyone. He caught a mouse the other week and ate it in two bites. I have also spotted him with, at one time or another, the back half of a rabbit, the skeleton of a large fish, a tennis ball, and a chewed-up stick. He’s a fun dog.

Buddy, the mostly blind roly-poly of a dog, is also a lot of fun. He joined me for the sunset one night during my week alone, even though I had to tell him what he was looking at.
Buddy at sunset

The cats are all doing well. Pixel has outed himself as an emo cat who prefers to spend the day hiding in the dark basement until 11:30 at night, when he wants to go outside. Jack continues to wander around and keep an eye on the farm. Patches misses Mr. Bumble and Max, the only cats around who would lick him. Crazy Tony is having a blast chasing the baby chicks around the yard.

Did I mention that the baby chicks are finally old enough to go outside during the day? We let them out this week for the first time, and it’s been fun watching them learn what their doorway means. They now scratch around the mulch and compost looking for food, and I’m hoping they get too big to fit through the fence by the time they venture near the vegetable garden. Otherwise, our seeds are toast.
chicks on the prowl

The rooster finally let me get close enough to capture him crowing for a brief moment. You can see how embarrassed he was by the way he runs around the corner right after seeing me filming him.

As for the ducks…we had a delicious duck egg quiche the other night. They’re all doing well, quacking about as they do.

My own reputation for not letting the majority of things on the farm die must be spreading. I’m now sitting on offers to work at two other WWOOF farms in Indiana whenever I decide to move on from Heritage Gardens. Plus, I found $20 in an Easter egg today. Things are looking good.
Self Portrait During Isolation Week

Bonus: Book News

On the trip to Detroit yesterday, I paid a visit to the fantastic John K. King Used & Rare Books. There are four floors of used books stuffed to the gills. I intended to buy one book but obviously walked out with four. I’m excited to enjoy them. Here they are — respectively, they are a recommendation from a friend, an old favorite I haven’t read in ten years, a classic I should have read by now, and the wild card that called to me from utter obscurity.

Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson
The Short Stories of Saki – Saki (H.H. Munro)
To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
November Grass – Judy Van der Veer

I’m in the middle of a book called City of the Bees, by Frank S. Stuart. This was given to me by my friend Jonah, who also recommended me Winesburg, Ohio. Stuart spent a year studying the activity of a hive in Scotland, and his book is a unique mix of science and poetry in telling the life of bees. The Queen is an omniscient goddess, and the survival of the hive is her great epic.

Today I came upon his description of a single drone bee that floored me: a “little exquisite pellet of living dust.” Aren’t we all?

Animal Update

I still owe you all a tour of the grounds, but there have been some significant animal updates since I last addressed the subject. Here’s the quick rundown:

Dogs

No change. Teddy is as friendly as ever, and Buddy works up enough energy to wag his tail when I greet him in the mornings.

Cats

It’s been a bad week for cats. When I came downstairs for breakfast on Wednesday morning, I saw this note on the counter.

R.I.P. Max
This type of thing seems to happen with some regularity on the farm. Being situated on a road with frequent semi-truck traffic has its disadvantages, and there’s seemingly no end to the stories about the gruesome road deaths of various family animals over the years.

Before I arrived on the farm, I posted some musings on the nature of death. It’s good that I prepared myself for this ahead of time, as it made the surprise end to Max a little less shocking. Still, I’ll never get to learn the nature of Max’s sad face, and I’ll regret that I rebuffed his attempts to sit on my computer the night before he died.

The next morning, I awoke to questions about whether I had seen Mr. Bumble recently. I had not, but I mentioned that a Bumble-sized cat had attempted to crawl into bed with me early that morning — attempts I refused to allow. When no sign of Bumble could be found, I wondered if my rejection of cat affection had become a kiss of death.

This fear was only partially allayed by learning that my visitor in the night had been Patches. We were able to conclude this because Bumble had, like Max before him, been killed in the road sometimes during the night. I then learned that Bumble was a nephew of Max, and that neither of them had been considered particularly smart. Is there a genetic predisposition to making fatal mistakes in judging traffic patterns?

On a more positive cat note, I snagged a picture of the outdoor cat that looks a bit like Tony.an outdoor cat

There is another outdoor cat that I haven’t seen since my first day or two here, but I’ve been told she is pregnant. There will soon be mystery kittens running around.

The remaining indoor cats are handling the deaths of their roommates with the same attitude that one bring to news of the sky being blue. Jack sits next to me right now, sleeping as comfortably as can be.

Chickens

The chickens are growing quickly. Many of them have doubled in size in just this past week. Kathy also went back to the store to pick up a few more chicks. She got two guinea hens (one of whom has since gotten sick and died) and two Welsummers (in honor of my Dutch heritage). So I now have two Dutch chickens with whom I can practice my language skills (“kukeleku” or, according to Google, “buig een krabbeldoo”).

Ducks

Who knows? There are five of them. I’ve learned the difference between normal quacking and the panicked sounds that accompany mating, so there’s no further need to look up from my work to see what passes for romance in the duck world.

Photo Tour of the Farm, Part I: Animal Edition

There are a lot of animals here on the farm. I’m usually bad at remembering names of pets, but somehow these guys have all stuck in my mind. Get to know them as well as I have with this helpful photo tour.

Dogs

Teddy

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Teddy’s my best bud on the farm. He sleeps outside and always greets me when I come out for the day. He loves playing fetch with a softball, but he tends to tire out after just a couple tosses. We’ve developed a morning routine where I’ll sit on a log in the sunshine and he rests his head on my arm and leg. I give him some good scratching for a few minutes (sometimes Jack tries to get in on the action, too) and then head off to the greenhouse.

Buddy

BuddyBuddy’s pretty old and mostly blind. He spends most of his time lying next to his food and water bowl reminiscing about old times. A few times a day he’ll come outside and wander the property. If I can give him a few scratches without Teddy trying to butt in and steal them, Buddy seems to appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

Indoor/Outdoor Cats

Jack

Jack Jack is a cat after my own heart. He’s a wanderer by nature, and he’s been known to go on three-day hikes without letting anyone know. A consistent member of our evening hike to watch the sunset, he likes being around people as much as he seems to enjoy his solitude. With his calm nature, he’s also a welcome visitor to the greenhouse. After taking a few sniffs of whatever plants I’m transplanting, he usually falls asleep in the bucket chair by the wood stove.

 

 

 

Antonio (Tony)

TonyEveryone says Tony is the crazy cat. I don’t disagree. He chases the softball when I’m playing fetch. He tries to climb my legs. He is usually seen bolting from one place to another for little to no reason. We love him.

 

 

 

 

 

Pixel

PixelI didn’t meet Pixel until a few days into my stay on the farm. He seems relatively shy, but he’s quickly warmed up to me. I’ve never seen a more innocent and trusting face on a cat. What he lacks in a tail he makes up for in body weight, and he’s the sort of cat that you have to sort of force outside to get some fresh air and run around. Still, he’s joined us on a few evening hikes; maybe he’s just a summer cat.

 

Patches (L) and Max (R)

Patches and MaxI don’t know much about Patches. He seems pretty young, and he had a date with the neuterist the other day. The main quality I’ve learned about him is that he purrs loudly, sometimes for no reason that I can tell.

Max is interesting. His sad face fascinates me. I can’t tell if he’s actually depressed or just looks that way. We had a good bonding session the other night when he shed his fur all over my computer as I gave him a good scratching. He takes an active role in his petting. He shoves his head into your hands, and every 30 seconds he’ll transition to light biting. There is much more to learn about this guy.

 

Mr. Bumble

Mr. BumbleBumble also took the trip to be neutered last week. He’s a skittish cat around me, but he likes having his head scratched. His eyes are a beautiful orange that remind me of a harvest moon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cat with eyes like that before.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mysterious Outdoor Cats

The Bills (with Patches in the Middle)

The BillsThere are an indeterminate number of outdoor cats. They tend to stay hidden, but I’ve counted four distinct cats so far. The Bills are the two remaining black cats from a litter of about six black cats. Instead of trying to tell them apart, they were all named Bill. Of the outdoor cats, I’ve gotten closest to the two Bills. They like to hang around the front door and sit on the porch with the other cats.

 

 

 

Mystery Cat #1

Mystery CatNow that you’ve seen this picture, you know as much about this cat as I do.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Cat #2

There’s another outdoor cat, but I haven’t gotten a shot of him yet. He looks like a smaller version of Tony but with a shorter tail.

 

Chickens

The Old-Timers

ChickensThis rooster and hen are the holdovers from last year’s flock. The rest of those hens stopped laying eggs and were converted into chicken soup. Such is life. I haven’t really gotten to know these two well yet. This is as close as I’ve gotten to them. I’ve spotted the rooster perched in a conifer, so I believe they roost there in the evenings.

 

Baby Chicks

ChicksThese are the baby chicks we picked up yesterday. There are 14 in total, and they’re a mix of Barred Rock, Isa Brown, New Hampshire Brown, Rhode Island Red, and Wyandotte breeds. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about them soon.

 

 

 

Ducks

ducksHere are three of the five ducks. They usually travel together, but they split up whenever I try to photograph them all. They quack and try to mate a lot. There are a few ponds on the property, and their day is spent wandering from one to the other.

 

 

 

 

 

ducks 2Here are the other two ducks.

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, that should do it for the animals. Tune in again soon for a tour of the more-easily-photographed buildings and general layout.

My First Farm: A Numerical Evaluation

I arrived at my first WWOOF farm in Howe, Indiana, yesterday afternoon. I’m planning on being here until the beginning of June, learning as much as I can about whatever work needs to be done. I’ll have a lot more information later, but here’s a quick summary of what I’ve seen and who I’ve met so far:

  • 1 farm
    • two-storey home, heated by coal-burning stove
    • greenhouse, heated by wood-burning stove
    • garage
    • hoop house
    • large vegetable garden
    • chicken house (more of a barn than a coop)
    • wood shed
    • abandoned wigwam
  • 5 people (not counting me, the only non-family member)
  • nearly 20 animals
    • 2 dogs: Teddy and Buddy
    • 5 ducks: not social enough to have names
    • 1 rooster: too proud to have a name
    • 1 hen (she may or may not be a Brahma, but she definitely has feathered feet): no name
    • 6 indoor cats: Max, Jack, Antonio, Patches, Mr. Bumble, Pixel
    • 3? outdoor cats: Bill, Bill (all the outdoor black cats are named Bill), an orange one, and possibly some others

Today, in between rain showers, I helped cut up a dead mulberry tree and carry the logs, by sled, to the wood shed. The greenhouse needs to be kept warm during the still-freezing nights. There are seedlings of all kinds of herbs, tomatoes, kale, and other species that need to be transplanted tomorrow.