Sunday, January 26, 2014

Uncommonly Cold Cackling

Kentucky is having winter lows of record and more snow than is usual for this region and time of year.  Of course, we are not the only state suffering the wrath of the polar vortex.  We generally expect ice storms in February that provide treacherous driving conditions.  What snow that generally falls before the February ice storms melts within 48 hours of its arrival.  A day of biting cold can happen; however, the odd bit about this polar vortex is the weather lingers.  The snow is hanging around, needs shoveled, but on the upside your snowman will last awhile.

Thankfully, the animals are doing quite well.  I was a bit concerned for the cattle.  Then, Richard reminded me that cattle are left out in Canada in temperatures of -40 and -60 C with no harm done.  My tendency to make every animal a pet of sorts must amuse him.  Long before humans decided to keep and tend animals, these beasts roamed the open land and did quite well without us.  My worry wart needs some 'Compound W' and I'll be fine!

Egg production is steadily increasing despite the harsh weather.  I am thankful that the temperatures have not hampered them.  In the off periods when Richard is unable to check, I collect eggs too.  To date, I have not been pecked.  Richard gets pecked quite often.  This has me wondering if I have a beginner's edge.  Could the big peck come soon and I'll need a Band-Aid?  I try to speak as softly as I can when I approach the nest box speaking words of love and concern before I place my hand under the hen.  Except for the odd one, they raise up for me to show their work (or lack thereof).  When I find no egg, I remove my hand and give her some peace.

The ewes are healthy.  Several resemble wheel barrows.  Number 94 is definitely having twins.  If not, we'll have a time extracting the two beach balls that she swallowed.  She's docile and loves to be petted.  In close competition for soppy pet like characteristics with number 75, I wonder how much of this 'petness' they'll retain when they become mothers.  A ewe can reject her lamb; though it seems unfathomable to me.  No one considers orphaned lambs really but I do hope that our flock is the mothering type.  It is no chore to bottle feed a baby lamb when they are the cutest creatures on Earth.  It's always best for the mother to accept them, of course.  I am praying that none are orphaned.

I hope that your world is warmer than ours tonight and tomorrow brings sunshine and happy thoughts.  In the coming weeks, I will be traveling.  Spring planning commences when I return.  Diagramming the garden for this season and future planning is one task that I will enjoy.  I will also post a list of what we've planted in the vegetable garden and plans for the flower garden when it is finalized.

Stay warm and purpose each day to find peace in your heart.

With Love from Brookhill

Mrs. B.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Apple Cider Vinegar: It's Not For Everybody

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)  goes in and out of fashion and is making a comeback.  

Dr. D.C. Jarvis was the first to praise ACV for its benefits and claim it cured almost everything. Jarvis believed in the health benefits of honey and vinegar.  His book is still available and his work represents that piece of ancient folklore surrounding ACV.  

Twenty years ago, I jumped on the ACV train for all the wonderful benefits promised.  Paul Bragg was really the founder of the modern ACV movement.  His daughter, Patricia Bragg, followed in his footsteps.  

Paul Bragg believed that a clean life could offer a man up to 120 years.  He hoped to live that long but his age at death is not known.  No one knew Paul's age.  To be fair, Paul Bragg was a young man before he started his journey and stated many times that his life may not work as a model.  He lived his youth eating all sorts of things that were bad for him.  It was impossible to know what damage was done and how that would shorten his life.  Bragg only claimed the untainted life from birth could enjoy up to 120 years with a daily dose of apple cider vinegar along with clean vegan eating and vigorous exercise.

This is how the movement began.  Later, the Bragg’s came out with Liquid Amino Acids:  a substitute for the protein missing in most vegan diets.  A close look at the label though tells the consumer there is little protein  in Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acid.  The amino acids touted by the Bragg family were from fermented soy beans; a process that came under close scrutiny and caused outrage in the health community not long ago.  Why?  Natural bloggers everywhere had a 'beef' with the vegan protein substitute that stated "No MSG" on the label.  The process by which the amino acids were made produce an 'MSG broth' and was not suitable as a soy sauce alternative or good source of vegan protein.

Patricia Bragg was never available for comment.  Sales tanked.  Now, I imagine enough time passed for folks to develop amnesia and Bragg products are moving off shelves again.  Paul and Patricia Bragg marketed their specific apple cider vinegar claiming that only pure ACV could guarantee benefit.  The vinegar must contain the ‘mother’.  Filtered vinegars provide flavor but no benefit, they say.  There are other brands of raw or unfiltered vinegar that contain the ‘mother’ but Bragg’s is king.
All that said, is there conclusive evidence that ACV is the cure-all for humankind?  There are a few studies that hint ACV may help reduce your likelihood of diabetes or obesity.  Most ancient folklore about ACV has either been disproved or not researched.  There is no body of evidence proving its benefits ranging from curing head lice to de-crystallizing arthritic joints.  Yet, folks continue to use it.  But, not every remedy fits every person. 

If you are using ACV and benefit from it, by all means, keep using it.  Some may actually get sicker taking apple cider vinegar.  A community of folks who struggle with another common ailment:  Candida Albicans.

Candida Albicans in its simplest form is a yeast infection.  If left untreated, the yeast will spread and cause thrush in your mouth, body blisters, etc.  This is ‘systemic yeast’ and at that stage is diagnosed ‘Chronic Candida’.  The increase of antibiotic usage in the United States contributes to the numbers.  Folks who take antibiotics every time that they are ill run the greatest risk of contracting candida albicans.  It is difficult to eliminate once in your system.  Harsh dietary regimens have to be followed, medications are given, and there are three items above all that the candida sufferer must eliminate:  sugar, alcohol, and vinegar.  These three substances cause yeast to proliferate.  Vinegar is gasoline on an already burning yeast fire.

The trouble with candida albicans is the yeast takes up residence alongside fat in your cells.  The yeast creates a barrier between fat and the outside world denying fat an exit strategy.  Unless the yeast is reduced or eliminated from the cells, the fat molecules will not release.  Current researchers believe more suffer with candida albicans than reported because one can go for years without being diagnosed. 

For example, your only symptom may be weight gain while others may experience a myriad of symptoms.  Candida manifests in each person differently.  When aggravated, the condition only worsens because the acidic stomach loaded with yeast is already sour and ‘making wine’ per se.  Candida sufferers will have a decreased alcohol tolerance.  One or two drinks can intoxicate the candida patient who used to be able to drink more before becoming very drunk.  Another study now links chronic edema with obesity.  When yeast surrounds a cell, it traps fat and water.  More research is needed to find a direct link but work to date is compelling.

ACV is not a cure-all but it can help some people.  If you suffer from candida, I urge you to avoid adding ACV to your diet.  Are you wondering if you have candida albicans?  Take this questionnaire before seeing your doctor: 

The Yeast Connection online is a great resource for those who suffer from chronic illness.  Rule out yeast before grabbing a bottle of ACV.  People are unique and a cure-all may not be YOUR answer.

Be blessed!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Waiting on Springtime

The woodland and pastures of Brookhill lie dormant waiting for that next burst of sunshine.  Walking the upper tract this morning, the tender green shoots below the bleached grass covering told of a long kept promise by the Creator.  Spring will come!  Life is just waiting for the okay from heaven.

This week, we said goodbye to our four roosters.  The hens seem much happier without them and they were not the roosters that we really wanted for breeding.  They went to a very good home.  Meanwhile, Richard and I are keeping our eyes peeled for a Colombian Wyandotte rooster.  If you know of anyone local who might have one, please drop a line to us.

The Colombian Wyandotte pullets that we got from a lovely couple in Harrodsburg are growing so fast!  This week, two tiny eggs appeared from them.  It is hard to believe they are coming into lay. they are giving us beautiful little pullet eggs that will become gorgeous large eggs before we know it.

The lake has a mottled glass block style surface this morning, evidence of thaw.  Feeding the fish is something Richard loves to do each morning.  When we can get a pole in the water, there will be catfish in the pan!  The lake at the bottom of the property has one distinguished resident:  an albino catfish that weighs around 15 pounds!  I've only seen the fish twice and was amazed at his size.

The weather is crisp and unforgiving cold but Spring is on its way.  My garden books are here.  More catalogs arrived today to entice me to plant a million lush posies about the farm.  My heirloom seed catalog is also here for vegetable garden planning.  A high functioning yet gorgeous garden is my goal.

Vegetable gardens are necessary but never pretty.  Most gardeners tell that it took about three years for them to get the look that they wanted.  Patience is not really a virtue of mine but the goal for year one is to have a decent outline to build upon year over year.  Pathways, raised bedding, and some containers may factor into the end design.  We were too late in the season for Fall planting but the portable greenhouse structure reserved for that will have hot house tomatoes and other heat loving veggies in it this year.  After that harvest is done, we will be busy putting together our Fall/Winter planting to harvest throughout the cold season.

A garden should work for the gardener through the years.  Don't stop gardening because you cannot bend any longer.  Bring the garden to you!  I will be using a few techniques to ensure that I can reach all my plants for many years while building something that also looks good in and out of season.  Plans from Spring 2014 extend to Spring 2015 with four season harvesting the end goal.  With any luck and a bit of sunshine, I should need very little from the market by summertime.

Do you have any great gardening ideas?  I would appreciate you posting them here.  I've always worked in other people's gardens.  Spring 2014 will be my very own and I'm anxious to get my hands in the dirt.

God bless!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Housing and Chicken Development

Hey there!

The chilly weather has not deterred work at Brookhill Farm.  Richard has been busy building chicken tractors, large and small.  He has two prototypes in development.  The smaller tractor is on grass with a few young hens inside.  The larger tractor is not yet ready but I am providing pictures of our progress on that model.  A few more items like wheels on the bottom and it should be rolling onto pasture soon.

From this side, we have a lovely yard for our birds to play, peck, and express their chicken selves.   A ladder descends from the nesting and perching platform allowing them to wander in and out as needs dictate.

This is sitting inside our barn.  Please close your eyes and imagine there is a grass floor inside. :)  The beauty of this design is the chickens remain safe, receive plenty of fresh air and grass, and can peck or dig for worms or grubs as they choose.  We do provide a bit of non-GMO chicken feed but chickens desperately need to be on grass to thrive.  You will notice a difference in the chicken and the eggs they lay when they are given fresh pasture each day.

Chickens are resilient creatures but a few 'creature comforts' go a long way in making your birds happy, happy, happy.  The ladder that takes them to the nesting/perching platform can be latched onto the ceiling when not in use making the whole unit easier to move around the pasture or field to field.

The nesting boxes (3 per side) are accessible via external hatches.  A separate door into the nesting/perching platform area provides easy access to cleanup for droppings and providing fresh bedding for your birds.  Once the wood dries, this tractor is ready for paint.  A tin roof completes their new home.

Spring is just around the corner.  Lambing starts soon.  The beef calves are due around May 2014.  Richard also plans to add piglets to our mix this Spring to fatten for Fall slaughter.

Emma, the Jersey, is doing nicely and expecting her calf soon.

Houston, the donkey, is getting adjusted to her surroundings.  She is bonding quite well with the sheep and looks at me now when I call her name.  I think she has an idea that it is her name; in the coming weeks, I pray she understands, "Yes, that me!"

Tons of great things going on at Brookhill Farm including the antics of Houdini, the magic laying hen.

More on Houdini later...stay tuned!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Soggy with a Dose of Sunshine

It's a crisp yet slightly soggy morning here at Brookhill Farm.  The sun made its appearance at the appropriate time.  I walked down the drive to open the gate for the gentleman who works for us and retrieved Saturday's mail this morning.  I had company and forgot about the post until I unlocked the gate.

More cedars will be sacrificed today in the name of the almighty fence post!  We have quite a surplus and the additional cross-fencing that Richard wants will be done using our own wood.  That's a nice thought not to mention a great savings.  To date, 100 cedars have been felled.  Richard and I took a survey of the 65 acres of woods last week.  From various storms, many second and third growth trees have cracked and tumbled in the woods.  One old growth tree fell over the creek and reaches the other side as if to build a bridge for a mischievous ten year old with a tree frog in his pocket (for safe keeping, of course).  Managing the forest is just as important as making sure the fields produce delicious grass for the animals.  The thinning is necessary and the dead wood needs put to good use.

Hickory trees abound and are bearing nuts.  Coming late to the farm, we missed this year's harvest but found enough to dry and savor for the holidays.  The next order of business is identifying the different types of oak and maple within the forest.  At the entrance to the property there are about six sugar maples discovered via leaf identification.  Their bark is much lighter than I would have imagined for a maple tree.  My first guess was white oak or silver birch but I was wrong.  It took a few hours searching through tree and shrub books, identification guides online, and forestry web sites to find the exact match on this leaf.

Identifying species during the Fall is not as easy.  In the Spring, nature reveals its true self.  Once the decay of autumn commences, some telltale signs erase.  The discovery of the sugar maples had my mind fixated on delicious maple syrup.  My research took off in a new direction!  How might I tap these trees and get some of this yummy syrup?

The number of taps depends on the circumference of the trunk.  Anything under 10 DBH should not be tapped as it would cause permanent damage to the tree.  A spile is inserted into a tap hole drilled slightly upward to allow the sap to flow freely into a container.  When it rains, water taken up by the tree mixes with the sap inside allowing it to flow freely and continue to give.  The rain helps produce more sap.  The best time to extract syrup is Spring and Fall when the nights are frigid and the days are warm!

From what I've read, the extraction is easy when the tree is tapped properly.  The tricky part for me will be choosing the right spile.  Those who wish to do as little damage to the tree use a 5/16" spile.  A 7/16" spile was used in years gone by.  Many prefer the 7/16" despite the damage believing the 5/16" spile reduces sap flow.  Studies conducted recently show no reduction in sap flow using a 5/16" spile.  The tap hole is able to heal faster and the tree is happier.  Spiles are made from many types of materials now.  The question is:  which type is right for our trees?  I'll keep you posted!

Link:  New Options for the Maple Spout or Spile

The difficult part is boiling down the sap.  Commercial sap operations purchase large evaporators/reducers that boil the sap down into a syrup, removing all the water, and impurities from it.  One can boil sap down on a stove but it would take much longer to produce syrup or sugar that way.

The general formula:   40 gallons of sap = 1 gallon of maple syrup or 8 pounds of maple sugar

Without an evaporator, I need a large black cauldron in the back yard to boil down my sap should I decide to do this.  The trees cannot be tapped until Spring 2014 .  So, I decided to spend more time looking for other sugar maples in the woods.  The previous owners may have planted these or they could have been here.  If I find our only sugar maples are in the front near the brook, then I know they were a thoughtful addition.  I hope the woods yields more of them, however.  They are amazing trees.  The leaves are astounding and each one matches the size of Richard's hand.  Locals often call them "river maples" which is deceiving because that name doesn't tell the casual onlooker what gorgeous goo this specimen contains.

The more we wander, the more we discover.  These trees are another example of valuable resources that are 'untapped'.  As I returned from the brook with my leaf samples last weekend, my mind went  back in time while I walked the hill.  My father once said, "When you're old enough to know how to live, you're old enough to die."  As the chill bothered the arthritis in my right hand, my hip popped, and my bad leg reminded me it was along for the ride too.

From the cradle, every breath is counted.  No one knows exactly how many of those each of us gets to take.  I think of what I used to consider scenery.  Now, I see it as life, opportunity, sustenance.  Perhaps a better word would be 'provision'.  Then my mind takes me to that awesome concept:  Divine Provision or Providence.

Nature replenishes itself.  The human is the intruder into its world.  It is never the other way around.  Humans are blessed that we can draw from it, drink from it, and live in harmony with it.  It saddens me when I think of how many years that I've wasted never realizing all of what God's creation holds.  I feel that I should have been living this life always.  I'm grateful to God that I've awakened.  It's as if I have come alive for the first time.  My old eyes feel like a child's exploring this habitat.

A touch of sadness appears on my cheek.  I pray that the Lord gives me as many years to give back to the Earth that I spent thoughtlessly taking from it.  Every farmer's creed should be to leave the land better than you found it, not worse for you having raped it.

Take a walk through the woods sometime this week.  Collect some leaves.  Research and learn a little bit more about what grows naturally in your region, what may have been planted by settlers, and how each member in the forest does it part.  As you walk through, do not just admire the leaves.  Admire the ground beneath your feet.  Man cannot devise a carpet more lovely than the forest floor.

Be blessed...and leave it better than you found it!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Cycle of Life

With every beginning comes an ending.  This week, my cousin had a heart attack and did not recover.  She passed away at her home in Louisville at the young age of 51 years.  I was dropping off furniture for my older sister when the call came that she was gone.  We had not been able to visit the last two years.  I was in Canada and she was in Louisville.  The new farm puts me closer to the Louisville side of my family and she had priority on the list of visits to make.

Indeed, she will be my first visit.  Instead of laughing and cutting up about when we were young, I will pay my last respects and walk her to that final resting place.  I came home a little too late.  In nature, we witness the last breath of Autumn, the cold and dark places of Winter, await Spring's rebirth, and bask in the adolescence of Summer.  We spend all Winter waiting for our friends to join us next Spring!

If only humans were flowers that we might renew ourselves each Spring!  Alas, we are alike yet different.  The spirit of regeneration is given in place of renewal.  We are here for a time then gone.  Hopefully, that souls crosses over to a life eternal in a glorious place where one day every one will meet again.

Managing the cycles of life for the creations and creatures in your care is ninety percent of the job description.  Farmers are God's caretakers.  It seems easy when discussing cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and the like.  Yet, so difficult when the life cycle of a loved one ends.  One is never ready to part with family.  Every other instance can be reasoned away but this human loss.

Life becomes more precious when it rests in your hands.  Cradling the head of a lamb while helping it feed or nuzzling open the mouth of a tiny calf who refuses to latch onto the mother or a feeder.  One day, that life will be gone too.  While it is here, it is our job to give God's creature the life that it deserves.  Humans also should strive to help one another lead the lives that they deserve.  Going forward, I will do what I can to help others attain what is right, not what is left, ever mindful of the cycle of life.

In Loving Memory of Anita Rose Mitchell DeSpain

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A New Beginning: Brookhill Farm of Ghent, Kentucky


It's been a long journey but we found the perfect farm for us.  We closed on a fantastic property consisting of 130 acres of rolling hills and pasture, two stocked fishing lakes, fruit and nut trees, vegetable plots, and two grape arbors.  The farm rests on the county line between Gallatin and Carroll counties in Kentucky making it convenient to Louisville and Cincinnati.

The woodland is abundant with first, second, and third growth trees making a lovely home for white tail deer and wild turkey.  This woodland also provides lovely shade and repose for the pigs that we will be rearing.  The lush pasture is perfect for rearing sheep, cattle, broilers, and this same salad bar is perfect for laying hens.

This is an ideal habitat for sustainable living and farming.  We are honored to own it and continue the management of this already well maintained property.  The previous owner was comforted in knowing that his farm would not become a real estate development.  It will remain a farm for future generations.

According to title search, this land first belonged to George Rice and is referenced in his will dated 1822.  Records indicate and locals estimate this farm dates to 1810 or earlier.  His family farmed it for generations until it was sold to the O'Neal family then to the Griffin family.  The previous owner, Flannery, sold it to us.  We look forward to working through the Winter in preparation for Spring.  Our small beef herd and chickens have a new home.  We are adding other animals this Spring and planting our garden.

I will be blogging about what's going on at Brookhill Farm as time allows.  We hope you stay tuned!

God bless!

Tina (and Richard) Boutall
Brookhill Farm
Ghent, KY