Friday, February 25, 2011

First Volunteers of the Year and Other News

Spring is not quite here and already volunteers through the WWOOF program are beating down our doors.  So far we have three young people scheduled to join us in March.  I was a bit hesitant to take them on so early in the year, thinking that it's really not the best time to teach much about what we do here.  But I decided I would just give them fair warning about weather, and the lack of many growing things, and take whatever volunteer help still wanted to show up.

What I've learned about the WWOOF program is that I have to be on my game when volunteers turn up.  I do more work when they're here than otherwise, and not just because it's much like having house guests.  I want to keep them busy for the agreed upon half-day of work, sure.  There's no sense accepting volunteers and not making good use of the help.  But I also feel a sense of responsibility to teach these volunteers.  Maybe they don't expect as much as that, but I can't help myself.  And in order to teach, I have to be out there, showing, talking, demonstrating.  Projects have to be ready to tackle.  And in order to do that, well, I've got to do my homework.

Such as ordering some new hens.  You see, in the last month an egg eating habit has developed in the hen house.  This is a bad habit, one of the worst that hens can have, from my perspective.  I'm not sentimental about my hens.  I value them and treat them well, but they're not pets.  They're here to provide us with eggs to eat and to barter, and to produce manure and help control insect pests.  When they eat their own eggs, they're not adding value.  I don't know how the habit developed, but I've seen evidence of at least five eggs eaten this month.  I don't know if it's one hen doing all the damage or if they've all learned that eggs are good to eat.  To me, it's immaterial.  Repercussions will be positively Old Testament; punishment will be meted out collectively.  So this batch of hens is going as soon as I can replace them with new layers.

Which brings me back to the volunteers showing up early next week.  One of the young men we'll be hosting specifically wanted to learn about chickens, and another about slaughtering.  I didn't think we'd be able to accommodate the second interest, since our layers are still relatively young.  But a bad case of egg eating changes things.  So I think we'll not only be slaughtering, and processing chickens, but also pressure canning some tough birds and making chicken stock too.  Good things for strapping young lads to know, I'd say.

If we get another run of bad weather, there will be minor DIY projects for the garden to pursue in the garage, and bread baking in the kitchen.  Otherwise, we'll start the early spring tasks in the garden.  I've also ordered a couple slabs of pork belly from one of my farmers, to turn into bacon.  So I'll be able to teach a bit about curing while the lads are here. Somehow I suspect that if the guys think canning and bread baking is sissy work, they'll take a different view of makin' bacon.  (And yes, I checked; they're carnivores.)  It's exciting to me too; I've never made bacon at home before.  I know that as WWOOF host sites go, our homestead is not the norm, and so neither are the activities that our volunteers pitch in with.  Most WWOOF hosts are proper farms.  Sometimes I feel a bit apologetic about this, but in the end I think what we have to teach are good, practical skills.

In other news, seed starting has begun.   So far it's just the early stuff indoors, and some experimental frost sowing outdoors.  I've been working on breaking down all the branches pruned from our apple tree early this year.  It finally struck me as absurd that we haul our branches down to the yard waste facility, and then haul back finished compost and mulch.  We'll still go for the free soil building materials, but I've decided not to part with the soil building materials we've got onsite.  So I've been cutting up the very small branches with hand pruners, and spreading the bits all around our fruit trees.  It's a slow job, but it's just nice to be outside for an hour or two this time of year.  And the spring overload hasn't yet begun, so I've got the time.

Okay, final bit of news is a heads up for you readers.  I've ordered a few copies of Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen's book, The Urban Homestead.  I'll be giving away two copies here when the books arrive, but it looks as though I ordered the expanded and revised version, which won't ship out until mid-March.  As soon as the order ships, I'll post a giveaway here.  So check back later for a chance to win a new and improved copy of the book.  In the meantime, you can check out their great urban homesteading blog.

Have a great weekend, everyone.


Wendy said...

I don't think you should be apologetic at all about what your homestead has to offer the WWOOF volunteers. In fact, because of the size of your homestead, I think you actually have a lot more to offer than a larger farm. Given that 50% of the US population lives in free-standing houses on small pieces of land, our future is dependent on people who are willing to cultivate that land - AND then, share, freely and openly what they are doing.

So, Kudos to you for opening up your home and your life to educate our future urban homesteaders.

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Kate: I agree with Wendy's comments. I'm fortunate that two of our sons and their wives live nearby and offer their help if we need it. Can I come and peek over your shoulder when you make bacon? I just added 3 dozen pint jars to my stash thanks to a large donation at the Mennonite thrift shop. At $.30/each and in perfect shape it was a good buy. Marion in G'ville

Jennie said...

Ooooh, inquiring minds would be interested in reading a blog post about the process from pork belly to bacon. :-)
I have absolutely no place to do such a thing, but would be interested nonetheless. :-)

And I'll second the above comments, don't sell yourself short, we need a LOT more small farms in this country, not more giant ones. And WOOFers are looking for a whole range of experiences.

It's exciting to hear you have so much interest. It gives me hope.

Laurie said...

What a wonderful way to share what you know! No apologies necessary.

Paula said...

Hey. My husband bakes our bread. Nothing sissy about it. He's in charge of stuff that ferments, like bread and beer; he helped me with the pickles and sauerkraut last year, too. If anything, having those skills under their belts will make them that much more valuable to potential mates. Sounds like a win all 'round.

Can you please film (video) and post the chicken slaughtering? My chickens will be for the same purposes as yours- not pets (although according to the city's ordinance, they're supposed to be pets, but what they don't know won't hurt them).

Kate said...

Wendy, thanks. I guess I'm not usually apologetic; I just feel that way right now because the homestead is pretty sorry looking this time of year, and there's not much going on. I do very much feel that what we have is teach is important, and I host volunteers as much for that reason as for the help they contribute.

Marion, you'd be welcome to come. I'm not sure yet which day we'll work on bacon. Probably a day with weather too crummy to work outdoors. I haven't yet taken delivery of the bellies. I'll drop you an email and let you know when they're here. But I warn you, there's not much to assembling a curing mix and rubbing down the belly. That's all that will get done in the coming week.

Jennie, I'll try to do a post about the bacon. In the meantime you can look for my working recipe for guanciale. The process is basically the same; just slightly different seasonings.

Laurie, thanks.

Paula, I don't think of baking and canning as sissy either. But one never knows what attitudes young men will have been raised with. Still, it's all part of homesteading, and that's what I can teach. As for the video of the don't know if I can do that or not. I have no idea whether we've got a device capable of that. My digital camera might be able to take a short clip. I'll have to see. If I can figure it out, at least I'll have extra pairs of hands to hold the camera. Can't promise anything though. Sorry.

karen said...

My CSA farmers just hosted their first wwoofer this February, I met him at the farmer's market where I sell breads (the baker's a dude) and fed him (and my farmer) well. I got a distinct impression that he was pleased to be taking part in something of value and saving the money he would otherwise spend so any experience would be a good one, as far as he seemed concerned ...

I love the concept, and know that my farmers were very, very pleased with their first visitor. Enjoy yours, may they be game for anything and easygoing too.

Ken Toney said...


WWOOFers are great! We hosted our first trio last fall, and new interns will be starting this week on our farm. We will have a revolving door of interns through WWOOF and through October. It's amazing how much interest there is from the volunteers. We've had to turn people away.

I was hesitant to be the teacher at first. I certainly make my share of mistakes and wondered what I could share. But now that I've gotten used to the concept, it's kind of fun. We're looking forward to meeting and working with our interns this year. Good luck.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Kate -- If I were WWOOFing, I would be thrilled to land at your house. So many things going on, so much to learn, and good food to boot.

When we had an egg-eating problem, we tried collecting eggs several times a day (so they wouldn't sit around to be eaten) and putting golf balls in the nests. I can't say for sure that it was the golf balls that did it, but the egg eating stopped. Maybe a few pecks at a hard ball (or one of those decorative marble eggs) and egg eating seemed less fun.

Kate said...

Karen, that's been our experience with most of our volunteers too. We just haven't hosted any so early in the year before now. Thanks for the good wishes.

Ken, yes, we've found the volunteers to be mostly quite interested as well. I suppose I've never had much hesitation about telling people things I know that interest me. Add to that impulse a good measure of responsibility to dig deep before spouting off, and you've got teaching material. I don't think you need be an expert to teach. Telling people honestly about your mistakes counts as teaching too.

Tamar, thanks. I've been collecting the eggs more often too, and I tried the golf ball trick. It didn't stop the problem though. I wish it had. A farmer I know told me he's never been able to stop the habit once it's established. But he probably doesn't have time to check for eggs frequently.