Old Time, Celtic, Maritime Music, Gardening and Small Scale Farming

I didn't know I was a musician gardener.
All my life I've loved getting my hands dirty gardening, keeping small livestock, and playing traditional music, but I always thought that was just a peculiar combination that occurs in a completely random fashion. But one day my wife Sara and I were talking with a neighbor who ran a one acre educational garden down the street from us. He mentioned that as soon as the growing season was over he was going to hit the road with a bluegrass band he played with. He smiled and said that he felt really blessed to live the life he had- getting to play in the dirt and play on the stage. I had no idea he played in a bluegrass band so we talked shop about music, gardening, and travelling for a bit. After we said goodbye and started walking away Sara turned to me and said "oh I know what you guys are, you're Musician Gardeners."
Suddenly it clicked, all my life I've known and met people who combine their lives like that. friends, neighbors and other folks who combine their love of the land with a love of music, often the very music that grew and still grows out of that land.
This blog hopes to explore that relationship and to let other Musician Gardeners out there know that we're actually a demographic!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Maple tapping and bagpiping

Well the tapping season is just about here.  I plan to start drilling and putting out buckets this week.  I've got five people signed up for the Palouse Maple Syrup Cooperative, all with big old silver maples, one norway maple, and one box elder- most of which are big enough to be double tapped.  My goal was to put in at least six taps.  That would give me enough to make a worthwhile amount of syrup, enough to at least supply the co-op members, but now it seems that I have 12 taps to manage.  Great!
If at some point I can get 50 or more taps in around town the Palouse Maple Syrup Cooperative will be chugging right along.
The Palouse Folkore Society has also been kind enough to include my advertisement for the co-op in thier monthly newsletter.  I got a chance to take a look at it during thier concert series last night.  Dick Hensold, an amazing smallpipe player, was performing and bagpipes are an instrument I love to chat about with other bagpipe nerds but I ended up talking about maple syruping far more.  Seems that there is a lot of interest in this subject around town, hopefully this will translate into more co-op members.
Going back to Dick Hensold's performance... WOW.  He was an absolute virtuoso on the Northumbrian Smallpipes, Reel Pipes, Swedish Transverce Flute, Swedish Smallpipes, and the Pib Gorn (horn pipe).  What a rare treat it was to see him perform here in Moscow.  I'd never heard Piobaireached style performed on smallpipes either.  Piobaireached is a highly stylized form of playing were a melody is cumulatively embellished and variated upon untill at last it becomes an absolutely stunning virtuoso rendition of an otherwise simple two or three part tune.
Now I know I'll probably never get into Piobaireached style playing- it's just too complicated for me, but hearing it performed so incredibly well and on the Northumbrian and Reel Smallpipes nonetheless, made me really want to break out my own sets of Smallpipes and Highland Pipes again.  I've been ignoring them a bit for the last year or so.  The reeds I have in my Dunfion Smallpipes and Highland Pipes have been more than shot for a long time and I postponed getting new ones for even longer.  Finally I ordered some new reeds from Chris Apps in Missouri, and it feels like I'm playing completely new instruments.  The reeds I got from Chris especially make my Smallpipes play like something that cost far more money than I originally paid for them.  Very good investment.  So now I just need some extra time and some warm weather to get out of the house and get back into practice.
hmmm... I wonder if bagpipes sound vibration effect maple sap flow?  Sounds like a good graduate project... or maybe I'd better stick with underwater bagpipe weaving.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Music That Gives Us a "Sense of Place."

You know it when you hear it.  The kind of song that brings forth visions of the landscape and the lifeway that created it.  These are the songs and tunes that seem to grow right out of the dirt.  This is the music that I love.  I used to think that it had to be an old crusty ballad or a dance tune from somewhere way back in time, but it doesn't have to be.  I heard a great quote on a radio interview recently from a group of musicians who were finishing some of Hank William's uncompleted songs.  One of them said he loved a hank williams tune, that it seemed so natural, like it was something that was planted and just grew up out of the soil.  Something that belonged there. 
I hear bits and pieces of modern songs that have that feel.  Like when I was driving through the wheat country outside of Walla Walla and Susan Werner's "Barbed Wire Boys" came on the radio.  That song and the land that I drove through became one and visions of vast cornfields, river valleys, and crusty old ball-caped men in greasy midwestern diners flashed through my head.  Like my friend Jimmy who I knew back in wisconsin who had hands like sides of beef from milking cows and pounding fences for thirty years.  The palouse is not all that different a place than many parts of the midwestern landscape that I grew up in and that song helped me connect my old home with the new, helped me sink my roots a little deeper.
I think learning songs that can connect us with land and culture are some of the most important ways we can find a sense of place.  I think that's one of the biggest problems we face as a country that we feel so disconnected even to the point that disconnection itself has become a way of life.  Everyone is plugged in, online, and yes connected but to who?  To where?  Where are we, who are we?  Have we sacrified connection to land and culture for connection to a virtual world?  Do we really derive more satisfaction from virtual connection then we can from connection to a landscape and a lifeway?
There are many many benefits to the new technologies that constantly surround us, and I'm not saying we shouldn't have it both ways.  I am, after all, writing a blog post for god's sake.  I just think that knowing and learning music that grew up out of the land, out of the culture you find yourself surrounded by, out of the people who made the place you live the way it is today can help give us that connection, help feed our roots, our sense of history and continuity, and give us a reason to love the land we live on.
I recently had the pleasure and priveledge to take part in the Gary Eller's smithsonian's instute project "The Way We Worked in Idaho."(more about him below). I helped in recording the song Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks, an old union logging song recorded in St. Maries not far from here around 1917.  The wonderful Shayne Watkins of the band "Beargrass" asked me to accompany him on this tune.  Recording was great fun and an important experience for me since learning that song helped me to feel more connected to and more a part of this region on the very edge of the bitter root mountains where timber holds as much importance as wheat.
Both Shayne and my Wife are foresters as well so along with talk about managing today's forestlands I can now reflect at least a little on what the loggers who shouldered the roots of this industry were thinking and feeling.... and singing.

You can listen to the Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks and learn more Idaho songs at the website and mp3 link below:
Much Thanks to Gary Eller, creator of bonafidaho, and without whom these wonderful songs might have been lost to the dustbins of history.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Idaho Maple Syrup, and Apple Cider Syrup

It's getting close to that time of year when the maple sap starts flowing, and I can't wait for that first taste of crystal clear concentrated sunshine.  I've just started putting up posters around town for my newest idea:  the Palouse Maple Syrup Cooperative.  Here's the advertisement to explain what I'm trying to do.....   Also Check out my new Making Maple Syrup in Northern Idaho Page (right hand menu bar) to get the whole story behind the inspiration for this project.

If you have Silver, Red, or Sugar Maples or Box Elders on your property that are over 10 inches in diameter you can receive 20% off on all maple syrup and maple candy if you allow your trees to be tapped.
Greg Hodapp, experienced maple syruper from Wisconsin will do all the work for this labor intensive process-  tapping, collecting, filtering and boiling down the sap.  You will receive the benefit of healthy, delicious and locally made maple syrup.  You will also receive 10% off of on local apple cider syrup/ maple syrup blends, and maple syrup chocolates.

Etcetera....  I'm hoping that this whole idea will start catching on.  It truly is a labor intensive process so it really is a good deal for people without enough trees to make tapping worth their while, or for folks who just don't have the time.  
I'm especially excited about blending the apple cider cinnamon syrup I made this past fall from local wild apples with my local maple syrup.  I tried it out last fall and the flavor was out of this world delicious.  Making apple cider syrup is really simple.  You just need a boiling set up with a wide shallow pan to increase the capacity for evaporation, a candy thermometer, a big pot for storage and a siphon to run the cider into the boiling pan.  I have a stand alone double burner propane camp stove and a 20 gallon, wide stainless steel pan from an old steam tray, it's actually a pretty sweet setup... pun intended.
Make sure your apples aren't extremely tart, the resulting syrup will pucker you until your head turns inside out.  Press the cider like you normally would, and mix in about 1/2 cup of brown sugar per gallon to cut the sour.  Start adding cider to the boiling pan slowly through a very small diameter siphon.  You may have to pinch the siphon a bit to slow the speed of flow down even more.
About halfway through the boiling down process coat the top of the boiling sap with cinnamon, stir it in and repeat once more.  If this is not enough cinnamon for you more can be added later.
Keep boiling the cider down until your candy thermometer reads about 220 Deg F.  That's a bit hotter that the joy of cooking will tell you, but I like my syrup extra syrupy.
The resulting syrup will always be a bit tart but that tends to go away after the second taste.  It's splendid on pancakes, and waffles, and it can be mixed with hot water to make something like mulled apple cider.
Hope you all have fun trying this out.  It's not too terribly difficult and because of apple cider's higher sugar content it only takes about half as much time to process as maple syrup, and the results are delicious- although nothing compared to the two of them mixed together.  Mmm mmm!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Today I figured out the trick to getting chickens to eat alfalfa hay with out them wasting most of it.  Don't break open the bale.  This may be getting a great big "so what" from some of you and albiet it's not the most amazing eureka moment but for me it make a big difference.
I like my chickens to get a enough greenery since that is what makes the difference between an egg with healthy cholesteral (HDL) as opposed to a conventional laying hen that puts out eggs high in unhealthy cholesterol (LDL)  the kind that causes arterial plaque build up. Now getting enough greenage for our flock is tricky, we have a small backyard and when the garden is in the chickens are definitely not allowed in it, so I built an extra run for them to get grass two or three times a week during the growing season.  I supplement that with garden weeds and lawn clippings from my trusty ol' 1970-ish snapper mower.  In the wintertime the side run is out of commission and there are no garden weeds or lawn clippings to offer.  So if I want my hens to get grasses and wild greens that means I either need to make extra trips to the salad bar at the co-op or I need to get them hay.  Just try breaking open a bale of hay, especially alfalfa, for a flock of chickens and stand back and watch.  In a matter of minutes all the most nutritious bits and pieces will be pulverized and stirred into the dirt.
Putting a whole un-broken bale into the run seems to solve this problem.  The flock pecks and tears off the hay and the nutritious but fragile alfalfa leaves bit by bit leaving little saucer shaped depressions in the bale and wasting hardly any hay at all. Voila!  problem solved.  The alfalfa gives the added benefit of being high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, that really make for not only more eggs but much better tasting ones as well, mmmm....

This line of thought got me thinking about my favorite chicken related songs.....
-Cluck old hen (traditional)
The old favorite, the best line from this one is "my old hen she had a wooden leg, best dang hen ever layed an egg, layed more eggs than any hen around the barn another peck a' whiskey wouldn't do me any harm."  Kid friendly version would be " another piece of pie ...."
-Teenage mutant kung-fu chickens (Ray Stevens)  gloriously ridiculous song, you have to listen to it the whole way through to appreciate, it just make sure you're alone when you do.  This song may lower other's opinion of your I.Q.
-Who broke the lock on the henhouse door? (trad.)
This one seems to appreciate the ......emmmm shall we say "relationship" between rooster and flock pretty well
My old rooster's very old
The things he done just can't be told
Toes curled up, he can't hardly scratch
but the the little hens say his eggs still hatch

Take care untill later-  Greg