This week

blckraspb2sm.png

Black Rasperries

These came from some wild canes I have been nurturing in my back lawn. A bit under two years ago my sister asked me if I wanted to dig up some awful thorny berry canes from her back yard where they were growing in deep shade and forest-like conditions. She said she just cut them back every year and hated having to do it and was going to dig them up herself and throw them out if I didn’t. She didn’t want those nasty thorns in her back yard. So I came and dug them up, and planted them along my fence in the perpetual shade line. Last year the canes were pretty useless as well. Birds ate almost every berry before I could get to them, but this year I hung up some netting as the berries started to ripen. Remember how I have been struggling to fill that shade line, since, well, forever ago? Well now I have successfully turned at least part of it into something productive and delicious!

I collected two bowls of these berries this week. And right after I finished picking them I carried one out to my sister to share since she was outside with her kid. She tried some and proceeded to proclaim how great tasting they were. She said they were just like candy and it didn’t take long for us to finish off the whole bowl. The irony of these amazing berries coming from a plant she hated was probably lost on her but I had a good chuckle over it, and I had a whole second bowl of berries waiting for me at home.

I’ve been slowly filling in the shade line with these awesome canes, and I don’t regret it! A small patch appears to be capable of providing me with a fair amount of fruit, which is something our little homestead lacks dramatically. I am expanding the patch with other kinds of berries as well and I’m looking forward to seeing what they look like next year. All around, these berry canes have been a very good experience.

 

We also have some new chicks this morning! Three weeks ago we were nervous – our oldest hen stopped laying suddenly and refused to move from the nest box. I was worried – was she egg bound? Turns out she was just broody. It’s been so long since I’ve had a broody bird that I almost didn’t recognize it!

So we marked some of our eggs, a full dozen, and tucked them under her. There have been some mishaps. An egg getting knocked out of the nest for hours here or there for example, or some of the eggs that were set were a bit older, or unlikely to be fertile on the part of the particular hen that laid them. But so far at least 5 healthy chicks have hatched! Three yellow, one brown and one black.

The garden is starting to fill in as well. We have one wee little evil groundhog left, marauding for kale leaves. Soon it might start targeting other plants and that’s something I will be striving to prevent. Soon we will be harvesting more zucchini than we can eat!

 

Conveniently for my goal of writing less I don’t have many words for my own farming today. My heart is heavy for the families of the hundreds of agricultural workers in my state that have been ripped from their homes and shipped to concentration camps, their children taken with no plan for reunification. The most recent update to this policy is to hold these people in concentration camps indefinitely.
Not only will these people suffer for it, but so will agriculture in the USA as a whole. Our entire food system that feeds america, especially for poor people, relies on imported labor. Half of all seasonal farm jobs, such as picking vegetables, are done by human without a legal status and many aren’t certain if the USA’s agricultural system will hold up to these policies. They even pay taxes without receiving benefits, helping to fund welfare services that help serve senior citizens, our farm bills and even veterans. Without these folks, our nation will not only be literally factually poorer, but have trouble even feeding it’s people.

I think people often forget that the people who supported Japanese internment camps 75 years ago considered themselves to be patriots simply protecting their country from foreigners who threatened it. The children of those families, who grew up seeing the holding of thousands of humans in concentration camps as celebrated patriotism, are very much alive today. They were people with families, who loved each other, who felt proud of their actions, who felt safer for it. But it was terrible and cruel. You don’t have to be a mean person to support horrible things.

We can do better. Much better. And tomorrow I will join thousands of people across the country to ask for the reversal of these inhuman policies that target people based on the color of their skin or the language they speak. There are no white faces in these concentration camps, no blonde haired blue eyed babies are being ripped from their mother’s arms. It’s clear that this has nothing to do with them being foreigners (note that “improper entry” to the USA is a misdemeanor – legally speaking, taking a candy bar from a grocery store is often a more serious offence), especially the raids in my state. We are on the northern border and most of the illegal entry into our state is done by white people from the Canadian border. Yet it’s only people with dark skin being arrested and confined, even in this state. It’s simply racial profiling, an othering tactic of fascism, and my heart aches for the victims of it.

I can only hope that people in the USA can recognize the correlations between these actions and the history of terrible atrocities in the history of the world stand together and unite for these human beings’ rights.

If you’re out there with me tomorrow, good luck and be safe.

Advertisements

Summer Solstice

Happy summer solstice! As always it’s been far too long since I have written. I truly need to learn that I don’t need to write quite so much when I make a post.

Streamlining my writing is hard. I want to say every little thing, I want to fix every spelling error right as it happens, I want to include only the very best images. But I really need to get past that and learn to just write more regularly.

Today, being the summer solstice, is one of the handful of pagan holidays I celebrate. It’s a tough one – there’s no corresponding holidays on the American calendar. The only corresponding religious holiday is “Midsummer” – or a celebration of the birth of St. John – an obscure and rarely noted celebration that almost nobody knows about let alone celebrates. But in pagan cultures, celebrating the seasons and especially the solstices is a big deal. There’s just no culture available for the summer one in the US. There’s not a single major holiday that makes it easier or is even close to the date. Want to decorate your house in lights, stars, and have a fire for Yule? That’s easy! That’s stuff that got absorbed into Christmas from paganism so it’s available commercially everywhere. Want to have a golden cloth or summer herbs for making an amulet on the summer solstice? Tough out of luck. You’re lucky if garden centers are even still carrying the herbs you need so late in the season.

But pagan celebrations always make me happy. They have such a deep focus on being spiritual, feeling happy about your world, celebrating with people… Not to mention their deep connection to agriculture and the seasons. It always makes me feel a little more at peace to celebrate them, and a little more hyped for homesteading. Being pagan often lends itself to a desire to create and build and maintain with one’s own hands. Fae, deities and spirits generally appreciate things made with old-timey love, rather than a purchase. You can’t exactly give a fairy a gift card to Starbucks. So I find a thread of homesteading and older skillsets tends to run deep through people drawn to pagan faiths and the corresponding celebrations always make me feel a deeper connection to both nature and those old skills passed down for thousands of years. Skills on which our society is built and in which handiwork and love shine.

Today, as I said my prayers at noon (honoring the power of the sun, and welcoming the slow rebirth of winter) I thought a lot about my plants, the lifestyle I want to maintain, and why I want to maintain it. It was a good time to review what I hoped to get out of the year and reflect on my love for this lifestyle.

And speaking of this lifestyle, while we’ve had some setbacks this year I would say that the experience has generally been more positive this year. Of course terrible things still exist in the world, and even in my life… And I likely give a great deal more time and energy to such things than I can easily spare… But the homesteading has been improving over last years struggles. The garden is lush and flourishing. We may have finally resolved our Evil Groundhog problem with the capture and ultimate demise of not just a baby groundhog but the mother as well, leaving our garden in a more peaceful state. Our berry canes are just beginning to reach fruition and the garden is recovering from the attacks by said groundhogs. We’ve even stayed on top of the problems more than usual this year, such as making sure every tomato is staked and tied before they even reached 2′.

The chicken flock is slowly making it’s transition into a breeding flock of wheaten ameraucanas. I continue my search for good stock, but it’s slow going and difficult. The best stock is in Texas – on the other side of the country – and very little is available in this area. Next year I hope to have my own breedings of birds for my flock. Right now, we are still an easter egger flock and I even have a broody hen on some eggs.

And my efforts to gain tri-color rex continue to advance, admittedly slowly but present. Over the next two years we may have rapid turnover in both of our livestock stock. I hope we see real and dramatic results from that!

All around things continue to advance in the deliberate and more positive way. Though some aspects continue to provide difficulty, I hope we see better results this year than ever before!

Suddenly Chicks!

You know what they say about March; In like a lion, middle like a lion, end like a lion. March is just a lion, chewing you up and spitting you out, wet and slobbery. March just isn’t a fun month in general.

March is a month filled with hours of work, and while I like my work, it’s still work. Around this farmy I have already started 90 tomato seedlings and I’m working on my 60 pepper pots across 5 different varieties. Next is the kale and cauliflower, each taking their own several dozen cubic inches of soil. All this while the snows hit the ground; we got several inches over the last 48 hours with more on the way. It will be the weekend after this one before we have weather warm enough to exist outside again… And at that point it will be time to plant cold weather crops. Peas, green onions, spinach and radishes all get planted outside as soon as the snow reliably melts. I am still working to finish setting up the seed shelves and yet they are already shockingly full.

Of course, when the snow melts the city inspections start. And our lawn, with it’s consistently high water levels and frequent foot traffic, tends to look the worst on the block. So we are making some changes this year, ranging from rain gardens to stone pathways and re-seeding much of the lawn and ripping out weeds. All of this will happen in the inches of muck my lawn produces. And the frequent, cold rains will also mean animal bedding will get soiled more easily and cages will need to be cleaned more often. It’s a lot of work for one month.

So what is the best thing to add to that mixture? A sudden shipment of baby chicks, highlighted by everything that could possibly go wrong going wrong! Sounds great, right?

You see, last fall we ordered some expensive chicks from a wonderful show breeder but G never bothered to send the payment when I asked him to. By the time the payment reached the breeder it was too late; they weren’t going to have another hatch for the fall. Instead I would have to wait for spring or cancel. So waiting for spring it was.

Well, “spring” in some places means “The first week of March” and my own chickens were laying, but I hadn’t heard back in a while. I sent an email; ‘Any idea of when I would get my chicks?’ I asked.’Soon!’ I heard back. Then two days later I was told they were already on their way, shipped overnight, right into an incoming blizzard.

So I ran into problem one; I had no notice and therefore no setup for them. I quickly arranged a brooder with a heat lamp, and then plugged in my USPS tracking number. It said they’d be here at 3PM that day. I waited for the phone call but it never came. In fact 3PM came and went, and then 4PM, and then I called the post office.

‘They’re not here. They never made it this far. They got held up over night and will be here on the truck in the morning.’ the post office said. Yikes.

So I set that aside, worrying for my expensive chicks, and set about thinking about how to get chick feed. I didn’t want to have someone drive all the way out to my usual feed store for one bag of feed, so I thought I would go down the street to a local hardware store to pick up a bag of their feed. I don’t normally shop there, having gotten some bad results from a drill G bought there (and returned) a few years back, but they were close so I thought I’d give them a shot. I would go out, grab the chicks, then grab their feed, then go home and set them up. I went to bed anxious but with a plan.

The next day we got the chicks first thing in the morning and 3/10 were dead on arrival. They were packaged with care, in appropriate shipping conditions and with some electrolyte gel in cups glued to the inside so they had something to keep them hydrated. But none of that really does any good when the post office delivers them a day late, and doesn’t heat them over night. And the post office doesn’t offer chick refunds unless they reach their destination later than 72 hours from when they were shipped either. Unfortunately, aside from massively expensive transportation services, USPS is the only way to ship chicks. They’re the only game in town and they know it, so there’s not much I can do. The breeder offered to refund me the chick cost, but of course to order them again would require another $40 in shipping, so refunding the chicks is pointless and expensive and the breeder didn’t do anything but their best to ship them safely.

We got home and set them up, shivering into a warm brooder as fast as we could. Then, after seeing that they were in a warm spot, D and I went to the hardware store to buy their chick starter. A 50lb bag was a bit expensive at $19.50, but we bought it and rushed home.

As I went to open the bag, I was trying to shake the crumbs out of the corners so they didn’t spill on the floor but I was having some trouble, so I just cut it open anyhow. It very suddenly became apparent why they wouldn’t come out of the corners. The whole bag was filled with moth eggs. The crumbs in the corners were stuck to moth webbing. The entire bag smelled funny, who knows how long it was on the shelf.
We immediately went back to the store to return it and they opened the only other bag of chick starter on their shelves; it was also ridden with moths and smelled bad. Upset, I took my refund and left. D told me I was too harsh with my words, but I disagree as I was firm but not abusive. Given that their store chose to sell nearly rancid, old, bug-filled food I think I was within reason to be much worse. It was, frankly, expired. It could have killed my chicks given their extremely fragile state, and it was chick food meant for fragile birds. There’s no excuse for keeping feed bags on your shelf for that long under such poor storage conditions, especially when they are already more expensive then other stores. Someone less observant or experienced might have fed the spoiled feed and lost a lot more than some damaged proteins in their feed, they could have lost whole clutches of chicks. A $20 refund won’t make up for that sort of a loss.

Now I had to find a new source of chick feed, which ultimately meant driving all the way out to one of my usual feed stores. So I gave the chicks some water to drink to get them started and away we went. The stores I usually go to are a 40 minute drive away, but we got there, got the feed and got home as fast as we reasonably could.

Home at last, with the chick feed and several additional bags of our regular animal feed (so as not to waste the long trip) I finally settled down to try to care for these emergency chicks. All but one had perked up quickly with just a bit of water and heat. The one that did not was prone and cold, still, unmoving but alive.

Since then I have spent the last 24 hours nursing this chick and we’ve seen some improvements. It’s opening it’s eyes more often, and preening a bit. It’s standing steadily instead of collapsing at random. When it chooses to make noise, which is rare, it’s voice is loud and clear and robust like the other chicks… Yet it is not properly eating on it’s own yet, and it does it’s best to remain asleep and unmoving whenever possible. We have been feeding it a rich electrolyte mixture to get it going and the improvements have been minuscule yet present. I even managed to get a few bites of chick starter into it. I remain vigilant and hopeful, yet there’s not much I can do if it doesn’t start to eat on it’s own. The other chicks are all thriving, and I can hear them chirping away in my basement, cozy in their brooder box.

And now it’s about time to go give another dose of the nutrient mixture to our unwell chick and hope for the best.

I hope March proves to be a little more gentle, maybe even lamb-like, by the end of it, but I suspect it will continue to be more like the jaws of a lion; challenging, difficult, painful and wet. Time to buckle down and work hard!

Start your engines….

It’s spring again on the homestead. Or, it’s almost spring on the homestead. We’re still getting regular frosts but they’ve been interspersed with beautiful, sunny, 40-6*F days in which I go out and start doing work. Most of February is boring and uneventful… We’ve been folding a lot of seed pots and doing a lot of cleanup, but otherwise not much happens until the end of the month.

Now that we’re getting those few warm and sunny days, the ground can start to be gently worked. Compost can get mixed into beds, chickens begin to lay again, beds can be tilled and mulched to capture the last of the nitrogen from the upcoming snows, cages can be cleaned from their frozen winter layovers. Rabbits can be bred without the fear of cold. Dead weed stalks can be pulled. With the absence of both greenery and snow, lawns can be cleaned of any trash, broken pots, loose bags, small tools etc that were previously covered up, consumed by grass and time or otherwise forgotten about.

We moved a bale of straw out to start rotting for our potato boxes this year (rapid mold growth from lack of previous decomposition was a big problem last year), re-tied the trellises as needed, and plotted out new garden spaces. It’s our hope to dig a rain garden in the back lawn and plant it in such a way that it helps drain water from the rest of our lawn. Despite all of our work, the lawn is frankly lacking in drainage. We are living on former swampland, after all. We’re where the water stops and we have to deal with it. Thirsty plants that need a lot of water in a slight depression in our lawn will have lots of water for a long time. And with their water uptake, storage and filtration, the rest of our lawn might be a little less mucky. We also have plans to put in a more permanent pathway for walking on down the center of the lawn. We’re all sick of our boots sucking into the mud.

For me, all of this happens rapidly. A few days of beautiful sun with no rain, and then back to being bundled up indoors while the ground freezes so hard that it cracks and breaks apart. On these warm days with nothing growing I also allow the chickens to range across the entire lawn. They love the opportunity to eat the bugs out of the garden beds and compost that I till up. When the cold weather and snow sets back in they won’t even want to leave their coop, let alone venture across the entire lawn.

This early spring management is especially important for us this year as last year we had a lot of trouble with some little monsters known as wireworms. They devoured our potato crop and made a small dent in our radishes as well. They’re common in lawns across the US and are the larval stage of the click beetle, a fun little bug enjoyed by children that is fairly harmless but makes a solid snapping sound when threatened, handled, or laid on it’s back. The larvae, however, devour root vegetables at an shocking rate and is a demon to a gardener/farmer like me. My goal is to manage them effectively without pesticides. One way to do that is to till the soil frequently in cold weather as they do not like cold, regularly disturbed dirt. By keeping the soil cool and chilly and mobile, they may migrate out of the beds and into other spaces. We also have a “grub buster” globe filled with beneficial nematodes that might prey on the wireworms as well as the fleas we dealt with over the fall that we fear may return in the spring and the white grubs we sometimes find in our beds. When it warms up and the tilling is no longer beneficial to deter the wireworms, we will spray the nematodes on the beds and across much of the lawn and hope for the best. We don’t have a lot of other spaces in which to plant potatoes.

The rats are also becoming active again with spring. We’ve moved all our feed bags into metal bins, we set out various baits for much of the winter as well, but there’s only so much that can be done to exclude. We’ve never left feed sitting out for the chickens and rabbits either, the rats don’t seem to mess with the compost and we cleared out the majority of their living spaces. Yet there they remain. We are determined to be rid of them.

Fleas, rats and worms. Such is the nitty gritty of farm life.

But at least the sun is absolutely wonderful feeling these days. I will desperately enjoy it until it becomes so hot that I crisp up like a lobster.

Next week it will be cold and snowy and wet again with very little sun to be seen. Then I will be back indoors, starting seeds in pots under lamps in my basement like the grower of illicit goods. Currently I have leeks, basil and thyme sprouted and growing with celery, parsley and oregano planted but not yet germinated. Next it is a massive number of paste tomatoes and several varieties of peppers. Before you know it many of these plants will be going into the ground. Wish me luck!

The spirit of Upcycling (And the best seed pots)

Today I have been exploring the various ways I can apply the spirit of upcycling to my life.

Upcycling (from dictonary.com)

verb (used with object)upcycled, upcycling.
1.

to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original: “I upcycled a stained tablecloth into curtains.”

This week I am sick with a nasty cold. It may be more than that. I went to see a doctor and got some medication that is helping me recover. They actually prescribed me antibiotics for fear that I might be developing pneumonia again. Once you get pneumonia once, it makes the risk for getting future bacterial infections worse.

So lately I have been fairly inactive, relying on my partners to help with most of the critical outdoor chores. But now that I am on the mend I am able to start doing anything again and I am able to upcycle my time stuck semi couch-ridden while also upcycling a pile of newspapers. While I am an getting better I am still a little short of breath when I do simple tasks. So I’m spending my time doing important tasks with my hands instead, upcycling a bad situation into a better and useful one.

Today I am making these seed pots;

papercups.png

A stack of 40 newspaper seed pots

These are some of the best upcycled seed pots I’ve ever used. They wick water up like a peat pot and are surprisingly sturdy for paper. Unlike a peat pot they actually break down in one season and so don’t restrict root growth as much if you plant the whole pot, plus break apart with some water and a few pokes to free the roots completely for planting. There are some newspaper seed pots that are round and rolled on a can but they come apart easily and the round pots make it harder to conserve space per square foot.

Some time ago I read about someone complaining how millennials don’t listen to people with experience but hypocritically also complained that they refused to do things without trying to research them online first. (The irony of this person demanding millennials learn from their online post was lost on them as well.)
Some places on the internet are garbage, but like all other upcycling, it can be something great instead depending on how you use it! Most millennials (and many others) find the internet to be an incredible resource, and for many of us it’s our only viable resource to learn things. Here’s an idea, upcycle your internet usage. It’s more than OK to learn things online, in fact, it’s awesome! Trade out garbage and depressing websites for productive learning! Not only is it a great resource to learn from people more experienced than you, but it’s also a great resource to learn about how to experiment in ways that more experienced people might not. It’s where I learned to make these, and they are great. You can find the instructions on how to make them here;

 

I get the newspapers from my father, who is in his mid 70’s and appreciates reading the newspaper as a daily lifeline to the world. He often saves them in large quantities for me and brings them to my house in batches of several weeks worth of newspaper at once. Our local newspaper uses soy based inks in their printing so the news pages are safe to use in the garden. (Always check with your newspaper supplier about this, some inks leach toxins into the soil like heavy metals. If you don’t know anyone who has newspapers, consider asking on places like the Craigslist free section or your local freecycle group.)

As I folded up the seed pots I couldn’t help but see the troubles of the world on those pages. Racist rants trying to rephrase a protest of police brutality as disrespect for our military. Sabre rattling between nuclear powers, their egos threatening the lives of millions of people they will never meet. Companies caught in security scandals putting their millions of clients whole financial futures at risk to save a few dollars per person. Painful calls of misogyny from beauty articles demanding women be young, thin and sexy or else they’re worthless. Cries to buy luxury fuel-guzzling vehicles for “low-low prices” of a whole years worth of income that the average person I know can’t possibly afford to give up. Sales of over-priced sick puppy-mill dogs from breeders just looking to make a buck in the classifieds. Countless pages upon pages of obituaries, mostly old but some too-young, each one with a little advertisement at the end that seemed to say: “This dead person’s family used *COMPANY*’s funeral service! If someone you love is dead, you should give them your money while you are grieving too!”.

It gave me plenty of time to notice all this as I folded and folded and folded. I watched TV and chatted with my partners, sometimes playing games or doing other small chores in between folding paper. It was also our weekly cartoon night where we all meet up with some other friends to watch Japanese animation and we all folded papers for a bit. And while I was folding I couldn’t help but reflect on the grander implications of what we were doing.

All that hatred and anger. The egos, the consumption, the greed, the negligence. All the terrible ills and death of the world were getting folded up and put aside. Over the next few months, all of those horrible things will be upcycled and used to grow something beautiful. Something that’s the exact opposite of what’s written on all of those pages. Something that feeds both peoples bodies and souls. Something that brings life and heals the planet.

Those pages will grow food. They will grow peppers and beans. They will grow tomatoes that go into jars and remind us of the rich summer in the middle of a gloomy winter. They will go into gifts for others that bring joy through the year. They will go into growing flowers and feeding bees and rabbits and even grasshoppers and deer. They will break down into the soil and feed the worms and nematodes and grubs in the dirt. They are bits of carbon that will have come out of the air and return to the soil.

No matter how much hatred and anger and pain is printed on them, they can be used to heal.

What a thought provoking day of upcycling.

Ultimately we made 100 seed pots in one day while heavily distracted. Which makes these pots not only great to grow in but fast to produce. If you have some days off that you’re probably just going to be watching TV or something for a good chunk of them anyhow, consider setting yourself down with a flat surface on your lap and folding some seed pots. A 100 pack of 2″ plastic seed cups is nearly $25 on Amazon. I need possibly as many as 400 pots this year, so I will be saving myself $100 by doing this while I’d otherwise just be sick in bed. And in exchange it will nourish my soil, increasing carbon and biomass, and turn something ugly into something wonderful.

Frugal. Ecological. Healing. Nourshing to land, body, soul, and the whole world. Everything gardening, and upcycling, should be. I hope you give these awesome pots a try and do a little upcycling yourself.

So much for quiet!

Winters are usually a very quiet time on the farm. Not this one, though! We have had much happen since our vacation after Yule. We got a new rabbit, a New Zealand Red, laying the foundation for a new breeding program we have in the works. She is a sweet girl with extra soft fur. We have planned the garden extensively (which will be in another post), and gotten much done in the way of general maintenance.

This week in particular saw a thaw after weeks of negative temperatures. We actually temperatures reach 63*F at one point, allowing everything to melt into thick mud and deep puddles. My eternally-wet back lawn had a few inches of water across most of it. I have mentioned this before, but we often do not realize what an influence we humans have on the earth. The land my suburb is on was once a swampy wetland. When we get deep thaws and heavy rains, the lay of the land still dictates that the water run here, where our houses and lawns are. We have terraformed the land to try to prevent this, to dry the land out and build our box-houses, but nature does not listen. This is where the water goes, and where it tries to stop, just short of actually making it to our sewer grates, sitting thick upon the clay pack in our back lawns. Though I have desperately tried to manage it, there’s not very much to be done. Fighting mother nature is an endless task, and one that as a species we can hardly avoid any more. I live in this box, this is the land I have available to work.

So during the thaw we took the time to clean the animal pens. All of them. The coop, the outside and inside rabbit cages, and the pen that our “chicks” live in. They are adults at this point in truth, and we moved the ladies out with the flock. The boys will stay in and feed a bit longer before becoming soups. One in particular is large and pushy. He will make a good roast I believe.

We also bred some rabbits. Our bucks have been inactive lately, and our does somewhat unwilling. It is a challenge getting rabbits to breed sometimes. The boys try, the ladies lift, but I am not seeing consistent enough falls. I am concerned and digging into why.

And our bees are alive! They did a lot of removing corpses during the brief thaw. There were a LOT of dead bees. I cracked them open long enough to try to give them some extra food in the form of a candy board but my spray bottle stopped functioning. We got the board in, but all three of us got stung for our efforts. Dan is currently with a friend in an urgent care facility getting his treated. He got stung between the thumb and forefinger and his whole hand swelled up. The other stings were just tiny, like a bug bite, and swelled up to the size of a quarter, or even a half-dollar, but nothing to be afraid of. I hope he isn’t developing a bad allergy to bees. That happens sometimes to bee keepers who are exposed to too much bee proteins, but no venom. This is only his third sting in his life, but his father kept bees for years. I worry.

Still, despite that setback our compost pile grew substantially and the rabbits now sit in clean cages. And the bees were cared for. They have a better shot of making it through the winter now.

We also processed several too-old kits we kept around because of how busy we were in December and how cold it was in the first half of January. We now have rabbit in the freezer for the first time in a couple months, an unusual scenario. We pieced them out this time, pulling off legs, loins, backstraps, etc, and wrapping them then freezing them. All that’s left after this is a spine and rib cage with scraps and bits on it.

We took those bits and popped them in a pot with lots of water and a single teaspoon of salt, boiling them for hours and hours. At the end of it all we had some of the most intensely flavored stock I have ever had, and a meat and bone meal for the chickens… A warm high-protein snack that’s good for the middle of winter. The chickens had a blast during the thaw, especially with their new snacks.

Now we’re deep in an ice storm, but everyone is cozy and warm in their freshly cleaned homes, bellies full of good, fresh food. It’s been good work on the livestock front this week.

Later I will update you about the garden plans for spring. Much work has been done there as well!

Stay safe in the storms this week!

Yuletide Eve

Tomorrow is Yule. We finally have everything together. I have accidentally baked five pies (I was trying to make 3), and we have two young rabbits in a marinade in the fridge. Two chickens have mostly defrosted in our sink and are ready to have citrus juice poured over them for tomorrow.

The portabello mushrooms have been selected, ready to receive their cashew and chickpea stuffing. Tomatoes have been purchased for the tops.

The sun breads have been baked. Two normal breads, one sweet. The chickens eggs have been stockpiled for the ‘nog. We drink raw eggnog on yule made with eggs from our chickens.

A crate of beer is sitting in the living room. An extra table has been brought in. The presents are wrapped and under the tree.

The most important part, the Yule log, is outside. It’s sitting, suspended off the ground so it stays dry, in the middle of a Goddess spiral. This year Dan will be joining me for my prayers, which will be a little odd. I’ve never had someone to pray with me before. I hope I can remember the lines properly.

At dawn we bless the log. The Yule log is an old tradition with a lot of variations. Many Wiccans for example rely more on the symobology of the log and often burn candles in a log that’s been decorated with objects from nature, or use it as a decoration rather than burn an actual log. One old Nordic variation on the tradition is to cut down the biggest tree in the forest, and burn the entire tree in a bonfire for 12 or 13 days and nights.

But the Yule log has some rules that go with it.

First, the log must be collected from your own or public land, or given freely from someone elses. You may not buy, trade or exchange work for your log. It must be obtained freely and without debt paid or unpaid.

Different kinds of wood have different kinds of symbology attached to them. Ash is considered an old wood, used for protection, strength, good health and visions for the future. That’s our log this year.
This Page has a pretty good list of sacred trees and their meanings. Here are two other links to more comprehensive lists. Some heathen faiths recognize many trees as having sacred properties, but some other only hold a few in esteem. We’re more inbetween.

The log should be blessed. I do this at dawn on the day of the Solstice (the 21st). First, there is a cleansing of the air of evil spirits by burning sacred herbs or incense. Usually this is sage. (This will be awkward because Dan is allergic. Because of this I have to give him permission to enter the circle after it’s cleansed.) We call on Gaia, mother earth, The Goddess, mother of all things, whatever incarnation of her that you prefer, as well as the four directions and their elements to bless our log and guard our circle. Then we make a statement of intention, why you’re there that day (to bless the yule log), what you hope the outcome will be (letting go of the old year, welcoming in a positive new year), and a humble request to the spirits that you choose to invoke that they help those things happen. Then we say prayers, asking specific spirits and ancestors to also bless our log. We reflect on the old year and let it be cleansed from us. then we close the circle. There are candles and incense involved as well.

The log (or candles on the log) need to be lit with the remnants of last year’s log (or candle) signifying the old year giving birth to the new year.

As the log burns, we make wishes for the new year by writing them on a scrap of paper and burning them over the flames. (People who celebrate with candles often burn the wishes in a small brass bowl after passing them through all three candle flames.) The wishes have their own sets of rules. They must be practical, not fantastic, in nature. (Wishing for a million dollars is not OK, but wishing for a new well-paying job would be.) They must not manipulate others. (Wishing that your boss would promote you would not be OK, but wishing to do well enough to earn the promotion yourself is.) They must be ethically sound (wishing harm on others is a big no-no) and positive (Wishing something to happen to you is better than wishing something wouldn’t happen). In general, making a thoughtful and ethical wish is the way to go. Also, spirits are NOT fond of being sucked up to, so if you are disingenuous to earn their favor it will backfire.  Only wish for well upon spirits or other people if you really, truly mean it. It’s OK to make a wish for yourself!

Then the log needs to be burned from night, through to dawn… Either by burning the actual log all night long or letting the candles burn all night. The longer it burns, the better. If it stays lit until dawn it’s considered a very good omen. (Or for all 13 days if you want to cut down a whole tree!)

The Yule Log ceremony is accompanied by all manor of frivolity, exchanging gifts, drinking, feasting, and friendship. Being generous to friends, family, and to the poor in exchange for good blessings and carols are BIG parts of the tradition. The goal is to make the day seem so festive that the sun longs to return to earth. We also decorate with lights, candles and suns, evergreens and other signs of life and light, to remind the sun of what the world looks like when the sun shines on our land.

I know that this holiday means a lot to me. It’s one little part of my heritage that I claim for myself. Yule is a pagan tradition, but a nearly identical celebration is held by the Native Americans as well. In our household when I was a kid we celebrated the quintessential American Christmas. While paganism wasn’t forbidden by any means, it wasn’t what we celebrated. We went to midnight mass, we had a nativity scene cobbled together from several sets, we hung tinsel and angels on the tree. Now that I live alone I absolutely revel in the opportunity to celebrate Yule every year. We go all out for it.

After Yule I go on vacation. I’m looking forward to burning this year away with our log and starting next year off with a fun, happy, relaxed mindset.

Happy Yule everyone! I hope your holidays are great and your plants and animals grow well for you this year! I’ll see you all in the new year!