Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wild Ginger Sundaes

photo by Kate Andrews

Most years, by the end of April, there would be some green in the woods. The wild leeks would be ready for us to harvest for potato soup. The blood root would be unfurling their leaves, revealing the pure white blossoms hidden inside, and the wild ginger would be pushing their way through the leaf duff. Soon their secretive purple blossoms would appear under the wide heart shaped leaves.
Our friend Budd Andrews taught us how to harvest the ginger roots. He digs carefully just under the surface of the soil. The roots hang together, and he doesn’t want to destroy the entire patch. He doesn’t remove all the roots, but leaves pieces so that the plant survives for the next season.

Then he scrubs the roots and cuts them crosswise into short, one inch pieces. Budd simmers those pieces in enough water to cover for 15 – 20 minutes. He drains them, covers them again with water, adds 1 cup of sugar for every cup of roots and boils them for another 30 minutes. Then he drains them and dries the candied roots for one to two days and stores them in container to use later.

We still have banks of snow in our maple woods and there isn’t a sign of leek or blood root or wild ginger. It’s sort of discouraging, but it does mean that the sap is still running in the maple trees and that’s good.

Wild Ginger Sundaes
You can use your own candied ginger or buy candied ginger from the grocery store. They have very different flavors and textures, but both make a wonderful ice cream topping.

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon candied ginger, chopped fine
Boil sugar, water and powdered ginger for 6 minutes, cool
Sprinkle chopped ginger over vanilla ice cream, then pour on ginger syrup.
Makes two servings. For more servings, chop more ginger.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Dave began a five night stretch of work on Saturday. He called home to tell me  “I just realized that I’ve left you with 93 lambs in the barn, 180 taps in maple trees, 60,000 bees in boxes and a couple of assorted goats.” I think he was feeling guilty. I may have been feeling overwhelmed.

This morning, Jenny and I settled a new mom and her lamb in the barn; Edgar, Jenny and I collected 70 gallons of sap (in a beautiful snowstorm), and Dave came home for a couple of hours so that we could put the bees in their hives. That is a good day’s work (with a little help from our friends).

Friday, April 19, 2013


Sometimes I am amazed by the ripples that one’s actions make in other people’s lives. Our nephew Jared and his partner Ariella came up to help with lambing and sugarbush. We had a wonderful weekend and didn’t accomplish  nearly what we expected – turned out lambing and sugarbush absorbed all our time. Ariella wrote about their weekend in her blog , http://ariellaapproach.com/life-death-business/. She had found insights in our lives that we hadn’t noticed, even after thirty years of working at the job (or perhaps because we’ve been doing it for thirty years.) 

Then I heard from Sarah, a second cousin from whom I’ve never had an email before. She had heard about our interview with Minnesota Public Radio from my cousin Diane who lives in England. I figured that Diane must be friends with someone in our family on Facebook.

This morning, I heard from my cousin Diane.
 Hi,” she wrote, “you will not believe it but a voice clip and some photos appeared on  TV  here(probably all over Britain) of YOU and DAVE and your little lambs....apparently the spring lambing in "cold and dark" Minnesota with you and Dave is a special story, probably because of the stars… But I perked up and knew it was you when I heard the narrator speak of an organic farm in Pequot Lakes MN managed by a woman who weaves the wool of her sheep !....that could only be Joanie I thought.
“ So now your story is global...how fun...congratulations….   Hope you and Dave are well.....the farm looks good but the stars were really those sweet little lambs...I loved it .
Your cousin, Diane”

The only thing lost in translation between here and England was the location of the farm (Pelican Rapids rather than Pequot Lakes) and the fact that I’m more apt to be knitting  the wool from my sheep  than weaving.  

I wonder how far ripples actually go.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


We struggle to keep every lamb alive. Some years we’re successful, some years not. Back in 2006, only  28 lambs survived. Our normal is close to 70. Sometimes we know why a lamb dies, but most of the time we’re guessing. Even with the expert help from our local vets, we’re still guessing. We take temperatures and warm cold lambs. We inject selenium into animals with poor muscle tone. We supplement hungry or weak lambs with glucose or colostrum. Sometimes some things work, sometimes nothing works.

In a good year we lose one or two percent of our lambs. In a really bad year we have lost fifty percent. This year has been a great year for numbers because we’ve had so many triplets and quadruplets, but we’ve had a lot of losses. This year, the lambs who didn’t become a part of our flock died either at birth or shortly after. They had no muscle tone, didn’t breather, or seemed deformed in some way. We lost eleven lambs that way. IF all those lambs had lived, we’d have 64 lambs in the barn instead of 53, out of twenty-seven ewes.

One night I found a set of triplets. Two looked great; one has his head twisted back alongside his flank, the way cold lambs look when they are born in the deep cold of February. But this was April and the temperature was hovering at 25 degrees. A lamb should have been able to survive for hours at this temperature without help.

I ran to the house for the selenium for muscle tone, for injectable dextrose to give him energy and for colostrum to feed him at the end of my barn check if he survived. I had injected selenium and about half of the dextrose when I realized that there was something more wrong with this lamb. His head was the wrong shape and one eye was in the wrong place. In addition, he seemed to be having seizures. His head wasn’t turned back along his flank because he was cold; it was in that position because he couldn’t get it into another. He wouldn’t be able to nurse on his mother.

I laid the lamb under the heat lamp and continued with my barn chores – feeding and watering the ewes in pens and bottle feeding the lambs that looked hungry. By the time I was done, the sheep were settling back to sleep. The deformed lamb lay on its side in the glow of the lamp. I didn’t think it would survive until Dave's 3 A.M. check. I wrote him a note and taped it to a milk bottle so he would be expecting a dead lamb.

“Did the lamb die?” I asked when he crawled back into bed at 4:30.  “ No. It had its head up, crying. I gave it colostrum.”
I could hear a lamb calling when I stepped into the barn in the morning. Hungry lamb. I leaned over the door to the pen holding the triplets and set each lamb on its feet. All stretched except the deformed lamb. But his neck was straightening out. His head was only ninety degrees away from normal instead of one hundred and eighty.  Maybe he would gradually get better.
His feet didn’t look right. They turned at odd angles at the ankle and the knee.  This lamb couldn’t stand either. If he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t nurse on his mom. He couldn’t walk the pastures for fresh grass. I didn’t feed him.
When Dave woke, we talked about the lamb. If he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t nurse or graze. We splinted both his legs. He could stand then, but he couldn’t get to his feet. We decided to feed him. He was trying so hard to survive. 

The next morning, we did tags and tails and testicles on all the lambs that had been born in the last two days.  The deformed lamb wasn’t crying anymore, so he must be getting enough milk from our bottle feeding. His head had straightened out a little more. He was more stable on his feet, but still couldn’t get up.   But he seemed to spend more of the time lying flat on his side, instead of with his head up looking around like a healthy lamb does. It was when Dave held his head so that I could tag his ear that we realized that the lamb was even more deformed than we had thought. His upper and lower jaws didn’t come together correctly. He obviously could nurse, but would he be able to eat? Could he crop grass or chew corn with teeth that didn’t meet?

Somehow, a mouth splint or braces didn’t seem like a realistic solution. We could see nothing but suffering ahead for this lamb. His plight also made us uncomfortable. 

We decided to do what we should have done that first night.

Monday, April 15, 2013

east wind blows cold
across snow covered hay fields
last gasp of winter

eleven P.M.
barn door shuts the wind out
lambs race in the straw

pale, windless morning
in the barn, everyone sleeps
 snow flakes fill the air

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


This morning, just after Minnesota Public Radio aired the  piece about our sheep, we got a call from Kevin Wallevand of WDAY television. They came out to tape our sheep also. Dave and I realize that the baby lambs are the draw here and we couldn't agree more. The lambs are cute, engrossing, and oh so photogenic. To see the WDAY spot on our sheep, go to http://www.wday.com/event/article/id/78389/

Sharing the sheep

One of the best parts of lambing is being able to share the joy with other people. Little kids and adults all enjoy the experience. Some comment on the cute lambs, others walk gingerly to avoid (to quote one kindergartner) the "poop." Last week, Dave and I showed our lambs off to Dan Gunderson and Ann Arbor Miller from Minnesota Public Radio.  We had a great time sharing stories and wandering around the barnyard. Dan's piece was on MPR  this morning. Ann's photographs are on their website.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Too many babies

Last night, Dave slid under the covers and snuggled up to me at 4 A.M. “Anything?” I mumbled. “Two sets of healthy twins.” I smiled and fell back to sleep.

This morning, the first thing I did when I went out to the barn was to check on the new babies. Pen number one had a white lamb and a black lamb. Big, healthy looking, and sound asleep.
Pen number two had three white lambs. Three.  Dave had told me twins. I got out the barn log. Yep, twins. Twelve orange had had a third baby all by herself. The new lamb was still damp from being licked. Both Mom and new baby were baaing. I dried the lamb off, clipped her umbilical cord and dipped it in iodine. I decided to feed the rest of the ewes and then if the lamb was still calling, I’d express some milk from her mom’s udder and bottle feed her.

At the north end of the barn where we store our hay, I found another new lamb, head through the fence around the group pen, as close as possible as he could get to Jiji and her quadruplets. All the lambs in the group pen were three days old. This lamb belonged to someone else in the barn.
I picked him up and carried him, baaing, from ewe to ewe, looking for a mom who was missing a lamb. None of the ewes responded to his baas. None of the ewes looked as if they had recently lambed except the ewes in the jugs. Only numbers 17 and 12 had lambed in the last three hours. This lamb was still damp and had a long umbilical cord. He was obviously a newborn.  Twelve orange maaed when I passed her pen with the lamb. She reached over the wall of her pen and baaed. He baaed back. 

Our pens are panels of plywood tied together at the top and bottom corners. The bottom tie on 12’s pen was missing. Sometime after he had been born and well licked, this lamb had squirted out the corner of his pen and then, unable to find his way back in, had gone looking for companionship and warmth. Smart lamb.

Both the new lambs looked cold. Twelve orange stood there quietly while I expresses a bottle of milk  and bottle fed all four of her quadruplets. She was a good mother. I’d call her a great mother if only she’d thought to tie up the corner of her pen.