2015 Resolution Number 1 – Be a better blogger. I know, I know, I've said this before... but this time I mean it. Getting words down on paper is never my challenge. I write constantly. But a big part of my challenge has been deciding what's “blog worthy” (since whether you like it or not, if you post it on the internet, it becomes part of our permanent record). I've decided to overcome this challenge by posting a “reLuxe Round Up” on a fairly regular basis. This segment will contain updates, quick ideas, thoughts, notable events, etc, that we want to share with friends and family. No grand philosophical essays, no lengthy how-to's with photos, just stuff we might tell you about over dinner (if we weren't hundreds of miles away from you and could just pop over for a meal). This is not a grand manifesto, it's a piddle post.

So, here goes – reLuxe Round Up – January 23, 2015

reLuxe Red Wine Blend

Last Saturday, Matt and I spent an afternoon at our local vineyard – Round Peak - tasting their 2013 dry red wines and then playing with beakers and percentages to make our own reLuxe Ranch Red Blend.

After we had mixed up five potential candidates, Matt and I gave each other blind tastings. We both agreed that Matt's first effort was our favorite. Although I usually turn my nose up at Merlot in favor of Cabernet Sauvignon, Round Peak has a plot of Merlot set in a scorching sun zone that had the nose of a Port and the body and complexity of a lovely (really lovely) Cote Du Rhone blend. It could have stood on it's own, but Matt went a little off the deep-end (or so I thought until I tried it) and mixed it with some Nebbiolo and Montepulciano. Those Italian grapes love it here in the North Carolina foothills. They have lovely ruby color and a fruity, florally nose that makes you think of summer, sunflowers, and limoncello.

If these wines were people coming to our party, I would describe them like this: a Mid-western World Traveler as our guest of honor (the Merlot – solid grounding with surprising complexity), a young Italian Sophisticate (Nebbiolo – still a little high-strung, but on its way to being ultra-refined), a Spanish slow food/fast drinking revolutionary (the Montepulciano – let's you know exactly what it is up front, but then lingers pleasantly for hours), and the French laboratory chemist (Petit Verdot – not a standout on it's own, but somehow contributing something to the mix that otherwise would have been missing). Our little International tete-a-tete is now bottled, labeled, and aging in our shipping container, waiting to be shared with you when you come visit!

On a side note, Round Peak Vineyards is about as reLuxe as you get. They make lovely wines in a stunning setting; and the owners--Ken and Kari--invite you to have a potluck in their tasting room on Friday nights and let you grill out and picnic overlooking the vineyards to live music on Saturdays in spring and summer. I give them five stars on the reLuxe Scale!

Buffy Bitten

No not Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Buffy the Buff Orpington chicken. (We have four of them, and since we can't easily tell them apart, we call them all Buffy.) A rogue neighborhood dog, who had previously shown no interest in our flock, went on a bender recently. He ran several of our chickens round the property before catching up to Buffy. In a harrowing dash for her life, she missed the door to the coop and instead plowed under it. The dog cornered her and dragged her out by her side. I was running with a leash to wrangle him, Matt heard me yelling “No” and raced out of the greenhouse to the rescue. He ran the dog off while I collected Buffy and attempted to piece her back together.

I thought she was a gonner. Half her feathers were strewn across the yard, the other half seemed to be coming out in bloodied clumps as I pried back the layers to get a look at the damage. She had some fairly deep tooth gouges in the muscles on her side and leg, and I could see about six inches of her abraded chicken skin where her feathers had been ripped out.

But after a couple rounds of hydrogen peroxide the bleeding stopped and she began purring. (Yes, this is my buffy who likes to curl up in my arms, purr like a cat, and fall asleep). She needed a little help to get around the first two days, but on day three, I noticed one of the Barred-Rocks – the one with four arrows on her beak - was acting as her crutch, propping her up on her wounded side and being an active lookout as she helped Buffy to a spot under the trees and back again when it was time for roosting. Those girls had been friends from the start but it brought me to tears to see the depth of their chicken friendship – especially after what Buffy had been through. Buffy is still limping, but her side scabbed over and she's able to get herself up on a roost bar at night as well as make small forays out around the farm to forage. Four Arrow, one of the Barred-Rocks, is by her side most of the time.

Before I realized Buffy was going to make it, I forced myself to contemplate the idea of killing and eating her. We do, after all, live on a farm and we are carnivores. It wasn't a pleasant mental exercise, but I realized that if she was in fact a gonner, then killing her was the most humane thing to do. And at that point, it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense not to eat her. I was ready to do it: Not eager...but ready. I am glad it didn't come to that, but I am also glad to know I have it in me to do what's necessary.

No signs of the dog since the event.* In his defense, he's actually a very sweet puppy... unless you're a chicken.

*Barred-Rock Bites It - Update to the update- January 24, 2015 – Rogue dog returned.

One of our Barred-Rock hens is missing. A trail of feathers runs about 20 feet into the woods and then disappears. I hope that it was over quick. She was a bit of a loner, but loved to snuggle when none of the other hens were looking. I'll miss her. (Sorry for the title, but it was laugh or cry when I wrote this and since I'd already cried, I thought I'd go the laugh route for the blog).

I loaded rogue dog into my car and drove around trying to find his owner, but no one recognized him. So my dad and I took him to animal control (which is a lovely red barn in a beautiful rural setting about 10 miles from here). As we pulled into the parking lot, rogue dog managed to roll down the back window and almost jumped out of the car before I parked. He seemed thrilled to be there. Officer Jackson rushed out to meet us. He gave rogue dog some vigorous pats, told him he was a good boy, and promised him that a pretty black lab mix like him would have no problem finding a wonderful home if his current owners didn't claim him. I really do wish him well: As in a nice home with a fence, so he can't kill anyone else's chickens.

Post-Hole Party

Matt took Monday as a floating holiday and picked up a “one-man” auger from Horizon Equipment Rental. They call it one-man – but what they mean is – “one-honking muscle man”. That thing is huge, and if it weren't for Matt's bulging biceps and other spectacular muscle groups, we would never have gotten 53 post holes in the ground in a single day. Prepping the post-holes is step one to installing our new garden fence. Next up is setting the posts. We positioned them eight feet apart and will be putting every other post in two feet of concrete. We'll document our installation process in another blog posting, but it's exciting to have this step done.

The post-holes were not the “party” mentioned in my section title. That was the reward we gave ourselves for getting it done. Matt and I enjoyed some cocktails and then spent about an a hour and a half luxuriating in a fabulously hot hot tub, ruminating on how awesome our garden is going to be this year. Actually though, come to think of it  - cocktails and hot-tubbing - that pretty much sums up what we do most nights on on the reLuxe Ranch, so I guess it wasn't a party after all. Doesn't that make you want to come visit?

Fertility Testing

Um, soil fertility that is... All important when you are trying to grow a lot of food! We got here a little late last year so we didn't get to do as much as we hoped to improve the soil before planting. But this year, we're right on schedule.

We took soil tests this week in the old garden, the new garden, and the orchard zone. We will get results by mid-February. The chickens and goats have already been working the garden for us – clearing weeds, depositing fertilizer, and helping us with “composting in place” (turning up the soil with the kitchen scraps, manure, and straw in the beds). Our next step is to till/double dig and add any necessary mineral amendments – determined by the soil tests – and to cover the beds with cardboard for weed suppression and top them off with composted manure and mulch. That will be done by the end of February, then we'll let things sit a bit until we start planting in the ground in late March/early April. We're starting as much as we can in the greenhouse this year so that our seedlings will be well on their way when we put them in the ground.

Oh My Lard

Two and a half quarts of it,  actually. We made a pilgrimage to Mayberry Meats – about 15 miles from us – and loaded up on about 30 pounds of pasture raised beef, pork, and lamb. As a bonus, the lovely couple that own the farm, threw in some pork fat for 50 cents a pound. I chopped it up, put it in the crock pot for the day, and then strained off the liquid fat into canning jars. Lard, like butter--contrary to popular misinformation--is actually good for you when used as part of a “real” food diet. I'll be using it in cooking, just like I would use butter or olive oil. At 2.5 quarts for under $4.00, it is less than ¼ the cost of pasture raised butter or organic olive oil. And it's local – not grown in and shipped from Italy or California. Once we start raising our own pigs (spring?!), this will be something we can easily produce from start to finish at the reLuxe Ranch.