Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sweetgrass toms at Meadowfed Meats, LLC, Wisconsin

Master Tom and Tiny Tom wish you all a very, merry Thanksgiving.

{They will be enjoying running around the pasture on turkey day as we enjoy lying around in the living room.}

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl wishes you a very, merry Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

one of the bluffs in mill bluff state park, wisconsin

It is difficult when you are a farmer, even a small one (that is, own a small farm, not be a small sized farmer) to get off the farm on any sort of regular basis.  

explanation of mesas and buttes in Mill Bluff State Park, WI

The chore list extends to infinity and beyond. It can make a seemingly industrious person feel downright lazy to indulge in some personal, off-the-farm time. 

But that is exactly what I need to keep some "work-life" balance.  So I do my best to have some small adventure off the farm every week. 

shadow fun on the Camel Bluff trail, Mill Bluff State Park, WI

Today I took the short drive up to Mill Bluff State Park, not too far from Tomah, WI.  All the park gates were closed, and I wasn't sure which entrance would yield the best hike, so I took a chance on the Camel Bluff loop, an easy, level, 1.25 mile circuit. 

The trail is wide and pretty sandy, but hard-packed so it's not difficult walking.  It's also mostly in the shade of mature stands of pine, which would make it a cool saunter on a hot summer day. 

light, shadows and bokeh

The trail was so easy-going that it made it very easy to really enjoy my surroundings, and stop often to take a closer look at details near the trail, like the angelic looking seeds of the milkweed pod. 

Setting them free in the breeze is one of my favorite tiny pleasures in the fall. 

tiny soft fireworks of milkweed pod seeds

There are side-shoots off the main trail that lead up to the individual bluffs, and I took advantage of those, too.  

Up close with one of the small bluffs in Mill Bluff State Park, WI

soft limestone and soft colors at Mill Bluff State Park, WI

carved graffiti in the sandstone walls of a bluff in Mill Bluff State Park, WI
I  may have even climbed up a bit for a better view, although I found the view at my feet to be as delightful as the view of the horizon.

the world in mossy miniature

"There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents. This is what has been called the "dialect of moss on stone - an interface of immensity and minute ness, of past and present, softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy, yin and yan.”

― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Warm sunshine uninhibited by the shade of the white pines now streamed down on my bare skin, warming me as I stood up with butterflies in my stomach and took in the grandeur of the view around me.

All too soon it was time to climb back down and head back to the farm in time for evening chores, which have gotten earlier as the sunset creeps backwards on the clock.

I did not have time to do the trail to Mill Bluff itself, but I will be back with that journey in mind.

Until then, it is back to the tasks at hand, here at the Little Farm.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl takes a hike at Mill Bluff State Park, WI

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sweetgrass turkeys - jakes - strutting for Gypsy Farmgirl

I never took myself for a "poultry person" until the first time I brought home day old chicks from the local farm supply store. 

I've been raising chicks from one-day-old every spring and summer since, both laying breeds and meat breeds, and even trying my hand at hatching out our own (although as luck would have it, we got 10 out of 11 roosters that year!).

Sweetgrass turkey jakes strutting their stuff for Gypsy Farmgirl

But it was my first bunch of Blue Slate turkeys from Cackle Hatchery that really sent me head-over-heels in love with poultry and especially, with turkeys. 

And what an odd love affair this has been.  

the brilliant blue head of a strutting Sweetgrass turkey

Turkeys have an undeserved negative reputation.  Far from being stupid, (and no, turkeys will absolutely not stand out in the rain and look up and drown, so if you've ever said that, please stop it immediately) I have found them to be the most social, the most curious and the most gregarious of all of the domestic birds on our property. 

Their faces are divine studies in theatrical performances, as their heads and necks turn from a pale pink to vivid tones of blues and reds whenever they are near an object of attention - either the hens, or more often, us. 

when you're a turkey, a snood is not just a snood

The names of the parts of their heads are also delightful - from the snood hanging over their beak, which stretches and elongates when they strut, to the caruncles on their head and necks, which also engorge and turn brilliant red during a strut. 

{And yes, for turkeys, snood length does matter, with longer snoods winning the hearts of hens and usually determining the dominance level of the tom.} 

a Sweetgrass tom turkey in full strut

An adult turkey has 5,000-6,000 feathers, from the long proud tail feathers to the tiniest of tiny feathers on the tops of their heads, which appear like an angelic halo (look closely at several pics on this page to see this).  These beautiful feathers are not just for looks, either, as a turkey can fly up to 40 mph and in the wild, naturally roosts in trees. 

Their big brown (or blue) eyes are keenly sharp, as any hunter with a goal to bag one can attest to, their field of vision encompassing 270° and even seeing in color.  

big brown turkey eyes and a 270° field of vision

But it's not the many fine attributes that I fell in love with, although they make it all the more justifiable. 

It's the essence of the turkey personality, the "turkeyness of the turkey," so to speak. 

It's the way the babies are so calm when you put your hand into the brooder, coming up in serious earnestness to investigate your fingers, and their escalating peep, PeeP, PEEP! when excited. 

the end of my turkey tale... or tail.

It's the hens that will curl up in my lap for a snooze, or fly up and roost on my head, or sneak up behind me to steal the gloves out of my pocket, darting away in an exuberant game of "keep-away."

Mostly, turkeys are just darn good company. 

And that, my friend, is good enough reason for me to fall in love. 

Cheers - 

Gypsy Farmgirl loves turkeys

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Allspice, our little bantam Ameraucana, has molted his tail

It's molting time again, that time of year when the daylight is shortest and chickens tend to molt their feathers and regrow them, sometimes in funny ways.

Our little Ameraucana rooster, Allspice, has molted his tail, which makes his already diminutive stature even more so.

Here he was before:

Allspice in all his feathered glory

But that doesn't deter his gargantuan spirit.

Despite Pullet Surprise being over twice his size, Allspice still rules the roost around here.

Pullet Surprise, our Wellsummer rooster

Tail or no tail.

Allspice is the king of the roost on this farm

And that's no "tall tale."

Cheers -
gypsy farmgirl loves a tall tale and a rumpless roo

karma overseeing work on the turkey townhouse

There are two sets of constant companions on our farm. One is the cats, especially Karma, who seems to feel it her duty to oversee every detail of our tasks.

karma is nearly fearless of heights and turkeys

yes, that is Karma on the roof of the turkey townhouse

The other is our small flock of Sweetgrass turkeys, who strut about each one trying to outdo the other and impress us with their talents. 

flock of Sweetgrass turkey toms strutting their stuff

Today we had the pleasure of both as we advanced our "replace-the-turkey-townhouse-floor" project. 

hardware cloth covers the dirt and rock floor to prevent rodents from digging into the pen

this maneuver concluded with Karma almost falling off the door but catching herself at the last moment

A few weekends ago we removed the rotted out floor. Last weekend a layer of rocks and dirt were hauled in, and today hardware cloth was put down. Next weekend, with any luck, new boards will top the wire. 

papa staples hardware cloth to the wall's edges

karma mastering the art of balance

those big blue eyes...

and whoops, there she goes

The jakes like to chase Karma whenever they can, but since she is close to fearless, she stays within close range despite the likelihood of a chasing. They don't seem bent on real damage, and with a couple of bounds they give up the chase. In turn she chases the Sweetgrass hens whenever she can. 

old floor boards from the turkey townhouse

Mojo tempered his fear of the turkeys by overseeing from within the trailer, safely outside of the turkeys' vision. 

mojo plays it safe

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about cats and turkeys

Friday, October 16, 2015

potting up a pineapple that has been rooting in water

For a year and a half we've had a pineapple rooting in a Mason jar on the windowsill of a west facing window in our kitchen.  This weekend she finally got a new home. 

Sweetgrass turkeys oversee potting up a pineapple

To root a pineapple, first twist off the top of any pineapple from the grocery store.  Peel back the bottom scales until you expose the tiny roots.  Place it in water so the roots are covered.  Then wait to see if it takes.  

Fill your pot with cactus potting soil for potting up a pineapple 

The first one we tried worked, the second one did not. As I said, she grew quite happily in her Mason jar for over a year before we potted her up. To pot a pineapple, it is recommended to use cactus potting soil.  Papa also found this gorgeous, clearance-sale self-watering pot in what I think is a wonderful shade of Hawaiian blue.

potting up a pineapple is as easy as 1-2-3

There are several videos on-line about how to grow pineapples.  Basically it's having a big enough pot, and a warm and sunny window that does not get too cold.  If you're lucky you may even get a tiny pineapple to eat after several years of growing her. 

don't forget to water her after you pot up your pineapple!

We came up with the name "Lola," which Kelly then amended to have the spelling "Lolah," because if you rearrange all the letters in her name you can also spell "aloha." She is heading for a big window in a classroom in a school in La Crosse.  

As usual, the turkeys kept a close eye on the entire process. Nothing escapes their eagle eyes.

Sweetgrass jakes strut their stuff

Aloha -
Gypsy Farmgirl loves growing pineapples

P.S. - several of these photos were taken by Papa, and all of them were on his iPhone. I tried centering the photos but even though it shows them that way in the editor, they don't "stick" in that position on publish.  If anyone knows how to fix this issue please shoot me a note.  Thanks!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Having lived on this little farm for 3 full growing seasons already, we are becoming more and more in sync with the tasks of the season.

In March, we tap maple trees, at least the very few we happen to have here.

heading out to the back of the property in search of maples

This year that was a grand total of two.

Why even bother tapping two trees, you ask?

Papa gets ready for tapping maple trees

Because even with only two trees we manage to get many gallons of sap, which yields 6-7 pints of the most delicious syrup you're ever tasted, especially so because you foraged it from your own land, and because it's in limited supply so you really enjoy it.

And so the ritual begins with the gathering of supplies - (free) plastic buckets, plastic taps, plastic tubing, a 5/16" drill bit and a drill.  Oh, and my favorite farm tool, a black plastic ice fishing sled.

I use sleds year-round, over grass, snow and ice, and they are fabulous for hauling buckets or weeds or hay bales or manure.

maple tree tapping supplies

If it were up to me we'd use old metal spiles and metal sap buckets, but we already had plastic buckets, and they do hold more sap and keep the sap cleaner.

{if any of you have a few of the old supplies you want to get rid of, please contact us}

The hardest part of the process is pushing the spile into the plastic tubing. Luckily I had Papa handy to do this task so I could just stand around snapping pics.

prepping the spile for maple tree tapping

After drilling a 5/16" hole about 2" deep at a slight upward angle, you insert the spile (with tubing attached), tapping it gently into the tree.

Insert the other end into the bucket. Seal the bucket with the lid to keep out spiders and dirt. If the sap is running, you will see sap flow into the bucket almost right away, although at a fairly slow pace.

Why does our maple tree have red flagging tape around it, you may be asking?

Well that's because our property is full of oaks and very few maples, so we walk around in the fall looking for maples when the leaves are on, and mark the trees with red flagging so we can find them in March when they are bare and all look the same.

Yup, we're brilliant that way.

make sure you get the dirt out of the bucket

Depending on the size of the tree, you may be able to place more than one spile. You can find some guidelines, and more specific tapping instructions, here.

One your taps are set, don't forget to come back often and check the buckets.  You may have many days in a row where you get nothing, then suddenly you can have an overflowing bucket in one day.

It all depends on the temperatures, ideally freezing at night and warm during the day.

in search of maples

The trek out there makes for some nice "sweetie" time anyway, so I always look forward to it.

Cheers -
gypsy farmgirl writes about tapping maple trees

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