Category Archives: Animals

Three Peas, Two Piggies, One Baby Skunk & A Farm Update

We’ve entered that zone—that zone where time disappears and you simply move from one thing to the next on the farm and wind up at the end of the day exhausted and dirty (and eating a hot dog at the picnic table)—but happy. And ready for the bliss of the outdoor shower.

The summer visitors have reached the Island (how they get here so fast, I’ll never know), and all day folks are coming and going down the driveway to the farm stand.

And now, all of a sudden, with the summer light-switch flipped on, all kinds of things are happening in the garden. I don’t want to miss anything, so I took a break from salad duty this morning (right) and did a farm check.

The America rose (above) that Roy gave me for my birthday last year is blooming. Stunning.

The blackberry plant that my friend Cathy gave me (also for my birthday last year) is shedding its rosy blooms to make way for huge berry clusters. The blueberries are fattening up too. At least the ones that I managed to cover up before the birds got the blossoms. I thought you were supposed to protect the berries from the birds—I had no idea the birds ate the blossoms, too.

In the hoop house, the first of Roy’s early tomatoes are blushing red (and we’ve got 80 more planted outside in the garden). Also in the hoop house, we’ve got cucumbers coming up, and some patty pan squash plants that look like they’re on steroids. And the basil couldn’t be happier.

Just north of the hoop house is Roy’s potato field—the French fingerlings are blooming and it won’t be long now before we can dig some plants up.

Over at the pig pen, the two pigs are as happy as can be. They eat, root around, make mud baths, and mostly sleep in a nice comfy hay mulch bed. They always look very relaxed. (Update: Libby did name them this weekend, and I’m sorry to say that she did, in fact, pick Wilbur as one of the names. The other (bigger one) is Dozer, short for Bulldozer. Feeding them apples, cereal milk, Ritz crackers, and pasta was a big activity this weekend.)


In the garden, the first row of green beans is flourishing and two more are germinating. Forty eggplants are in the ground; a new variety called Orient Express has gorgeous purple leaves.

I’m growing three varieties of shell peas this year to compare. The first is called Coral and it delivered on its promise of being early. But these short vines bloomed all at once and produced a very low yield. (This sort of defeated the purpose of having early peas, as I didn’t have much to sell every day.) The second variety—a gorgeous deep-green plant with a profusion of tendrils about 2 feet up—is delicious and sweet. Called Easy Peasy, it is definitely yielding more than Coral, but still looks like it will end production without anywhere near the yield that my Green Arrow gives. Green Arrow grows very tall (vines curl off the top of the trellis as in the photo at top left) and blooms all up and down the vines, not just in one spot like the others. And it blooms over a longer period of time. The pods are extra-long and the peas delicious. I think I’ll go back to just this one variety next year.


The chicks in the barn are getting really big—which means that Roy has to build another coop! The brooder is now the entire length of the barn, because we had to add two additions for two chicks that we separated out from the rest. (One of them has been living in a box in my office, the other in the living room.) Here is Polly, the Polish Crested. Her other nickname is Don King.

Yes, it is Animal-Central around here. In fact, this weekend we cared for an ailing baby (and I mean baby—a few weeks old) skunk that stumbled into the driveway. Libby took to little Skunky in a big way and did her best to nurse it along with milk and cat food. But most likely it was not going to make it from the start, and Libby understood that. No, the little skunk did not have a functioning sprayer, and truthfully, it was the cutest darn critter you’ve ever seen. But I never would have taken it in myself. Leave that to my two National Geographic nature/animal lovers who also had a snake in a bucket this weekend and a collection of sand crabs in sea water.

We got Libby’s garden planted, too, with two tomatoes, one pepper, a row of green beans, sunflowers, cosmos, carrots, and two squash hills—one of pumpkins and one of summer squash. I can’t wait for Libby’s school to end and we’ll have her out more. Because any “work” we do with Libby is always fun. The only problem is that the days fly by even faster. Pretty soon, it will be August and time for the Fair!


Two Little Piggies Come Home to Green Island Farm

There we were, breezing down North Road in Roy’s truck yesterday, Farmer between us hanging his head out the window in the cab, looking back and whining at the cargo in the truck bed—two pink pigs in dog crates. Never in my life. Okay, so we have talked about pigs for a long time. And I love pigs. But now that we have them, I just can’t believe it. Roy and I are both kind of wandering around chuckling to ourselves —and going down to the pen to check on them quite a bit.

And listen, I have news for you. Pigs are only tiny little cute piglets for a very short time. We saw some newborns yesterday (those are the ones you just want to pick up and cuddle in your laps), but our two weaned pigs are a good 50+ pounds and wicked fast and strong. How strong? Well, we found out yesterday.

The owners left us alone to load our two pigs onto the truck. We corralled the first guy into the crate, lifted the crate, and the crate came unhinged. Out came piggy and off he went to run God knows where. Roy managed to steer him back towards the barn, but once inside, he wasn’t so interested in getting back in the crate. After a lot of squealing and darting on his part—and wrestling on Roy’s part—back in he went. (I took one stab at grabbing him and decided I will never enter a greased pig contest.)

All this Farmer watched from the truck with much concern.

Once we got the piggies home and into their new pen, they were fabulously happy, immediately rooting around in the compost-rich dirt.

It took them only a matter of minutes to dig a trench big enough for them to lie down in and cool off.

And all that before a delicious meal of hog mash.

Then I got to take pictures of Roy communing with the pigs. He was so cute.

Neither Roy nor the bigger pig who did the run-about yesterday seem to harbor any ill-will towards each other!

Roy is very proud of his pig pen, too, which he should be, as it is located in a perfect spot.

Little by little we have been clearing brush away from around an old stone foundation that once supported a big barn decades ago. The foundation was built into the side of a hill and three sides still remain. The eastern side is open at ground level, so after a last round of clearing, Roy built a low wall from railroad ties that a friend gave him.

For covered shelter, Roy re-erected the Ladies’ original outdoor (chicken) pen, which had a tin roof.

A bed of shavings and hay mulch is a comfy spot for napping (which is pretty much all they’ve been doing since yesterday afternoon), and a canopy of shady trees will make this a great place for pigs in the heat of summer.

Eventually, we can turn them out to a slightly bigger area that will have a cattle-wire fence. But I’m not in any rush. For now, I am happy that they have a secure spot. I’m not looking to chase any pigs, greased or not.

Will it be Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3? Only the Hens Know

Our 300 new pullets arrived yesterday. That makes a total of 540 chickens for us. The pullets are 16 weeks old and will begin laying small eggs in about a month. By high summer, we will be collecting more than 3000 eggs a week. That’s 250 dozen, plus.

Should be interesting.

The delivery came a week early (of course), with a few days warning. So Roy has been working like mad to get the three new coops built and the fencing up. When the girls arrived at 10 am yesterday, we took them directly out of their travel crates and put them right in the coops to get them used to their new homes.

After setting up the farm stand this morning (above)  and eating my breakfast (Green Island Farm eggs of course!), I went down to watch Roy let the girls out into their lovely grassy field.

But the girls were not in a hurry. We watched and waited a bit, then went back to work. It took the first birds until 2 pm to get up the courage to go out (even though they could see their big sisters in the pen right next to theirs.) And even then, one entire coop stayed put for another hour. It was the funniest thing watching them all standing in the doorways. Which ones would come out first? All I could think of was the “The Price is Right.” Would it be Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3? Well, the group behind Door #1 were definitely the brave ones, out and about first. (Top photo.) Group 3 (bottom photo) followed, while Group 2 (middle photo) must have had something pretty interesting going on in the coop, because they didn’t budge for quite a while.

It’s a beautiful day for the girls to be settling into their new digs. Let’s just hope they don’t get too adventuresome too quickly. Their big sisters found an opening in their fence yesterday, and about 60 of them went strolling down the Land Bank path right about the time the pullets were arriving. (At least there weren’t as many escapees as last time.)

And fortunately the pullets don’t have to worry about being the new kids on the block for too long. Our 25 baby Aracauna chicks are due to arrive at the post office on Monday. Yes, you heard that right. But they won’t start laying (blue) eggs until September, so that’s two dozen we won’t have to think about for a while!




Beauty and The Beast

The day before we go to pick up Libby, we tell Farmer, “Guess who’s coming tomorrow?” First his ears perk up, and then, when we say, “We’re going to get LIBBY!” he runs around the living room and jumps up on the sofa to look out the window.  “Where is she? Where is she? I can’t wait! I can’t wait!”

By the time Libby leaves, Farmer is so exhausted that he climbs up on our bed and doesn’t move for two days.

He loves that girl like nobody’s business. And she loves him. A little girl and a dog, made for each other.

This is the kind of weekend when farm chores can be overwhelming, and Farm Dog and Farm Girl are both co-opted into helping. Roy is teaching Farmer to herd chickens. Plus, Farmer has to keep an eye out for customers coming down the driveway and duly alert us when he sees them. Libby, admittedly, is a good deal more helpful than Farmer. Together, we’ve been moving seedlings back and forth from the house to the greenhouse, planting more flower and vegetable seeds, picking lettuce, washing lettuce, packing eggs, putting the covers back on the garden beds that blew off in the wind the other night, and weeding  her garden plot.

Since these two hard workers deserve a break, Roy has taken them for a romp down at Quansoo beach.  Actually, they just got back, blowing in the back door, giggling and jingling. Libby is covered in sand and has a big grin on her face. She fell in the water apparently. Fortunately, Farmer didn’t have to rescue her. All is well. They had fun.

They will both sleep well tonight.




Jumbo Eggs & Chicken Collectibles; Plus A Cabbage Recipe & A Candle for Sixburnersue

Merrily skipping outside with my camera this morning, I had visions of writing about hope and rebirth (jumping right past St. Patrick’s Day to Easter), so I started snapping photos of chives and daffodils poking through the ground.

Then down to the hoop house I went (again) figuring I hadn’t yet inundated you with enough baby seedling pix.


Oh, and the first true leaves on the tomato seedlings under the lights—you’d have to see those.

But very quickly I got distracted. I went to check the nest boxes and found a lovely egg in a sunny bed of straw.

And then I remembered that every night while we’re washing and packing the eggs, I marvel at how striking they look in their almond and apricot and melony hues, so tidily arranged in their cartons. I wanted to show you our cool product.


And then I remembered that I keep meaning to photograph the jumbo and miniature eggs we get. The jumbo eggs, mostly double-yolkers, are so huge (sometimes more than 3 1/2 ounces) that it makes you wince thinking about those 4-pound hens laying them. We get three or four jumbos every day. The minis are more of an aberration. (The egg in the middle, below, is normal sized.)

Off I went to photograph eggs, and in the process, I added a chicken to one of the photos (see top of blog). We have a lot of chickens. Not just live chickens…

…But wooden chickens, china chickens, iron chickens, chickens on dishtowels and pot holders, chickens on plates and mugs. We are guilty of collecting them, and friends and family give us more. (Roy already had the one below when I met him. He and Libby bought the one above for me a couple years back.)


My friend Eliza gave us these great hen and rooster salt and pepper shakers.


My friend  Heidi dropped by yesterday with a cool hen tote bag and some produce bags from her sister’s company, Ecobags.


My mom recently passed along this lovely Nicolas Mosse plate and the great Barred Rock look-a-like (at top).


Our friend Mary gave us this wonderful Bridgewater chicken mug.


Roy’s mom found us an old egg carton stamp in an antique store…


…and Roy picked up this old egg scale at a tag scale.


One chicken-y shelf in our mudroom includes Roy’s egg cup from childhood and a little wooden toy rooster from Portugal I had as a child.

In the end I decided to share our chicken collectibles with you in the blog today. But then I figured I shouldn’t ignore St. Patrick’s Day altogether, so I found the link to this fabulous cabbage and potato gratin I created and posted two years ago. Reading that post, I realized (yikes) that St. Patrick’s Day is’s official anniversary. Apparently you folks have been putting up with me and my rambling blogs for three years now—wow!

I have to thank you for that. And for helping me get through a nasty winter. Whether it’s shamrocks or garlic chives, fresh eggs or baby lambs, there’s plenty about spring to jump start our spirits.


Ruffled Feathers

Believe me, I did not want to write about the weather again. I know, if you’re like me, you could really care less about what the weather is in, say, Charleston or San Francisco or Denver, if you’re not there. And don’t plan to be there any time soon. And I’m pretty sure you’re not coming to Martha’s Vineyard, what with the ferries docked and the planes grounded. Yes, we’re pretty much marooned. This time, a storm off the New England coast has been spinning around in a circle for three days. THREE DAYS of nonstop wind, and over the last day or so, spitting sideways icy icky precipitation. Every time we walk out the door, which we do, uh, a lot, what with 250 chickens to feed, water, let out, let in, etc., we get pummeled. What a winter.

There’s a lot to be grateful for, I know. We do not have 34 inches of snow on the ground. Our house is not falling into the sea (unlike some on the New England coast this week). We have heat. And food (of course). And power. So I have no business being so cranky. (The hens, on the other hand, have every right to complain, which they don’t, even when they venture out of their coops to try and scratch around in the mud, which is pretty futile. Their feathers flip up and around and backwards, making it impossible for them to puff up and keep warm. Ruffled feathers indeed. They march back inside pretty quickly.)

Instead of the weather, I’d wanted to tell you about all the lovely seedlings we’ve got going in the hoop house. But I’ve sat frozen at the computer, thinking if I do that, the one big mega-gust is going to come along and finally blow the hoop house down. (As it is right now, when you’re inside the hoop house it’s as loud as a helicopter landing pad. We open and close the door as quickly as possible so that the wind doesn’t rip it off.)

I must have faith that nothing is going to happen to the kale and chard and spinach and mizuna and tat soi and mustard and 12 kinds of lettuce seedlings we’ve got started—or the beautiful lettuce we’re already harvesting in the raised bed. And that the soil in the garden will dry out enough to get our peas in the ground in a few weeks. And that the sun will come out.

In the mean time, I sometimes just go down to the hoop house and stare at the incredibly beautiful colors of that lettuce—it’s the perfect antidote to the gray skies—and pinch myself that we have all this opportunity, all these possibilities, before us. And daffodils already poking up in the maple grove. Spring will come—on its own schedule.

And for now, at least someone in the household is enjoying the snow.



About Those Piglets, Honey

We talked to a man about a pig the other day. At the grocery store. Not in the pork section, but over by the front door, where the newspapers and flower bouquets are. It may seem an odd place to discuss livestock, but our town is small, there’s only one grocery store, and in the winter, you know or recognize most everyone in there. Business happens between the curly kale and the navel oranges.

When we walked in, I veered right to look at O magazine, while Roy moved on down the produce aisle to talk to someone. I looked up and saw that it was the pig man. “We’ll take four,” I heard Roy say. Luckily, I put the magazine down in time to walk over and say, “He meant two.” More is always better, if you ask Roy, but if we are going to raise piglets for the first time, then I say start with two, not four. We’ll get them in the spring and it will take six to seven months to raise them to slaughter weight (250 pounds). They’ll need a pen and shelter, not to mention food. A lot of food. And a lot of water. And then of course, we will need a big freezer, which we don’t have. (One can only hope that our luck with free appliances continues.) These are Berkshire pigs (like the black sow above, right), known for very tasty bacon.

It is no secret that I am crazy about pigs. (That’s me in the  top photo, five—yes, five—years ago in my first few months on the Vineyard. I was developing recipes for my first book and feeding leftovers to some friendly sows owned by my new friend Liz Packer. I subsequently went around taking photos of pigs all over the Island. My favorite is below.) So this is surely going to be interesting. Both Libby and I have suggested that maybe one of the piglets should be a female. You know, just in case we decide to keep a breeding sow. I’m really not sure who is crazier, me or Roy. It’s kind of a dangerous combination. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, just to gear myself up for all this, I’m going to make these delicious spareribs from Fine Cooking magazine for the Super Bowl. Or maybe these meatballs. Or this ragu. Yeah, I know, yikes.