January 17th, 2015 §
Even though I now live 3,570 miles away from my farmdog, I think about him all the time, especially when I see a black and white shepherd here in Edinburgh—which is about every day given that this is the land that originated the breed. Ancestors of the English Shepherd went to the New World with the colonists, where they were developed into all-purpose American farm dogs.
Interestingly, the breed “English Shepherd” isn’t known as such here in the U.K. unless dealing with a specialist breeder. A quick glance around the internet reveals that some U.K. breeders are importing English Shepherds from the U.S. for their breeding programs, touting the benefits of these “American” dogs. What goes around, comes around, right? Here’s the clearest explanation I’ve seen of the origins of the breed and how it developed. Right now there are only three U.K. English Shepherd breeders listed on the U.K. English Shepherd Club Web site. Maybe Tuck has a future here as a stud dog?
As much as I am sure he’d like that, Tuck is doing great living with my parents, where he has everything he needs plus the added benefit of canine cousins. Tuck grew up a wild child in a Free Union holler’, homeschooled by an eccentric and reclusive single parent—this new socialization is good for him. As dogs do, he’s adapted to and accepted his new reality without a backward glance, which is all I could hope for. Happy fourth birthday, farmdog.
Past birthdays: Third birthday, second birthday, first birthday.
(Thanks to Dad for the photo, and all the regular updates.)
December 16th, 2014 §
on the top shelf of an Edinburgh garden superstore.
October 30th, 2014 §
I know it’s been nearly two months of silence here on the Bonafide Blog, but just wanted to pop back in to say that I will now be writing from Edinburgh, Scotland!
I moved here in early September, arriving on my 35th birthday, and have since been studying Horticulture with Plantsmanship at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Scotland’s Rural College. It’s been a long-held dream to study plants in the U.K., and I am really excited to be doing it at one of the best places in the world for the study of horticulture.
It’s been an absolutely crazy two months, during which my world turned upside down. I was pretty sure I’d shut down the blog. But now circumstances have evolved so that I will actually be doing some farming in Scotland, so I plan on writing about that here as well as the odd observation or two about expatriate life. I may even get around to exploring all the lessons I learned at Bonafide Farm, as promised.
To everyone who wrote asking about Tucker, he is safe and sound living the good life with my parents just a short drive away from the old Bonafide Farm. He is enjoying his new home, where he has a full-time canine playmate, and of course the love and attention of my parents, who are wonderful with him. My kitty is there as well, and all my chickens found good new homes with friends. I’m not going to say it was easy to leave them all, but every creature is well-taken-care-of and happy.
Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post. I didn’t really know so many people were reading and finding what I wrote useful and inspirational, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear all the nice things you had to say. Thank you for reading, and I hope you stick with me for the next iteration of Bonafide Farm. More to come, very soon!
August 12th, 2014 §
Last week the house got a major upgrade in that one of the two entries now has proper steps!
Yes, I am embarrassed to admit that for more than four years I lived with two cinder blocks and a couple paint-stained board as my only way off the back porch. It was one of those things, of which there are myriad when you build your own house, that get left to the last minute because I couldn’t decide on a design while the contractors were on the job. The contractor left, and I was left with a precipitous drop off the porch onto a wobbly 2″x6″. I adapted, and managed to navigate the tricky board/door combination okay, and as these things happen when there are a zillion other projects higher in priority, it just became normal. If a bit kountry.
But last week, thanks to a few day’s hired labor, I now have a proper set of stairs at the back of the house. I had a flash of inspiration last winter when I realized a simple set of stairs wouldn’t suffice in this situation. It would have been too hard to stand on them and open an out-swinging door. So I came up with this idea to make essentially a mini-deck, which gives plenty of room to operate the door and also all sorts of nooks for sitting, potted plants, English Shepherds, etc.
In time the new pressure-treated wood will weather, and then if I am feeling ambitious I can paint it to match the house. But for now I am thrilled with how it turned out. I keep going in and out the door so easily that I laugh with delight, remembering how annoying it was before. I grilled out last weekend and didn’t burn myself opening the door like I did on the fourth of July! Now if I just had a nice stone patio for my new steps to connect to. It’s in the master plan…maybe in another four years!
August 6th, 2014 §
It took me a long time to get used to having a dog that constantly keeps his eye on me, even when pretending to relax. At best it is intense, at worst somewhat creepy. But now after three and a half years of living with my “English shadow” I am having a hard time imagining Tuck not having my back at all times.
Last night he watched me as I prowled about the woods, photographing the surprise lilies. He came right to the edge of his invisible fence line, as I walked beyond it, and didn’t budge.
Sometimes Tuck is silly, often he is playful and excitable just like a typical puppy. Sometimes he is the purest expression of wild joy that I have ever seen, flying at full speed across the field first thing on a cool morning. But ever since I have known him he’s also had a serious, contemplative side, and that’s the Tucker I saw last night—his old-soul face. I wonder what he knows.
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 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 7th, 2014 §
It was a perfect holiday weekend at the farm—unseasonably cool and dry, crystal-clear with a great brisk breeze thanks to Hurricane Arthur. I had the windows open all weekend, the A.C. off, and did a double-take Saturday night when the temperature outside was 52 degrees right before bed. It had been a fun night—from about nine to ten I enjoyed the sounds of the Crozet fireworks show. Despite being fifteen miles away, it sounded like it was in my backyard. Sound has a funny way of bouncing up and down this valley, and it was cool to stand in the yard and hear the blasts echo off each mountain top.
I took advantage of the weather to dry some clean sheets outside on my new clothesline, which I love as it’s relaxing to watch whatever’s hung on it billow in the breeze. Then I parked myself on the back porch for two days straight to soak up the amazing weather before the more seasonal heat and humidity returns again today. I ate all my meals outside, caught up on my magazines, began re-reading some Faulkner, and started in on this little cross-stitch of green seedlings.
The designer is Japanese artist Kazuko Aoki, and the pattern book (Wildflower Garden) I have is a Chinese translation. So it’s been a bit of a crap-shoot to figure out but I think I got it. I had about given up on sewing when I failed to finish a project begun in high school, but I like these simple, spare and natural designs so much that they tempted me back in. I am pleased that I found this sewing easy and relaxing, so much so that I completed the whole project in two days!
Spending hours on end sitting on the porch really provided me with a secret window into the workings of all the neighborhood bird life. It’s amazing what you can see if you just. don’t. move. I caught the baby mockingbird’s discovery of the bird bath, and watched as it figured out how to toss water over its wings. I am convinced that the birdbath, which I added last year, is behind the notable uptick in the number of breeding birds in the yard. I was going to shim it up to make it more level, but watching this fledgling explore the water made me realize that the birds probably appreciate the beach-like effect of a slightly off-level bird bath. It’s a zero-depth entry kiddie pool!
Then yesterday in early afternoon I heard dramatic, insistent bird cries from somewhere near my head. I poked around following the sound and discovered a sparrow fledgling in the big lilac, begging for food. I got this shot of its parent stuffing a fat green worm beak-deep into its loud child’s mouth.
The temperature had begun to creep up yesterday evening, and by 5:00 p.m. the sun was too much on the porch. So Tuck and I hit the road for our usual three-mile loop to a nearby river, where we could cool our paws in the slow-moving water.
And then home, walking in the sun along a hot and dusty gravel road between verges full of warm and fragrant yarrow. It smelled dry and sweet, like the desert, or, I imagine, the Mediterranean. It was the perfect end to this gift of a summer weekend.
June 25th, 2014 §
Look who bounded in the house last night, keyed up like all get-out, covered forehead to paws in skunk juice, as I was all showered and in my pjs and ready to go to bed? At least he took it like a man and was only shot down his front and not all over. So last night at 10:00 p.m. I was doing emergency bathing in a little puddle of floodlight.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. The last time Tuck was skunked was May 2012, which isn’t too bad for living in the wilderness. At least now I have my act together to run a hot water hose out of the laundry room, so I don’t have to do cleanup in the house.
One word: Technu. It’s that poison ivy, outdoorsman soap that combines with and removes nasty oily stuff. After the last skunking, I’d bought a bottle for just such an emergency, and boy, does it work. I rubbed it into Tuck’s fur and it seemed to instantly neutralize the skunk smell in a way that the dish soap and vinegar I used last time didn’t. I followed up with a regular dish soap wash and this morning he smells pretty decent, all things considered. Interestingly, the Technu wasn’t as effective at removing the smell from Tucker’s invisible fence and nylon collars, which still smell pretty skunky.
There are some recipes for homemade skunk smell remover online, but they use hydrogen peroxide. As the owner of a black dog, I didn’t want to play amateur beauty parlor and end up with a bleached-out pet!