Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mel had her kittens this morning!

Looks like she has called it quits with her symmetrical litter of three ginger kittens and three dark ones. Some of these beauties will be looking for a new home and some will stick around to help their mama keep the rodent population in check. Happy mama and happy gang here at Watershed Farm. Next in line, we all have our fingers crossed for Robin the ewe who is due at the end of the month.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stinging Nettle.

Weeds. Love them or hate them; they're the one thing a farmer can depend on. You can weed and weed until the cows (or sheep) come home. But you might as well embrace them, or in this case, at least eat them.

Although you probably get itchy just thinking about it, Stinging Nettle is one of the most useful weeds around, from farm to plate.

You can soak nettles in a bucket of water for a few weeks to make a compost tea for your plants and vegetables. It will help promote plant growth as a fertilizer, as well as boosting the immunity of plants to ward off pests and disease. It should be diluted before use, though apparently undiluted it can be used as an organic herbicide. Being high in nitrogen, nettles can also act as a compost activator as it stimulates fermentation. As a companion plant, nettle helps neighboring plants grow more resistant to spoiling, as well as stimulating humus formation.

Surely a plant with such a bite is protecting something. Stinging nettle is very rich in potassium, magnesium, iron, protein, minerals, tannins, chloropyll, antioxidants and vitamins A and C. The reason nettles sting is due to the hairs on the underleaf being full of formic acid, acetylcholine, serotonin, histamine and some unknown compounds. You can take the sting out of nettle by drying, cooking or steeping her.

The young, tender shoots are delicious steamed, or fried in a little (or a lot if you feel the same way as most people do about it) butter with some garlic. It can also be made into a nettle puree or pesto, and I hear cream of nettle soup is quite scrumptious. Save the cooking water, as it's very high in iron.

Don't even get me started on the medicinal qualities of nettles, or it would be summer and the nettles would be already getting huge and bitter before I finished rambling. .. but to name a few:

Nettle tea has been used to treat a variety of ailments, from anemia, poor circulation, increasing milk production in mothers, bladder infections, as well as helping to relieve bronchitis, asthma, hives, hayfever, kidney stones, gout, multiple sclerosis. It can be used in a mouthwash to fight plaque and gingivitis. It is a great spring tonic as it works as a blood purifier, and fights fatigue as we shake the last remnants of winter out of our bones. Nettles are an expectorant, and help with coughs, mucus in the lungs as well as for the flue, colds, bronchitis and pneumonia. Nettle tea compress or dried, powdered nettles can be used on wounds, cuts, burns and stings.

The Ojibwa made a tea of the roots to treat urinary ailments and for use as a diuretic. Nettle is high in boron, which has been said to raise estrogen levels, henceforth improving short-term memory and helping raise the mood of people suffering from Alzheimers disease. Purposefully stinging ones skin with nettles has been used for centuries to treat rheumatism, arthritis, paralysis and now multiple sclerosis.

Nettles have also been used historically as a fibre, for making twine, snares, fishing nets, paper, cloth and rope. The roots can be boiled down to make a yellow dye. It is said that Roman soldiers, when chilled with cold, rubbed their hands and feed with nettles to bring back circulation. Traditionally, nettles were dried to feed to livestock during the winter, and a nettle infusion was given to anemic or sick livestock.

I even stumbled upon a recipe for Stinging Nettle wine. . . If you haven't already, go harvest some nettles. Melissa told me that she heard if you ask the nettles nicely, they won't bite you.. . I'm still a bit wary of their lil furry teeth, and so unless you're feeling venturesome, perhaps wear some gloves.. .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's growing on at Watershed Farm!

We had some lawn that was looking a bit long this morning, so the hens are converting it to eggs as we speak!
These are the last quiet vestiges of winter, before the buds explode on the trees and our entire world changes!  It's shocking to see how fast everything is starting to happen at this time of year, with the soil warming up and the days getting longer and longer. 

Our peas are up about an inch, the asparagus just poked its' head out this morning, and the taste of rhubarb is so close my mouth is watering in anticipation!  The buds on the trees are starting to unfurl, and since Jon and I visited in December and arrived to stay at the end of February, we've never seen this place at its full glory: we are anxious to see the changes that spring will bring.  It may mean longer days in the fields for us, and the beginning of a very busy growing season, but this is what we wait for all winter, and it's truly the most gratifying work there is. 

Our lambs are getting bigger and more adept every day: I can no longer pick them up unless I make a concerted effort to tackle them!  Robin is due in just over a week, and though we sheared everyone else last week, she still has her fleece and looks HUGE compared to everyone else, wooly and pregnant as she is. 

We also set up our irrigation lines a couple of days ago, gave the greenhouse a vigourous watering, and could pretty much see the plants growing!  It's exciting that we planted something and it grew: not that we had any doubt, of course, but exciting just the same!  Now we enjoy salads every day!

 The sunflowers popped out this morning, too.  We're growing about 8 different varieties, and I'm experimenting with direct seeding in the greenhouse, transplanting in the tunnel, transplanting outside, and direct seeding outside- since I've heard different things everywhere I look.  Jon's favourite are the "Teddy Bear" and mine are called "Ring of Fire".  Some tulips are blooming, and my absolute favourite, daffodils, are all over the place. 

New caterpillar tunnel, waiting for a still morning to put on the plastic

Our transplant room, always full to the top!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Full Moon Lambs

Sitting under the stars and over the woodpile a group of friends share space on a deck off the barn. Laughter comes easy as we share stories, jokes and dreams for the future. All the while, we are listening to the soft "baaaahhing" in the sheep pen below. Straining to hear every sound and wondering if the very pregnant ewe is progressing, wondering if the lambs that we have been preparing for are ready to join the earth.

The imaginary lines between the stars of Orion and the other constellations in the night sky feel real and unbreakable, reaching out, connecting everything around us. The full moon is bright and full and shines down upon us filling us with it's magical light. Suddenly thoughts of morning and farm chores began to creep in and we notice how the temperature has dropped. It's time for bed.

I go down to the sheep pen one more time not really expecting anything, but one last peak won't hurt. My ears notice an unfamiliar soft "baaahhhh" but my brain doesn't register what is happening and I still can't make any sense of it when my eyes catch a glimpse of the little white lump that was making those sweet sounds.I stare in disbelief. Finally mind catches up to ears and eyes and I call up quietly to Thomas. "There's a lamb, come down"

We hunker down in the sheep pen, shaking with cold but not caring, staring in amazement as Mama cleans off the newest member of the flock. The night is still and strange, our whispered "Ohhhhs" and "Ahhhhhs" become part of the scene. Time stands still. The little lamb begins to move around and starts crawling awkwardly on long legs that seem to have been placed on the wrong body. 

Then Mama stops for a moment and we can feel it. Something is happening. "Look the next one is coming" I whisper to the night. Then Thomas' replies "It's out". Another lamb has been born and I feel like the luckiest person on earth to witness such a moment. We watch for minutes, or hours, who knows. Then one lamb starts to shiver in the cold. It lays down, looking tired and weak. Thomas and I grab towels and help Mama finish cleaning off her babies, rubbing them to warm them up.  Now Lisa and Killian are sneaking into the pen.  Then I remember Teri, she wanted to see this. I run back upstairs and announce into the walkie-talkie "We have babies, two babies" She doesn't respond so I run over to her nesting place and knock on the door. She is already up and joins our silent party in the sheep pen.  

We are nervous, not really knowing what to do next.  Mama doesn't seem to want the lambs to nurse and we all know this needs to happen soon.  We feed Mama a big bucket of oats, a well deserved treat, and a distraction for her head, while babies try to latch behind. It's not working. The trio is looking well bonded, she clearly cares for these lambs but won't let them feed. The time has come to move them to the cozy lambing house I had spent the afternoon preparing.  

Its surreal. Lisa holds one lamb, I hold the other. The full moon over head feels huge and lights our way. Mama follows as we head up the hill, into the garden fence and finally into their new private quarters. The lambs are getting weak and we know they need nourishment now.  Lisa holds Mama and I give her teets a good squeeze. The wax plug pops out and shoots into my eye, milk sprays everywhere. I hold the first born and put the nipple into it's mouth. It latches! We all sigh with relief. Lisa snuggles the youngest who is fading fast. I try the same technique with this one but its no use. He's too weak to take in any milk. Knowing just what to do after years of nursing my own human babies I draw some milk out, directly into the little ones mouth. It drinks and perks up a little, but not for long. I start expressing milk into a bottle, knowing that we are stepping out onto a path we don' really want to travel but feeling like time is running out and this is what needs to happen. The lamb drinks from the bottle, just enough to try latching again. Its no use, the lamb won't nurse. Tension fills the air and I finally speak what everyone is thinking. We don't want to raise a bottle fed lamb. We don't want to raise sheep who will always be small and ill, who will never flourish. Lisa gives the littlest lamb one last snuggle and a few sips of molasses water, a little sugar for energy but no, nothing changes. 

We decide it's time to let Mother Nature take control. We trust that what is meant to be will be and head inside to warmth, tea and nervous chatter. It's 2am and we all need some sleep. Reluctantly we retreat to our beds and wait for morning.

As soon as I wake I pull my dirty jeans back on, wrap myself in my favorite wool blanket and run to the sheep. Afraid of what might be waiting there, but feeling hopeful, as the warm sun shines.  I meet Teri on my way over, she has already been in to see the lambs and she doesn't look sad. I sigh as I enter the pen, one big Mama and two sweet little lambs greet me. "They made it, they both made it!" We take a moment to look everyone over. They look great! Happy, healthy and probably the cutest babies I have ever laid eyes on. 

As the rest of the farm family wakes up we watch their faces as they learn the happy news. Both babies make it though. We did it! Flicker did it! She gave birth to two sweet little ram lambs and I just feel incredibly blessed to have been a part of it all. The miracle of life in, right before my eyes.

New babies on the farm!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cute chick(s)!!

There is now two chicks!  They both look the same, and I don't have any photos of both of them in one photo, but I swear it's true!  The one who is one day old is a lot braver than the one who is less than a day old, venturing out from his mother's wing to peck away at some food and even peck his nest mother (she didn't seem to mind!). 

Anyone who knows me, knows my weakness for two things: cute things, and especially beautiful produce. 

On my way back from the chick pen, I saw the big rooster and all the other chickens illustrating the point: "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence"!! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Fresh Baby on the Farm!

I never thought that the day after blogging about the eggs under the broody hen nicknamed "Pancake", that one of them would hatch!  Just in time for Easter!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Runner Duck Gang!

 The ducks did something so funny today I decided it was well overdue for them to get their own blog post!
First, let me introduce them.  We realized the other day that they don't have names, which is a shame, as we can only name a limited number of animals on the farm: the cat has a name, Jon's favourite chicken has a name, the sheep have names- to put it bluntly, we only name animals we aren't going to eat!  Regardless of if they have names or not, we all love the ducks.  I love them less at 6 am, as their house, "Duckingham Palace" butts up to my side of the bed outside our cabin, and they seem to be at their rowdiest every morning at 6 am.  However, preferable to an alarm clock any day!

When I was first introduced to them, Camelia said: "There used to be seven of them, and I always said 'seven bodies, one brain', but now that there's only four, I'm not entirely confident that they have gained any brain power!".  It's true, watching them, they go EVERYWHERE together.  The breed is Indian Runner, and they run around like armless, bow-legged things, but you can't keep your eyes off them once they're in motion!  (To the point that Thomas called out "Ducks running!" in the middle of supper the other night and we all dropped our forks to get up and look out the window.  They're that hilarious!)

We've recently been getting a duck egg every morning, which is a delight as they are delicious!  Then, all of a sudden, four days ago, they just stopped.  This morning, as Jon and I did chores, I saw the three males and no female.  I called out "Duck missing!" and as he came around the corner, the female waddled out of the bushes.  This is what we found:
Her nest!

Unfortunately, she's fighting a losing battle, as they have learned to dutifully retire to Buckingham Palace every night to be safe from predators.  Fortunately, we also have a broody hen, happy to sit on eggs, so we gave her a private spot in the barn and she is now sitting on a number of assorted eggs, four of them duck eggs.  It's been three weeks, so I'll keep you posted as to what happens!

We may be less enthralled with the ducks once the garden is planted, so maybe we'll wait on naming them for a while yet!