I spent two weeks of the last month working in Northwest Alaska. I saw a whole new view of the world from the window of a helicopter and grazed on tundra blueberries and cloudberries. Alaska is gigantic and beautiful and helicopters are like the world’s greatest rollercoaster times a million. I loved it. It was a privilege to experience such a beautiful, mystical place. I know when the day comes to start farming full-time, trips like Alaska won’t come around all that often. So I embraced it. Well, I would have regardless of the situation, because it was awesome. Why mourn trips of the future that cannot be when you can enjoy the present?
Next month M and I are taking a trip of a different sort. The tickets have been purchased, so this one is official. We are setting off on a 16 day road trip through New England, Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, the Smoky Mountains and whatever happens to be in between. It is an ambitious agenda that we haven’t fully settled on so things could change. But I hope to cover a lot of ground, because this trip is more than a road trip. You see, land in the Pacific Northwest–particularly decent farmland–is getting awfully expense. And so we are embarking on this epic journey to see what’s out there. I think it is a very worthy investment. What are the possibilities and what speaks to both of us? And of course, what is affordable? Good vibes. Off-farm work potential for M. Affordable. I think those will be the keys to success. That’s the awesome part about not having our own place yet. We can be open to all the options. Will we end up in Maine, West Virginia, Tennessee or back in Oregon? Who knows! I don’t. But I sure do like adventures.
Now I’m home with the bunnies and the garden. Trips are fun, but I really like being home too. I’m looking out the window right now and see Jimmy lounging on the brittle summer grass and clothes drying on the line. Summer is a fine time when it’s not 104 degrees out. My farm library is expanding and this weekend I plan on delving into the topics of soil quality, sheep, and market gardening. You can never have too many books
Oh and the baby rabbits are getting huge like they do. Socorro ended up raising 9 of the 11 to sizeable little buns. The runtiest died at two weeks old and another died while I was in Alaska of what sounded like some sort of choking issue. The first bunny deaths are their own story though. The remaining nine are large and healthy. Oh how quickly they grow. Check this out:
In other news, I think seeds are awesome. Their different shapes and colors are just so cool. Like calendula seeds. I harvested some today and they all look like weird little caterpillars:
And I’ll leave you with that for this update, folks. Have a wonderful weekend!
Summer is here and the babies have left. And ELEVEN more are here to stay. I just can’t get over how awesome a mama Socorro is and how well she raised such a healthy and happy first litter. This is the final tally for our first litter of eight:
Three for our pot
One for a friend’s pot
One to a friend for breeding stock
Three to a nice lady for breeding stock
The rabbit experiment has not as a whole have not paid for itself yet, but this first litter has paid for itself which is rewarding. Encouragement is sweet.
The babies came and went so quickly. With less than a week since our last bun flew the coup, Socorroo gave birth to the eleven healthy little peanuts on Friday. Socorro had been diligently perfecting her nest for over a week, so it was about time. But eleven is a huge litter. Rabbits only have eight teats, so Socorro is working overtime to keep the the little guys plump and well fed. I’m only a little worried–she’s such a good mom. I think they’ll all pull through in the end and the fact that they’re fat and happy now is a good sign. However, the arrival of the new babes coincided with the start of a ridiculous heatwave which is not the greatest thing.
We’re used to warm, dry summers here in Western Oregon, but multiple 90+ degree days in row, in June no less! is very unusual. It’s a little bit of a worrying start to an already warm and dry drought year. And most Oregonians, including us, do not own air conditioners. And rabbits are sensitive to heat. This means the rabbits have moved into the garage, laid claim to our one box fan and are hanging out next to frozen water bottles. And it also means that I bought one of the last fans Target had in stock yesterday for the house. Sadly, the heat is not going to let up anytime soon.But at least the tomatoes are happy. And luckily my job is flexible enough that I can work from home on the hottest of days and make sure the buns stay alive. So life is good! And as we fight the heat, please enjoy the latest garden pics. The little tiny babies are hidden in a cool, fanned garage right now, with awful lighting, but updates on them to come soon. ELEVEN though! That’s a darn lota babies.
I spend a lot of time day dreaming about the future farm and all of its little pieces. Its animals, plants, barns, fences, house, and stream. And I spend a little time planning. But mostly day dreaming. I have a notebook outline of a rough-a-round-about-someday-soon-?-farm-plan , but I think it’s time to put in some serious library and bookstore hours to expand my knowledge base and turn some of those nebulous daydreams into more realistic things-I-can-actually-accomplish-in-the-next-couple-years-plans.
My productive time–when I can manage it– is spent in the garden and with the rabbits. The bunnies are still pretty cute, but also gigantic. We had to harvest two of the eight last night. I browned one in bacon fat this morning and stuck it in the crock pot on low with a whole mess of fresh thyme, rosemary, and bacon, white wine, and rabbit stock. It was incredibly tender and paired well with garlic mashed potatoes this evening. We thanked the young rabbit who provided us with the delicious meal. The lucky bugger sure had a great life while it lasted. I wouldn’t have minded letting the two we harvested get a bit bigger, but they outgrew their hutch and it seemed worse to let all eight stay in a crowded situation.
I felt much more comfortable with the butchering this time and did a nice clean job. The actual slaughter was still hard though (and I should mention M helped with all of this). The mixture of anticipation, adrenaline, and sadness is exhausting. I went to bed feeling drained, but good about the farm.
Not only does the litter provide us with meat, but I am excited to say that Quiet Owl Farm will have its first bit of income. My dear friend will be adopting M’s favorite bun (whom he named Harriet Houdini for her enterprising ways) in exchange for some delicious duck eggs. Another friend will be coming on Sunday to purchase a rabbit and learn how to harvest it. And I sold the final three to a homesteadin’ lady from Facebook who will pick them up Saturday. It sounds like she’s been interested in American Chinchillas for a while and has been waiting to find some that are reasonably priced. What luck for both of us!
I’ve been investing a fair amount of money into these guys over the last several months and all of this means that the equivalent of Socorro, Jimmy, and a sack of feed have paid for themselves. Oh, and I’m 95% darn sure Socorro is expecting since she was carrying around mouthfuls of hay and attempting to build a nest. If all goes well another litter will be here soon, the rabbits will eventually pay for themselves and I may even make a small profit. And that’s not counting the boundless manure supply and meat we keep. This sales step is certainly encouraging. There’s definitely a market for heritage breed rabbits in this area and I look forward to doing a little business with the community as we enjoy this lovely breed.
Snap peas are just reaching munchable phase and there are enough greens to provide a daily dose for two. When the big farm happens I am going to plant snap peas all over the damn place. They are oh so delicious and snackable.
The bunnies have not yet grown out of their adorable phase, but they sure are rambunctious at 5 1/2 weeks old. The six largest kits have been weaned with the last two little runties staying with mom for one more night. It is incredible how fast they grow. I am so grateful that Socorro has been such an amazing first-time mom and that all eight little ones have pulled through. Even the runtiest of the lot is plump and jumpy
Farm and travel. Farm or travel. Can there be only one? As I understand it, yes. There can only be one. Committing my life to farming will mean sacrificing travel. I’ve heard farmers say they are not bothered by that. Not bothered a bit by 365 days a year on the farm, knowing that for them, farming is life. Farming is their happiness and raison d’être. Who would need anything else? Well these farmers certainly have never had the travel bug. But I’ve been afflicted for as long as I can remember. I’ve lived in Hungary, Greece, France and England. I’ve traveled across the country and to Central America, Israel and Southeast Asia. And still there are countless places waiting to be explored. So how can I reconcile this love of travel with my goal of having a small family farm?–possibly the one enterprise I could choose that would tie me down completely. Honestly, it is hard. Really really hard. But I am coming to terms with the idea.
With the advent of programs such as WWOOFing and helpx, thousands of people successfully farm and travel the world every year. If I truly wanted to, I could join them. So, you might think, why not? Well frankly, I feel like I’ve paid my dues. I’ve worked hard, volunteered and worked hard again. For me even more powerful than the travel bug is the I-want-a-place-of-my-own-bug. I want to develop a home and a business that I won’t need to pack up and move every few years. I want roots. I want to have a community and animals and neighbors. I want to wake up in the morning and work hard on land that I don’t have to worry about losing.
But I’m not there yet. And I think I need one last adventure before Quiet Owl Farm solidifies into a real 365 days a year farming reality. And so, this summer, I am going take a solo trip. I’m not sure where yet, but the destination is unimportant. I’m going to take a week and a half or two weeks for myself and really make the time to think about my future. Although the decision to give up travel is the most difficult decision I have ever made (sorry-rough life, I know), I think the opportunity I will have for self-reflection on this adventure will help me come to terms with the big decisions ahead. And I must note that if you’ve never traveled alone, try and take the opportunity to do so someday even if it’s only overnight. Following your own itinerary (or lack thereof) is incredibly rewarding.
Yet even as I struggle with farmheart and travelheart battling for my soul, I know that starting Quiet Owl Farm on a bigger-than-backyard scale will be a journey in itself–super corny as that may sound. Finding “the” farm might involve an actual physical journey to another part of the country. Or it might not. But it will, I have no doubt, require all of my physical and mental determination, resilience and creativity. And another thing I know is that having even a little inkling of what is in store for Quiet Owl Farm makes me feel excited and optimistic. So, adventures, whatever form you may take, I am ready for you.
The little ones are now popping in and out of the nest box and running wild–gumming hay and feed pellets with comically little success. The nest box will come out this weekend. Poor Socorro. No more alone time after that. They sure are lively little guys!