Monday, March 31, 2008

Maybe Baby

We weren't supposed to have any lambs this year. But, accidents happen.

Yesterday morning, while frost still lay on the ground, baby Boo-Boo was born. His mama licked him dry, but the chill sapped his strength so he couldn't nurse.

We milked some thick, yellow colostrum and bottle-fed him. Without the antibodies and calories in this precious, first milk, he would not survive. His strength picked up at once, but before he could learn to nurse, a bitter storm blew in.

Boo-Boo's only chance was a move to the shed. Mama rode there in luxury.

This may look uncomfortable, but sheep relax when flipped into a sitting position. This is how we hold them for shearing and hoof trimming, so they don't struggle and injure themselves.

Wind rattled the shed and whipped it with snow that raced horizontally across the sky. Inside, Mama and Boo-Boo were reunited.

Travis and I stayed up much of the night, trudging back and forth between house and shed, our arms laden with flashlights, nipple bottles, and old liquor bottles full of hot water to ward off hypothermia. Several times, as I dozed in my farm clothes between feedings, I wondered why we went to all this trouble for one, weak, unwanted lamb.

The answer, of course, is simply that it's the right thing to do. Farming is about nurturing, about doing your best. You can't look into a tiny, helpless face without knowing that it, like every living thing, deserves a chance.

This morning, Boo-Boo is strong enough to stand for mealtime, but he has a long road ahead. All we know for sure is this: we won't be sorry for having tried.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Just Peachy

Some husbands bring home takeout chow mein and a movie on Friday night. Travis brings things like this.

Turns out our friends are putting in a riding arena, and they don't want a peach tree in the middle of it. We just happen to want a peach tree -- badly enough to wrestle it out of the truck in a frigid rainstorm.

From what I hear, this was nothing compared to the fun they had getting it into the truck in the first place.

Still, the tree would hardly budge. Travis enlisted me to add a few horsepower.

It worked.

I went back inside to finish making the Friday night special, a Sundried Tomato & Artichoke Heart Pizza. Travis tucked the tree in and added water from the hose to supplement the pouring rain.

Just as the pizza came out of the oven, the wind kicked into high gear. At about 35 mph, it was a pretty typical "big wind" for the area. Travis hustled out to give the tree some extra support. As of this morning, the trunk remains straight.

Only time will tell whether such a large tree can survive the move. Either way, it's already provided more fun than they sell at Blockbuster.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Playing Chicken

In the Night Farm's chicken coop consists of two sections. The first and largest is known as Harlem's Harem.

Harlem is our rooster.

A Non-Bearded White Crested Black Polish (we think), Harlem showed up in a friend's urban backyard last summer. Why yes, of course we have room for another animal.

The second section of our chicken coop is known as the Broody Bay. When a hen decides to set a clutch of eggs, she is said to be "broody." A broody hen stops laying and eats and drinks little until her hormones get out of the way -- typically by raising a brood.

Last fall, my lovely Sooty hen, a small Black Australorp, turned broody. We let her set, and four of the eggs hatched.

Three of Sooty's chicks grew into beautiful cockerels. I am sad to say will also be tasty cockerels. But, if I'm going to eat a little meat now and then, I want it to come from critters that haven't been stuffed full of chemicals.

Note: For an entertaining, intelligent, and enlightening read about the origins of most American meals, pick up a copy of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Anyway, when you live on a farm, you learn not to name some of the animals.

Sooty's only pullet (young female hen) did get a name. Henrietta, who sports a small crest like her daddy's, now lives in Harlem's Harem. Her eggs are easy to identify by size and shape, so if she gets broody, we won't accidentally let her raise any inbred chicks.

Right now, Penny is the broody one.

Penny was Travis' prize in the Great Chicken Caper of 2007. This was an unpublicized event in which we responded to a Craigslist ad for free chickens -- as many as you can catch. Let me tell you how many that is: Not Many.

Anyway, we'll let Penny set a clutch of Aracauna eggs soon. Though relatively non-descript in appearance and unenthusiastic winter layers, heritage Aracaunas are a favorite of mine for their beautiful, blue-green eggs.

Seeing as we knew almost nothing about chickens when we bought (or, in Penny's case, caught) them last year, we were lucky to get some that go broody. Many chickens, including some strains of Rhode Island Reds and Sex-Links, have had their brooding instinct bred out of them in the name of increased production.

Vegetables aren't the only things losing ground to hybridization for factory farming. Heirloom chickens, also known as heritage chickens, are getting harder to find. Smarter, hardier, more disease-resistant, and longer-lived than their modern brethern that are often incapable of reproduction without artificial insemination, heritage chickens are trying to make a comeback with the help of dedicated farmers and the American Livestock Breeds Conservency.

Don't worry -- I'm not an alarmist, nor even a standard-issue liberal. I'm just another small-time farmer observing that our national obsession with hybridized plants and animals incapable of procreation puts us on a crash course with Fate. Perhaps the sustainable, local, and organic farming movements help us swerve in time.

All the more reason to let Penny raise Aracaunas.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

November Lentil Curry

Last night's weather featured a lightning storm complete with wind-slung hail and an unsettled greyhound who velcroed herself to me for hours. Training horses was out, so I caught up on seed starting, then simmered a Dutch oven full of a favorite cold-weather dish.

I created this curry last November (hence the name), when a series of published recipes failed to offer sufficiently pronounced flavors. Though I've pictured it here with brown jasmine rice, my curry is even better served with whole wheat naan.

November Lentil Curry

1 medium onion, diced
1 cup sweet potato, diced
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs fresh ginger, grated
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 Tbs curry powder
2 14-0z cans vegetable broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 tomatoes, diced
1 1/4 cup lentils
1 Tbs red curry paste
4 Tbs plain yogurt, optional

Heat Dutch oven over medium flame. Saute onion and sweet potato in olive oil until onions turn yellow (4-5 minutes). Add ginger and garlic; saute 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and curry powder; saute 1 minute. Add next five ingredients (broth through curry paste) and simmer until lentils are fully cooked (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in yogurt, if desired, immediately before serving. Serves 4.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Classy Clown

No farm is complete without a dog.

Most farms around here feature obese labradors or border collies that eat espresso beans for breakfast. I suppose these are logical choices -- hardy, hairy, and happy about life in the mud and manure.

At In the Night Farm, however, we believe in being different. We adopted a greyhound.

This is Wyrsa. Unlike most greyhounds obtained through rescue organizations, she was never a racetrack dog. Instead, she was obtained from a breeder in our area who sells greyhound/Irish wolfhound crosses to farmers to hunt coyotes.

Greyhounds are not attack dogs, but they're plenty fast enough to run down coyotes. The usual coyote-hunting technique is to release a greyhound or two with some slower but more vicious dogs. The greyhounds catch the coyote and keep it busy long enough for the other dogs to catch up and finish it off...hopefully before the greyhound suffers injury.

Wyrsa, blissfully unaware of her thwarted career path, hunts the rare Idaho Blue Hippo instead.

A wyrsa is a mythical creature created by fantasy author Mercedes Lackey. According to Travis, who reads Lackey's novels, wyrsa are evil beasts resembling a cross between a serpent and a greyhound.

Pure evil.

Though still full of energy at 10 months of age, Wyrsa already exhibits characteristic greyhound couch-potato tendencies. Her motto: Why stand when you could lie down? Yes, even on the bath mat while Mama is in the shower.

Life is ruff.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Going Flegan

"Vegetarian" is an old Indian word for "me don't hunt good."

That was the joke in my family for years. I myself told it many times. After all, what in the name of Uncle Jim's Annual Pig Out Party would possess a person to give up meat, let alone attempt to subsist exclusively on plant matter?

I'll tell you what: A large garden plot amended with yards and yards of composted horse manure.

We hauled so many zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, strawberries, peas, green beans, turnips, onions, parsnips, kale, mesclun, chard, carrots, radishes, and winter squash out of the garden that there simply wasn't room on our plates for anything else. I combined years of cooking practice with a touch of internet surfing to come up with surprisingly filling meals from which the meat, though missing, was not missed.

Incapable as I am of doing anything half-heartedly, I took my culinary experiment a step further. I sought flavorful, vegan recipes. Soy milk replaced dairy milk so completely that we now refer to soy milk as "the regular milk" on rare occasions when a carton of dairy milk appears alongside it in the refrigerator.

As my vegetarian and vegan recipe files grew fatter, Travis and I slimmed down. We felt more mentally astute (no mean feat, that) and required less sleep. The seasonal allergies that plagued me from childhood forward ceased to exist.

And so, nine months after In the Night Farm's 2007 garden burst into production, we continue in what I call a "flegan" lifestyle -- closer to vegan than your typical flexitarian, but certainly not strict.

About 95% of what we eat falls into the vegan category -- vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and nuts constitute the bulk of our daily fare. Even so, we use a touch of parmesan or full-fat yogurt now and then. We eat chocolate made with dairy and bread baked with eggs. We even consume some meat.

Being flegan is a convenient way to live. Hosts needn't worry about providing special meals when we arrive as dinner guests. I don't mind serving a turkey or leg of lamb for the holidays. Corporate lunch meetings are no cause for concern.

Meanwhile, we enjoy the myriad health benefits of consuming a great deal of plant matter and almost no animal products -- and the processed "food" people have two fewer contributors to their cause.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Seedling Season

As good as Saturday's Greek Zucchini & Spinach Salad tasted, its grocery store ingredients couldn't compare to produce from our own garden.

Last year, we harvested more each day than we could possibly eat.

This year's produce is still scarcely more than a dream. We ordered all our seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. So far, germination has been nearly 100% on all six tomato varieties, as well as the Genovese basil. The sweet and hot peppers are just coming up.

Travis has tilled the main garden three times already. This is good organic weed control. Tilling every ten days or so throughout the spring allows weed seeds near the surface to germinate, only to be tilled under to perish while another weed crop germinates.

We've also tilled new garden plots for strawberries and bunching onions, corn, and vining plants. Last year's squash vines consumed too much space in the main garden.

Tonight, I'll plant more hopes in the form of tomatillo, leeks, hibiscus, chichiquilite huckleberry, and ground cherry. The wait feels long, and yet there is scarcely enough time. A pleasant tension, this.

Greek Zucchini & Spinach Salad

Horse training is hard and addicting work. I don't like to waste much daylight on food preparation, but nourishment is essential. Here's what I concocted for Saturday's lunch:

Greek Zucchini & Spinach Salad

1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs oregano, dried
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

1/2 zucchini, raw diced
1 roma tomato, diced
1 1/2 cups spinach leaves, torn
1/3 cup red onion, sliced
6 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup crumbled Feta

Other ingredients:
Whole wheat flatbread

Whisk together dressing ingredients, set aside. Chop salad ingredients. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently to coat. Serve over whole wheat flatbread. Makes one large serving.

In the Beginning

In Spring 2006, Travis and I were living with five ungentled horses -- and three more on the way -- on a single, rented acre in southeast Boise.

2005 had been an eventful year. You can read about it at The Barb Wire, my companion blog.

The new year promised new challenges, including our polite but concerned neighbor. He pointed out city ordinances indicating we would need to move. Soon.

We fell in love with a dome house on a hill that became In the Night Farm.

But there were no fences.

So we built some.

Just in time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


In the Night Farm consists of a mere five acres, a tiny slice of soil atop a hill overlooking the Idaho-Oregon border. Around us stretch miles of agricultural land dotted by a strange mixture of old and new homes.

In the old homes live old farmers and their wrinkle-faced wives. They nap in the afternoons and work their fields in the cool of dawn and dusk.

In the new homes live younger couples who moved from Boise to view the quilt squares of corn, potato, sugar beet, and alfalfa stitched together with dirt roads and irrigation canals.

At first glance, Travis and I must seem like the latter. We work by day in the city, in suits and stresses, tapping keyboards and shaking hands. But this is a ruse, an act forced upon us by the absurd difficulty of making a living, actually living.

Our real lives are on the farm, where we turn soil, pound fence posts, gather eggs, train horses, bake bread, scatter seeds, tuck newborn lambs beneath our coats. We stack hay upon this land, bury lost pets beneath it, gather it in crescents under our fingernails.

There is wisdom here.

The old farmers know this, of course. They know the value of toil, the truth in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote:

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

But there is rest here, too. Come, at the end of the day, join us on the deck. We'll shell peas, swap stories, and listen to the nightlife come awake as the sun tucks itself in beneath the patchwork fields.