Friday, April 20, 2012

Prairie Fire

Mike lit the torch, disappeared into the grass that was as tall as he, and manifested one of humankind's greatest frenemies: fire. For 10 minutes, we could hardly breathe. Not just because of the thick smoke choking on some green brush nor the ash whipped into the air by small tornadoes made by the fire's heat meeting with cooler air, but because the experience was so intense. 

It's a can't-turn-back-now moment when you must accept that you've set in motion something that can't be undone. We had two hundred-foot hoses at the ready, though that still wasn't long enough to meet the edge of the firebreak. Our dampers in hand, loaned to us from the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department, we were as ready as we could be to burn the field. (Some of you might remember last time we attempted a burn, during which we set our neighbor's field ablaze. Although we've never been more drained by an experience, the grass was quite rejuvenated the following season and popped back stronger than ever. Thus, we play with matches every year.)  

Bronte didn't seem to mind the commotion and followed us around the perimeter.
Aided by a 10 mph wind from the south, we started backburning in the northernmost corner, watching the flames flare up with two years' worth of dead stalks as tinder. The fire pushed directly toward our neighbor's house. That caused the heart-pumping, sickening rush I remembered. It would have felt better to have burnt down our own house rather than someone else's. But the fire hit the break and fizzled out at the edges just like it was supposed to.

After the fire moved safely past our neighbor's house, we relaxed. Our personal universes intact, we calmly watched the fire go, appreciating its usefulness in this instance.

Smoke filling the air past a charred landscape.
New growth won't burn. This path marks our previous mowed trails.

"If you ever catch on fire, try to avoid seeing yourself in the mirror, because I bet that's what really throws you into a panic."
--Jack Handy

Friday, April 13, 2012

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

We have a sad-but-kinda-true nickname for this place: rape farm. For the second time since keeping chickens, three of our so-called pullets turned out to be roosters. Each of them wanted to be top cock and wouldn't let another mate with a hen without mating with that hen himself. The result was weary hens with nearly featherless backs. They only left their indoor roosts for food and water for fear of getting gang-banged.

You only need one rooster per 12 hens, and we had three roosters per 13 hens. Two of them had to go. We kept the handsomest guy. Is that how evolution works? Survival of the prettiest?

Having severed heads only twice before, Michael read up and practiced his skill on Sophia's stuffed animal before heading out to the coop. We waited until dark so they'd be their calmest.

The photo above shows the closest thing to a smile Michael had for the next five hours. First, taking a life is difficult enough emotionally. Second, without the right tools or sharp knives, there's lots of cussing, exasperated sighing and pacing that goes on. 

After the actual deed and subsequent scalding, feather-picking, chopping and gut removing, we had some rather tiny birds. That's because their breed is meant for egg laying rather than broilers meant for the pot. And our guys stayed especially lean for all the impromptu cock fights that popped up all over the farm. If only we had placed some bets...

So we put the kibosh on that. Creepily, the tendons in the claws still worked, so you could make the fingers move. It's the next new thing in back-scratchers!

Sans feet and feathers, the hunks of meat on our kitchen counter looked much more familiar. Knowing they'd be a little tough -- these dudes were as old as our toddler -- we slated them to become Coq au Vin and invited my parents over for dinner. 

Stewed with pearl onions, bacon, mushrooms and wine, the meat softened up deliciously. Plated with mashed potatoes and salad, the meal was what Alton Brown might define as "good eats."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Grow Light System Success!

After six weeks, we have had a great turnout on our seedlings. Every couple weeks, I raise a chain link to give the plants more space. You can see the different levels that accommodate the varying heights. The only thing I don't like is that I can't water without moving all the trays out from under the lights. And I'm seriously running out of room. Fifty tomato and pepper plants take up a lot of space, and most of them are still in their cell packs!

I potted up the tomatoes last week using 4-inch nursery pots I just knew I would have a need for someday. They've been cluttering our shed for half a decade, but I didn't want to trash them and I had too few and from too many places to begin to know where to return them. I am redeemed! I am not a hoarder!

I'm considering taking a risk with this summer-like weather we've been having and putting some in the ground.  The 10-day forecast looks good!