Surf S.U.P. in the Rockies

Rising Creek Digression V – a weekly bucolic blog

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All photos by Sam

Surf’s up where the beetle-kill pines are down – here in Colorado, and here on the Farmette, a mile above sea-level.

I took the chance to catch up with Ryan Witbeck this Sunday evening, who maintains the funky woodshop in the Farmette’s famous Shackette. Everything from a mandolin to a milking-stand has been under-construction here, but most importantly, Ryan spends his days building surfboards from beetle-kill pine wood. A master wood-worker, with stories that could inspire old folks songs from his Atlantic and Caribbean boat-building and chartering days, he has settled in Lyons with his lovely family.

He sits at the confluence of two vastly different flows in his woodshop – that of one of the oldest craft traditions with that of the newest recreational and athletic hype. He is beginning to cut his deft woodworking hand into the world of standup paddle boarding, perhaps the largest emerging niche in the surfing world. Zack Whitt, another brilliant Farmette woodworker, has joined him for the season. Truly master tradesmen are rare these days, but are essential to the health and resilience of a community.

“The borders have fallen for surfing”, Ryan muses. It has moved off the beach – through the palm trees and coastal real estate found worldwide, and into the land-locked hinterland. And with it the character of the sport has expanded, from ubber-fit, exceedingly tanned, Pacific coast studs (who are still pushing the sport to a new limit, mind you) to a broader crowd that can stand on massive planks and paddle their way around Colorado’s network of reservoirs or run its rivers. Heading out into typical swells in the ocean is intense, while dipping into the Boulder Reservoir on a calm summer day is not. So the sport changes. Folks can head out and do laps, or practice yoga on their boards. As Ryan says, “if you can swim and you’re not afraid of the water, you’re going to love this sport”.

ImageStand up paddle boards are already hot. If you think you are trend-setting at this point, the wave is passing you by. According to Ryan, the three largest manufacturers have already sold their entire stock for the year.

But let’s focus in on this confluence of hot trends and real craft. Recreation is costly – the gear to do it, the racks to transport it, maybe a four-wheel drive to access areas, the outerwear, and on. Surfing appears to be a pure sport – just you, your board-shorts and the plank that you stand on. But surfboards are oil. Building from Styrofoam, epoxy, and fiberglass allows for relatively cheap boards to be available for the masses, but surfers would most-likely prefer for their water-based recreation to be free of disasters such as BP’s Gulf spill. Surfing an oil slick would be a dirty sport indeed. Additionally, the practice of building surfboards, per the trend, has been outsourced almost entirely to Asian factories.

According to Ryan, it is not about quantity but quality. This is the idea of living, working, and building slowly. Like Yvonne Chouinard at Patagonia, he does not pretend to be saving the world, but is adding his piece to a better world through more deliberate decision making that meets multiple bottom lines in addition to the financial. Ryan’s boards use some epoxy, and a thin layer of fiberglass, two pieces of technology that add loads to the strength and durability of the boards. But the extent of petroleum toxicity in building ordinary surfboards makes his “seem like olive oil”. He’d like to do better, and is also looking to work more with pine-based adhesives.

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Petroleum-based boards have no story, or even worse, an ugly story once you get to telling it. Not only are they toxic, but they also feel expendable. But take a beautiful wood-board that was built by two people you know, from beetle-kill pine harvested just over the divide in Granby, built on a small local wood-shop in Lyons that is also an organic farm, and you will most likely have a more full experience once you stand on it and be more invested in its extended life.  Ryan wants to build boards that don’t just last a few seasons, but an entire lifetime, and then the lifetime of the child that it’s passed on to – if maintained and repaired, they should last up to 150 years! And if they no longer want to use it on the water, well, they hang it on their wall, because they are beautiful, and they tell the following story:

One time, not long ago in Colorado, there was a war between the Beetles and the Humans. The Beetles were the most frightening and powerful bugs in the history of the Rocky Mountains. Birds rejoiced when they arrived, humans cringed and scowled. It was a mirror into the secret fears of an otherwise tree-hugging, trail running, ecologically-minded, mountain-living culture. They loathed the Beetles; they waged a war on them with the strongest chemicals known to man. But no matter how many million Beetles the humans killed, the Beetles kept coming, killing trees by the millions, tirelessly fulfilling their ecological role. There were too many trees; the humans had broken too many ecological rules; they put out too many fires. And the Humans eventually lost to the Beetles. But one man among the humans, who was actually a friend and neighbor to us all, saw what was happening. He had learned from the water that these currents cannot be dammed, or they spill over and flood. He made the challenge his opportunity and put the Beetles’ destruction to good use, providing fun, fitness, and art to the masses.

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For more information stop by the Shackette, or for more of the back-story check out the site www.losttrades.com, Ryan and his brother’s adventure-based learning institute meant to innovate and pass on woodworking tradition in creative ways.

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We Love You Mom!

Rising Creek Digressions IV – a weekly bucolic blog

Photos by Sam, me , and astronauts

Mother’s Day is a spring holiday in most parts of the world. This seems fitting to me. Spring is a mother’s season and, indeed, it is Mother Earth’s season. This is the season for birth and growth, which is the work of mothers, and in ecological terms, this is when the Earth kicks into her element in northern temperate climes. Nature has given us plants from seeds, kid goats from nannies, and (any day now!) a child into our own household. I wanted to take a post to celebrate Mothers, in all of their beauty and completeness, as well as Mother Earth, in all of hers.

Earth Day passed two weeks ago, and it seemed to come and go about as swiftly as a spring breeze. Mother’s Day is much more broadly received.

Earth Day as we know it was largely shaped by the environmental movements of the 1960’s and had its first official appearance in the States at the end of that decade.

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While earth celebrations are ubiquitous elements of yearly ceremonial cycles in indigenous groups the world over, in the west this took on a world-wide following over the past few decades, with the UN finally declaring the International Mother Earth Day (note the inclusion of the word “mother”) as April 22 as recently as 2009 – placed in the United States’ context, this all began a century after Thoreau’s Walden, just decade’s after Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, just in the wake of Carson’s Silent Spring, at the same time the US passed a Wilderness Act, and then eventually an Endangered Species Act. Now we have climate change and many other things, but are quite reluctant to pass an “Act”.

As Earth Day was emerging, humans saw Planet Earth for the first time from space (the current “Earth Day” flag has this exact image set against a blue backdrop) and realized that it was, indeed, a single closed ecosystem that pulsated and surged with water, air, fire and earth as a living being.

ImageThis was the first time humans visibly witnessed their mother in her entirety, as a child grows into adulthood before they can finally see their own mother as anything other than the woman who gives them everything.In this maturation we can see Mother not only as the powerful, wise, eternal, unconditional nurturer, but also as a living thing herself – vulnerable, doubting, suffering, and even mortal.

And as we saw the Earth in this light, environmentalism hit its golden years, and we established a holiday in Mother Earth’s name.

Earth Day now feels to me like dwindling flicker, having lost much of its fire that the sixties stoked. Why? Have we forgotten? Do we remember so much we get overwhelmed? Perhaps it is because folks are tired and no longer radical? Perhaps it’s because they no longer feel hope? Or, likewise, maybe they are tired of thinking about doomsday and crave a little bit of hope? My take is that the environmentalism of old created Earth Day as celebration of an Earth as separate from humans, and, indeed, they were afraid of any interaction between humans and the earth (thus the Wilderness Act, creating spaces where our Mother can rest and be away from us). We were like the unwanted guests that soiled the rug and left the toilet seat up and ungraciously overstaying our welcome. But we are an integral part of the Earth for now, part of her highly evolved anatomy, and, for better or worse, we are not guests but co-owners. Or, better put, we are family. We aren’t renters or guests on this earth, but children living in a home with our mother. While we collectively often behave like a temperamental two year old who only knows the words “mine” and “no”, we have the potential to behave like responsible adults that have the ability to give-back and care for their mother, as she cares for them, and as we aim to do on Mother’s Day.

Earth Day has been a celebration of the mother out there, while Mother’s Day is a celebration of the mother in here. Both are required for a healthy world, and it is worth recognizing that the love we give to the mother in here can transcend to the mother out there. While we farm we have the potential – if we choose – to do this every day depending upon the awareness and intention we bring to it.This is a sweet note of thanks, apology, and best intentions for all mothers, and for the mother of all. I know we don’t always behave like you want us too, but we’ll try to do better as we learn more and grow up, but know always that we love you mom!


Convulvulaceae Confessions

Rising Creek Digressions III – a weekly bucolic blog

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All photos by Sam

What is the number one challenge if farmers, organic or otherwise? Most likely it is “controlling” what is and is not in your fields. When you grow plants, you choose which plants to grow and which ones to eliminate. On one extreme there is the image of a potato field in Idaho, where a Russet Burbank has been selected and set row-by-row on its own and isolated in its seasonal growth over 5,000 acres by aggressively eliminating every other living thing, through perhaps a dozen of chemical interventions. On the other end of the spectrum you have us. 1-10 volunteers out with glorified trowels, hoe-like contraptions, and our hands, working our way through the mallow, lambs-quarter, horehound, and bindweed.

The Farmette has made a step toward no-till agriculture in the past year through a technique called sheet mulching. Folks this past fall laid sheets of cardboard, compost, and plant debris as a kind of organic lasagna on many of the fields. Through the winter this acts as a ground cover, soil-builder, and weed-suppressant. It has worked quite well, with a marked difference between those plots that were sheet mulched and those that were not. Sheet mulch soil is softer and is not quite as blanketed with weeds.

Sheet mulch or not, this season is one for weeding – and urgently!

There is a winding, binding, bundle of brazen weeds in our fields. The Convulvulaceae family gets a large percentage of our attention, the notorious morning glory family that includes bindweed. The first half of the Latin word seems to imply a “coming together”, a convergence of things. Indeed, the Latin convulvere means “to wind”, as the stems tend to do just that around everything in their path. The second half is similar, with a type of tying, or lacing together – like having your shoelaces tied together, and stumbling.Image

In the dawn-hours, sunlight begins tearing its way through the world, lifting the veil on a sleeping existence. In this hour, the flowers of the Convulvulaceae, or Morning Glory family tend to bloom. Maybe by this time of the year you know that your weeding has gotten behind and you have seen some creeping vines with heart-shaped leaves making their way through your fields. And as you wander out into this early morning hour, the little white trumpet flowers bellow their tune up toward the heavens in their fullest glory. The sight of them climbing along a fence is, indeed, glorious. But the sight of them blooming in a field that you hope to plant with flowers or vegetable creates a visceral response of dread and maybe a bit of sympathetic back-pain. You know that you will most likely be pulling these things out of the ground for another 30 years while the seeds remain viable.

It sends it roots rapidly into the earth even before it makes itself visible above ground. On top of this, its stem is delicate and will quickly sever when pulled from above. Left in the ground, this root thickens and then sends up more tiny little cotyledons that the next novice weed-puller may snap prematurely. Over a ridiculously short amount of time the root thickens and becomes a woody mass thicker than a potato (sweet potatoes are Convulvulaceae as well) that requires a wide trench to extricate. Bindweed also has a fantastic way of taking root beneath sheet mulch and either punching through or creeping its way to a crack in the lasagna. Convulvulus arvensis, or field bindweed, is the one we’re on. There are other kinds as well.

Moving from the fields to the personal, we are bound to battle bindweed in this life. What do we learn? That our task in this life is to embrace what binds us. That which plants itself deep into our being, and which persists. Those sides of our being that remain even beneath the sheet-mulch of our protective hearts and minds. They are the elements that we are afraid of; the ones that we want to compost, but which we must put in a separate compost pile and bake because we know that they will take root in our compost and come back if we don’t cook them to death. But they come back anyways. So we embrace. We can even find a use for it, for it is the deep binding roots that are a source of strength, when seen from a different angle. They are the wisest of all. They can live anywhere, reproduce prodigiously, and are the most resilient. And they bind us to Sisyphean tasks, turning myth to everyday reality, and often teaching us profound lessons in the process.Image


Passing the Pastoral

Rising Creek Digressions II: a weekly bucolic blog

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As I walked to the Barnette yesterday I glanced to see Zach and Betsy tugging tenderly at a nursing goat’s teats on a freshly built milking stand that Zach had pounded out in the past weeks. We have entered a new phase at the Farmette – introducing goat milk production to the repertoire. Sarah and Lily joined the farmette earlier this year, partway through their 150-day journey through goat pregnancy. Together they added five goat kids to the herd in the past couple of week. Now they are making their way on to the milking stand twice a day. 

Taking the milk of other animals must rank pretty high on the list of odd human divergences from the rest of nature. But it is also one of the more ingenious and delicious. Milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and a hearty half-and-half have added much to many people’s lives.

Folks in the Americas did live without milk products for thousands of years until the Spanish arrived. The world’s great ruminants that provide all of our milk-products never made it over with the early inhabitants that moved here from Asia. And for some reason the American buffalos or mountain goats never made their way into the domestic fold. It’s pretty hard to imagine an Andean llama or alpaca being milked as well, especially once you have a look at Cuzco-the-llama’s snub nose here on the Farmette. The pre-Columbian inhabitants of this hemisphere did well for themselves and found plenty of other things that the rest of the world had not – peppers, potatoes, corn, and peanuts to highlight a few – but milk and its by-products were foods they most definitely missed out on.

Taken in a greater perspective, maybe they were on to something, when you consider the state of milking in the world today. And you consider the detrimental health effects as a result. Lactose intolerant anyone? But alas, goats are a solution to this. Goats will put out between 1 to 8 pounds of milk per day, with an average of 2.5, offering a healthy alternative to cow’s milk that is slowly catching on as lactose intolerance picks up. Our goats don’t yet put out enough milk to add to all of our Farmette coffees each day (there are a lot of us and we drink a lot of coffee), but maybe at some point in the future it will. In the meantime it will be another illuminating activity to share and it will add much more excitement to the cheese making classes.

Moving on from the day-to-day here, I think it’s time to digress into other realms. Let’s consider the mythological. One that comes to mind is Pan, the half-human, half-goat god of ancient mythology whose name means, “to pasture”. He is the real guardian of all things pastoral. He is known for his stink, virility, youthfulness (think Peter Pan), sexuality, and flute-music. He is also the principal patron of the party, ensuring a raucous throw-down any time you cross his path.

I remember Pan prancing his way through Tom Robbins’s epic Jitterbug Perfume, probably my favorite of his novels. Pan in J.P. takes on his role of the wild beast that pulls deviously at the human spirit. The one that lives without taboos and encourages the immortal human characters in that book to recklessly abandon their human elements and live more wildly. The character slowly vanishes throughout the book as Christian beliefs overrun pagan ones; and ultimately he can only be recognized by his stench, which is utterly foul, but which also has a strange appeal to it. It lures us back to our wild nature, following his odor and his flute to our primordial home in caves and forests.

Pan was not revered in temples, as those are fully human creations. Instead, this chimera’s temple is in the woods and the caves of the primitive human consciousness. His domain, for those that have studied permaculture, is in your Zone 5. He was an offspring of Dionysus, who played the same role in Greek mythology. He was the one at odds with Apollo’s organizing and “civilizing” ways. He made wine, hosted wild parties, and likewise lured humans back to their innate nature while seamlessly moving the domestic and the wild.

This morning I passed one of the goat kids perched on Cuzco-the-llama’s back, who seemed to cherish the opportunity to be useful. It was beautiful, and hilarious; I laughed out loud. The kid, startled, ran forward and projected itself off of the Cuzco’s extended nape like a skier hitting a jump. In the air it clicked its hooves together, landed on the ground and jumped sideways. Then it went and rammed its sibling. Cuzco batted nary a single long eyelash. In this moment I realized that goats, in their Pan-ness, really do have the potential to shake us loose and bring back our wildness. So here’s to a season for greeting goat-friends wherever we find them.


Vernal Views

Rising Creek Digressions – a weekly bucolic blog

Our Story:

My name is Tim.  Shannon and I recently moved to the small white and mint-green house at the front of the Farmette. She a Mainer and me an Illinoisan turned Coloradoan 14 years ago, we had both been nomadic for a good long while and decided to grow our domestic roots in the fertile soil of the St. Vrain Valley. This weekly post aims to bring the serious, personal, creative and playful together in posts that reflect the varying activities at the Farmette. 

We start with spring.

Spring is the first season for many earthbound cultures. It is still built into our calendar in this way, with months like October, November and December counting from March. Spring catches our attention regardless of our daily routine – college kids throw of cumbersome winter layers, athletes stretch their stagnant muscles, office workers throw open the windows – but for those that work with plants and animals directly it takes on another very tangible significance. Animals berth, buds bust open, early flowers do their flowering, tools get sharpened and a winter’s respite turns to a spring’s frenzy. Working is how folks close the earth pass their spring days.

Colloquially “spring” can be a heroic prison break, or helping out a friend with some cash. “Springs” carry water out of the ground while also catapulting pogo-sticks. In any of its manifestations a “spring” is something to make you shout joyfully and throw down in celebration. 

On a very real level, this spring is unusual in the way that our climactically altered world is unusual. We don’t quite know what to do with it. A March of 70 degree weather, continuing into April, makes us behave like summer. It makes the trees do the same, but we wonder what 6 months of summer will look and feel like. The word “Summer” signifies the sun’s apogee that is solstice; but we still have a long way to go before we climb to that point. And if we only recently entered spring and it already feels like this, what lies ahead of us? 

Ever since the number of daytime hours passed the nighttime hours on March 20th, things on the Farmette have picked up. Mike and Betsy returned from New Zealand, the spring Permaculture Design Course spun out dozens of enthusiastic students and Sam and Annie joined the crew alongside Josh, Zach, Juliana, Erin, Ryan and a crew of other workers in the fields. Betsy got a few new ducks and many new chicks while Mike seeded fields. 

There is a healthy mix of excitement, awe and humility that should mark any new undertaking – because even though the Farmette has been around for a few years, spring is a new undertaking every year in the natural world. Which beings will survive and hopefully thrive, and then for how long is anyone’s guess. It is like a birth, a part of the few perennial surprises that cycle through our world. We know that the sun will continue to warm the earth as days get longer, affecting weather patterns; and we also know that seeds, when planted correctly and tended with care, have a tendency to grow, flower, and fruit. But what the farmer or gardener knows intimately is that the vast majority of variables are out of their control. So we keep the excitement of this new opportunity while maintaining a healthy awe found in humbling ourselves before our mother. 

My fiancé is 8 months pregnant. We will have a spring birth sometime in the month after the first two goat kids of the season were born of a dwarf Nigerian nanny this past week. In this moment life feels so very right. We are falling in line with important rhythms that have lost their relevance in much of the modern world. You will see us out here this summer, harvesting zucchini with a baby on our back and feeling good about the fact that the food we harvest – via Shannon’s metabolism and mammary – will be turned into nourishment for our child, who has the fortune of feeding from earth no more than 500 feet from his or her home.Image


Give the Gift of Farmette Classes and Farm-to-Table Dinners for the Holidays!

Looking for a truly unique and special gift for the holidays? Consider giving one of the Farmette’s classes or Farm-to-Table dinners. Besides providing an unforgettable meal or a chance to learn a vital new skill for your lucky friends or family members, you will be supporting local agriculture, chefs and teachers with your gift. It’s truly a win-win!

Classes for 2012 include: Beekeeping, Raising Backyard Chickens, Cheese Making, and Backyard Composting. More classes to be announced soon! For details and information on how to sign up, click here.

Our 2012 Farm-to-Table Dinner Season is also shaping up deliciously, with evenings featuring the chefs from Eat LLC and A Spice of Life, as well as a wood-fired pizza night. More amazing dinners will be announced soon! For details and information on how to sign up, click here.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the Farmette!


Eatin’ Local with Locals and Joel

After recently relocating to Lyons from the Virgin Islands, I found the Farmette. I was drawn there for many reasons, and feel as though I am officially a “groupie”. After meeting Betsy, Mike and Garrison, I am even more inspired to be a part of such a vision. My name is Erin, and you’ll be seeing my husband Ryan and our dog Rue in the “shackette” toward the front of the property revamping sustainable hardwoods into wooden paddleboards and the like.

Rumor has it that the Joel Salatin dinner was beyond a success. Those in attendance were local chefs, farmers and food enthusiasts who share in the purpose and preservation of our food and community. In the late afternoon folks gathered for a discussion and were able to ask Mr. Salatin questions. Everyone enjoyed the farm to table dinner, prepared by Eric Skokan of Black Cat in Boulder. It was there that these visionaries were able to schmooze with a dirt-god, eat delicious and fresh local food (including our very own veggies from the Farmette) and get a side of fervor regarding the movement toward a more conscious existence. Here are some beautiful pics from the event. http-//kirstenboyerphoto#A09D5E

The images captured are some glimpses into the magic from that evening. (Kirsten, your eye was able to capture the spirit in which we hope embodies the Farmette).

It was a pleasure to share such inspiration with others in our community who rise before the sun, educate our children, and are redefining our future regarding food. Thank you Joel, for keeping the ember burning, especially as we prepare to lay our fields to rest for the winter.

To continue Eat Local Week, Joel headed to Boulder to give the keynote speech at Chautauqua, where more locals joined to support our community efforts. With the harvest season upon us, there seems to be even more reason to continue to Eat Local! Another great source for some delectable veggies and eggs is here at the Farmette stand on Thurs. evenings. Please stop by and say “Hello”.

 


Tour de Coops and EAT LOCAL Week

Are you thinking about raising your own flock? Keeping backyard chickens is a great way to eat locally and stay in touch with your food, but many times it can seem a daunting task for beginners. Luckily, the Tour de Coops is back again this year for Boulder County! The event will take place on two separate weekends, but the Lyons tour will be taking place on Sunday August 28th from 2-6pm. Come check out different styles of coops, learn about the hens, get advice from experts, and increase your general chicken knowledge. This a great first step towards raising your own flock.

The event is co-sponsored by Yummy Yards of Boulder. Here is a link to Yummy Yards’ blog on Tour de Coops

The event is part of Boulder County’s EAT LOCAL Week. There are plenty of other exciting things happening that week, so be sure to also check out the schedule for EAT LOCAL Week at:      http://eatlocalguide.com/bouldercounty/2011-eat-local-week-aug-27-sept-4/

The flyer for Lyons' Tour de Coops on August 28th.

This is the map for the Tour.

 

 


Veggies & Flowers for RockyGrass

Spencer, Galen, & Garrison getting ready to deliver some veggies.

Last weekend was the RockyGrass festival at Planet Bluegrass here in Lyons. The festival was 3 days of amazing music on the banks of the St. Vrain river. As usual, we delivered as many delicious vegetables to backstage catering as we could. It ended up being a beautiful harvest so I thought I would share some pics. We also arranged bouquets for the tables backstage using our own fresh cut flowers. Thanks to Planet Bluegrass for supporting our small farm and giving us the opportunity to help out with such an awesome event. We will be back again in a few weeks for Folks Fest at the same place with more of our harvest. I also included some pictures of last week’s farm stand which looked amazing. If you haven’t been out yet, come this Thursday from 4-8pm. Everything is fresh, organic, and never more than a few hours out of the ground for maximum taste and nutrition.

Thanks to Patchamama for helping us out with some of the beets!!Farmette Flowers - Bouquets of fresh cut zinnias, cosmos, sea holly, delphiniums, baby's breath, amaranth, sunflowers, and more!!

Spencer, Karina, and Zach pose with their bouquets

Thursday's farm stand was bountiful.

Kentucky Wonder beans, swiss chard, Pencil Pod Black Wax beans...

Carrots and Chamomile

Galen and Garrison pose behind the stand


Peafowl

It feels like summer here almost! Things are growing fast and our baby hens are now teenage hens! Everybody here is looking to a good week at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and then its back to the farm full swing for the rest of the summer. July 7th is our first Farm Stand from 4-8pm, so stop by and say hi if you’re in the area. We have added lots of cool events to our calendar, check them out here.

Our peafowl eggs inside their incubator.

Gywnn from Gwynn’s Greenhouse has given us a special gift, 9 peafowl eggs. We hope to hatch them and try our hand at peacocks once again. Apparently last year, they were pretty cool to watch roaming around the farm eating insects and roosting in trees at night. Unfortunately a fox ate them. So, Betsy borrowed an incubator and the eggs are staying at a happy 100 degrees Fahrenheit in there. We tried putting 2 of the eggs underneath one of our broodiest hens, but after a few days she rejected them and we found the eggs nearby, unbroken. They are in the incubator now. I’ll let you know what happens with those….

Spencer and pals had a good time putting up a new rope swing across the redneck river a few days ago. The water is flowing fast and deep and should provide a good place to land in case anybody falls off the swing. What better way to enjoy nice weather though.