Planning Ahead

The seed catalogs have started to arrive. The days are short and unrushed. This is the time of year when we start imagining next years gardens.

In a little over a month we’ll have our annual all-day, end-of-year review. The biggest item on the agenda is whether to continue growing produce for sale. It’s been a fairly close call the last two years and it isn’t a foregone conclusion that we’ll continue. But for now I’m being optimistic and considering the changes we’ll make if we keep at it.

After seriously pondering things for the past couple of months, I’ve tentatively decided to retire seven of our larger gardens. And for rotation purposes I will consolidate four of our current gardens into two. The end result is that we’ll have a six-garden rotation in the future, rather than our current 16 garden rotation. Rather than limit all gardens to one crop per year, my tentative plan is to double crop two of the six, following Irish potatoes with fall brassicas and following spring crops with sweet potatoes and purple hull peas. We’ll continue using cover crops of course.

Under the new plan we’ll have less area to protect from deer and we can concentrate our nutrients more.

This is a compromise I made with myself. I was torn between continuing the status quo and going to a much smaller 3 garden system. The plan I came up with retains the original three garden rotation I’d been considering, but adds a second three garden rotation: watermelons, eggplant/acorn squash, onions/garlic. Eggplant and acorn squash may seem like an odd combination, especially since we don’t have much of a market for them. But as of now they’re the only things we grow, other than garlic, that deer don’t eat. So I’m going to grow a lot of them next year and if most end up at the food bank or in the compost pile, so be it. It’s an experiment.

If our year end analysis proves that we’re just wasting our time and losing money, then we’ll go back to concentrating on just growing food for ourselves. If that happens I’ll finally have time to do some of the other things I’d planned to do when we took up this lifestyle, but never seem to have time for these days.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the seed catalogs and dreaming of next year’s beautiful gardens.

Day 9

I was reluctant to drive to Strasbourg. I knew it to be a large industrialized city on the Rhine, home of a university and the EU Parliament. I didn’t know it to be much of a tourist destination. But, stubbornly sticking to the itinerary I’d mapped out a few weeks earlier, we left Lorraine, entered Alsace and drove toward Strasbourg.

It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Without a specific destination in mind, the GPS stops being helpful once we enter a city. At that point we just followed the signs to “Centre.” This is always a good idea for tourists driving in France, as the “Centre” is the oldest part of town. Fortunately the road we were on took us easily into the Centre of Strasbourg, directly to a parking garage with a convenient available space.

We were delighted to find ourselves in a beautiful and charming town, not the crowded frantic city I expected. The cathedral was stunning, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.


Tucked in tightly among the buildings surrounding it, it was impossible to get a photo of the cathedral that captured its immensity and grandeur.

Build from gorgeous sandstone, its color is remarkable. For quite a while it was the tallest building on earth, and remains the tallest structure built in the Middle Ages.


It was amusing to watch the people who, like me, were trying in vain to photograph the entire front of the cathedral.


The interior was stunning as well, of course


This fantastic clock is one of the cathedral’s claims to fame


Built over the course of a couple hundred years, construction began in the late 12th Century and was finished in the early 15th century, half a century before Columbus sailed west, searching for a shortcut to India.


This memorial, near the altar, warmed my American heart. Expressions of gratitude like this are common in the parts of France we’ve visited. Thousands of American soldiers died in the campaign to liberate Alsace.



Open air cafes and markets are common. I bought a Camus novel here. Because, books.

The old part of the city is actually an island. The area alongside the river that surrounds it is lovely.



The cathedral spire is visible in the background



We were quite lucky to find a room in the little hotel directly across from the cathedral, which is beautifully illuminated at night.


During the summer there is an amazing show on the east side of the cathedral, tracing the history of the cathedral with music and lights.



After a full day, we settled down for the evening. Having not been away from the farm for more than one weekend a year in over 12 years, we were now nine days into our vacation. I worried a little about things back home, but no much. So far, we had no regrets over our long overdue time away.

New Babies


What a pleasant discovery in the pasture on this frosty Sunday morning.

Our goat Aretha had her babies last night–two strapping kids who are already romping around and nursing lustily.



She’s the first of the does in this pasture to kid. From the looks of the others, they won’t be much longer.

The Dad (Abraham) wasn’t around to witness the arrival of his latest progeny. He’s in the other pasture helping assure another round of kidding in March and April.

We used to be more deliberate about timing the arrival of our kids. But a few years ago I decided to just let the buck run with the rest of the herd. I shuttle him between our two pastures every 3 months or so.

I know there are two different schools of thought on this. Some folks say that it is bad for the does to allow them to breed more than once a year. Other folks say that we should let nature take its course. Some say that from a purely profit-motivation, it’s better to produce 3 sets of kids every two years, rather than two. Others say that the does are stronger and therefore live longer if they only kid once a year, so that in the long run it’s more profitable to limit their breeding.

I didn’t make the change for any of those reasons. When we dedicated a paddock to raising pigs we no longer had it available for the buck, so that was part of my reasoning. I had another paddock we could have put him in, but it seemed to me at the time that it was somewhat unnatural to isolate him from the other goats (even though we always made sure he had company). So I just opened the gates and quit worrying about it.

I wasn’t so concerned about the health of the does at the time. I didn’t know that could be an issue. I was more concerned about the possibility that they’d all start kidding in February, a difficult time for all involved. That does happen sometimes.

I’m still unsure what’s best. For now I’m leaning toward going back to the old system, which also involves keeping the weaned does away from the Billy until they’re at least a year old.

If we make that change, it will be after this round of kidding. In the meantime, we’re enjoying having new babies on the farm.




Looking Up

I am, that is.


The trees undress for the winter. They’ll be naked soon.

But first, if they aren’t content to stay perpetually clad in green, they change into their orange, yellow, red and golden outfits. But only for a little while.


So I’m looking up. It won’t last much longer.



With so much to be thankful for, this morning I’m feeling especially thankful for home.

A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some area of native land where it may get the love of tender kinship from the earth, for the labors men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge.
George Eliot

Happy Thanksgiving


Day 8

Leaving Epernay, we drove out of Champagne and into Lorraine.

Throughout the trip we avoided freeways and toll roads, sticking instead to small roads in the countryside. The navigational system on the rental car made it easy for us to get from point A to point B, even via the least-traveled roads. I was somewhat surprised to see how rural and farming-oriented it is in this part of France. We saw lots of pastures, dairy and beef cattle, vegetables and commodity crops (corn and soybeans). And vineyards of course. I found it interesting that in Champagne the rows of grapes always run up the slopes of the hills, rather than being terraced. I regret not getting good pictures of the countryside.

We spent the afternoon and evening in the lovely city of Nancy, probably best known for the Place Stanislas, a large 18th century pedestrian courtyard (very much like a Spanish plaza mayor), named for Louis XV’s father in law, the exiled Polish Count who built it. Today it is a World Heritage site, and a fine place to relax after a long day of driving.






I had my favorite meal of the vacation here. At an Italian restaurant.

Day 7

We had arrived in Reims late in the day, so we didn’t have much time for visiting. We continued our visit the next morning, a calm and quiet Sunday.


Sadly, scenes like this are a sign of the times in France these days.


Several times a day during our time in Paris, and continuing thereafter (although less often), we would encounter squads of heavily armed soldiers on patrol. They were usually in groups of four, one of whom would have an automatic weapon. I found it interesting that in nearly all the squads one or more of the soldiers were women–often the one with the machine gun. There was a bomb scare near the Notre Dame during our visit, but no attacks or violence. Still, the roaming squads of soldiers made the continuing threat very clear.


Nevertheless, the famous smiling angel looked cheerfully down from her perch on the cathedral. She’s seen violence that makes today’s challenges seem minor by comparison.

After spending some time admiring the cathedral, we visited the adjacent Palace of Tau. It made me smile when I noticed that the young man who took our tickets was reading Kafka.


It doesn’t seem that they entrusted this to someone fluent in English

On the night before their coronation in the cathedral, the soon-to-be kings of France stayed here and a banquet was held in their honor. We had the place largely to ourselves.


The future king and his guests dined here


The chalice of the coronation


A detail from the Reliquary of the Holy Ampulla, which contains the anointing oil said to have descended from heaven for the coronation of Clovis. This 19th century reliquary was made to hold the oil which survived destruction of the the original vessel during the French Revolution


The Crowning of the Virgin. This was originally over the central portal of the cathedral. It was damaged during the German shelling of Reims during WWI.


Cherie with a (perhaps) life size statue of Joan of Arc

Of course these days Reims is probably most famous for its champagne. After leaving the museum we walked to the Taittinger visitor’s center, for a tour of their cellars.

Champagne grapes are grown  throughout the region. The chalk soil is ideal for growing the grapes, and the chalk cellars (caves) are ideal for storing and aging the wine.



One of the stairways originally used by the monks




When in Champagne…

We left Reims in the late afternoon, and drove to Epernay, a pretty town surrounded by vineyards and probably now most famous as the home of Moet and Chandon.


We found a nice place to stay and settled in for the evening. We got out our map and thought about where to go next…