Monday, August 31, 2015

Closure of sorts

August 31, 2015

View from our bedroom window

Away from the farm

On Monday we fly to the States for a five week visit. Guy was there last October but I haven’t left Brazil since July 2013, a long time for me, the erstwhile traveler. I look forward to seeing family and friends - perhaps you who are reading this post.

A June photo of Sofia with Polly, the goat, and Lolita.

Leaving a small homestead with chickens and goats, a beloved dog, trees and other plants that need attention requires a tough examination of one’s priorities. The unending demands that preclude the family’s absence rank high among the hardships of the working farmer. A co-housing or other cooperative situation, where two or more households live within shouting distance and can fill in for each other, would help solve this dilemma.

Our nine chickens spend the night in this enclosure.

They're out and about during the day - free range for the time being.
Polly and Nina.

At 7 weeks Nellie love to explore her world and thinks
the new feed box was just made for her.

We do have neighbors, half a mile from us, who will help out by feeding the animals twice a day and watering the plants once a week, as well as keeping an eye on the place, but things will be unattended for long hours including every night. I worry but we trust the neighbors and, on the other hand, we’re not dependent on the plants and animals for our livelihood. If accidents happen while we’re away they might have happened even with us here – like the ants stripping our trees.

Nina doesn't show very much yet so she may not have her kid(s) until late September or early October. 
Nina, our pregnant goat, may give birth while we’re away. Fortunately goats are very self-sufficient, accostumed as a species to live in wandering herds. When Polly gave birth to Nellie all we had to do was clean up after her. In the wild she would have wandered on leaving the after-birth behind.  Our neighbors more knowledgeable about farm life than we are so Nina and her kid(s) will be in good hands.

Guy and Marli, the neighbor who saved the day for us
when I had to stop working.

The first bedroom is full height.
The second bedroom and bathroom have started going up.

The rainy season should only get serious in November or December, so when we return work on the cob house will continue. With a roof on the first bedroom we’ll be able do inside work in preparation for visitors we hope to accommodate later in the year. If we’re lucky two rooms and the bathroom will be useable – safe, dry and comfortable. 

Guy dreamed up this covering at night while he worried about the rain.

All the cob covered up while we're away.

The arched bamboo will keep the rain from pooling or collapsing the cover.
A porthole in our new cob bedroom.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cob house update

August 13, 2015

First bottle in the wall

Here’s the good news: the walls to the room we’ve been building now reach almost six feet, with spaces for a door, and two windows for which we have the frames ready to be mounted. The rounded walls remind us of a castle and feel like they’ll last forever. The foundation for the second bedroom and the bathroom await their first layer of cob, and the foundation for the rest of the house, the livingroom/kitchen area, has been built up to six inches or so and we can enjoy its pleasing curves.

Two weeks ago - stripes of foundation stones, dry cob from many weeks ago, current wet cob.  
Guy in doorway of our castle last week.

View from second bedroom.

The bad news laps at the heels of the good: it’s already mid-August and we haven’t completed the walls of the first room. (We’re going to the States for five weeks, as of Aug 31st) We still hope to have at least one bedroom ready for guests in late October and then for a young friend who plans to live with us for a few months, arriving in December. By then the second bedroom and the bathroom should be well along.

Guy cuts out section of cob for small round window.

Window frames ready to be mounted.
Why, you might ask, and we ask ourselves at times, put so much effort into a cob house, risking disappointment and failure, when construction stores line  the streets in town with mountains of bricks and hills of cement bags?

It’s not just the cool factor though I admit to that motivation among others. Nor is it sheer stubborness in face of the difficulties. So? Permaculture, my friends, and the idealism that holds fast and true since the sixites when The Whole Earth Catalogue showed the way for the back-to-the-earth movement, and feminism painted the picture of women and men working together to create a more people-friendly society, and the doors of perception opened on the grand view of alternatives to a punishing, greedy, individualistic work ethic …  Ooops, am I waxing too grandiose? losing my audience? I’m sure you get the picture.

Recpitulating, for myself as well as my dear reader, we’re here to do our tiny bit in generating a sustainable society where, if human life hasn’t gone extinct, our great-grandchildren around the world will be able to build their own shelters, grow their own food, and live a decent and just life. Cobbing is part of this effort: building with the soil from our own property, avoiding as much as possible the environmental costs of industrial products as well as rediscovering the age-old techniques of building with what’s at hand and fits with the local habitat.

A couple of updates: Sofia, my daughter, has returned to live in the States for the time being.

Sofia, Greta, and Lulu - last day on the farm.

Sofia and Guy - getting ready to go.
She kept us company and worked alongside us for three years, clearing the land for planting and cobbing, making vegetable beds, digging deep holes for saplings, loving our pets (Fofo and Lolita), and generally cheering us on. For the cob house she collected stones with me for the foundation, helped mix the first batch of cob, and brought friends out on several Saturdays to do some building. We already miss her and will always be grateful for her support.

Fresh goat milk - yum.
We’re milking Polly, the mama goat, every morning now. We’re up before 7, in the cold mornings, but we warm up quickly as we put ourselves and Polly through the paces. We’re consistently getting two cups of milk, which we immediately use for our coffee and for granola. Tastes great, just like cow's milk. Perhaps we’ll get up to a quart before we leave for the States. When we get back in October Nina, the pregnant goat, will have birthed her one or two kids and we’ll be back to milking. With experience under our belts we won’t have to start at two tablespoons as we did with Polly.

In the meantime we enjoy the farm views in the daytime and the stars at night.

Bougainvillea (red), mango flowers (pinkish), and quaresma (purple).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Goats and chickens

August 5, 2015

Despite my intentions another two months have gone by without a post on this blog. Some of you get our news and occasional photo on Facebook, however I want to maintain a full account of our projects here    permaculture, bio-construction, small-scale animal raising.

Speaking of which, the farm has numerous new residents since the beginning of June. On June 8th we picked up two young goats, both does expecting their first offspring in a few weeks. We named them after our mothers: Nina, for Guy’s mother, and Polly for mine. After all they are the matriarchs of what we hope will prove to be a fine lineage. Neither of us had any experience with caring for goats though Guy’s relatives in Easton had goats at Mary Farm back in the mid-twentieth century. (Don’t you love how that sounds?)

Polly and Nina are the two goats on the right. This is at
the small goat farm where we picked them up

We took them home in our little Fiat Uno.

The day we brought Nina and Polly home they escaped twice and led us on a wild chase through woods and pasture. It took us around three hours, with no lunch or rest, to finally get them safely tied up. For me, after six months of sciatica, the ability to engage in such an adventure was exhilirating at the same time that it was frustrating and scary. What if we never caught them? What if they ran into the hills and disappeared altogether? What if the neighboring dogs, a goat’s worst enemy I hear, joined the pursuit and ended up tearing them to pieces? 

"Catch us if you can!"

Polly and Nina: "OK, what's next?"
By now they have a pleasant fenced in area, with electric fence to keep out the dogs and other predators, as well as a sturdy shed to give them shelter. We understand that goats don’t like rain and mud, therefor the importance of an elevated covered area.

"You're welcome to visit. You should know that I, Nina, am the boss!"

On June 16 friends in Cocalzinho gave us a hen with nine tiny chicks. Of the dozen or more free-range hens and roosters on their little weekend farm, wild animals – dogs, otters, hawks, wildcats – had taken all but this brooding hen and three roosters. The chicks hatched on the weekend while they visited and it was a no-brainer to bring the brood to us. Unprepared for this sudden addition, I hurried out on the town to get provisions. At the stuff-for-sale dump (ferro velho) I found a rusty but strong cage, and at the farm store I picked up a feeder, a water server, and five pounds of feed.

We brought Henny-Penny and her babies home in a cardboard box. As we transferred them to the cage a very excited Lolita (our dog) grabbed one of the chicks and ran off with it. I think she only wanted to play and had no idea how fragile that little bundle of feathers was. I collected the mangled chick, scolded Lolita soundly, and put the little body on the porch in front of her until she understood that she was not to touch it. It took a few more scoldings in the following days, but now Lolita doesn’t blink and eye while the chickens roam, including a new addition – another hen donated by a neighbor. She has to live outside the chicken pen because Henny-Penny attacks her relentlessly when they’re in close quarters, supposedly guarding her chicks from the intruder, establishing who has rights in the chicken yard. We release the whole brood in the late afternoon for two hours of roaming. Otherwise they eat grains and leftovers from the kitchen. I can’t tell for sure but I think most of the chicks are females – soon we should start collecting eggs!

Inspecting the cob house.

Six weeks later - chickies growing up.

Unwelcome addition - she lives outside the coop and
perches in a tree overnight.  Check out her beautiful tail.

On July 10th Polly gave birth to little Nellie, who entered the world ready to go, up on her legs and following her dam around right away. Guy reminded me that the newborns of many roaming herd animals need to be able to move on with the herd immediately after their birth. 

Welcome Nellie.

Polly and Nellie in foreground. Pregnant Nina behind - we don't know when she'll give birth. 
Guy and I work together to milk Polly and so far we’ve gotten up to a half cup at a time. It’s not easy, but we’re determined to keep at it, and we like the milk a lot. It’s like a mild low fat cow’s milk; I don’t think I could tell the difference in a blind test. 

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                              Stay tuned for news on the cob house - next post soon.