Winter Solstice on the Farm

Today is Winter Solstice—the longest night of the year; which means we are at the half-way point of winter.  Tomorrow, the sun will begin its return and the days will begin to lengthen.


As I sit here and write this morning, the wind is howling outside the window (which is leaking air like crazy in this old house!).  I am a mere 2 feet away from the pellet stove and I can see my breath!  Ah, but no matter, spring is on its way as the cycle continues.  Jason and I are making plans for the coming growing season here on our little mini-farm.  Jason has obtained a couple of grants to return to school and is in the application process for Wright State to work on an associate degree in agriculture.  I am beginning a course of study online with Demetria Clark, which will earn me certification as an herbologist.  Many plans to move onward and upward with Raven Mist this year!


We have been busy over the last months dealing with life and its ups and downs.  Xena was diagnosed with pancreatic insufficiency which means that her pancreas no longer makes the enzymes necessary to digest food.   Not to worry, though; we have to be much more careful about what we feed her and she must have replacement enzymes with every meal; but finally, she is thriving.  She has gained back the weight she lost and should live out a healthy and happy normal life!  We are much relieved!  We found an amazing veterinarian in our area who was able to diagnose this rare condition.  And bonus:  I have learned how to make kefir!  Xena gets about a half a cup of this amazing power food with every meal to keep the good bacteria thriving in her gut—living food helps her to digest better!


We have also added a ‘barn’ cat to our farm.  Well, we don’t have a barn, but little Grim has taken up residence in our abandoned truck cap behind the greenhouse and he is warm, toasty and protected from predators there!  He is a tiny little grey tiger kitten who was abandoned at my daughter’s house.  I will snap a photo for you as soon as I can catch him!  He is always busy prowling the fields for mice—a fabulous addition to our gardens!


Jason and 'Eric' our biggest Buckeye roo

Jason and ‘Eric’ our biggest Buckeye roo

And remember our tiny little Buckeye chicks?  Well, they are all grown up and gorgeous birds!  They tower over our Wyandottes, but thankfully, the pecking order was already established with the Buckeyes on the bottom, so all is well.  We are so happy that we decided to add Buckeyes to our flock; they are the most beautiful birds!  They love this  weather and the hens are even laying a few eggs in this awful cold!  They are so gentle and curious—they follow us around the yard like dogs!  We have them behind a fence, but when they see us pull in the driveway from work, they just fly right over it to come greet us and beg for seed!  We are considering isolating them this spring, hatching eggs to renew our flock and maybe even selling a few chicks along the way. 


. . . . . . . . so, now I’m off to get ready to celebrate Winter Solstice tonight.  We will light candles after dark and keep them burning to welcome the return of the sun and to ask for blessings on our little farm for the upcoming year!


Have a wonderful Solstice, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

From Jason, Lisa, Xena, Grim and the chickens!



Finding Focus?

A lovely little frog has taken up residence in our little pond!

Did you ever have one of those days where focus just evades you? It seems lately that my attention is being pulled in so many directions: I feel like a cartoon character (you know when they ‘wind’ up their feet to start running, but they are just spinning their wheels in one place?!).

It’s one of those moments in life; I can see a vague, foggy outline of where I’m headed but for now it’s just trusting that the next step will lead me to where I want to go!

I told you in my last post that Jason and I had both gone off farm to work to pay the bills. I am working as chef to a preschool/private Kindergarten. I love to cook, but I must admit to being a little ambivalent about this job. It’s a big job—me alone in the kitchen feeding 150 people (kids and teachers) 2 snacks and a full lunch, along with all the associated clean up and ordering of food and supplies. And for July, August and September I’ve been cooking a menu that someone else decided on—not easy to do—and it seriously disturbs me to feed these kids processed chicken nuggets and fish sticks and all the ‘typical’ school lunch junk.

As of the October menu, though, I have a big opportunity. They have handed the menu planning over to me. I now plan the menu for my school as well as our sister school with 150 more mouths to feed! I’m excited about the opportunity to influence the food choices and health of that many people, but it is a daunting task to find that ‘sweet spot’ or balance of (1) finding recipes that are quick and easy to prepare on a large scale, (2) making the meals balanced according to government standards as well as healthy to my standards, (3) finding recipes that they will actually eat, and (4) doing all of this on a reasonable budget (this is, after all, a business to our owners—it’s how they house, feed, and clothe their own family).

So, . . . I’m not sure how all of this will play out in the coming months, but I would love to try and record my reflections and experiences here on the blog. I’d love to hear comments and suggestions from all of you as well, if you’re so inclined! That ‘foggy’ vision of the future? Well, it appears to be taking the shape of food, economy, and back to the basics—just where we are headed with the farm; that’s why I’m including my ‘non-farm’ job here on the farm blog. Raven Mist or preschool; it’s all about basic, simple, economically sound, healthy food!

On to the farm goings on! I’ve been playing around for the last few weeks learning to make our own yogurt. Here are the step by step photos of the batch I made this week:

Pour 1 gallon of milk (any milk of your choice) into a pot on med/low heat

Heat to 185. This readys the proteins to be digested by the culture.

Put pan in cold water bath in sink. Cool to around 110. Any hotter than that will kill the bacteria in the culture.

Stir in your active culture. Use 4 T per 1 gallon of milk. You can use any plain, unflavored yogurt from the store to begin–just make sure it has live, active cultures. I used a Greek version with 5 cultures. After this first batch, just save a few tablespoons and use that.

I then pour mine into a large glass Mason jar, set in a hot water bath in the sink. The temperature needs to remain between 90 and 110 to keep the cultures warm and working!

I cover the whole thing with a thick bath towel to keep the heat in. I change the water to reheat it once or twice. It needs to sit for about 7 hours.

After 7 hours, it’s nice and thick!

If you like thinner yogurt, you’re all done! I like mine thick, Greek style, so I line a strainer with a clean piece of muslin or a tea towel and drain over a pot for an hour or so until it’s nice and thick.

This is what it looks like with the whey drained.

Left-over whey. Don’t throw it out! We feed ours to the chickens–they love it! It give them a little extra protein boost. No chickens? Pour it on the compost pile or use it to bake with!

Autumn–New Beginnings

Rain, lots of rain; I may have to take a rowboat out to the chickens!  Rain, busy replenishing the ground water lost in the drought.  It’s delicious out here early this morning, sitting on the porch with the rain blowing a fine mist onto my skin.


I love this time of the year; the transition between summer and fall.  It’s a time of new beginnings, back to school:  that brand new box of crayons, all those amazing new colors filled with potential and possibility.  What will I paint next?


All my life, I’ve thought of fall as the time of a new year.  I later discovered that I was following the path of my ancient Celtic ancestors.  Fall is the beginning of the resting time, time for the seeds of new thoughts and ideas to be planted, ideas that will be birthed in the spring.


The blog is sporting a new look today to reflect a new focus for us.  We were unable to feed ourselves from the farm this year, due to the extreme heat and drought—most of what we were able to grow went to our CSA customers and even that was very thin at times.  Most weeks we supplemented with added value products.  We have decided that CSA is not for us.  We’ve spent too many sleepless nights worried about how we were going to give our customers value for their investment.  Even though our customers knew up front that they were sharing in the risks as well as the bounty, we felt that we were falling short personally.


So, although Jason and I have both been forced to find full-time employment off farm to pay the bills, we are still moving forward with work to make this little farm sustainable.  The only thing that has changed is we are focusing on feeding ourselves and the farm first, and then any surplus will go out to the community in some form.


For the next few months, Jason is focusing on rebuilding the soil in the gardens; adding all the manure and compost we’ve been working on all season so that the beds will be ready for planting early in the spring.  I am planning on working on the hedgerow, using hugelkultur to make those areas more drought-proof.  Both of us are working on projects to make the house more livable. (That area has been on hold the entire growing season!)  And, both of us are busy learning new skills in the kitchen; things like making our own yogurt and cheese and learning how to pickle and ferment produce. 


We’ll be sharing some of these newly found skills and our journey to sustainability in a more informal, personal way and we invite you to ride along with us!

Misty Early Morning

We arrived home too late to water last night.  Jason tried, but it was just too dark to see.  So I got up at 5 this morning and was out there with a hose at 5:30.  It’s so quiet and peaceful very early in the mornings.  The mist was rolling in across the fields and the sun was just beginning to peak over the trees, very pink this morning.  The air was heavy, Zeus was crowing.  As the water was just puddling on the ground around the plants (t’s so sunbaked the water doesn’t really soak in; I have to come back 2 or 3 times to make sure the water gets to the roots), I tried to soak in the beauty around me.  Besides the sun rising over the trees, and the mist over the commercial fields; I noticed our neighbor’s red barn partially shrouded in the mist—an idyllic postcard.  One bird planted sunflower blooms crazily in the chicken yard—the chickens will love that in a few more weeks when the seeds drop!


Almost finished now; at 6:45am it’s already so hot that sweat is dripping down my face and my spine.  My clothing is sticking to me.  We are predicted to break more heat records today—the 10th straight day of triple digits.  Time to get the ‘waterpark’ set up for the chickens!


We are off to our local farm market in a couple of hours.  We have no extra produce—it’s tough to fill our prepaid orders with this drought; but Beth and I are taking some of our baked goodies and taking the opportunity to get out and meet and chat with customers and other local farmers.  Maybe I’ll join the chickens in their waterpark when the day is over??!!

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

I wandered into the kitchen to get a glass of water.  The large west facing windows revealed a sky full of black menacing clouds in the distance.  Dare I hope?  Rain?  I yelled up the stairs at Jason to come and see the clouds!  (Yes, we need rain that badly—it is an event!)  I ran outside and the clouds looked very ominous.  This was not going to be just some rain; this was going to be a severe storm.  I headed for the chicken yard to shut the chickens up in their coop for the duration, just in case.  As I watched, I saw the farm field of our nearest neighbor kicking up a tremendous amount of dust.  I walked faster; but not fast enough!  The dust began to kick up in the chicken yard, so I decided to turn around and head back to the house.  I only took a few steps and it hit, literally!  There was this sound that I can only describe as an explosion and everything not nailed down in the yard went flying all at the same time!  Including me, the gust of wind that hit, knocked me on my butt.  It took all of my strength to fight my way back to the house, while things were flying.  The commercial garbage can flew like it was made of paper.  It landed in the soybean field off to the east of us.  Xena’s wading pool somewhere off in the cornfield across the road, the hose reel and several boxes flying along with it!  The chimney cap somehow blew off its moorings and ended up at the street.  Maybe that was the sound that I heard.  Tree limbs split off and were flying all around.


The stand to our birdbath. It was anchored to the ground!

By this time, Jason had joined me and we were dodging limbs watching the sky for any funnels forming.  We cleared off the door to the root cellar, just in case.  (Later, Jason asked me what the explosion was!  He was sitting on the bed, putting his boots on when it hit.  He says that the sound was incredible and the force of it actually shook the house, almost knocking him off the bed.)


The greenhouse plastic, weakened by the high temps shredded.

And then, the rain came, softly at first so we stayed outside excited that there was rain, finally!  When the rains came harder we moved into the house to watch.  Then it got worse.  The lights and air conditioner went off with a loud popping sound.  OK, no biggie we lost power.  But after a few minutes, the lights cycled back on again.   Oh YAY!  We didn’t lose air conditioning in this heat!


Suddenly there was this really loud humming sound, bright almost blinding light and sparks shooting out in all directions from the pole in the front yard and the lights went out again with an explosive sound.  It was so loud, I was sure that light bulbs were exploding!  We looked out the window to see that a branch, a very large one had split off a tree in the front and been blown 30 feet UP into the air and it had landed on the transformer.  So, this cycle went on for what seemed like forever, but was probably 15 or 20 minutes.  Every few minutes the power would cycle back on and the rain would short out the transformer with that awful noise and showers of sparks.  We couldn’t get through to the power company; they were inundated with calls from all over.  We called 911, but they said that unless there was a fire, to just sit tight and they’d send someone over when they could. 


We couldn’t get out.  The house is so old that it has only one door to the outside—on the side where the transformer was and there was no predicting when the cycle would repeat.  And besides, the truck was parked directly underneath the transformer! 


So, we sat it out with candles, waiting.  Eventually, the power just stayed off and the rain dwindled to just a light mist.  After the power had been off continually for half an hour, with me standing at the front door, watching for the lights to come on—ready to scream for him to run, Jason made a run for the truck.  He was able to move it to a safe spot on the other side of the house.


After an hour and a half, the fire department showed up.  They stood out in the yard, surveying the damage and looking at the problem, chatting with Jason.  There was really nothing they could do; we and the house were safe for now.  They did call the power company and put us on the priority list.

So, we had a wildly exciting evening and, . . . the plants, the chickens and we got more of those wonderful negative ions than we bargained for!!  It’s almost 2pm and the garden is still damp from last night’s rain—a wonderful and most welcomed sight; and there is another thunderstorm in the forecast for tonight.  In spite of last night, I’m doing another rain dance; all of this weather will help to ensure that the summer vegetables survive!

(Oops, life got in the way and this post is a little late in coming!  This was from Friday.  Update:  the storm only dropped 1/2″ of rain 😦  We are right back into the high 90s and 100s with no rain and none in sight!)

Effects of the Hot, Dry Weather

Dare I say, drought?  Where our farm sits, we are in the area that is designated as the first stages of drought.  We skipped spring altogether here, with temps in the 80s and 90s in April and May when the average temps should be in the 60s.  We started our crops at the normal time, fearing a late freeze (which we did get, by the way!)

Roma tomatoes are faring pretty well, though they are small for this time of year.


I’ve stopped counting the days we’ve gone without rain.  Can you actually count the ‘spit’ we got last night?  I could see on the road that there was moisture, but it wasn’t enough to even discolor the soil in the gardens.  Add to the lack of moisture, the neverending, relentless wind out here in the flats.  The soil has turned to cracked concrete and the plants are doing their best to just suvive the heat.  Our hopes are that they are busy sending out more expansive root systems so that they will survive this.  Our worry is that it won’t be enough–many of the crops we grow here in the summer barely have enough of a season to produce fruit.  With this setback, will they have enough time to set and ripen any fruit at all?  Stressed plants tend to drop blooms and work on simple survival.  We have no choice but to ride it out and learn from the experience.

Even the chickens are protesting this heat–the hens have gone on strike!  We have consistently collected 8-10 eggs per day and now are down to 4 or 5.

Peppers so severly heat stressed, all they’re doing is surviving. We do have fruit on the more tropical ones, but they are very small.


What are we learning?  Personally, Jason and I are learning that we need to keep up our efforts to add more trees, bushes and perennials to act as windblocks.  Sometimes weeds are the lesser of two evils–the small weeds are acting like mulch to hold some of the moisture in and keep the sun from baking the ground.  Yes, they do compete for moisture, but the beds where we’ve left weeds are still faring better than the others.  We need to work harder to produce more compost to loosen this hard, clay soil.  We are working on ways to make income from many different jobs and projects.  Mostly we are learning to go with the flow.  Mother Nature does her work slowly, patiently, consistently.  She knows what she needs–even if it isn’t always what we think we need!

(And maybe we should start saving for a really large greenhouse!  Look how much better the plants are doing in there!)

Tobasco peppers in the greenhouse–lush and full

Brandywine tomato outside

Brandywine tomato–same crop inside the greenhouse.

Normal, healthy tomatoes in the greenhouse.

The Farm Needs a Little ‘Negativity’



Well, . . . negatively charged ions actually! 


Put very simply, everything that is electrically charged (that includes living things—we run on electricity too!) gives off a combination of positive and negative ions into the air.  Have you ever noticed how ‘up’ you feel after a big rainstorm?  You wander outside to breathe it all in—you think your mood has elevated because all that depressing rain is over and you can be outside again?  Nope!  Rainstorms generate lots and lots of negative ions!  You’ll get the same effect from a waterfall, at the beach or even in your shower.  Moving water generates negative ions, as do lightening and areas of heavy vegetation (score one more for sustainable permaculture!).


So, why does the farm need the negative ions?  Here is what I turned up from just a quick internet search and only a few minutes:

  • ·         Scientists at the University of California grew barley, oats, lettuce, and peas with a total of only sixty positive ions and negative ions and found that growth was stunted and the plants were diseased. The same experiment in air with more than double the natural number of ions produced accelerated growth.”
  • ·         “In the 1960s one U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist grew seedlings in ion-enriched air and produced cucumbers eighteen inches longer than normal.”
  • ·         “Photosynthesis could not take place without ions in the atmosphere”.
  • ·         “In a Faraday cage, where the outside electrical fields are excluded, plants grow only about half the size they would if rooted in the garden.”
  • ·         The book lists some experiments dating back to Benjamin Franklin (who did some of this stuff). They placed charged electrodes over plants and found that they grew faster.
  • And in the vegetable kingdom, plant seedlings grow up to 50 percent more when charged. Fruit stays fresh longer: after 10 days, ionized tomatoes were still fresh while untreated controls rotted.


Why just negative and not positive?  Well we actually need both, but in balance with each other just like most other things in life.  The Earth herself is negatively charged, so she ‘exhales’ positive ions.  This is the way it’s normally supposed to be.  Here is the current problem in our area.  We are in a drought—no rain, no thunderstorms=no natural release of negative ions to counteract or balance out the positive ones.  Here in our area, it is very flat and open—and so very windy all the time.  All of these exhaled positive ions then get blown through the crops all day every day.  The lack of a proper balance of ions creates stunted growth and that is exactly what we are seeing in the gardens.  Gallons and gallons of garden hose water cannot do what even a short rainshower can accomplish.


So, we sit and wait for the rain, for the plants as well as our wellbeing.  Yesterday, the rains came all around us; but we stood at the kitchen window and watched as the wall of rain that we could see a couple of miles to the west of us, blew to the north and bypassed our fields once again.


Maybe today we’ll do a raindance, asking Mother Nature to favor our fields with life-giving negative ions (and whatever other wonderful things exist in those showers that we know nothing about!).

To Call The Clouds

I call forth the clouds

To overcast the skies

Bring me breeze, bring me rain

Let mother nature water us

Cool the air, sate the ground

Wind through the trees

Let me hear thy sound

Clouds cover the rays of sun

Overcast this day, let it be done




If You Build It/Bake It, They Will Come


Xena, all ready to jump right in!



It’s been a whirlwind week here!  Jason and I have been playing around with ideas to get some water on the property for all the birds and beneficials we’re trying to attract.  Bonus if it could be something soothing and wonderful for us to look at as well.  We scored a preformed pond on Craigslist!  Sunday afternoon we decided on a site close to the front porch where we could enjoy it.  We dug the hole and placed it within a few hours and got it filled with water.  We plan on adding a ‘waterfall’ and of course plants and a couple of fish to get the environment properly balanced as well as a shallow beach where the birds can splash and get a drink.  For now, we were content to leave it to let the chlorine gas out before we move any further.  The soil we removed from the hole is still on the tarp, waiting to become the raised area for the waterfall—shovel still in place at the corner of the pile.  So as I came down the stairs in the morning, I glanced out the window and there was a beautiful little bluebird perched on the shovel handle! (Sadly it flew away before I could grab the camera—you’ll have to imagine the bird!)


Digging the pond

, . . . still digging the pond



Yesterday my daughter Beth and I drove to Kentucky to pick up some more Buckeye chicks!  (Do you think they have a group for people addicted to chickens? Chickens Anonymous?) These are the most curious, gentle chickens.  We got 7 more to add to the 4 we already have.  Hopefully, we will be able to hatch some eggs once they are laying and spread more Buckeye chicks out there. Buckeyes are supposed to be so cold hardy that they lay well even in the winter.  Note to self: must prepare chicken coop with plenty of windows for light in the winter.


5 weeks old



And Jason and I are out pounding the pavement looking for at least some part-time work, . . . my seasonal job is over and the work he had lined up fell through.   We’ll be setting up at farm market in a few weeks to make some extra cash to tide us over and that brings me to the next item in our busy week;


Tangy Lemon Pound Cake



I mentioned in the last post that Beth and I are starting a home-based bakery!  Work continues on that; perfecting our signature recipes and playing around with new ones.  Beth is working on a cappuccino cupcake.  She has the flavor down, but is working to make it a moister cake.  It has a cinnamony (yeah, not a word!) coffee flavor and is topped with a creamy white chocolate buttercream frosting. YUM!  I’m working on a tangy lemon pound cake; a light lemon flavored cake infused with a very tart, very lemon syrup.  I’ll share the technique for that one over the weekend on our new up and running blog!  We are ‘perfectly decadent’; we’d love you to stop by the blog and say hi!


First Week on a ‘New’ Job?


Soon, . . . lots of blackberries!



Don’t ya just hate being the ‘new guy’ at work?  Learning the ropes, the procedures, trying to remember the names and faces, when is lunch, . . .?


But wait, . . . I don’t have to do that with this ‘new’ job!  My seasonal job at the garden center ended slightly sooner than I figured, but that just means that I get to work the mini-farm full time a little sooner! Yay!  As of today, I am on the farm full time (at least for the time being!).


As I was cleaning out the truck this morning, I found a little notebook that I carry around with me.  I had forgotten about it.  Inside I found a quote that I had scribbled on one of its pages:

            Men weary as much of not doing the things they want to do as of doing the things they do not want to do.   Eric Hoffer


This is what I want to do.  The morning work is done. While I wait for some bread in the oven, I thought I’d walk around the place and show you what catches my eye today.


A small portion of the market garden. Bean poles in the background. The area in the middle is on its way to being a birdbath and ‘beauty’ spot.

A closer look at the pole beans. We have 3 varieties: KY Wonder, Cherokee Trail of Tears, and Greasy Grits



The first thing that I notice—and you will see in nearly every picture—are weeds, lots and lots of weeds; many of them almost as tall as me!  Not to worry, they are actually on our ‘payroll’; doing their job of replenishing the soil.  I try not to let too many of them produce seed as we will be planting every inch of this place purposefully as we are able to.  For now though; their roots are reaching down and making air spaces, they are attracting pollinators, they are providing food for wildlife as well as the chickens.  They are growing in places that were completely barren last year!  The earth is healing herself!


The Buckeye chicks are almost as big as the Wyandottes! They will be 3 to 4 pounds heavier when fully grown.

Handsome guy!

Zeus claiming his area!



In the meantime, I was busy for a couple of hours this morning making sure that the weeds don’t overtake the market garden!  And yesterday, Jason gave me rototiller lessons!  We have a large rear-tine model and I managed to handle it, . . . barely!  I seriously need to work on arms and shoulders!  I’m sore today–but that will come with time.


Nasturtiums–beautiful to look at, tasty to eat; and they chase away pests as well–can a plant be more versatile?



I’ve also been busy baking.  My daughter Beth and I are working to get a home-based bakery business off the ground.  She needs to work from home while she raises her two little ones and I could use a little extra cash to fill in the gaps.  We will be debuting at the Germantown Farmer’s Market on Saturday, July 7th!  If you are local–stop by and see us!  (Raven Mist will be there with fresh produce as well!)  We are working on getting a website and blog up and running in time as well as a Facebook page–watch for it.  The blog will mainly be a photo blog to get your mouth watering, but we will share tips and recipes as well! 

Here’s a little sneak preview!

Welsh cakes–similar to a scone in texture. Not too sweet, just right with coffee or tea.

Blueberry Tartlets–mini, one bite blueberry pies! Beth makes amazing pie crust!

Goldfinger Blondies–these have the texture of a very moist brownie, but with a brown sugar, vanilla taste. This is an old recipe passed down through the generations.

What Goes Into A CSA Share

We get up at 6 am to harvest tender crops before the sun begins to bake them, then; oh wait, . . . it actually begins right after Christmas with the seed catalogs.  What shall we plant?


Fast forward to February; sprouting seeds in the house where it’s warm.  Fast forward to March; working the ground; getting the early crops in; spinach, lettuce, peas.  Juggling now; taking care of plants inside and outside.


1st pumpkin sprout!

Then the waiting, . . . are they sprouting yet? No, not yet. Today? Yes! Tiny sprouts begin to emerge.  Fast forward; are they big enough to harvest yet?  Is there enough of it to go around?


Decision, next week!


My reward for getting up at 6am–a mallard duck checking out the chicken yard!

NOW, it’s 6 am.  We get up, get a cup of coffee and head outside with knife, scissors and baskets to harvest what’s ready.  Back inside to wash, package and pack.


Finally, off in the truck to drop off the shares—a long, but very satisfying journey!

Week 2 share: mixed leaf lettuce, green onions, red/yellow mixed baby onions, spinach, Swiss chard, radishes, pea sprouts, sprig peppermint, bunch Italian oregano. Added value products: dozen fresh, pastured eggs; cheesy herb bread fingers.

Fresh baked cheesy, herb bread fingers.