Monday, June 18, 2007

The Relaxing Country Life - Hah!


I think that I know what Old MacDonald died from. My strong suspicion is that it was exhaustion. When I decided to have a small working farm, at first I envisioned a place about twice the size of what I have now. Land prices decided otherwise for me, and in some ways I'm glad. I'd love to have bigger paddocks, but I'm understanding the direct relationship between land area and work now. I have about 3/4 of an acre that we plant in crops for the keeping of ourselves and our animals. Fresh vegetables, right? Wonderful....hmmmm, yes. My vegetable drawers in the fridge are running over with aubergines, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and okra, while strings of onions and garlic festoon the verandah. The ata (a local variety of cucumber) and the sweet potatoes haven't started to be harvested yet. The grooms' refrigerator is in a similar state, but at least I don't have to worry about anyone going hungry.

So a major portion of this chunk of land is currently planted in garawa, which is simply corn that is planted closely together so that it stays more grassy and is used for feed for horses, cows, goats, etc. When it is planted this way, it doesn't produce the amount of corn that stalks which are widely separated do...thank heaven! Because every day now, the boys cut garawa for the gamoosa, donkeys, goats and sheep, and every day they strip the corn off the stalks so that the corn can be used for the parrots and rabbits if it's too small to roast in the evening. The larger ears are roasted over coals and just eaten warm without any additives, and they are delicious. So I have chopped ears of corn in many ziploc bags in the freezer and fridge awaiting delivery to birds and bunnies. I have grilled corn every evening for dinner and frankly am getting a bit sick of corn...but the field is only a quarter empty. Oh my.

Then there are the sunflowers. I love sunflowers. I think that they are beautiful and the parrots adore the seeds. With our weather, we can grow them pretty much year round as well. So when they were seeding the field with the corn, they seeded sunflowers, three different kinds. We have the black seed sunflowers, the striped seed sunflowers, and the white seed sunflowers. They each give different sized flowers and LOTS of seeds. As soon as we notice the birds taking an interest in the flower head, we cut it and lay it face down on a rack in the sun. The heads need to dry but if they are face down on an open rack, the birds don't seem to recognise them to come and eat all the seeds. I doubt that I will be buying seed for the parrots this year.

With a batch of baby ducks and three litters of rabbits in the flight cages, breakfast preparation for the birds has taken on a new dimension. I have chopped corn cobs for the parrots and rabbits, all the vegetable leftovers for the chickens, the fruit/vegetable salad for the parrots, and now a large plate of chopped tomato, cucumber, and pepper for the baby ducks who eat with all the delicacy of a horde of locusts. They are cuteness personified toddling around the cage floor, climbing up on bricks to get into the plastic dish that is their pool, and swimming around...but they are all business when it comes to food. We are enjoying their cuteness stage and appreciative of the fact that they will grow up to resemble their father, who was recently re-named Howard after another cartoon character who more closely resembles our father duck than Donald does. It's a lot easier to roast someone who looks like Howard, and I have people already lining up for ducks.

Rabbits are kind of automatic feeders...but that just means that their keepers have to be on their toes with the food. Our first two litters seem to be providing breeding stock to neighbours who want to breed rabbits, which is fine with me. In the meantime, they are wonderfully entertaining to visiting children who can spend hours sitting on the ground with baby bunnies on their laps. The baby ducks are entertaining too, but Howard is pretty scary so kids have to wait until I will pick out some ducklings to cuddle.

Then there are the flowers to check for seeds to plant in new beds, the flax seed that we harvested from beds of flax this winter needs to be sifted to get rid of dust and dirt, the basil plants are growing like weeds this summer so that they have to be trimmed regularly to make pesto or just to harvest leaves for friends and neighbours. Horses have to be ridden, wormed and checked regularly for stupid horse boo-boos that they accumulate while playing in the paddock. The filly has to be haltered and walked daily so that she learns to obey humans while she is small enough that we can still manhandle her when she acts silly. And one of the turkey hens is sharing a box with one of the chicken hens because they are both sitting on chicken eggs to hatch them. We've marked the eggs so that new eggs can be collected for eating...however, turkeys and hens take a dim view of egg-theft and collecting is now done at the risk of your hands. But at the end of the day with a glass of ice tea, it's still worth the effort.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

10 comments:

Mohamed Hossam el Din said...

Extremely interesting! I'd really like to live such a life, with all its hard work included. I think just watching something grow and mature in front of you, whether plant or animal, makes up for that. Really brings you in touch with creation.

Hope to see some more interesting posts!

Anonymous said...

Apparently human beings who became agriculturalists were shorter and smaller than hunter gatherers. I guess maybe the exhaustion didn't help. Yes, for sure, raising veggies and animals does indeed sound like an awful lot of work. People who idealize the 'grow your own' concept are dreamers. Give me yurts and horses any day. :)

gk
toronto

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

The problem with "watching something grow" is that once it has grown you have to do something with it. What are you going to do with all the cucumbers or peppers or rabbits? What all this does, aside from wearing you out pickling peppers or cucumbers...or even packing them up to unload on unwary friends, is to put you back in touch with the entire production/consumption cycle of food. I'm very careful now about how much I plant of something because I know that I have to deal with the crop. We are not only supplying ourselves but also sending food home to my employees' families. Not really enough to make any money selling it.

Mohamed Hossam el Din said...

I'd say just get whatever is extra and sell it, no matter how meagre an amount it may seem to you. Also, why not tell your employee's to tell their families to tell the people they know that they know someone who grows vegetables who has a lot of extra if they would like to come buy some (probably at a cheap price would be better, I mean at least you're not throwing it away, and who doesn't need some extra cash? :D ) In Egypt you see all the time people selling vegetables and fruits along roads and anywhere there are people. You know, the businesses that will never go out of business are those that feed people, since people will always need to eat. :D

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

And who is going to do all that extra work of picking, packing, selling? We plant a garden and we see things growing...simple. What we don't see is the rest of the picture. Are you going into the farming business or are you living on a farm because you like it and have a garden. Two very different propositions. Before you know it, you've been engulfed.

Cairogal said...

What if you made next year's crops a 'co-op' garden. People would share responsiblities in planting, water, weeding, and harvesting. They also get their part of the finished product. It could have a market w/ those seeking organic produce.

Ashraf Al Shafaki said...

Amazing! I love this post of yours. Not only is it interesting, but also informative. Seems that it takes a lot of effort to keep your own farm. I wish I had a day full of such kind of work. Perhaps one day, I hope soon, I will leave the polluted Cairo and have my own small farm.

Ashraf Al Shafaki said...

Excellent idea cairogal. It's sometimes referred to as CSA (community supported agriculture) and goes hand in hand with organic or farming as you've mentioned. It is a new concept in Egypt however. Yet I was told about this lady in Maadi (Cairo, Egypt) that has an organic farm and distributes the harvest using the method similar to the one you have mentioned. Interested people pay her a fixed monthly price and go to her once a week to get their share of the crops. A very nice concept. I wish I can do like her one day soon.

Anonymous said...

whereabouts in Cairo are you? My cousin keeps her horses at AA, which I visited last year, and it was quite an eye-opener!

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

I'm about 15 km south of Nazlit Semman, where AA and the other pyramids stables are. I usually visit Giza on night rides. It's a lot easier. We have much, much nicer desert to ride in.