July 29th, 2014 §
I was going through some old books when this water-stained scrap of paper fell out, exactly ten years to the day that I scribbled down the beginnings of a dream. I remember it like it just happened. I was living in a third-floor, one-bedroom apartment near Washington, D.C. A friend was visiting, and we were up late drinking beer and goofing off when the name of my farm popped into my head in such a flash of inspiration that I immediately ripped off a piece of paper and wrote it down. I can still feel myself forming those letters in scratchy black pen.
I knew that piece of paper meant the beginning of something big. The next day I bought this domain name and five years later I bought the actual Bonafide Farm and started writing about my project. But what you’re seeing is where it all started. With this little scrap of paper, I conjured into being the biggest challenge and accomplishment of my life.
July 27th, 2014 §
I stuck a spring of borage into one of my homegrown bouquets and have fallen even more in love with this most-beautiful herb. In the indirect light of my foyer the zillion tiny hairs along each stem appear to glow. It is a magical-looking plant, and one I connect with deeply.
I grew this borage from seed, direct-sown this spring. It definitely needs a lot of sun—the seed I sowed in the shadow of some other plants failed to thrive, but the plants in the sun grew huge and vigorous and are covered with blooms. I didn’t expect it to do well as a cut flower—many herbs wilt in the house—but it’s proven to be a tremendous asset to my flower arrangements. And it’s a timely discovery, as one of my gardening goals this year was to expand my palette of cut flowers.
July 25th, 2014 §
Monday I was on the mountain again, hiking with three dogs. My companion and I stopped into a swimming hole and were tossing sticks in the water for the dogs to fetch when we realized we were directing them right toward a dark snake sunning itself on a rock in the river. I took this photo before we spotted the snake:
When we called the dogs back and went to investigate, the snake slipped into the water and swam away to rest in some brush downstream.
I think it was a northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). This is neat—it’s name is derived from the Greek neros meaning “flowing” or “liquid” and dia meaning “through.” Sipedon is derived from the Greek word sepedon which means “a serpent whose bite causes mortification.” Apparently these buggers have a mean bite and will use it if provoked. In fact, my Guide to the Snakes of Virginia lists the northern watersnake’s name translation as “nasty bite water snake.” I am glad we called the dogs away before they found it and even more glad to not be in the water when the snake swam by!
I was also happy it wasn’t one of the two poisonous snakes that live in my backyard mountains: the copperhead and the timber rattlesnake, both of which I have encountered while hiking these trails—sometimes by stepping over them whilst hiking!
July 24th, 2014 §
The year’s first wren nesting didn’t work out too well. But the wrens are back, this time having set up a much more concealed nest in one of my planters on the front porch. I am doing my part, this time, by surrounding the planter with a fortress of porch chairs and ladders, all positioned to keep Tucker away. Thus far it’s working. I’ve got four baby wrens growing up on the porch. Their nest is so deep in the planter that it took a flashlight to get this shot.
July 23rd, 2014 §
Monday night, before the rain had even stopped, I was out in the garden harvesting tomatoes. I knew that with so much rain, so quickly, any tomato that was even remotely near ripe would be split by morning if I didn’t get it off the vine. The year’s first Beefmaster and Brandwine were ripe, and I didn’t want to lose these massive and beautiful fruits, ironically, to too much moisture in a drought.
I picked all the tomatoes I could, with a few squash and cukes for good measure. It baffles me that the squash are still standing, but several readers have written that they’ve seen the same pattern in their gardens. Lots of Japanese beetles, not many squash bugs. Amazing. If this is an effect of the polar vortex, I’ll take one every winter!
As calculated by my kountry rain gauge, I got just shy of two inches of rain from the storm. Pretty amazing for about an hour’s worth of rain.
July 22nd, 2014 §
I had just finished an hour of weed wacking in about 99% humidity—a good way to get toned and lose weight!—and was messing around with the chickens. I heard a strange noise approaching from the south. It sounded like the drone of machinery, and as a big truck had just gone by I figured that was what I was hearing. But then the noise grew louder, rolling in waves up the road, across the bridge, and finally over the cedars that mark my property line. By then it was upon me, and within half a second I was drenched with a sudden downpour.
The chickens were out, and I sprang into action trying to call them all into the coop. Half responded, and the other half, along with the two young pullets, huddled outside or tried to jam themselves through the netting to get under the coop. It was chaos, and a scene I would have happily run away from. But I knew that if all the birds got into the coop together there was a good chance that the bigger birds would attack the two pullets, and getting soaked to my underwear seemed like a lesser evil than returning after the rain to patch up bloody birds.
So through the driving rain I grabbed at tail feathers, the water sheeting off the roof of the coop and straight down my pants, into my boots. Ungracefully but efficiently I got everyone caught and tossed through the pop-door of the coop, and then closed it up. Then I ran around to the human door to sort the two young pullets out from the flock and lock them up in their dog crate inside the larger room.
I grabbed the day’s eggs, and my dog and I ran splashing though the instant puddles to the house. In just these few minutes Tuck had already gotten so wet that he couldn’t come inside, so I left him out to meet his fate while I stripped off my streaming, grass-caked clothes right in the foyer.
And then I realized that all the windows were open upstairs. So commenced a naked, slippery dash for towels to mop up the water that was everywhere inside. Some people maybe would have run to close their windows before securing their livestock, but the storm came up so fast that I prioritized on instinct, and the house lost. I just can’t be in two places at once, holding down this while that springs up over there.
Amazingly, it continued to rain as I regrouped in a hot bath, read through a couple New Yorker articles and drank half an Indian Brown Ale. When I came out of the bath I heard a sound I’d been missing for at least a month, the low mechanical hum of the sump pump in the crawlspace kicking on. I’d begun to think my pump was malfunctioning, I hadn’t heard it in so long. But now it was back with its entirely reassuring noise, and so was rain the likes of which I haven’t had here in many weeks.
Big deal, you think. It rained. But this rain was needed. In fact, I was about to publish a post about how everything is browned out and we’re running a rain deficit for these last two months. Just last night I was e-mailing with my dad, both of us bemoaning the water stress we were seeing in our trees. The grass in the lawn is about totally dead, and last week the drought got so bad that I ran my well way down applying emergency water to the completely wilted gardens—something I only do in dire straights. Whenever I run the water down so far it kicks up tons of red clay and silt, which clogs my water filter and reduces water pressure in the house to a trickle until I remember that this happens and replace the filter. At $30 a pop.
It’s about an hour after it begun and still raining. This pop-up storm mushroomed right over my house and seems to have stalled, thank goodness. The water is coming so fast and furious that it’s ponded everywhere. The compost is floating off the garden, my driveway is running down the road, and I can sense the relief of every growing thing, myself included, as its washed clean, cells plumped and replenished.
I never thought much about water until I had a farm. In fact, I hated rainy days. But now I know that water is everything and I hope for it, year-round. Tonight I, and every living thing around me, got lucky. Even if we also got soaked.
July 21st, 2014 §
Remember back when I posted the photo of this spring’s major construction project? Well just because I failed to follow up doesn’t mean the construction stopped. Indeed, I spent most of the spring, when I wasn’t in the garden, working to install, trim, finish and paint seventeen custom cabinet doors.
When I built my house I had the brilliant idea to leave all the under-eave spaces on the second floor open, with the idea being that they would provide valuable storage space in a house with no attic nor basement. My dad offered to build custom doors, so when the builders signed off on the job it meant that I was left with giant holes in the walls of every room upstairs and long stretches of missing baseboard around all these openings. For four years I stared at pieces of cardboard that I hastily nailed over the openings on the day I moved in, after my cat decided to try to commit suicide by wedging herself between an exposed rafter and some insulation.
Obviously I hated these holes, as they were a blight on a brand-new house. I also hated that because they were so exposed inside, they let in a lot of cold air, wind, and, yes, mice. So last fall when I had the crawlspace properly conditioned I had a crew spray the inside of all the cubbies with foam insulation. That went a long way toward cutting down on heat loss and together with the foam in the crawlspace seems to have really helped the mouse problem.
This spring my dad finished building the doors, and he installed them and trimmed them out, even cutting custom plinth blocks that were a slightly scaled down version of the blocks I used around my human doors. Install was no picnic as we discovered less-than-perfectly plumb walls that necessitated some creative carpentry work.
Then it was up to me to fill nail holes, sand all the trim smooth, caulk for what felt like miles, and finally paint two coats of oil-based paint on everything, sanding between coats. It felt like it took me forever, but the end result is totally worth it.
The two cubbies in the master bedroom, above, and one of the two on either side of the dormer in the master bath, below:
We also took care of what had been another hole, open the the HVAC ducting, right off the kitchen. This was meant to be a pantry, and now it finally is. In addition to making the door, Dad built an insert backed with beadboard and made beautiful little shelves out of a red oak tree harvested on his farm.
It doesn’t look like much space, but again I was trying to maximize storage in this small house. And this little niche fits a surprising amount of food. Dad also made some access panels to cover the hole in the laundry room open to all the structured wiring for the house and another access hole behind the master bath shower.
One point of frustration on this project was learning that oil-painted surfaces yellow over time. All my trim was done in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove when the house was built, and I loved it. But over just the past four years I suspected my trim was yellowing. This was confirmed when I went to paint all the new cubby doors and trim in brand-new White Dove. The new paint was no where near the color of the four-year-old paint. I was pretty darn disappointed that paint that cost $100/gallon didn’t retain its color. I had to get new paint matched to the yellowed trim, and it’s not perfect. Plus, I detest yellow-toned trim, and that’s what I am stuck with now. Lesson learned: Use latex to paint anything that you don’t want to yellow. That’s what I will be doing the next time I need the trim painted.
But all in all, this was a huge project with one pantry, eight cubbies, and two access panels complete. Thanks for your help and beautiful work, Dad! The cubbies are a massive upgrade and add tons of custom charm to this little cottage.
July 20th, 2014 §
After the interminable cold of last winter, I am making a conscious effort to gorge on summer with both beautiful, fresh foods and warm-weather experiences. Already it’s the end of July: I saw my first reddening maple this week and the locust trees are browning out—both surefire reminders that we’re slipping toward darker, colder days.
Last week I spent the afternoon at a nearby lake beach, swimming with a friend and her three small children. It was so much fun but what a workout supporting two nonswimming kids at a time in the water while making sure no one drowned! I brought about ten pounds of cut-up watermelon and we polished it off. Sandy watermelon definitely screams summer.
Then Friday I took a date and his dog hiking in the mountains. Tuck got to swim and run trails all day with the first female dog he’s spent much time with, and I think he’s in love.
Humans and canines enjoyed a big swimming hole in a shady, mossy glen way up on the mountain, and during our picnic I met a new-to-me butterfly, the Zebra Swallowtail, that flitted around us for hours. It was my favorite colors—pale aqua and coral. It felt great to spend two days in a row swimming in natural bodies of water.
Yesterday was cloudy and cool, so I cooked all afternoon in front of the open windows, listening to the bird life outside. I roasted a bunch of cherry tomatoes, which are ripening in overwhelming succession, caramelized onions for about 45 minutes, and blanched the year’s first little “Nickel” green beans. All that plus a handful of chopped basil and some shredded provolone went into a quiche made with my chicken’s own eggs, and it was the best quiche I’ve ever made. And it didn’t even include my usual bacon or sausage!
I think, after years of experimenting, I’ve found a good crust recipe. I’ve never been particularly in love with any of my crust recipes, but this one worked perfectly. And it’s so easy I can write it here from memory:
145 grams of flour
1 stick of butter, roughly chopped into 1/8″ pieces (my butter was frozen, and it was fine)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbs. ice water
Spin flour and salt in food processor, then add butter and process to coarse crumbs. Dump in all the ice water and then—here’s where it goes against other recipes I’ve used—process regularly for about 30 seconds. It will feel like you are overprocessing, but the crumbs will come together into a perfectly smooth dough right at 30 seconds. Stop as soon as that happens, take out, shape into a disk and chill. Overnight is recommended but I just did it for an hour and it was still okay. Then roll out, dock, and blind bake for 15 min at 450 degrees. Cool, fill and bake again with whatever you want in it. Easy—and a life victory to have finally lit upon a recipe and technique that worked well!
While the quiche was baking I threw together a couple of jars of refrigerator pickles. We have entered the time of year when it’s hard to keep up with the garden’s output, but I love the challenge of having to turn tons of produce into meals.
Speaking of which, my garden/kitchen task today is to shred and freeze squash. I think I will also attempt a savory zucchini bread—the weather is so cool that it’s a good weekend to have the oven running!
And then maybe, hopefully, my dog and I will find our way to a river. Because it’s summer, and the season for swimming.
July 18th, 2014 §
Well, there are lots of cool chickens in the world, but this one is pretty neat. This week my mom and I were driving around the Shenandoah Valley and found a lavender farm. There were a bunch of beautiful chickens walking around, but this one was exceptional.
She was a tiny little girl, about the size of a 14-week-old standard chicken, and her feathers were the most remarkable opalescent porcelain blue, buff, and pearly white. She had crazy fancy feathered legs. She made fantastic little noises and was so charming I wanted to stick her in my pocket and smuggle her home.
I figured out that she’s a Belgian d’Uccle. I’d love to have a few of this bantam breed some day, even though I am not sure how they’d do housed with the big guys. So many chickens, so few resources to collect them all!
Do any of you have insight about keeping d’Uccles?
July 17th, 2014 §
I love this time of year when my kitchen counter is an artwork that changes every day.