Monday, March 26, 2007

Flowers, dirt, trees, and cheese

Thursday, March 22

Chicken coop got moved this morning. It is moved once a year to allow the ground to recover under the hen house. The chickens are now everywhere. There are lots of holes in their new enclosure. They're confused. So are the goats, cows, and dogs. I keep seeing the chickens in every possible place on the farm. Wonder how we'll get them back in the coup.

Our duties have been falling into a more normal routine. I'm very focused on cheesemaking, so I hang around the cheese room a lot. Little Carrie wants to learn about sustainable living and loves to garden. She's been hanging around the garden a lot. I think it works out well. She'll work some mornings, rolling chevre logs, making chocolate truffles, or packaging fromage (chevre in 8oz tubs.) Another task is to turn the cave. Each ripening cheese must be turned everyday. This redistributes the moisture and allows the cheese to ripen evenly. You can also see where they are in the ripening process. I like turning the cave. It is only half full right now, so it doesn't take that long. It is amazing to watch the transformation of little, naked fresh curds into fuzzy, soft, billowy, goat cheese. It is a living thing, growing and changing every day. I know I'm in the right line of work. This stuff just thrills me.

Sandy Creek ripens.

After lunch, Steve gives us a lecture on soil and how you can tell good, healthy soil. He holds a clump of rich, dark soil and runs his fingers through it. He explains how a balanced ecosystem takes care of itself and when you farm with that in mind, you can keep your plants healthy and protect against pests in a safe way. The soil works with you to fight disease. All things are interconnected and in balance. Nothing goes to waste. His soil is teeming with worms, and is clearly healthy.

We then take a break from the garden. Steve takes Little Carrie and me on a walk through the woods of Goat Lady Dairy. The first wildflowers should be emerging. The back half of the property is heavily wooded with a creek running through it. It is protected under a conservation easement in order to protect the creek watershed and to keep it as a wild area. There is a small trail that runs down to the creek and through the woods. It eventually leads to a small fire pit. From the pit, the trail crosses the stream and goes back up to the pastures behind the garden.

Steve explains the three types of wildflowers to be found in a woodland. The first flowers take advantage of the naked trees. They like light and bloom first. The second round bloom when the leaves are partially shading the ground. The third wave of wildflowers are shade loving varieties.

He points out wild ginger, easily picked out of the dead leaves. It has mottled green, heart-shaped leaves. It has brown flowers that bloom along the ground. They attract beetles for pollination. We then spot hepatica. (sp?) Clusters of them dot the gentle slope. The flowers sit on top of hairy stems. We have to walk carefully as they're all over the place. We reach the creek. It is a spring-fed creek, flowing year-round. It provides water for the town of Ramseur, several miles to the south of the dairy.

We walk alongside the creek and I spot a very showy, white flower. It is aster like, with a big head and radiating white petals. "Oh, look at what you found! Blood root! I haven't seen this in three years. This is great!" exclaims Steve. This flower blooms briefly, so spotting it is tricky. We manage to find a few of them growing nearby. Steve then leads us to his favorite spot. There is natural seat at the base of a big tree along the edge of the creek. The roots are smooth and worn by the flowing water. They stretch into the stream. The sound of flowing water drowns out all other noise in the woods. Sarah and Bishop, Steve's dogs splash and run up and down the streambed. Bishop is intent on finding groundhogs and other borrowing animals nearby. He's a rare Appalachian breed (Mountain fife?). He's bred to find burrowing animals. He's also an excellent watchdog. Likes to bark. We walk on to the fire pit. This is a cleared area with wooden benches and a big fire ring in the center. Looks like a great spot to spend an evening with friends.

We conclude our tour by crossing the stream and walking back up the hill to the pastures behind the garden. Not too far. Now that I know where the trail is, I'll go exploring again. I'd like to see more flowers as they emerge. The woods are beautiful. Mature hardwoods, full of beech, locust, gum, oak, cedar, Southern pine, dogwood, and countless others that I can't identify.

There are two goats who have figured out how to get through the fence. Every day I see a little white saanen named Violet wandering around the Barn, nibbling on every plant it can find. It really likes a rosebush on the front of the barn. She's always getting into trouble. She fell in the pond the other day. Eventually, someone will take a break, go grab Violet and put her in the "time out pen." Sometimes she's joined by her friend, a little alpine doe. We've decided to re-name them Thelma and Louise. Thelma is the saanen, the leader, and Louise, the alpine who likes to tag along.

Wow. If my grandma were still alive, she' be 111. Happy Birthday Grandma!

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