Psychotic Chickens And A Late-Term Cow

The colors of fall have mostly come and gone. This autumn was not as vivid as last year’s. The hues were out of sync—disjointed, discordant, and fleeting—like a John Cage song, or a middle school band concert. A few stubborn trees yet cling to a fading green, but most have already begun to cast off their curled, lifeless leaves. With them, the memories of summer’s warmth scatter, fragment, and will soon decompose beneath the coming winter snows.

Meanwhile, this cow is about to pop.

Gertie's Largesse

We had figured (and hoped) her due date would be in late-August or early September, based on a nine-month gestation period, and figuring she was bred sometime in early December. She’d gone to visit her boyfriend around Thanksgiving, and we brought her home in late January.

It’s the antepenultimate day of October, and no calf.

But there’s do doubt that she’s pregnant. She’s nearly as wide as she is long, her udder has swelled considerably, and her… er… backside has clearly begun to prepare for the upcoming passage of a large animal.

Udder Time

She has also entered the waddle stage. And she’s almost too big to walk through the gate of the corral!

The weather is forecast to grow especially chilly tonight—we’ll likely see our first frost—and that makes me think we may have a calf in the morning. From what I’m told by more seasoned farmers, cows like to give birth in the worst weather possible. Murphy’s Law appears on the farm more, I think, than anywhere else.

Which brings me to the chickens. Those devils.

How about that black one? Looks like a raven took up residence with the hens!

How about that black one? Looks like a raven took up residence with the hens!

I don’t remember this from previous years, but the onset of fall has sent the biddies into a scratching, digging, hunting frenzy. And it’s not as though we don’t feed them — I daily sprinkle a bit of cracked corn around the areas where Gertie has recently defecated, to encourage scratching and dispersion of the good stuff. To their credit, they’re excellent scratchers and diggers, and this summer they made the richest soil/compost that I’ve ever seen, in Gertie’s corral with her manure and remaining straw/hay. I grew some of our fall garden in it.

Fall Radishes & Lettuce

Which brings me back to the chickens.

They had mostly ignored our garden and the various planting beds we have around the front yard, throughout the summer. But now, those succulent little fall lettuces and cilantro and brussels sprouts were just too much to resist. The evil queens took their growing chicks right on through our beds while I wasn’t looking, and scratched them all to pieces. Some of the rows were salvageable, but the brussels sprouts were doomed, the cilantro was severely crippled, and the lettuce suffered a temporary setback. I built some frames out of PVC and attached chicken wire, to set over the beds and keep the worthless birds out.

“Worthless” because they’ve stopped laying eggs. And yes, I know, I could keep them on high-protein feed year-round, and hook up a light in their hen house to trick their bodies into laying through the winter. I’d like to, but it’s too much trouble. I’d rather just complain about no eggs.

A Place To Scratch

I snapped a quick photo of one of our now-empty flowerbeds that they’ve had a heyday in. In which they’ve had a heyday. It’s really incredible, and I’m not sure what they’re finding in there. But considering the ferocity with which they have been tearing our homestead to pieces this autumn, I’m sure whatever it is they’re finding is plenty tasty.

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The Things We Grew: Our 2015 Garden In Review, With Notes & Tips For Next Year

Some people, I think, have good garden years, where it’s an all-around “bumper crop.”

We’ve never had that, being utter amateurs. So when we hear skilled growers lament 2015 as a tough year… we think, “Well, at least we’re not the only ones!” The incredible amount of rain we received, combined with cool temperatures that reached even into late-June and early July, doomed many of our crops.

So here are my notes from this year’s garden. And here’s hoping for a bumper crop next year!


Overall Weather Observations: Heavy rain from May through July, with significant flooding in local areas. A cool season that lasted abnormally long — through June. Then in August, God turned off the faucet. Late August and basically all of September (and so far, October) saw rainfall levels well below average. I hadn’t set up our irrigation system very well for the garden, so it suffered a bit as a result.

Prepping A New Bed

Methodology: We used the “wood chip” method again, having piled very fresh wood chips in November/December, and then spreading them across the garden in early March. For Saylor’s small garden as well as in a new bed I built in the front of the house, we used mainly rich topsoil from the corral, in a semi-raised-bed that was dug loosely and not ever walked on. The wood chips really seemed to stunt or slow everything’s growth. I think it’s because we put a lot down, and they were very fresh, and so the young plants stretching their roots didn’t find the quantity of easy nutrients they needed. They plunged their root systems among and even through the middle of the wood chips, but I think the soil just wasn’t rich enough. Eventually they grew to a mostly-normal size (though I think still small for some), but it took a long time. Also, the wood chips tend to be a great place for bugs to hide — squash bugs/stinkbugs/cucumber beetles in particular. We’ll use this method again next year (because I don’t want to clear all the wood chips out of the garden), but we won’t add any fresh wood chips. Instead, I’ll add plenty of rich manure and compost, and hope that the organic matter will break down throughout the fall, winter, and early spring so that next year’s plants have a better chance.

Seeds: We got all our seeds, of course, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. The best.

Best Crops

National Pickling Cucumbers

Cucumbers — The Delikatesse Cucumbers along our garden fence did mediocre, but I think it was because they got hit early by bugs and I didn’t tend them well. The soil was also not amended well and not very loose. They did produce some cucumbers, but I didn’t like the shape—they tend to be very roundish—and they really didn’t do well. Suddenly the plants just dried up and died. But a late planting (I think early June) of our new favorite variety did well. We sowed National Pickling Cucumbers in my new bed at the front of the house. Full sun. Very rich soil. They were trellised on an old rusty bicycle I found in the barn. They performed amazingly! Tons and tons of cucumbers. The only problem was that after a fairly short productive stretch, they very quickly died! Various sections of the vine would begin withering, and then the whole plant was soon dead. I’m not sure if it just died of “old age” or if we had a bug problem. Well, I know we had a bug problem, but I didn’t really see very many, so I’m not sure. Either way, we had fantastic productivity from these cucumbers, and we made TONS of pickles! We’ll post about that soon. Next year, we plan to use those again, and also want to grow some Mexican Sour Gherkins. One of our farmers market growers had them, and she said they grew easily—some even were volunteers from the previous season!—and they tasted delightful. Almost like they were already pickles — tart. Perfect for pickling and then using as a snack or hors d’oeuvres!

Mexican Sour Gherkins
Spring Lettuce Fall Lettuce Bed

Lettuce — The lettuce had a crazy-long growing season because of the extended coolness, and we eventually got tired of salad! We did a good job of successively planting, sowing the first round in the bed that gets full sun in the early spring, and another round in the bed that gets some afternoon shade in May/June, to keep them from bolting. Our fall lettuce garden is coming on strong, having been planted in early September. The warm temperatures help it germinate and grow well, but it’ll stay cool for them as they mature so they won’t bolt. The Rocky Mount lettuce mix grown against the north side of the house gets zero direct sun this time of year (that bed only gets direct sun from mid May through mid August), but the lettuce still seems to be doing quite well. The soil there stays nice and moist as a result.

Spinach — Same as the lettuce. Successive planting with an eye toward what will get afternoon shade in May/June is crucial. But our last planting of spinach was in early June, and even though that bed gets a good amount of shade and is on the north face of the house, even the mildly hot days of June/July made it bolt fast. We’ll give up on hoping for any summer lettuce in the future, and it’ll just be a spring and fall crop. Also — very cool! — we accidentally overwintered some spinach, and it was producing nice, big leaves for us in very early spring. We’ll try that again, too. It was a typically cold winter, though not much snow. The bed did have a little bit of leaf cover in it, so that might have provided some insulation.

Radishes Radish & Lettuce Bed

Radishes — We didn’t try these in the spring, but our fall radishes have been fantastic! We sowed them in late August/early September, after pulling up the lettuce/kale bed (which was looking horrible and had all bolted). We turned over the soil, and amended it with some fresh compost we’d been cooking over the summer—which consisted mainly of hay/straw and manure from the corral. (More on that below.) The compost really seemed to make a difference. Everything in those beds has done incredibly well so far. We didn’t use the wood-chip method in those beds. We successively planted the radishes. We did thin the rows somewhat, but once some of the radishes start forming nice bulbs, the picking is the thinning — and it seems like the ones that get crowded early still tend to make bulbs once they’re un-crowded (when we pull the early bulbs near them).

Carrots — The jury is still out on these, as they’re still very small and growing as I type this. But they came up well, and probably need to be thinned a bit. They were only planted in the fall, in between the rows of radishes — so, in the loose, amended soil. So far, so good.

Cilantro — It like full sun but cool temps. So this spring and summer worked really well for it. It can handle partial sun, but grows slower. It did eventually bolt in the summer and we collected seeds. We have a good fall crop coming on now.

Parsley — Our parsley has been hanging out in the western part of our lettuce/spinach beds, and it’s just thrived all summer. It never bolted, and is still going strong!


Sorghum — The Mennonite Sorghum came on slow — likely due to the rain and coolness — but eventually got big and strong. They ended up about 7–8 feet tall, with some putting on multiple seed heads. They’re beautiful at the summer’s end, with brownish-red spires of grain that the cardinals nibble on until we cut them off. They grew in the main garden amid the wood chips, and that might have slowed their growth somewhat.

Kale — We did seed kale, but I think some of it also came from plants that bolted last year and reseeded themselves. The kale just thrives in the front beds where the lettuce and some herbs are. It does bolt, but we just let it go, and left that bed alone in the summer, and then when we pulled it all up and tilled it in late summer for the fall garden, tons of kale (and dill! and some cilantro!) came up among the radishes and carrots. And the fall kale is doing even better than the spring kale. One thing we did discover is that the _____ beetles along with the little green worms that go after the broccoli both did a number on our kale, particularly the head-forming kind. They stripped it clean. But thankfully, it was a big stalk, had a good root system, and after we smashed dozens of bugs and eradicated most of them, the big stalks started sprouting new little leaves all along them.

Collard Greens — We only are growing these as a fall crop. They do horribly in the wood chip garden. But they thrive in the rich soil beds.

Turnips — Same as the collard greens. So far, so good, although they’ve not produced turnip bulbs yet: they’re growing strong and fast!

IMG_3614 Dahlia

Spring Flowers Spring Tulips, Irises, Dogwood Zinnias Through The Summer

Zinnias & Other Flowers — We sprinkled some zinnia seeds in a little cleared patch of dirt right next to the peonies (which perform beautifully every year!) and among a few dahlia bulbs. I accidentally pulled a few out, because I forgot I had planted them, and I was weeding around the emerging dahlias. But the zinnias exploded! They produced all summer long, and are still producing, and we’ve had beautiful flowers in the house all summer! We’ll plant those every year, for sure.

99DDAEE7-3D6B-4B9B-A25A-E1CB53D810AB Chanterelles

Mushrooms — We found the motherlode of chanterelles, scattered across the wooded hillsides. I think they were brought on by all the heavy, consistent rains. Among them we found a few edible boletes too. They were brought home (in all their lovely smelling glory), cleaned, cut up, dried, and bagged, and they’re ready for fall and winter soups!

Mediocre Crops

Peppers — Bell peppers of various varieties along with poblanos all did decently. We started them early, indoors. Germination was predictably low and slow. And they took forever to grow, but I really think the wood chips are to blame for that. We got almost zero peppers until August. Even then, the peppers have been smallish. But, they’re pretty, they’re crisp and tasty, and they seem to be producing fairly well into the fall, so hopefully some peppers will garnish our fall salads!

Peas — We didn’t plant these in the spring, because we have a really hard time getting them to germinate early enough to where they’ll mature before we get an early heat blast in May and it ruins them. But our fall peas are showing promise. The plants are growing nicely, but they’re still too young to produce. We planted them in early/mid September. A little earlier might have been ideal, but we’ll see.

Strawberries — Really, we got very few strawberries. The ones we did get were small and not very sweet. Our few remaining alpine strawberry vines put out a few sweet ones, but that was it. However, we started a new form of crawling alpine strawberry in the early spring, in seedling trays. They were transplanted in early June, and this fall, it’s obvious they’ve spread around the the strawberry bed significantly! We’ll mulch the bed well this winter. Here’s hoping next spring will be full of alpine strawberry sweetness!

Asparagus — We set our asparagus crowns in the ground early this spring, so we knew we wouldn’t harvest any this year. But they all lived, and put up tiny, skinny stalks, offering the promise of a harvest next spring!

Beans — The bush beans did okay, but never produced much more than one or two pickings. The deer harmed them, as did the cool, wetness, I think. The pole beans grew up our corn stalks, and seemed strong. But then the corn got demolished by raccoons, and that was the end of that.


Amaranth — Really, the amaranth did poorly. Except for one plant, which grew about 8 feet tall, and put on a huge head of grain! I hope to grow a good plot of it and sorghum some day, to feed our animals. This was an experiment. I do think the wood chips hurt it, and the coolness and moisture probably did too. But there’s hope that we could master amaranth in the future.

Poor Crops

Tomatoes Green Tomatoes

Tomatoes — I mean, the tomatoes were horrible this year. We started them early, and the seedlings showed promise. But the long, cold, wet spring combined with our wood chips stunted them significantly. When they finally began blossoming, they did put on quite a few green tomatoes. But they stayed green. For months. The only tomatoes that showed any interest in ripening were our Chocolate Cherry tomatoes. But even those were pretty weak, and often split when we pulled them off the vine. We did harvest a few, and enjoyed them. One was a white tomato, which was pleasing to the eye and the palate! Also, the deer occasionally visited our garden and very recently stripped the tomato vines clean. And the frequent moisture brought the blight on strong. The only solace we took was that our Amish grower at the farmers market said he had a horrible year for tomatoes too. Of course, he still had some tomatoes, but it was nothing like last year, when he was feeding crates of tomatoes to his pigs. He often sold out this year. Tomatoes are the most alluring thing to garden, and can often be relatively easy to grow. We will, of course, try again next year. With far too many varieties and too much optimism. I can’t help myself.

Okra — A friend who has never gardened asked if I would teach him this year. I told him it was a bad idea, and I was right. I still haven’t figured it out; how can I teach anybody? He wanted to grow okra, and he planted some seeds towards the back of our garden. They came up, and grew a few feet tall eventually. But they were deer food all season long. It got to the point of absurdity: every time the plant would regrow leaves and was probably soon ready to put on flowers, the deer came through and stripped it. I can’t wait for deer season. Anyways, we’ve grown okra successfully here before, and may try again. But I don’t much care for it anyhow: too slimy for my liking.

Squash Saylor's Garden

Squash & Zucchini — Horrible, just horrible. Stunted by the wood chips, they grew slowly and with a yellowish hue. Just before the zucchini seemed ready to put out flowers, they all died. I don’t know why. It could have been deer; it could have been squash bugs. But something killed them, and that was the end of it. The squash just performed pitifully. Grew slowly, and never put on a single squash. Now, Saylor’s little garden had some winter squash and gourds growing in it. But the raccoons destroyed them.


Grapes — I planted my grapevines a couple of years ago along the south fence of our garden. One has been slow to take off, but may do well next year. The other, a pink varietal, was strong last year and I thought this year we might have some grapes. We did. Lots of little bunches developing. But the dreaded black rot ruined them. I learned about black rot as my grapes dropped off the vines — warmth and prolonged moisture will doom a maturing grape. The warmer it gets, the faster the black rot can develop if the grapes stay moist, so it’s crucial to have good airflow among the vines and for them to be growing in full sun. Mine get some afternoon shade from a nearby redbud tree (which isn’t going anywhere!). That combined with the eternal rains of May, June and July, and the predictable Missouri humidity, meant our grapes all got black dots, and then black rot, and then we had no grapes. Better luck next year.

Blueberries — The blueberries never ripened! We have three plants. One is pretty good; a second is mediocre, and a third is just barely there. The mediocre one never turned its blossoms into fruit. And the other two put on fruit, but it never ripened. Then, the fruits vanished. Seriously strange.

Raspberries — These we had high hopes for this year. The bush we had planted two years ago performed strongly last summer and put out lots of new canes, so we thought this year would be great. But most of those canes seemed dead this year, and a lot of the new stuff got eaten by… yep, deer.

Broccoli — These actually still might do something. I started them in February or March, and set them in a place that got afternoon shade. They just grew slowly, and then got attacked by worms (see below). But they were big and strong enough that they lived through the summer—nearly devoid of leaves—and now, in the coolness of the fall, they’re trying to make a comeback. We’ll see if we actually get any edible broccoli from them. Who knows.

Cabbage — I really had hopes for our cabbage. It was in the main garden. It started doing well, but I think the wood chips combined with the flooding really did it in. It amazingly survived the whole summer, despite being eaten nearly to the ground. But I think the late-summer dry spell finally finished our few cabbage plants off.

Pest Problems

Deer — Deer ruined our garden, in many ways. I tried to put up a high fence around the area where I thought they were coming in, but it was no use. Summer is a very busy time for me, so I had no time to rework the entire fence. This winter, I’ll make sure there’s an 8+ foot fence around the entire thing. I have enough fencing material; I just need the time.


Raccoons — Coons got into the squash and corn. They stripped the ears only days before they were ready to be picked. They trampled and pulled down the stalks. And they munched the winter squash. They also killed a chicken recently. I caught that coon (the chicken killer) in front of the coop with a live trap, the night after she murdered my hen. We caught several others throughout the summer, in front of Saylor’s garden where they’d been wreaking havoc. One night, we got a two-fer. Two in one trap. So the coons hurt us, but we put the hurt on them too.

Cabbage Bug

Harlequin Cabbage Bugs — These little devils wreaked havoc on some of our plants. It turns out, they feed on stressed plants, particularly cool-weather plants that are out of their season (in hot weather). Thanks to the Dirt Doctor for that explanation: next year, when our plants like kale, broccoli and other spring crops hit summertime, we’ll toss them in the compost pile! We did find that killing them individually by hand—and we did that at the same time that we cleared out much of what they were feeding on—made a noticeable dent in their population. A couple rounds of that will likely get rid of them. I discovered that one way to make them all show themselves is to hand-water the area where they’re dwelling. They come out to the top of the plant to dry off, and then I can pick them off! They are not poisonous and can be fed to chickens. Which brings me to my next pest…

Chicken Baby Chick

Chickens — They get into the main garden easily, but next year I’ll try to put a stop to that. It’s theoretically possible. They just peck at the greens, and scratch around and hurt the young, tender plants. Also, I found them in one of our front radish/lettuce beds this week, and they had done some damage. I was surprised they were in there, since it’s a small space and is partly enclosed by chicken wire. But it was the one day I hadn’t fed them, too (we were out of feed!) and I have to wonder if they were getting revenge. That said, two of our hens sat on eggs and hatched a total of 9 chicks this summer, so they get a little grace.

Hornworms — They weren’t bad until late-summer, when we found a few on our peppers and tomatoes. But they were nothing compared to several years ago, when we were finding sometimes 10 or more per day.

Little Green Broccoli Worms — I believe they’re Diamondback Worms, and they make short work of our broccoli and other cruciforms. They ruined our head-forming kale along with the cabbage bugs, and really did a number on our broccoli.

Stupid Cat — She decided to use the row of turnips and collards as her personal toilet. So that’s that.

That’s it! Of course, we’ll be growing some things indoors throughout the winter: some herbs and lettuce under grow lights we have set up in the basement. And after the new year, we’ll start our 2016 tomatoes and peppers. But for now… here’s to a beautiful fall, a peaceful, snowy winter, and a productive season in 2016!

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Susannah Faye’s Birth Story

by Kate Bechtold

So here I sit. I am 22 weeks pregnant with our 3rd babe. Susannah Faye is 20 months old, and I am just now getting around to putting up her birth story. I posted this on instagram when she turned a month old.


So, it’s ready! I recently became inspired to finish the story based on my excitement about my present pregnancy. I am in the “I feel so good. I have so much energy!” part of this pregnancy. Today I went back and read what I had written for both Saylor’s and Susannah’s birth stories. I loved reading them so much! I don’t keep a journal, so these written accounts of their births are very special to me. Here is Susannah’s:

Susannah Faye’s Birth Story -Started February 2014

This pregnancy went by so fast, probably because Saylor (firstborn, 3 years old) took most of my attention. I spent most of the pregnancy emotional about one thing or another. I felt guilty for not spending time with my unborn baby like I did with Saylor when I was pregnant with him. I didn’t talk to her much, rub my belly much, or take “bump” pictures much. I felt grief over the fact that Saylor would no longer be my only child and that he was growing up so fast. I worried that he would feel rejected when he saw me adoring another child. I worried that his and my relationship would suffer—that we would grow apart. I felt overwhelming love for Saylor during this pregnancy. I dealt with fear and doubt. I feared something was wrong with our baby. I doubted that I could give birth again. I feared the possibility that I could have postpartum depression again. I doubted my ability to handle a newborn and a 3-year-old. God continued to sanctify me during the pregnancy. He showed me (and still is showing me) that He is enough. He is teaching me that I need to have faith in His love even when the circumstances look bleak. I had to admit that I had no faith in my moments of fear and that I distrusted His sovereignty. I had to learn to find rest, and I had to learn to find it before labor started because I knew that my fear would affect the birth.

Labor started very differently than I had expected.

With Saylor, my water broke shortly before I started pushing. But on January 28th, a Tuesday evening, I walked from the kitchen to the living room, and felt a teeny tiny “gush” of water.

“What was that?!”, I thought. “Did I just pee?” Then it happened again. I realized that I had not peed my pants. “Did my water just break? That wasn’t very much…” I told Nathan right away that I thought something labor-related might have just happened and gave him a “OMG, is this IT?!”, shocked look. It was still January. The due date wasn’t until February 7th, and I was sure that I wouldn’t go into labor until a week later than that. So the whole pregnancy I guessed the baby would be born on Valentine’s Day. This came out of nowhere and I was nowhere near finished with my to-do-before-baby-gets-here list. We called our midwife, Kelly, and told her what happened. I had no contractions.

She told us that if nothing else happened that night, to come in and see her in the morning. Well I kept “leaking” all night. Before bed, I lost my mucous plug and all that yucky stuff. I did some last minute things before bed, thinking that labor could start any time.

I woke up the next morning to Saylor climbing into bed with us. I gave him extra cuddles thinking that day was THE DAY. Nathan went to teach a class at the college, and then we headed to see Kelly. Once we got there, she confirmed that the liquid that I was leaking was amniotic fluid. So since I was leaking amniotic fluid, there must have been an opening somewhere in my bag of waters. And that, she said, could be a problem.

Once the seal is broken, the chance of bacteria reaching Baby goes up and the risk for infection goes up. Because I hadn’t started having contractions, we had to monitor my temperature to watch for an infection.

Reality hit. I knew that the longer I went without starting labor, the greater the chance of developing an infection. If I got an infection, then I would have to go to the hospital to receive antibiotics, and the protocol at the hospital is “water-breaking before start of labor=antibiotics + pitocin.”

I did not want to be induced!!! And I wanted to have my baby at home, not in a hospital!

To my surprise, worry did not take over in this moment. All the work God did on me during the pregnancy put my mind and soul at ease, and I found rest instead of fear. On the way home, we called our families and asked them to be praying that I would not contract an infection and that I would go into labor right away. Once we got home, I started taking my temperature every two hours and texting the results to Kelly. Along with that, I started taking all my go-to natural remedies for preventing an infection. That whole day, we had families and friends praying that I would go into labor ASAP! And around 7pm, I did.

I didn’t believe the first contractions were actually REAL contractions. It took two hours of them to finally believe it. “Are these braxton-hicks? Is this real labor?”, I kept thinking. I told my mom right away about the first one, but I told her that I wasn’t sure yet if I was in labor. She replied that of course I was, and that the same thing happened with Saylor. She told me to call my midwife right away, but I waited until I was sure. I wonder if I will play the same silly “denial” game with all subsequent labors.

Around 8pm, I texted Kelly that I thought I was in labor, having “cramps” 10 minutes apart. I ate a snack, tidied-up a bit, and laid down with Saylor to have some very special time with him. My love for him exploded that night! We read a book and watched a movie together while I labored. When he fell asleep for the night, I started to miss him terribly. I ached for him.

I called my dad, and he prayed with me over the phone. Nathan finished up his work for the night, and we retreated to our bed to get some rest. I slept in and out of contractions for a few hours. At that point, the contractions lasted over a minute and about 5-6 minutes apart. Nathan had slept through all the contractions up until this point, but I woke him up because fear started tempting me again.

I could no longer relax through the contractions. I did not fear something going wrong. I feared the pain that was waiting for me. I knew that the present pain was nothing compared to what I was about to experience. I became really scared, and it prevented me from being able to control the controllable contractions I was already experiencing.

I asked Nathan to wake up and encourage me to relax during each contraction. He prayed with me, and he began to go through each one with me. That helped so much! I didn’t realize how much I needed him until then. After two labors, I have learned that he is my ROCK and what makes them peaceful, enjoyable, and even romantic. I wouldn’t let him leave my side. After a while, I did not want to be in bed anymore. I needed to be in the living room, for some reason. But first I went to go use the restroom, and WHEW, the contraction I experienced on the toilet was no joke!

I knew I was headed into transition at that point. I went into the living room where the birthing pool was already blown up. I labored in there on my hands and knees leaning on our futon for the rest of transition. Everything during this time is really foggy in my memory. I remember it feeling like it lasted for days but only seconds simultaneously. It actually lasted 1-1/2 hours.

During this time, Sabrina, Kelly’s apprentice, arrived. Then, shortly after, Kelly arrived. She sat with me for a contraction and observed me. When the contraction was over she said, “doing good work.” Something about that really reassured both Nathan and me.

I think around this time, someone started getting the pool filled with water, which took longer than anticipated. One thing that went differently with this birth, compared to Saylor’s, is that I felt more of what was happening with my body. With Saylor’s birth, all I felt during transition was PAIN! With this one, along with the pain, I could feel the baby actually descending down the birth canal. When she started to get close to crowning, I could tell. Right around the time the pool was filled, I told Nathan that I couldn’t remember when to push. “How will I know?” “Will I be able to tell?” I think this was my way of saying, “I hope I start pushing soon, because I’m not going to be able to do this much longer!” This was the sign that I was getting close. And sure enough, as soon as I hopped in the pool, “the urge” came over me. It was time to start pushing.

My body knew how to do it, and it just did it, without much effort at all. I assumed the position of leaning or lounging on my left hip. I’m not really sure why I did that, but it seemed natural to me. I went through four contractions, and then Susannah Faye Bechtold graced us with her presence.

She came into the world on January 30th, at 5:28am. Active labor lasted around 9 hours. Her gender didn’t surprise us at all. We guessed the whole time we would having a daughter. Right away, I asked Nathan to go get Saylor. I couldn’t wait for him to meet her!

I felt so amazing after delivering her. With Saylor’s birth, I felt extremely tired afterwards. With Susannah’s birth, I felt a huge rush of energy. It lasted a while too. In fact, the entire recovery went so well. I did not struggle with fatigue, soreness, and moodiness like the first birth. (Praise God for that!)

Nursing was easy from day one. All the things that made Saylor’s first few weeks so difficult were not an issue this time around. I am so grateful for that. After the birth, we spent the day as a family of four, snuggling. The sunrise that morning was stunning—a perfect way to close a beautiful night. I have not seen a sunrise like that in all three years we have lived here. Our Susannah sunrise.

The whole month after Susannah’s birth, our families came to spend time with us and help out around here. Once they left, we had to adjust to our “new normal” with 2 kiddos. It was (and still is!) challenging… yet, manageable.

There is so much love in our home, and Susannah helped it grow. I’m in love with Nathan like never before, which I didn’t think was even possible. My love for Saylor skyrocketed to a new level. And my new, deep, aching love for Susannah, was such a sweet surprise. Before she was born, I questioned if I could love another child. It’s true what they say, “Your heart makes more room.”

Here is the birth video Nathan put together.

And for old times’ sake-Saylor’s Birth Story

And here I am NOW, 22 weeks pregnant with our 3rd little one. We’re planning another home birth with our midwife, Kelly attending. The gender will be a surprise then, sometime around late January/early February. We are so thrilled!


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Dead Raccoons & Fresh Baby Chicks

We’ve had a pretty good turn here on the farm, with the right kinds of life and death.

Among the dead ones is a raccoon, which I am quite confident was decimating our corn patch/garden. The night we caught him, he was returning to finish the job…

Chewed Corn

To start with, Dad found a live trap at Harbor Freight Tools that I simply couldn’t pass up for the price. So he procured it, and brought it up to Missouri. We haggled through the illegible directions and got the thing set up. The next morning, we had snagged this thief:


I dispatched him with a single .22lr. Sure, some people think it’s cruel. But they haven’t seen the mangled corpses of my baby chickens after a raccoon dug into their pen. Such a sight will rid one of any hesitancy or remorse.

Speaking of baby chicks…


Two of our hens have felt suddenly maternal, and have spent the past three weeks brooding over two clutches of eggs. Our German Spitzhauben hen—we’ll call her Agathe—sat first, on a group of eggs that I, in my laziness, had neglected to collect for a few days. The eggs came from all, or the majority, of our seven hens.

Our Barred Rock hen—we’ll call her Lucy—took to sitting a few days after she noticed Agathe brooding. Lucy kept stealing Agathe’s nest when the latter got up for a drink of water, so we split the clutch of eggs and put each lady atop one. Over the next couple of weeks, they occasionally switched nests, for no apparent reason. But on Saturday, July 25, the first chick emerged—a full five days ahead of the anticipated “due date!”

Agathe was the first mother. Four chicks emerged, but the other four eggs proved stubborn, and after two days, the chicks hadn’t left the nest and I worried they’d die of thirst while the new mother waited for the other eggs. One chick did perish, though I suspect a birth defect was the culprit. So I moved Agathe, chicks, and eggs from their chest-high nesting box to a ground-level nest on Monday night. The next morning, she’d taken her chicks and left the eggs.

Agathe and her triplets.

Agathe and her triplets.

Hoping to salvage at least a few of the nearly-developed chicks, I tucked the eggs beneath Lucy, and saw that her first two eggs had hatched out little, black fluffy babies. One of the eggs I put underneath her was developing a small hole… and I heard tapping and peeping from inside.

That chick hatched only a couple of hours later.

Talk about "still wet behind the ears"! She/he just emerged!

Talk about “still wet behind the ears”! She/he just emerged!

A couple hours later, and mostly dried off and perked up.

A couple hours later, and mostly dried off and perked up.

Now we have seven chicks, with a couple of days left to see how many more hatch. In the meantime, Agathe has already begun instructing her chicks on the finer points of scratchery and peckery, and Lucy labors over her emerging brood, with the eager expectation of a mother-to-be.

Feeling suddenly maternal.

Feeling suddenly maternal.

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Thieving, Dirty, Rotten ‘Coons

I make no bones about my feelings for those filthy bandits. As I’ve been teaching my four-year-old, “The only good ‘coon, is a dead ‘coon!”

My ire is fresh because of what happened last night…

Saylor has a little “garden” that we planted from some cast-off seeds. It’s a pseudo-raised bed, with marvelous soil that I brought in from the cow corral. Nice and rich.

We planted multifarious corn varieties, and then a couple weeks later planted pole beans and squash. The “three sisters” concept.

It worked well, and his garden fared even better than our main garden!

The corn ears were just starting to look good, and obviously the raccoons thought the same thing.

I walked out to the morning chores today, to see this:

Violated Sweet Corn Where The 'Coon Trampled

Corn Remnants What The 'Coon Left Me

There are maybe 5 or 6 little ears left. And I really hope I get to eat them, but the only way that’s going to happen is if I get that ‘coon before (s)he gets my corn. Who am I kidding? There are probably like 20 of them. A whole ‘coon family tree.

I also found this:

Ripped Open Bag Of Cracked CornThat one was my own fault. I took two 50-pound bags of feed out of the car yesterday before a three-hour round trip to Columbia, thinking they’d only be in the way, and would cut down on my gas mileage anyhow. But I left them sitting on the ground, and didn’t really think about them for the rest of the day. That/those stupid raccoon(s) had a veritable corn feast last night.

I have no live trap, and have been unwilling to spring for one (pun intended, of course). I did, however, buy four foot-snare traps last winter, to catch the evil fox that ate my chickens. Never caught the fox, but did snag a raccoon that ate my poor ducks. Shot him in the head, dead.

So tonight, I’ve set my traps. They’re firmly anchored, and far enough away from my crops that the snared ‘coon won’t trample my plants as it hopes and writhes until I get out there with my .22.

So when I trap him/her, (s)he can be so close to the rest of that corn, (s)he can almost taste it! Almost.

So when I trap him/her, (s)he can be so close to the rest of that corn, (s)he can almost taste it! Almost.

Two More Traps Another Trap Traps Laid

I know, all of this sounds terribly merciless. And so it is. I’ve seen what those varmints can do to my hapless hens; I’ve seen them dig underneath a chicken tractor to maul chicks, and even eat a sleeping chick’s head off by reaching through the chicken wire. I return their voraciousness with a certain unhinged passion of my own. I don’t take kindly to thieves.

And so I sleep easy tonight, in hopes that a red sun will rise on the local ‘coon population. I’ll update this blog once I find success.

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Summer Mushroom Hunting In The Ozarks

The two-months-long deluge we’ve been experiencing here has been unfriendly to Missourians’ gardens. The tomatoes are blighted, the soil is soggy, and everybody has an easy culprit for this year’s gardening woes.

But while the rain has ruined gardens, it’s brought an abundance of fruit to the forest floor. Saylor and I took a hike through the woods this afternoon and collected a bag full of gems.

The skies finally cleared yesterday, so today’s warmth meant mushrooms were popping up all over the woods. In particularly abundant supply were chanterelles!

We’ve never actually cooked with chanterelles, but we’ll be needing to Google some recipes, because we brought home more than two pounds of mushrooms.

This wasn't even all of them... We brought home about 2 pounds!

This wasn’t even all of them… We brought home about 2 pounds!

The stems are removed, and the first batch is already in the dehydrator (chanterelles spoil quickly, so it’s best to use them right away, or preserve them).

Chanterelles In The Dehydrator

The eating will be divine, but the finding is, frankly, the most fun. Our eyes scan the forest floor, as we stumble over rocks and dodge fox holes. A sprinkling of pale orange suddenly appears, and Saylor rushes to the mushrooms, while I, sputtering, tell him to be careful not to trod on others unseen.

Once you learn the look of a chanterelle, it’s hard to mistake them. But when in doubt (or just for fun), I take a sniff. The aroma is sweet and earthy, like an apricot with a little dirt on it. I’ve never smelled another mushroom like this. And I can’t wait to cook them. Most of the chanterelles we found were the smooth variety, which have tiny ridges on the underside or nothing at all — there’s no doubt about their edibility. We also found some with ridges on the underside, which I was a little nervous might be the poisonous jack-o-lantern mushrooms. But one whiff and I knew we were good to go. Seriously, if you only go chanterelle-hunting so you can smell them, it’s worth the trouble.


Chanterelles On The Forest FloorA Fresh Chanterelle

We also plucked a couple of pallid boletes, too. I can’t wait to cook them up! They’re related to one of the most prized mushrooms in Europe, the king bolete. I don’t know if they taste quite as good as that much-cherished royal fungus, but it’s the closest we’ve got in Missouri!

Pallid Bolete Pallid Boletes

And Saylor made the find of the day, with an indigo milky! I had found one of these in the woods a week ago, but didn’t imagine it could be edible, with its bright-blue bleeding and less-than-impressive cap coloration. So I had tossed that one, but then later learned they are a choice mushroom! As we were walking along today, Saylor said, “Dad, here’s one!” And there it was. A little past its prime, but not much. They’re unmistakable, and produce a crazy bright-blue ink. Apparently they’re marvelous in scrambled eggs, and turn the huevos a Suess-like verdant hue. Tomorrow morning, I’ll have green eggs and bacon!

Indigo Milky

We trudged back up our mountain, to the house; I had to carry Saylor for the last grueling stretch. Then we finished the evening with pool time in the backyard, a brief tractor ride, and some weed-pulling in the just-barely-making-it rows of bush beans in the garden.

If only every day were so productive.

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A Few Gems From Scalia’s Biting Dissent To The SCOTUS Obamacare Ruling

Justice Antonin Scalia is typically the biting, witty voice of reason when the Supreme Court of the United States goes off the rails. Scalia says what so many of us wish we were clever enough to think. Here are a few gems from his dissenting opinion to the court’s King v. Burwell ruling. (That ruling, by the way, upheld Obamacare by interpreting the likely intent of lawmakers to extend subsidies to all eligible people purchasing insurance through exchanges, whether those exchanges were set up by the state or the federal government — even though the law specifies only individuals purchasing insurance through an exchange set up by a state were eligible for federal subsidies.)

wikimedia photo

wikimedia photo

“Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.”

“(Understatement, thy name is an opinion on the Affordable Care Act!)”

“(Impossible possibility, thy name is an opinion on the Affordable Care Act!)”

“Let us not forget, however, why context matters: It is a tool for understanding the terms of the law, not an excuse for rewriting them.”

“Who would ever have dreamt that ‘Exchange established by the State’ means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government’?”

“It is bad enough for a court to cross out ‘by the State’ once. But seven times?”

“(Contrivance, thy name is an opinion on the Affordable Care Act!)”

“The word “such” does not help the Court one whit.”

“The Court’s next bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery…”

“The Affordable Care Act spans 900 pages; it would be amazing if its provisions all lined up perfectly with each other. This Court ‘does not revise legislation . . . just because the text as written creates an apparent anomaly.’”

“Pure applesauce.”

“‘even the most formidable argument concern- ing the statute’s purposes could not overcome the clarity [of] the statute’s text.’”

“Only by concentrating on the law’s terms can a judge hope to uncover the scheme of the statute, rather than some other scheme that the judge thinks desirable.”

“No law pursues just one purpose at all costs, and no statu- tory scheme encompasses just one element. Most relevant here, the Affordable Care Act displays a congressional preference for state participation in the establishment of Exchanges: Each State gets the first opportunity to set up its Exchange…”

“This Court, however, has no free-floating power ‘to rescue Congress from its drafting errors’…It is entirely plausible that tax credits were restricted to state Exchanges deliberately—for example, in order to encourage States to establish their own Ex- changes. We therefore have no authority to dismiss the terms of the law as a drafting fumble.”

“The Court’s decision reflects the philosophy that judges should endure whatever interpretive distortions it takes in order to correct a supposed flaw in the statutory machinery. That philosophy ignores the American people’s deci- sion to give Congress ‘[a]ll legislative Powers’ enumerated in the Constitution. Art. I, §1. They made Congress, not this Court, responsible for both making laws and mending them. This Court holds only the judicial power—the power to pronounce the law as Congress has enacted it. We lack the prerogative to repair laws that do not work out in practice, just as the people lack the ability to throw us out of office if they dislike the solutions we concoct. We must always remember, therefore, that ‘[o]ur task is to apply the text, not to improve upon it.’”

“More importantly, the Court forgets that ours is a government of laws and not of men. That means we are governed by the terms of our laws, not by the unenacted will of our lawmakers.”

“The Court’s revision of the law authorizes the Internal Revenue Service to spend tens of billions of dollars every year in tax credits on federal Exchanges. It affects the price of insurance for mil- lions of Americans. It diminishes the participation of the States in the implementation of the Act. It vastly expands the reach of the Act’s individual mandate, whose scope depends in part on the availability of credits. What a parody today’s decision makes of Hamilton’s assurances to the people of New York: ‘The legislature not only commands the purse but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over . . . the purse; no direction . . . of the wealth of society, and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment.’”

“We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

“And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.”

“I dissent.”

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Ode To The Groundhog In My Garden


Greetings, groundhog.

It’s good to meet you; I’m the grower of that garden.

It’s less green, from your gnawing, and that grieves me.

Your greed, groundhog, goes against my grain.

Put simply: your gut got you caught.

I found my gentle growths grabbed from the soil.

You grazing ingrate: you woodchucking, whistle-pigging, tail-less beaver! My greens are gone and I’m galled.

I’m through with groveling, groundhog, it’s time to go,

For me to grab my gun and get you to your grave.

Guilt? Me? I’m guilt-free: I gotta do what I gotta do.

Because the only good groundhog is… well… you can guess.

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Innovations Indoors And Out

Just Peckin' Around

No, I did not forget about this blog.

How could I? I love words. The search for the perfect moment, the rhythmic syllable punctuating a painstakingly crafted movement… the playful alliteration, carefully coy, like a laughing daffodil dancing in an early-spring snowstorm… the concrete imagery neither too sparse nor pretentiously purple.

I criticize all the writing I read or hear. Even my own. The task keeps me hopefully humble and ever searching for the perfect moment—for what C.S. Lewis would call “the thing itself.”

I write and edit for a living. It’s one of the best jobs I could imagine having. But sometimes the topics can be tiresome and I long for the farm… to dirty my hands in it, and then to take my hands to a keyboard to try to paint it, the way I paint.

This blog is a place for me to test my writing: to paint my favorite subjects. And it’s a useful way to watch our farm and family grow and change.

But I’m (mainly) done writing for this post. Here are some photos (with captions) of life lately:

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The Fig Tree

“May you never bear fruit again,” He said to the fig tree.
Most missed that comment, or heard it only as the frustrated outburst of a hungry man.
Amid the day’s excitement—the cracking of the whip and the clinking of a thousand coins on the stone temple floor—all forgot the exchange with the tree.
Along the road the next morning, the sight of a withered canopy jutting from the rocky earth awakened their memories.
“Lord, the tree you cursed… it’s dead!”
Word quickly spread, and a team of Jerusalem’s best scientists soon descended on the scene, roping off a perimeter and quarantining the area. An inspection point was erected, and no biological items were permitted to cross in either direction.
By Friday morning, preliminary results had returned from the lab in Caesarea.
“It was an invasive insect,” the team announced to a clearly-relieved crowd (composed entirely of reporters). “No miracle occurred here. We have determined the tree died of natural causes.”
The scientists, in coalition with local governing authorities, began drafting new standards for the care of fig trees and the import and export of figs. Botanists in Jerusalem immediately began work on a genetic variety of fig tree that might be resistant to such a pestilence.
All grew suddenly quiet as the sun set, signaling the commencement of Sabbath and the Passover.
But, only hours after sunrise on Sunday morning, a press conference was held on the steps of the Jerusalem temple (though still somewhat in disarray from Friday’s earthquake, which had baffled geologists, having no indication that such a seismic disruption had been imminent).
“It’s a miracle!” the scientists cried. “We’re saved!” A new breed of fig tree was already conceived, laced with toxins in its bark that would kill the newfound, invasive pest.
Meanwhile, there was a stir in Jerusalem…

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