Garden of Ethan

  (Ada, Michigan)
A growing hobby farm in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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March 2012

A set of twins March 12 and 2 sets on March 15 has been a lot of fun.  Rosemary rejected one of her girls, leaving me to bottle feed little Mia, who I named after Mia Farrow from the movie Rosemary's Baby.  Mia finds me in the yard and paws at my leg when she is ready for a bottle.  Thankfully, her grandmother kidded the same day she was born, and has plenty of milk to spare.  I have some fun swaps going with people who bought herd shares.  My latest is receiving baked goods from a chef when he comes to pick up his milk.  

I ordered some jumbo quail hatching eggs online, and now have little quail running around the greenhouse along with baby chicks, ducklings, and goslings.  My geese are sitting on a growing pile of eggs in the orchard.

I am reading books that help me find the poetry of my existence.  I just finished The Dirty Life, and am now reading, 12 X 12.   


February 2010

I bought a 4th goat yesterday.  She is related to my Lily, Lyla and Lola, and her name is Lily.  Lily 2 for now.  Spencer, my rent-a-buck, has completed his job, but I will miss his spunk.  He does these flying leaps and twists you wouldn't believe, and can usually be seen balancing on top of a 3 foot stump in their pasture.  Yes, he stinks, but it is a fine stink compared with most.  I still walk the deer trails with the herd, and adore my Saanens.  I may try crossing with a Nigerian Dwarf buck in the fall though, just to do something different.

I am getting over 20 chicken eggs a day; mostly green with some brown.  The ducks finally starting laying their big white and green eggs.  The geese are getting noisy and bicker more as they approach breeding season.  My quiet Emdens aren't so quiet anymore, and my African male is nearly intolerable at times.  They range far and wide through the deep snow, and have taken to sleeping in the greenhouse.  I love watching the Muscovies fly past our windows from their pen up to the top of the barn or garden gate.  The Cayugas and Swedes are irrepressibly happy, waddling with great purpose to nowhere in particular.

I am psyching myself up for maple syrup season.  It seems to be a bigger ordeal every year, but we keep getting better at it too.  Gardening seems such a long way off with all this snow, and I am enjoying my downtime while it lasts.  I love seasons.



November 2009

I have grossly miscalculated my ability to keep up with processing all the birds I raised this year. Slipping an extra dozen into the incubator, and then another, and later finding a hen sitting on eggs, all seemed rather innocent and inconsequential this spring. One morning my mother was letting out the birds, and as the mass spilled out from their pen into the backyard, she declared she had not only reached her limit, but was somehow carried far past it.

I have been harvesting a couple birds a week. We like the word harvest, and joke about sending the birds to freezer camp. My families flippant attitude towards my birds, and their “off with their heads,” remarks, inspired me to start sharing my experience of saying goodbye to these birds. I began carrying them into the house before heading down to the chopping block.

Cradled in my arms, they are so quiet and still once I enter the door. “This is a son of Bubbles the Brave, one of our original Swedish duck hens,” I began to explain as my family looked uneasily at the first duck I brought into the kitchen. “His father was Streaker, who we said goodbye to this spring. Notice this young drake’s dark green beak. Just like his dad.” I encouraged my family to pet him and my mother remarked on how silky smooth his neck was. “Let’s thank this bird for the food he will offer our family. He has had a good life on our little hobby farm.”

After my family declined to give him a little kiss goodbye on the head, I sadly carried the unnamed drake out to the chopping block, telling myself that it should be hard to take a life. A friend told me that we have, “the most loved dinners on earth.” That sounds so strange, yet I believe it is what I have been aiming for. Maybe I have overshot a little and am unknowingly headed down a path towards becoming a vegetarian. I wonder sometimes.

My bearded ladies have grown their winter coats, and are plush and fat. Lily is the only one I am milking, and I have begun making cheese and kefir in addition to selling our excess milk. Lyla is still nursing 3-month-old Lola, who is a giant of a doeling. These Saanen goats look their purest white when I let them out at night to browse. They reflect the moon beautifully, and move as glowing orbs through the black trees as we search out the few remaining leaves on the branches. None of my guidebooks to owning goats foretold of wandering the surreal landscape of the woods at midnight.

It isn’t convenient owning goats. Milking in the rain and wind and mud causes me to reflect on this lifestyle choice some days. I have decided that I raise goats for fresh milk partly because it is hard. I am proud that I can do it. Making cheese has turned out to be fairly easy, and we have been enjoying ricotta and mozzarella. I continue to meet new people who are interested in goat milk, my favorite being a wonderful couple who come and milk on Wednesdays.

I haven’t planted any fall crops in the greenhouse this fall, and the book on how to do so remains largely unexplored. My three siblings I live with help with chores on occasion, but my farming endeavors remain largely my own. I hadn’t expected this, but believe I have accepted it. My agricultural experiments have also been social experiments, and the results are never what I would have anticipated. Therefore, despite not knowing where I am headed with my ventures in homegrown edibles, I find the journey an enriching one.

August update

I am now milking two does, twice a day.  I was present for both deliveries, and these little kids are a blast.  We often play, "Hop on Pop" on the lawn, where I kneel down and they jump on my back.  When they were just days old, I would lie on my back and they would curl up on my chest.  I tried milking one of their moms with them around, and ended up with a little billy standing on my shoulders as I squatted and milked.  I have a milking stanchion, but don't use it yet.  I don't bottle feed the babies, as the does have enough for their single kids, my family, and all my interested neighbors and friends.

My hens continue to go broody, and it is a good thing, as I have foxes practically living in my backyard.  They hunt all hours of the day.  My smaller, slower chickens are all gone, but I have many of the flightier teenagers still.  Full grown ducks are too much for the foxes, and the geese are safe of course.   I have to continue to adapt to my environment, or rather, watch natural selection alter my flocks.

The greenhouse produced wonderfully, and I learned a great deal.  I have tomatoes planted directly in the ground inside it for late harvest.  I plan on planting greens to harvest all winter.  This summer has been very busy, but often things get so beautiful, I just have to sit and soak it in.  It is a good life.


April 4th, 2009 update

The hatching madness continues, adding new geese, ducks, and chickens to my life.  I lift each wet hatchling out of the incubator, give it a formal welcome to the Garden of Ethan (because I'm working on my eccentric side), and then place it lovingly into the brooder.  I try not think about it possibly being a male and destined for harvest in the fall.  A dear lady visited us recently and asked what I am going to do with all my young birds.  I explained that half of them would be going into the freezer.  She paused, then exclaimed, "But they can't live in there!" 

I went to a Slow Food dinner last night at Tuscan Express, and decided to add it to the collection of organizations I belong to and support with my meager social work income.  I hosted their book club meeting this past Monday, met fabulous people, and learned more about the Ark of Taste.  I think I may begin focusing on foods on their list.  I wonder if my family will let me raise Giant Chinchillas.....

I love to watch my Saanen does.  Their bellies are swelling, and little Lyla looks round when she lies down.  I'm thinking there could be twins in her little one year old body.  I love my goats.  I attended a workshop on goat milk products last week, and enjoyed goat cheese truffles, and goat milk ice cream.  Wow!

This is my first spring with a greenhouse.  Proper temperature, air circulation, and compost tea are all unfinished projects.  We are alternately baking and freezing our little seedlings, and this approach isn't working well.

I am short on sleep most nights.  I was heading out tonight with a flashlight and pail to collect more maple sap and my brother called out saying the season was over and I needed to stop.  Very mixed emotions about that news.  I LOVE the smell of woodsmoke mixed with sugary steam from the boiling sap, but I am SO TIRED of lugging pails up and down the hill.  I keep checking to see if bulging biceps have appeared as a result, but.... no.  In fact, I think I'm getting fatter from pouring hot maple syrup over bowls of vanilla ice cream.  So worth it!


February 2009 update

My sister and niece helped me pick up our two Saanen dairy goats from the breeders, and we are looking forward to their babies in May and July.  Ten chicks hatched from our incubator a week ago, and I am adding goose, duck and a variety of chicken eggs every few days.  I just ordered a second incubator, as I am practically stacking eggs in my current one.  I am collecting about 15 green, brown, and white chicken and duck eggs every day.  My brother worked with a neighbor on getting our new greenhouse ready to go.  I have broccoli, eggplant, tomato, pepper, and viola seedlings growing well in the house under lights.  My other brother is getting our maple syrup stove ready, as we may begin harvesting and boiling down sap next week!  It is a busy and exciting time of year.

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