Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cloudy, 8 degrees

We weathered the second big storm of the year just fine, though it threatened holiday travel across the midwest with freezing rain, the most treacherous of weather. It rained here for about two days straight it seemed, but I'm happy that we escaped the 20 inches of snow a couple hundred miles to our west.

Once the rain stopped, the temps dropped, turning the rain and slush into a nice hard glaze. Our driveway now has an underlayment of ice under a coating of thin, dry snow. Still, it could have been worse, so I'm not complaining.

That is a picture of a robins' nest above. It reminded me that last week I heard and saw a robin in the top of my black walnut tree at the end of the driveway! Now that is one procrastinating bird! I tend to allow myself to forego filling my bird feeders in the lush months, but I am compelled to do it during this type of weather. I know studies have shown that wild birds do not become dependent on feeders, but I fugure it can't hurt to offer them some extra protein and carbs when it is so cold and windy out, with not much to eat out there, at least for some species. Besides, it does provide us with an interesting and flashy show outside. We get lots of woodpeckers, like downy, hairy, flickers and nuthatches. I'm waiting to see a red-headed woodpecker here. Of course we also get the sparrows and finches, cardinals, doves, blue jays, etc. We'd probably get more if I put out some water for them, but I can't justify adding to our already high electric bill. Add to that that Dottie would surely find it a great place to stalk birds. And well, you know, maybe some day if I get my compost pile heater going, I can place a water dish on top for the wild birds. This reminds me - I forgot to ask for a bluebird house for Chirstmas. I hope to get some of those up early this Spring. I've heard bluebirds around the farm, and I just love seeing them and listening to their beautiful song. I don't know for sure, but I think they are making a pretty good comeback, another success story of humans waking up and learning what we should and shouldn't do if we want to preserve nature's most beautiful gems.
I hope to get a permanent pasture going on our land this year, and that attracts grassland birds such as meadowlarks and bluebirds, etc. This is a group of birds that has been hit very hard by development and modern agriculture practices, so we graziers try to encourage and provide nesting havitat for these important insectivores.

It's also satisfying to provide our backyard birds with suet and lard from our own animals.
Speaking of lard, we got ours back with our butchered hog this year, it comes in a big bag in chunks. We will render it by putting it in a crockpot and letting it melt down and drawing off pure, white lard with which I hope to encourage Karen to make delicate pie crusts ;) I bet that won't take much!

One of these days I will explain the benefits of good fat vs. that of bad fat, and why our animals are full of the good stuff. I think many people are catching on to this, still I know it's been so ingrained in our society for so long, to avoid animal fats because they are unhealthy, that it's still common to run into people who don't believe us. Like trying to convince people that pork really doesn't need to be cooked until it's well-done! It doesn't, and you'll be glad you didn't!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happpy Solstice!

Cloudy, 28 degrees, snowing
We've made it to the darkest part of the year. The sun only shines here for about 9 hours per day (when it isn't obscured by clouds, of course). It's a good time to take stock, think back on accomplishments, look forward to goals, and generally get our houses in order while we have indoor time. When the sun has begun her swing closer to us and her warming rays stir growth again, there is no such time for winnowing through piles of old magazines and re-arranging kitchen drawer contents. That is the time for creating these piles in the first place while we head back out the door toward the field or barn or garden.

Last night we marked the long darkness by eating our dinner by candle light. Karen told her traditional story about the two sisters who visit Old Mother Winter, and we talked about what we hope to do in the next year, before the next long dark falls again. Then we made popcorn balls for Birk's school holiday party the next day ;-)

Tonight we will celebrate the return of the light by going to a friends' house for a Solstice celebration in town. There will be a fire, and I've been appointed Fire Marshall. What that means, basically, is that I have firewood and am willing to bring it, lol. It seems like a fun thing to look forward to, and I'm sure all the kids will be having fun.

We do have another nasty storm looming, and it threatens to snarl up thousands, if not millions of people's Christmas travel plans. The Midwest is bracing for a snow/rain/ice event that is due to go for at least 48 hours and straddling both sides of Christmas Eve, so just about everyone I know is nervously watching the ever-changing forecast to see if they can make it a Merry Christmas with loved ones. Oy.

We are getting snow right now, but nothing major. They forecast an inch, I'd say we're easily over 2.5 at the moment, and it's still coming down. Light fluffy stuff. I've got the tractor plugged in so I can clear this out, and I'll try to keep the driveway cleared as best I can over the upcoming few days. It doesn't sound like it's gonna be pretty. Well, maybe it WILL be pretty, but you know what I mean.

The other day I was walking past my big compost pile made of what's left of last years' bedding from pigs in the barn, and this years' broilers. I noticed how the snow was all melted from the top. Of course, I've always known compost piles heat up. But I was in the process of getting the chickens some un-frozen water, and I suddenly (finally??) went "HEY! There's HEAT in there! FREE, untapped heat! And not only that, but all I had to do to generate that heat was to pile a bunch of sh$t up in a mound!" and my mind started spinning like a teenager on a school parking lot. So my latest Big Thought is how can I use compost pile heat to keep my water lines unfrozen in the dead of winter? Could I use it to make hot water? Could I use it to heat a barn? If I could heat a barn with it, what about being able to heat the house with it?? I've just started doing a little research on the topic, luckily there are folks out there who have had this thought too, and they are smarter than me, and they've been experimenting. There are some really cool ideas out there.

A lot of folks in town simply might not have access to the amounts of materials necessary for a large enough compost pile, but I do. Now that's got me thinking more about deep-bedded over-wintering systems inside barns for livestock such as pigs and cattle.
I wonder if someday, small farms could accept yard waste from suburban neighbors and sell them back electricity made from methane made from thecompost heaps? And then when the compost heap is done, the end result is the best fertilizer there is, and goes right back into the soil and actually helps grow more food and build the soil, rather than depleting anything. Pretty Cool, hey? It's so perfect - it makes me look over my shoulder to watch out for Big Oil coming down on it. You watch. I bet they lobby for control of these types of things. Can't have folks making their own energy at home in a closed-loop system, can we? Bad for profits.
Anyway, here's a link to a cool site that includes all sorts of renewable fuel types and sources:

Happy Solstice to everyone from us at Prairie Fire Farm!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Clear and Cold, 3 degrees

Got the chains on the other night. Came home from work, and I knew the forecast was calling for a real plunge in temps. Since I needed to move and drive the tractor to get the chains on, I wanted to get them on before the big chill got here and brought more snow with it. I didn't want to have to be trying to start a diesel and put chains on in below-zero temps. Looks like we are stuck with these frigid temps for a good while, so I needed to get this done.

So after work I got the grill and the pre-heater going, and decided to keep myself busy while waiting for her to warm up by installing a light timer over the chickens. Well, I got interrupted by a UPS guy who was lost, a timer that was broken, and a partner shouting from the door of the house that I needed to come in and take the bread out of the oven and feed the baby as she was on her way to yoga.

Once Birk was fed and the bread was baked, I could turn my attention back to tractor maintenence. I took the tarp off and climbed up into the seat. I was so very pleased when she turned right over and fired up on the first crank :) The only people who will understand the happiness at such a moment are others who rely on tractor power to plow, lift, drag, whatever has got to get done, and if the tractor don't start, it ain't getting done.

I lined up the first chain on the ground next to the open garage door, as it was now well after dark, and I needed the light from the garage to see what I was doing. I did one side at a time. Laid out the chain, backed over it half way, then got off and basically pulled up each side. This wasn't too easy, since the chain was so heavy and it was already pretty tight, so I basically had to inch it up over each lug on the tire. When I got them hooked on, I put bungees on the sides, across the tire hub like a criss-cross to keep them tightened. I drove a bit with the chains on, letting them settle in and then got off again and tightened them up about another inch or so. I was able to easily plow areas that were giving me fits the other day, so the chains are working and were obviously a good investment.

These will stay on the tractor until Spring. If I need to deal with mud, they will help them as well. I'm glad I have them - now I'm ready if we get another really big snow.

The next night we put up the christmas tree. It was so sweet pulling out the ornaments and talking about each one, listening to Birk saying this is her most favorite thing of all. It was a very sweet family moment. Aw.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Of Chains And Cheese Spread

This is Karen way up in the tractor bucket a couple weeks ago, putting up the lights farm style.

Cloudy, 30 degrees
Busy weekend. I did manage to find some chains for the tractor. Let me just point out that chains are shockingly expensive, especially for something so low-tech and simple. First, of course, you have to find th right size for your tires. When I googled some sites looking for a set for my tractor, I had to take a breath when I saw that they retailed for anywhere from $300 to $800!! Yes, Eight Hundred Dollars. For CHAINS! And then shipping is another 60 bucks! Wow! I simply could not accept this reality, and my penchant for research and dialing kicked in. I must have called 6 different places, mostly local, hoping to at least save something on shipping. Karen likes to make fun of my research-y-ness. Well, guess what? On about the 5th call to a tractor store (i.e. farm implement retailer and service center), I talked to a guy named Ron. He said he needed to check in the back. After about an hour, he called me back and said he found a used set of chains the exact size for my lil' red tractor, and they were $195 for the set! Wahoo, I just saved at least $150 bucks!
I drove up and it turned out Ron was one of the owners. We went out back to a distant shed in the back, and these chains were in a pile way in the back. I don't even know how he knew they were there! And oh my lord, but they are HEAVY! No wonder shipping is so high on these things. They must weigh 70 lbs. a piece. When I got back inside to pay for them, Ron came back in, asked if I liked calendars or cheese...I shrugged, and said of course. Not thinking I had heard him quite right, I wrote out my check. It is of course calendar season, and don't you just love those free ones you get from dealers? I have lots of shed walls and other spaces to hang feed mill/tractor/vet clinic calendars. Then Ron came back to the counter with a Case/IH Calendar and a tub of nice cheese spread :) Said Happy Holidays. I love Wisconsin.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter storm. 28 degrees, wind and snow.

Winter slammed into us last night and today. A huge low pressure system brought lots of wet snow and high winds. We woke up this morning to a winter wonderland out there. It's pretty, and we've only lost a few tree limbs. Our sweet cherry tree was bent to the ground. Birk and I both had a snow day today, so we've been annoying Karen all day ;)

This would be the first real test of the tractor for winter use. I was very apprehensive about just getting it started. This is my first diesel, and I know they are notoriously fussy about getting cold. Much to my disappointment, I could not get the tractor into the garage. It is just a little too tall, a little too wide. I thought about cutting down the exhaust stack, but then I thought about what the inside of our garage would smell like and look like after starting up a belching diesel tractor in there a dozen times. So I fell back on tarping the tractor real good, and hoping that plugging the pre-heater in would be enough. Someday, maybe we'll actually build a barn that can fit everything in it.

Knowing the storm was coming in, I plugged in that pre-heater last night. Today, I took my shallow electric grill and placed it under the chassis for about an hour as well. I went back to shoveling the backbreaking snow, eyeballing my tarped, snow- covered tractor and bit my lip. Finally I decided it was time, and I had to work quite a bit to get the tarp off since there was over a foot of heavy wet snow on top of it. Once I got that cleared off, it only took a few tries, each time the engine seemed to turn a little easier as the fuel & air warmed. And then she chugged alive, and my spirit lifted and I did a little victory dance in my head.

Plowing the snow was a bit of an adventure. Our driveway is mostly on a hill. I did manage to clear off the lower part, and a spot across from the garage. We must have gotten 15 inches of snow, and it drifted in spots. I had to make several trips across the road to dump it in the ditch. I did manage to get bogged down and stuck on an incline between the big barn and the pump house. Wound up chewing up the driveway a bit, and there is still a lot of snow up there, but after a while, the snow got so slick my wheels were just spinning and I couldn't safely maneuver between vehicles and buildings, etc. I definitely need chains! We still have some spots that could use a more thorough plowing, so we called Curt and asked him to come and do a cleanup for us. Overall however I am very pleased with what I was able to get done considering this is a crazy amount of wet, slippery snow to deal with. I'll try to find some chains for the rear tires, and I'll continue my search for a rear blade, which will be a little easier to push snow with. Ideally, I'd love a big snowblower on the 3 point hitch, but those are all over a thousand dollars that I've seen! I wish I were more adept and skilled at mechanics and fabrication, because I'd also love to get a rotovator for th 3 pt. Though I realize they are two different tools, and they do different jobs, have different blades, etc., they are very similar in design, and I bet some enterprising individuals out there have figured out a way to make an implement that can be switched from one to the other, for less than the cost of both.

While I was busy plowing and shovelling, Karen and Birk made a snow fort in the back yard as the dogs helped. Dottie somehow managed to instantly collect the hugest snowballs on her fur I have ever seen on a dog! The size of softballs! They leave big puddles on the floor when she comes in the house.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Look What I brought Home

Well, this little guy was found running down the road next to a golf course. Being the resident pig expert, I was tapped to take him home a foster him until it could be determined he was heatlhy, eating, drinking, etc., and ready for adoption. He is adorable and tiny - weighs all of 6 pounds. He is a baby pot bellied pig I've nicknamed Grunt. I'll let Karen tell more about little Grunt, as she has lots of adorable pictures to share. But I will tell this one tidbit- he does need to be kept warm, and he shivers if he gets chilly. Karen actually did in fact say "Maybe we should let him sleep in the bed tonight"
To which I replied "It has hooves! I draw the line at hoofstock in the bed!"

snow and ice

Cloudy, 32 degrees, 2 inches snow

Well, we enjoyed a long Fall. Though it snowed twice in october, it didn't snow at all in November, making deer hunters grumpy, but farmers and holiday travelers happy. Probably just about everyone else, too. It was a good thing we had a mild and fairly dry november for the farmers who had corn or soybeans to harvest. There was still a lot of corn standing in the fields a week or two ago. It's that time of year when we need to be extra cautious on the roads - not only are the deer out, but our roads are frequented by huge tractors, combines, and grain bins being rolled and bounced along at a 15 mph clip. Sometimes people get impatient and cause accidents.

It looks like most of the harvest is in, just in time for the first snowfall. Yesterday when I left for work it was dry and mild out. During the day the snow started coming down, and by evening commute time we had about two inches, snarling traffic on all roads and causing wipeouts, crashes, and slide-offs everywhere. Even Wisconsin drivers forget how to drive in snow. It took an extra hour and a half to get home last night. In a short while, this kind of snow event will barely cause anyone to notice. Can't wait for that to happen!

We picked up our pork at the butcher shop last week! Always a satisfying feeling, the culmination of a big project and lots of work and passion on our part. And it's tasty! Karen and I had a big day going all over hill and dale, to Lake Geneva and back to Stoughton to make a drop off at the store selling our meat, then on to Madison to the cold storage warehouse. We needed extra storage space for some pork that needs to be shipped to the east coast as well as for our own pork - we simply don't have the room-we have a full upright and a chest freezer filled with our own meats (50 chickens take up a lot of room!). Then we made a stop at a dry ice place, and then on to the UPS store to drop off some pork going to Iowa. Temps. and arrival dates were more forgiving to IA, so that order could go right out. (I have gotten feedack and it has arrived safe and frozen solid). I took some pictures of the loading up process to give an idea of the size of boxes, etc. The product in the white cooler is one side of pork all cut into retail cuts for a store. This does not include a lot of raosts and whole hams, so you can see how easily a whole side can be stored when it's processed this way. BTW, that is a big cooler, about 120 qt, I believe, and it was only about half full.

Noe the dry ice thing is an interesting issue. Last year, I spoke to a UPS Store owner in Lake Geneva, where we were shipping our meats from at that time. She said no way, no how, no dry ice, EVER. She underlined it by saying if I put any dry ice in a package, and it was discovered, she would be fined $15,000. Okay, then.
This year, I called and spoke to a guy who owned such a store closer to the place where we are storing the frozen meat until the weather gets colder. He said "Oh, yah, sure, you can use lots of dry ice. Up to 5 lbs. per pkg, no problem" Wow...... okay. To add confusion, I wound up sending the Iowa parcel from a third UPS Store, and they said "You can use dry ice, but only up to 2 lbs."
I have a saying, "It all depends on who you get", and it certainly applies here, doesn't it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chore list

foggy and cool, 45 degrees

Got some stuff done this last Saturday, not everything I had wanted to.

What did I get done?

  • Finally built a shelf that I've been needing in the garage

  • Stowed away the new, big coolers I bought the other day

  • Moved some big rocks from the melon patch to the perennial garden

  • Cleaned up the flower bed in front of the garage in preparation for winter

  • Tidied up around the compost bins, added more plant material

  • Talked to a neighbor who stopped by to talk about a holiday sale down the road

  • Smoked up a bunch of ribs on the cold smoker

  • Cleaned out the broiler pen in the barn, consisting of about 12 wheelbarrow loads of broiler litter

  • Turned the compost pile with the tractor loader

  • Changed the oil in the car

  • Did some laundry

  • Picked up the garden area

  • Organized some old magazines and periodicals

What didn't I do??

  • I didn't get to the paperwork I wanted to do, bills, etc. Why? Because I'd rather shovel manure than do paperwork.

  • I didn't clean the house like I wanted to. Why? Because I'd rather change the oil on a car than clean the house.

  • I didn't post a blog. Why? because I ran out of time.

  • I didn't completely clean out the big barn. Why? See the above.

  • I didn't even begin to clean the pole barn. Why? See above.

  • I didn't change the oil on the tractor. Why? Not enough time.

  • I didn't put the door back up on the basement cellar stairs. Ran out of time.

  • I didn't vacuum, or put away laundry, or mulch the garlic, or really a hundred other things that it even takes too much time to think of!

I always wonder what non-rural types do with their time off. What did you do this weekend?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Keeping Hogs Healthy

I just ran across an interesting article in my newspaper. This paper is aimed at farmers, and is called AGRI-VIEW. You will not get these kinds of news articles in your metro daily. This article appeared in the november 12, 2009 issue, and addressed concerns conventional pork producers have regarding keeping their pigs and employees healthy, particularly during influenza outbreaks.

"Swine workers should adhere to the following practices:
  • Wear protective clothing, preferably disposable outer garments or coveralls that are laundered at work after each use...
  • Wear rubber or polyurethane boots that can be cleaned and disinfected or disposable protective shoe covers.
  • Wear disposable gloves made of light-weight nitrile or vinyl or heavy duty rubber work gloves that can be disinfected.... Change gloves if they are torn or otherwise damaged. Remove gloves promptly after use, before touching non-contaminated items or environmental surfaces. Take off disposable gloves by turning them inside out over the hand and placed in the trash after use...
  • Wear safety goggles to protect the mucous membranes of the eyes. Wear disposable NIOSH-certified filtering facepiece respirators ...that are the minimun level of respiratory protection. This level or higher respitatory protection might already be in use in swime operations due to other hazards that exist in the environment...
  • Wear disposable, lightwieght head or hair covers to prevent contamination of hair if shower-out facilities are not avalivable.
  • Discard disposable PPE properly, as well as clean and disinfect non-disposable PPE as specified in state government, industry, or USDA outbreak response guidelines."
AGRI-VIEW, november, 12, 2009 by Sarah Young

The article does not end there, but I think that's enough. This really illustrates the types of environments that our food supply is coming from. Pigs are so crowded, so stressed, and lack of ventilation causes situations that are ripe for rampant spread of viruses and other diseases. Workers need to wear rubber gloves, boots, and respirators.

We wondered after reading the above article about the untold mountains of un-recyclable biohazard waste that must come from the thousands of confinement pork farms in this country alone.

Since pigs' anatomy is so similar to ours that we use them as organ donors for humans (except of course, they have a much more sensitive sense of smell than we do), what does that do to the pigs' eyes, lungs, and sense of .... I don't know how to put this.... fear? Lack of contentment? Desperation, maybe? We know that pigs from confinement buildings have to have their tails cut off or they will chew them off of eachother out of 'boredom'. This is what we are told. Maybe it's more than boredom. Maybe they are so stressed by being raised in dark building in cages over lagoons of their own excrement they savage eachother in unnatural ways. Maybe this causes them to go a bit mad. One thing I have learned in all my years working with animals is that we are more alike than we are different. I know conditions like that do cause just about every species of animal to exhibit abnormal behaviors and to suffer ill health effects. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a zoologist to understand this. It's just common sense, and it's obvious.

I'm so glad I don't have to eat meat that is raised under those circumstances any more. We raise our pigs with access to the outdoors, they root in the dirt and get vital minerals.
They sleep outside, feel breezes on their skin, run and play, and eat healthy fresh food. No need for rubber gloves and respirators here. If you don't want to drink from that fetid stream, find a local farmer who raises their animals humanely and buy your food from them. You'll be doing the world a favor.

Last year karen went to an auction in her very early days as a new farmer. She brought home three old, wooden chicken crates for a good price. These crates are slatted, about 3 ft. by 4 ft., and can fit about ten chickens in them. Since monday morning is the time for us to take in the broilers and turkeys, I went over these crates today, patching and shoring them up so they will hold up to the weight of at least 60 lbs. of live chooks. We have one plastic crate, and Karen went to Nasco today and picked up one more, which should be enough to carry all of the birds. We are down to 4 turkeys, and they should fit easily into one large dog crate.

Finished planting (more) garlic today. After last weeks' planting, I stood back and looked at the garlic plot and thought 'we need more garlic than this!' so I went back to the garden center and picked up a few pounds more. The turkeys accompanied me in the garden. They 'helped' by pulling up my markers, carrying off my bags of garlic, and then lying down in the rows and scratching up as much dirt as possible onto themselves. Did I mention how much I'll be glad when they are gone?!

Cleaned up the garage a bit as well; moved some lumber out from projects, swept the sawdust off the floor, burned some sawdust and feed bags cluttering up the barn. Picked up the yard. Added more straw to the broiler pen, tended to them, and it was time to come in and do some cleaning and Fall preparation. Finished caulking & sealing all the house windows to keep out the chilly drafts. Some day, we will have all new windows! And insulation!

Friday, November 13, 2009

To market, to market

Well it's mighty quiet around the place today. The pigs were successfully delivered to the butcher. For the uninitiated, here's how it went, in a nutshell:

We had ten pigs to go to town, one trailer. The butcher shop allows them to be brought in either Wed. afternoons, or Thursday mornings before 9 am. Since pig loading is almost never a sure thing, we decided to try to get them all loaded and delivered on Wednesday. That way, if we needed extra time or ran into any difficulties, we still had the Thursday am window. Always good to have a backup plan when it comes to pigs, or any livestock for that matter!

I backed the trailer up and opened it up for the pigs the day before, to let them get used to it. Some went on, most were uninterested. We had decided to cut them off from their sleeping quarters, to encourage them to use the trailer for sleeping. but they had other plans, and went right through the wire to their old house. Hmph.

Karen and I started out several hours before we needed to leave on Wednesday. We encouraged the piggies with treats on the trailer. We were having a good deal of success, most of them would get right on the trailer, but not all of them, of course. I did succeed in closing off 3/4 of the rest of the pen by bringing up our poultry netting and stringing that across the pen, giving us a smaller space to work in.

As fortune would have it, an eager, strapping teenage boy who lives next door and is itching to help us with farm chores showed up on his riding lawnmower at just the right time! After a brief wait while he ran home to get his "rancher coat" and hat, he returned ready to work in the pig pen with us. We advised him that perhaps a full-length leather coat was not really advisable inside a pig pen. He quickly agreed and took it off, and grabbed the other end of a heavy 5 foot long gate. As Karen petted, rubbed, and scratched our piggies, and we enticed them with donuts, Jared and I slowly crowded the remaining 3 or 4 piggies from behind with the gate. Soon they had nowhere to go but on the trailer. Two of them hopped right on, but there were two (the biggest 2, wouldn't ya know) who simply did not want to get in the trailer! The big red barrow turned toward the gate we held. I stood on the bottom rung of the gate to hold it down. Big Red Barrow put his nose in the gate, and I was then airborne! Lofted straight up a foot in the air! No harm was done to me, Jared, or the gate, but it was startling, and honestly just a little fun to defy gravity like that, if even momentarily. Hey, ya gotta enjoy the little things.

At that point, Karen and I agreed it was time to close the trailer up, and go with the 8 pigs we had on. We'd have to make two trips.

We drove to Lake Geneva and off-loaded the 8 pigs, then came back home. We decided to try and get the last two pigs on the trailer right away, as we still had daylight left, and I wanted to take advantage of that. We opened up the trailer door for them, and with just a few spinach leaves as enticement, they, magically, quietly walked right on! Guess their issue was they didn't want to go into a crowded trailer! Maybe they didn't like that it smelled like pigs (and goats) in there. I don't know. But we gave them more treats, and let them sleep in there.

Next morning, soon as Birk was on the bus, we started back to Lake Geneva with our two big boys. Unloading at the shop was just as quiet and easy with them. I'm thinking it might simply be easier in smaller groups. Good food for thought for future loads.

While we were at the loading dock, we helped a guy which had pulled in ahead of us, who was trying to unload 8 pigs by himself. Turned out he was unloading Berkshires, which is the breed we are wanting to get into for the next phase. It was good to talk to him, and we got his number.

Now when I come home, I still sometimes hear a pig grunt or a feeder lid bang, and I quickly remind myself they are gone. I've been hearing what I want to hear, what I am used to hearing. Karen says she is experiencing the same thing. People often ask us isn't it hard, getting attached to something and then taking it in to be slaughtered? My answer is usually yes, it is. And it should be, at least a little bit, don't you think?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wow, what a beautiful weekend. Warm, sunny, and breezy. Highs in the high 60's, warm enough for short shirt sleeves. We don't often get weather like this in November, so it was very much relished and taken advantage of.

Yesterday I picked up the trailer (borrowed from a friend) that we will haul the pigs to "freezer camp" in, and then we can use it to load up the broilers and turkeys and take them also to their respective final destination. The pigs should go in on Wednesday afternoon, and the birds have their date the following Monday. I've wondered what it will be like that week, after the pigs have left but we still have birds to take care of. And of course, I think about what it will be like after all of our 'agricultural products' have left the place. I will miss the rhythm and responsibility of caring for them, and I will surely miss the entertainment of watching them run and play. It will be quiet around here. I hope it gets really cold soon, because if it stays this nice, and I want to work outside, it will be too weird without the grunts and cackles and squeals and squawks and the constant mental notes of checking on water and feed and fences.

Couple of days ago, I stopped in the local garden center looking for garlic. We just hadn't gotten it together to purchase any replacement garlic yet. Garlic needs to be planted in the fall in these parts, and is harvested in July. Karen especially was feeling anxious about our lack of garlic in the ground, but I kept telling her we still had time. As long as the ground isn't frozen solid, you can plant garlic. And our soil is still nice and fine, especially with all this warm weather just now. So I walked in to that garden store thinking I was probably too late, and they'd be all out of garlic. I asked, and they said they had just gotten a fresh shipment in! Score! I bought about 3 pounds of the stuff. Varieties called Siberian, Italian Late, Musik, and Northern White. got it all planted yesterday afternoon. Once it was all in the ground, I realized that this paltry amount would be a nice moment in garlic time for us, but if we wanted to really grow most of our own garlic, we needed a LOT more! So I'll go back this week and hope other procrastinators haven't cleaned them out before I get there.

Last night the neighbors had their annual bonfire, which is always fun. This year they strung out some party lights, which added a nice effect. Got to chat with another new neighbor, so that was nice, too. I love going to events where my trip consists of going to the backyard, grabbing a chair and walking next door. Nice.

This morning I started some pork spare ribs with a rub containing mainly brown sugar, mustard, seasoned salt, paprika, pepper and onion powder. Left them in the fridge for a couple of hours, then I lit a fire in my smoker and put them on to smoke around noon. I smoked them for about three hours. The wind from the south today was my ally, as it made for a perfect draft and I never even had to poke my fire even once. Plenty of time to keep working on other stuff. After three hours of smoke, I brought them in and roasted them in the oven. I poured my "slather" over them, consisting of a bottle of flat dark beer, brown sugar, yellow mustard, white pepper, some salt, maybe a few other things I can't think of right now. About 1.5 hours in the oven, and OHMYGOD, they were gooooooooooood!! An added benefit is that our house smelled like a traditional smoke house. mmmm. That's a good thing, in my book.

Today I moved surplus sheets of plywood from the garage to the barn mow, making room in the garage for more storage for winter. My goal is to be able to get the tractor in there for the cold weather. I cleaned the barn, cleaned up the yard, greased up the trailer and hooked it up to the truck, turned the compost piles and combined them into one with the tractor loader. Went through the old pig pen and cleared the hot wire of dirt and debris, preparing for the next round while the ground is still workable. Fixed a leaky faucet in the kitchen and then cleared a clog in the bathroom. Besides putting the grill away and doing a load or two of laundry and moving hoses and shaking down all the remaining apples from the apple tree and general picking up all over, I don't know where the day went, but I do know I was almost constantly moving today. It did feel good, I have to say.

When the days get short like this, but we get a warm southerly breeze, we tend to go nuts with running around outside, like the squirrels do. We know there are so many things to do, and we do get the necessities done before the snow flies, but if we have extra time, we find so much more to do! I could still have used more time to get to that dirt pile next to the berry patch, and to prune them, and work on the perennial garden, etc., etc., Guess that might happen if we get more mild weather, hey?

Friday, November 6, 2009

How long until bt doesn't work any more?

The article linked above discusses another looming biological disaster. Rules and procedures that farmers who have planted bt corn designed by Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, et. al are supposed to follow are being disregarded. If the guidelines are not followed, insect resistance to bt will develop.

The bt defense is one long used by organic growers and they loudly protested the injection of bt right into the corn by these companies years ago. The reason is because of this very issue. Any type of insect or fungus or other disease control is much more effective if done judiciously and applied appropriately at the right time and for the right reason, not just broadly spewed over half a continent.

What is infuriating is that our federal government looks the other way as long as the food and environment offender is a gigantic corporation. But when it comes to small, locally producing family farmers or even people just trying to feed themselves out of their own backyard, they are tightening restrictions, monitoring every move, and taxing and burying and choking these little guys with paperwork, permits, records and identification numbers and tags. While Cargill refuses to test it's ground meat for e.coli and gets away with it resulting in the deaths of many Americans every year and the sickening of untold numbers more, the government is hellbent on making sure every chicken in a backyard chicken pen has an id chip in it. For what? For traceability!

When I first started farming over 10 years ago, things were bad, but not this bad. Our government is getting worse and worse and even worser in terms of the ways it treats independant family farmers and consumers who simply want to buy healthy, wholesome food that was raised simply by folks they know. This is not just an issue for farmers, it is a major problem for anyone who eats.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I's been such a long time since I've blogged, it just feels wrong and sad. I have several reasons for not doing it in the last few weeks including not having a functioning computer, having lost the digital camera which causes me to hesitate to post any un-illustrated stories, having too much to do and of course, too little time to do it in much less to then sit down and write all about all the things I just did and didnt have time for, y'know?

So in no particular order, I have these things to say:

The broiler chickens are doing very well. I am impressed with their health and vigor. We only lost two at the very beginning, which I think were squashed by their bretheren. Karen, on the other hand, is unfamiliar with these types of chickens. She has a very different take on them and wants to arrange to raise the next batch totally differently. We have begun what will surely become a long process of discussion and compromise over the winter. Let me just say - I have been there, and done it that way, and I don't want to go back. That's all I'm saying about that right now!

While the broilers are a quite labor intensive agricultural product to raise, turkeys are in a class of their own. I have only raised them once before, and I found them to be messy, difficult to contain and keep track of, dificult to get them to do what you wanted and not what you didn't want, and then difficult to transport and store in a frozen state. This time around, I have found them to be even messier. They insist on getting up in the window sills of the barn at night and apparently a turkey poops an average of 20 to 30 timjes per night, per bird. And this ain't pigeon droppings either, my friends. These droppings rival those of our lab mix. So I guess you can ascertain where I'd put them in terms of doing what I dont want them to do!
Also, they have a habit of jumping into the broiler pen and eating all their food, etc., when they have the whole farm to roam. Though Dottie has already reduced our turkey flock herd by half, the biggest Tom has lately seemed to become keen on hurling himself toward her as she quivers on her side of the driveway, expectantly waiting a turkey dinner delivered fresh and hot. We have actually had to run, hollering at the turkey to get back as he runs headlong toward a certain mauling two weeks before Thanksgiving. It's like keeping a three year old child from the edge of a highway. You know that's where they are set on going. I was curious to try turkeys again and see if they really were as exasperating as I remembered. Oh. Yes. Next year, I'll be happy to support some other local farmer who went to the trouble with turkeys.

Now the pigs! The piggies are and have been a pleasure. They have grown so fast, you can practically watch them doing it. The hoop house in the piggie palace really did work very well. We got a very very wet October. They did finally end up playing with the tarp on their hoop house, and I did make some modifications to it, but I knew it was temporary anyway.
After we finished harvesting the garden in the middle or end of September, I started working on setting that area up as the next place to put the pigs. I enclosed it again with electric fence, and made a makeshift alley way between the palace on top of the hill, and the garden area below. They soon caught on to the routine of going back and forth, and now they readily go through the gates between the two. This is part of the big plan, as I hope that it will help when it comes to moving day, when we need to load them onto the trailer. I will back the trailer up to the same gate area well ahead of the time they need to go, and just let them explore it. Hopefully they will become accustomed to going onto the trailer, and I will be able to simply close the door behind them on the appointed day. That's a plan I have used before with pigs, and it worked beautifully. No stress for them or us!

I also had another big project that took me a few weeks to complete which was the new pig hut. This one is designed as more of a winter shelter, as I made it with plywood sides and a metal roof. I built it on the lawn, and pulled it on to the garden with the tractor just before bringing the pigs in there. They took to it right away, and it has served them well. We may be able to use this as an outdoor farrowing hut in the future as well.

The tractor is home now, and I am getting over my grudge against her. I changed her fuel filters the other day, and I held my breath a bit as I turned the engine afterwards, having heard all kinds of horror stories about diesels and dry lines, etc. But she fired right up and purrs like a kitten. The more I get to work on her and do chores with her, the more she feels like mine. I need to take a bit off the top of my exhaust pipe to be able to get her into the garage this winter. All the cars will have to park outside!

The garden was really quite a success. We have been eating from it pretty much continuously since we started in about May or June, I guess. Not exclusively, but virtually every day we eat from our garden. Last night we had some of our frozen corn, and it is still the most delicious and sweet variety I have ever had. We were all commenting on how much we love this corn, and we will definitely use the same variety again. We got it from Johnny's Seeds. Next year, though, I want to plant a different variety of pumpkin. The fancy french cinderella pumpkins may have been okay for pie making I guess, but they sucked for seeds or carving. I want the kind of punkins I used to pull lots of seeds out of as a kid! One of my favorite autumn treats is roasted pumpkin seeds.

We did have a really fun time taking Birk into town for Trick or Treating. Lots of friends there, great costumes, great decorated houses, and just really nice people. It was a perfect night for it, too, with a clear, cold, crisp night and a full moon!

So those are some of my random thoughts on this and that. I have been researching laptops/netbooks, and I am sure once I get a machine I can call my own again, I will be better at posting more regularly. Oh, and maybe we will find the lost camera and I can post pics of the new pig hut.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Autumn #2 at PFF

The last post refers to a dry spell that in October has certainly been broken. Since that post we've had lots of rain, making for some challenges in our pig palace, and yes, they liked to play and rip up their tarp (another contradiction from the last post). Today, Red heroically moved her beautifully constructed new pig hut into the 'garden pasture' to give them a more solid place to stay toasty warm and dry. While she was rigging this small outbuilding up to her tractor and driving it to it's new destination, I got some much needed grown up time . My friend and I did some Earth, Wood, and Fire studio touring. I feel so grateful for these new friends- amazing artists just down the road who have been so welcoming to us. I like this place.

We have all had a great day- the sun was so warm today- and we all got to finish the day doing fall chores together, rubbing piggy bellies while they lounged in their new surrounds, and having a final hammock swing before putting it away for the year. (It's maybe the most time we grownups have had in said hammock, but last year when the hammock was unceremoniously put away without a certain kid being informed, it caused some 'big feelings'. ) This year, the big feelings were being grateful that pigs are moved, the sun was shining, the leaves and fields so many beautiful shades of gold it hurts, the successes of the season, and mostly, being together.

We're especially looking forward to getting the broilers to the processor. The weather has been so wet and cold that pasturing them didn't happen the way I had hoped. They're just for us- and of course they were raised well and fed organically, but I really wanted to optimize foraging and get them out. It could have been a perfect time of year to do them but this year it wasn't. I can't believe how much they are eating and of course the feed isn't cheap. I knew that when I saw a $30 chicken at the co-op last year that it really could cost that to raise an organic broiler. They are eating about a pound of feed a day each now. We have been slow to realize it and every other day- have a panic moment of getting to the feed store and hoping they have enough organic grower feed. We buy 2 bags and start all over again within 48 hours. Of course if we could figure out ways of growing our own grain or at least getting a gravity box to get better pricing and the convenience..... we'll see what we can figure out next time. Our turkeys are growing slowly and risk their lives daily by heading at a trot right for Dottie. It seems when you try to herd them they lose all their senses and run opposite of your guidance. Still, I like having them and we'll hope that the broilers slow down a bit while the turkeys catch up so we can bring them in together.

The hens are finally hens and we're getting those beautiful blue-green eggs again. The roosters- well- they are finally roosters and we get to hear the crowing again now. Our other hens are molting so our egg production is not yet booming (actually very slow and lots of days no eggs at all) but I think each of our 7 young hens should be on board now. B is thrilled to see those auracana eggs again.

There has of course been a lot of fall activity- getting compost on the asparagus/strawberries, lots of cleanup, mulching. The care of the animals always gets more intensive as they grow. We've had leaking chicken waterers plaguing us for weeks. Red was finally able to fix them as well as many other little things. Still waiting for a neighbor busy finishing his own long fall to -do list to get our fences up . But Red has her tractor, and we're chugging along. We see the slowdown ahead- more time to relax. And another season to plan.

One bit of news- we have a logo. Much gratitude to the design pals who helped us arrive at this. I can't seem to get it posted here- but we'll go figure that out!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Late Summer

Sunny, 70

Summer is telling us to prepare for her departure. While we are still enjoying delightfully warm and sunny days, the nights are cooling down to the 40's, blanketing the dark in thick mists and fog characteristic of this time of year. The first few black walnut leaves have started to turn yellow and drift to the lawn, and our field is hosting larger and more raucous flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese these days.

The pigs are doing wonderfully. They clearly are having a ball in their 'Piggy Palace'. Between their frequent naps, they get up to eat, drink, forage, root, and race around playing with anything that seems amusing to a pig. That includes us, the dogs, tree branches, and even a rubber feed tub. Yesterday I watched as one of the shoats took an interest in the large rubber tub we use to give them liquid treats such as milk and yogurt, etc. Due to previous piggy activity, the tub was lying upside down. It is soft and collapsible when pushed on. He was nuzzling and nibbling the edge of the tub. Next thing I know, he is posessed by the same internal buzzer that makes puppies attack socks and kittens race up curtains, and he has managed to throw himself onto the tub, causing the tub to roll. Piggie did a full rollover off the tub, with the tub following right behind and rolling over the top of him. All the while, he had a sort of grin on his face, and seemed to think it was as funny as I did. I think he really did mean to do that! He seemed disappointed to look up and find that none of his mates had noticed his great stunt. Now you know why I don't need to watch much tv.

The hoop house we built for them is working out great, even better than I had hoped. First, I was concerned about how hard they might be on it, chewing it, rubbing on it, and generally beating it up, but they have so far respected it. Perhaps they have better things to do. They actually have used it when they need it, such as when it rains. But we have had a string of very dry weather, and even though it is getting down in the 40's at night, they prefer to sleep under their favorite tree. Pigs are much like puppies in the way they all pile together when they sleep. I'm curious to watch them and see at what temps they will finally begin to use the nest under cover we have provided for them.

The pumpkins are growing, and we have enjoyed our first honeydew melon, which was an absolute delight. We only got one this year, I am sure it was due to crowding from other squash plants and too much weed competition. Next year, we will have more melons! The watermelons have faired slightly better, and hearing that rind just pop open when touched by a knife makes my mouth water.

We have pulled up all the garlic and onions, and harvested most of the carrots. Dry beans are out, and mostly shelled. They are a project that can be put aside, and gotten to in little bits as time allows. It's one of those nice things to do on the porch in nice weather such as this, and it is fun for our guests to participate in and pop those pearly little white beans out of the husk and drop them satisfyingly into the big bowl. We often talk about bean and ham soup during this activity :-)

I also have a charcuterie update. Last weekend I smoked two more slabs of bacon. The first was a remake of my first effort in home made bacon, a maple cured recipie. The last one came out okay, but needed improvement in my opinion. So this time I rinsed the salt cure off longer (the first was too salty for my tastes), and I smoked it for a shorter time. By golly, I think I got it right. Wow. That was the best tasting bacon I've ever had! We have some sliced and saved up in the freezer.

The next day, I smoked a bacon that I had flavored and cured in a very different mix - this one was imbued with garlic and cracked pepper in addition to the salt. This one also came out very, very good! This more savory flavor is perfect for eating on BLT's, in salads, or just all by itself. This one is Karen's favorite. Good thing we can produce our own bacon, since we will soon run out. Maybe that just means I need to focus on making sausage and smoking hams!

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This is a site we have found that helps foodys and locavores find a farm close to them. Check it out.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Our Thanksgiving dinner arrived yesterday morning, with 7 of her friends. Well, perhaps that sounds a big too crass when the emotions of looking into a cardboard box containing 8 little baby turkey poults have labels such as "oooooooooooh How Cute!" and "Wow, look - it ate a spider!"
Turkey poults are different than baby chicks. More active, more confident, way more 'are you my mommy?' They also need a very much higher protein diet than their smaller cousins.

As I drove by cornfields green and tasseling, soybeans still dark green and growing, windows down to feel the cooling breeze, I reflected on the moment. Here it was the height of Summer, cicadas buzzing, me in shorts and t-shirts night and day. The kind of day-the season in fact- we like to daydream about during a snowstorm. And I was driving into town to go pick up what will be my holiday dinner centerpiece. I believe this is what they mean by 'slow food'.

Our 8 poults have settled in nicely. You may not know this, but it is nearly impossible to find turkey starter (the feed formulated with the 28% protein that baby turkeys need) that does not contain drugs. I have had success in the past (the one time I raised turkeys) with non-medicated feed, so we are going to try it again. Most all the books say to give them medication to get them off to a healthy start. Since I couldn't find any feed in bags that fit our bill, I decided to mix my own from the grain mix I had on hand and added more soybeans to up the protein level. This involved grinding the whole roasted soybeans in our Kitchenaid grain mill and adding it to the grain mix, then putting it all in a cement mixer to ensure adequate mixing. I also am adding a poultry vitamin and electrolyte mix to their water. As of day 2 all is well.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pig farming round 2

The pigs came today- or rather, we retrieved them. Last year the guy we got them from brought them here and this time we got to load them, with his help, and unload them into their new home. I got to perfect my subcutaneous injections on swine (somehow, very different than newborn babes) and even with that additional insult the piggies were really mellow and hugely curious and rompy almost immediately. Having been farrowed in a barn, in a crate- this was the first day their hooves hit grass and dirt and the first time out in the glorious summer sunshine. They are quite pleased. They spent more time rooting, grazing, and chewing on the logs and fencing in their palace than finding where their grain was. Likewise, it took a while for them to find the nipple waterer but to cool them off and help them drink we put out a rubber tub filled with the hose and they launched and lurched their little bodies into it, limbs hanging off the sides while they splashed about. It is really cool (all over again) to see how pigs just like to be pigs- no matter how many generations have been raised in concrete slabs- they know what to do with dirt and pasture, know how to rummage out it's nutrients, cool themselves in it, play in it.

Every day seems to have it's successes and I've been finding ways to relish them amidst my 'constructive criticism' of what we'll do differently next year. Today- it was the pig arrival- not only celebrating our launching of another season, our second herd, but also hearing so many exuberant and encouraging responses from our friends who became our first customers last year. One family who had our pork and signed up for another hog this year came to visit and see the pigs today. Everyone is really excited and is sharing their appreciation of how great the pork was. It reminds me of one aspect of why I love this so much- it's like having all these friends for supper and knowing they enjoyed the meal! We will likely need to use another butcher and I'm hoping it will be as good or better than last time.

Another success - a funny one actually- is my first successful compost. I have been too busy to turn it much- and today- after cleaning out the chicken coop and adding the manure to our new pile- saw that both the new and old pile are that dark rich hummusy crumbly stuff that I've only READ about. I've been using compost bins in some form now for about 7 years, in my urban yards, and both because of frequent moving and the limitations in size, scope and content, my composting has always felt like a bit of a failure. I always cheer folks on- and tell them it's not complicated- but now I've really done it well!

A few days ago I was digging out hip-high weeds in my perenial garden and finally looked up to miraculously catch that view of the chartreuse dill weaving above the echinacea and the asters and the bobbing sunflowers and then surveying the alpine strawberries started from seed and the 6 strawberry transplants that now spread over the bed into a real PATCH and suddenly the 'What a disaster' summation of the garden turned to 'it's brambly and taking form into something really really beautiful'. Given that all of this work gives ya time to think, it's a great exercise in turning towards optimism- seeing what emerges and trusting that the world will grow and mend itself, that pigs will play in mud and runners throw out shoots to make strawberries, that rich fertilizer will emerge from what was dead and discarded.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A few minutes before bed left.

Tonight after work we went to check out our next batch of feeder pigs. Way cute! They are the same three-way breed cross as the first batch, but they are mostly red and white, no black ones in this bunch. There is at least one 'calico' in the bunch. I wonder at my potential to make a true pig farmer due to my weakness for cute colors in a pig. Not the best way to pick out a good sound animal, but it certainly pleases me.

Been working hard on a new outdoor pig enclosure for these guys. This will be a large permanent pen set up in a grove of scrub trees, providing lots of shade, grass, leaves, fresh air, and general piggy heaven. There are still a few final touches that need doing, but the major work is done, and it feels good to know we'll soon have little grunting porkers pushing their noses through the soil.

When we have not been building pig pens and moving the new chicken fence, we have been
preserving as much as we possibly can from the garden. The limitation here is time. Our garden is providing us with a great bounty of everything. The peas are finally about done, and I am glad to not have to shuck them for a while, though I love fresh peas for sure. The beans are on their way to finished. The garlic is mostly out of the ground and drying in the barn, and the onions are soon to follow. We are waiting for the potatoes to season in the ground before we dig them for storage. We have been eating some fresh fingerling potatoes - yum! The biggest, best garden arrival in my opinion is the sweet corn! The corn is at it's peak right now, and I have to say, this is an excellent crop in all regards. Big, beautiful ears of snapping sweet kernels. Besides eating it right in the garden, and slightly cooked at dinner, we have been freezing most of it. This weekend I'm sure we'll be canning more corn. I think we'll have to go get more jars, as the tomatoes are right behind the corn.

My birthday present arrived today - it's the book titled Charcuterie, the Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing. This book is very much hailed in the meat foodie world, and a quick perusal tonight has me excited. I've got some pork ribs thawing in the fridge awaiting a magical transformation.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Who Owns Organic

Who Owns Organic
This is a link to a very interesting chart. It is very eye-opening. There is a link on the page below it to view it as a full sized pdf, if you want.
The Corportization and loss of diversity and choice for both consumers and producers is not solely a problem for standard, commercially produced foodstuffs. No indeed, the Big Boys have eyed the success of the organic trade, and they have begun to move their attention toward many brands amiliar to those of us who think we are buying responsibly.

Be aware, be willing to buy small, local, and farmer friendly.

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USDA Admits GMO Contamination is Inevitable

USDA Admits GMO Contamination is Inevitable
Well, this is great news. Though Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the EU have studied the issue of Genetically Modified Foods and determined that the unknown health risks are too great to allow, the United States of Corporations has of course been told we will accept these products, and accept them we have.

If anyone really wanted to stay away from these genetically modified foods, it is now assured that will be virtually impossible. These genes are like gazillions of tiny genies which have been invisibly popping out of their bottles across the land for the last decade now. I read an article by a prominent organic seedsman that basically admitted that even organic seeds are now heavily affected by GMO genes. In other words, they have escaped and are inserting themselves into plants all over the place. Only the very most isolated crops of corn, soybeans, cotton, etc. may be unaffected. For how long they can hold out is anyone's guess. My guess? Not too long.

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And Now For Something Completely Political

Sunny, 80

It's a Saturday morning (for me), the sun is shining, the birds are singing. The garden and wild berry harvest are in full swing. We finally did get the much-needed rain over the last few days, so the lawn needs mowing again. Everything seems to be as it should be.

But there are unseen forces at work behind the scenes and beneath the radar that will surely have very serious long-term implications for every one of us in this country and even on this planet. I remember back in the late 60's and 70's, when I was a kid, the birth of the ecology movement. I remember public service commercials meant to wake citizens up to the shameful practice of throwing garbage out along roadsides or in other inappropriate areas. There was a commercial with a Native American man in full ceremonial dress (I guess so we could tell he was an Indian), with a tear streaming down his cheek at the wanton destruction of his precious Mother Nature. I remember there was a movement amongst the people sporting t-shirts and flying flags with the green 'e' symbol on them, meant to indicate support for a green revolution.

Fast forward 40 years. Yes, we've made some progress in some areas. Our understanding and application of organic agricultural practices has grown considerably. We now have words such as sustainability, free-range and permaculture in our lexicon. But at the same time, dark, evil forces have turned out nation into a Corporacracy. (Corporacracy, btw, is the term I use for a government by the corporations, for the corporations. We certainly are there, folks.) The Corporacracy has been growing like a giant blob monster in a b movie laboratory, feeding itself on the knowledge that people will make decisions based on emotion and not on fact. The monster has learned to become our master by manipulating our emotions via the advertising industry (one of it's most vital corporate tentacles) and the media spin industry. It has quietly and cleverly positioned it's minions inside political and legal processes, and inside government itself. In so doing, it has ensured for itself a smooth road to control of our food, our land, our bodies, and next, even our water.

This monster does have a name and a face. Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, Siemens, Nestle.... it's actually (and tellingly) a rather short list. Taking advantage of loopholes in anti-trust laws and armies of it's own lawyers, these few companies went on a feeding frenzy in the 90's, gobbling up smaller companies that supplied essential goods to local communities and the world. Local packing plants, slaughterhouses, farms, feed stores, grain mills, auction barns, seed companies, chemical plants, food processors and suppliers, grocery stores and pharmacies, all bought up and rapidly shut down in the process of eliminating any possibility of competition (a principle on which our free market was founded, remember?) and diversity. Untold numbers of self-sustaining small towns across rural America have become ghost towns. No more jobs, no more customers, no more stores.

At the same time, the corporate megaliths have been planting their representatives in very key and crucial positions to ensure their own future health and, obviously, profit.

We had hope (yes, we did) with the election of Obama that things would finally be turned back toward justice and policies and decisions that would benefit the public and not the corporations. But despite a very loud and organized plea from citizens and small farmers across our country to appoint as the new Secretary of Agriculture someone who was not in the back pocket of Big Agribiz, someone who would guide us toward a more healthful and sustainable method of growing and harvesting our food, he appointed Iowa's former Governor Vilsack, a guy who is Big Corn, and who believes the Ethanol Myth. And now, this. Appointing a Monsanto Man to head the Food and Drug Administration. In most countries, this would cause civil unrest, but here we are too lulled by the circuses of media that tell us this is a good idea.

Apparently President Obama forgot that the only way we can avert total ecological, economic, and cultural disaster is to break the chains the monster has slipped around us all. It will take representatives in Washington who are actually willing to listen to the people instead of their corporate sponsors, and vote accordingly. Thus far, that has been impossible. The stranglehold this monster has on us is so strong that not only will our elected politicians not stand up against them, but if anyone does, most Americans believe the monsters' media campaigns, and actually fight against their own best interests, attacking any calls for reform and calling them "radical", "nutty", or (gasp!) "liberal".

If we continue at this pace, our entire food supply will be GMO, whether we want it to be or not, our small farms will be taxed and and regulated out of business (this could literally mean no more roadside stands for you all to buy fresh, local veggies, for instance), big business will succeed in literally choking off free water supplies to people and farms , food you buy in the stores will not have to carry labels informing you that they may contain chemicals you wish to avoid, every animal on even the smallest homestead will have to be implanted with a radio frequency chip, our soils, air, water, fish and wildlife will continue to be contaminated with hormones, pcb's and other chemicals with no government watchdogs to control or stop it.

As we were all told that we were standing on an economic precipice last Fall, we understood that we had to allow for drastic action in order to avoid falling over that cliff as a society, which would be a very bad thing. We are at an even higher precipice right now, that of being on the tipping point of the point of no return for our environment and the very means by which we obtain our food, and thus our future health and safety.

If the current economic disaster has been an eye-opener into how inter-connected and centralized our financial system is regarding who the powerful elite are and how much of our economic system they actually control, wait until you figure out who is in charge of our food, fiber, soils, seeds, and drugs.

If we don't wake up NOW and demand the turnabout of past good ol' boy practices and the investigation into facts surrounding these abominable for-profit companies stopping short of absolutely NOTHING to capture and control our food, water, and soil, we are going to experience a crisis far worse than something caused (and solved) by simple, silly money. There is no Central Farm to simply crank out more food or water when worldwide shortages hit. And like the greedy bankers selling off bad loans and investments that they knew would fail, causing our arrival at the monetary and credit cliff, these guys are busily manipulating markets and rules and governments in order to squeeze every penny of profit they can as fast as they can, never mind the crash course we are all headed on.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Growing Fruits and Pains

Partly cloudy, 78

We were supposed to get some rain last night, but it never materialized. Like, it seems, every other rain forecast in the last month. We are getting our typical mid-Summer dry spell. While the hayfield stops growing, and we have to keep watering the garden, it also means I need to mow the lawn a lot less, freeing up some time.

The garden is growing like gangbusters, and harvest is underway. In addition to the aforementioned peas and beans and potatoes, we have been harvesting carrots and salad makings as we go, and the summer squash is coming on strong and ready. Karen has made some truly remarkable meals from the squash blossoms themselves! She has filled them with cheese, battered them and fried them - well, what's not to love? We should put them on a stick and sell them at the Iowa State Fair!

We've been harvesting black raspberries for the last two weeks, and it looks like they are winding down. I baked a blackberry crisp, and we have turned them into jam, and frozen them as well. They are my favorite berry.

Last weekend I made my very first batch of home made sausage! It took a bit of trial and effort to get the sausage maker/grinder to work properly, no thanks to very inadequate proto-Chinese instructions included in the box. But once I got the right combination of attachments on the thing, it was pretty fun! It actually looked a lot like the italian sausage in the butcher shop, and it tasted at least as good, if not better! I grilled some up for supper the next night, and we vacuum sealed and froze the rest for future use. I am proud.

We are making progress toward stocking the types of tools we need as well. We got in the campstove for canning that I mentioned in the last post, and we also recieved some electric poultry netting, that will allow us to move the chickens around the farm, yet keep them out of spaces we don't want them, such as in the tomatoes or other parts of the garden that are vulnerable to chicken pecking and scratching. We want to put them on grassy, weedy areas, let them eat bugs and grass, etc. We can also double the use of this netting by using it on pasture for pigs, too, or so I've read from other pastured pig producers.

The tractor is still down at the neighbors'. The diesel injection guy recc. re-building the pump, since it was time, and though it will be very tough to come up with the money, I felt we might as well have it taken care of now rather than have it go in the middle of winter when I have two feet of snow in my driveway. And this does not address the issue of metal in the crankcase, which is not a good sign. Every time I think of my tractor, I get a kind of a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I literally see those little dollars with wings symbols on them. The purchase of this particular tractor may have been a very expensive bad move on my part. It certainly has been a learning experience for me. I know more about what can go wrong on a diesel now than I wish I knew. I only hope that this learning lesson in the school of hard knocks will be over once I get her back and running again, and we have a long and happy future ahead of us. I do keep telling myself that this is a machine, and it can be fixed and restored. I am thinking of trying to locate a basic diesel mechanics class at a local community college so that I can understand and maintain her better once I do have her back here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Starting to harvest

A few days ago we canned up some dilly beans. These are basically pickled green beans, with some garlic and fresh dill. In some jars, we tossed in some jalapeno peppers. These are excellent in bloody mary’s, or just as a snack during football games, etc., which is mostly how we eat them.

Yesterday, I took one of my furlough days and made it a farm and family day. A beautiful warm, sunny day, high around 78 and breezy.

After cleaning up the kitchen, I spent about an hour in the garden picking green and wax beans. Got about 2 lbs., I’d say.

Came in and processed them by pressure canning. Beans do not have enough acid, so have to be pressure canned vs. boiling water bath like tomatoes or jams, etc. The result was 6 pints of beans stored up for winter. It feels good to think of those long cold winter evenings, and sitting down to a meal from our own garden. So our canning total so far is 6 pints dilly beans, 6 pints canned beans. This doesn’t count all the beans, peas, and black raspberries Karen has put in the freezer, too!

The whole process yesterday actually took about 4 hours, due to Curt stopping by in the middle to discuss progress on the tractor, and the frustratingly slow cooktop electric stove we have. Have I mentioned Karen and I hate that thing?

I have actually ordered a two burner propane stove, with legs and a wind baffle from Northern Tool (they don’t carry it in-store). It’s sold as a camping accessory. It should arrive this week. I can’t wait to get that and set it up outside for canning. This should help a lot, even if it doesn’t heat up the pots of water any faster (but I believe it will), it will keep the heat out of the kitchen during canning. I also want to find a used sink from the Habitat Re-Store and fashion up a sink and counter space area and create an outdoor kitchen. My hope is to make canning faster, closer to the source, less mess in the house, and of course, cooler, in both senses of the term.

Last week I dug some of our fingerling potatoes for the first time. These are yellow potatoes that grow to about three to four inches, max, and are designed to be eaten little. Oh my lord, they are so delicious. You can never know what a really fresh, tasty potato eating experience is like by getting them at the store, people. This Dairyland girl didn’t even want any butter on them!

And now we have a whole 20 ft. row of the things and they are ready now. I will start digging them today, and letting them dry a bit. I’m thinking about canning some of them. Karen is dubious. We will have lots and lots of storage potatoes in the basement, so I thought canning would be a good compliment. Might even can up some peas with some of them.

I mentioned the tractor. Sigh. It is now at Curt’s place. We drove it down there this last week. It did not, thankfully, do the screeching thing. But it did seem to be leaking fuel into the crankcase, indicating a seal, or o-ring, is bad on the fuel injection pump. He has a friend who works at a diesel injection place, and he has come by and taken the numbers off the pump so he can get the appropriate seal for it. He is due to come back on Saturday to work on it. Keep your fingers crossed. I miss my tractor, and I just want it to be healthy and happy. I got a wood stove free from a friend, but I can’t get it out of the back of my truck until the tractor is back home and running. So until my tractor is working, my truck is out of commission, parked in the garage protecting the woodstove…. Lol. Sometimes ya just gotta shake your head and laugh. Else you’ll get an ulcer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Well, as Karen mentioned, the big day finally arrived. Sure enough, we have tractor power. Red tractor power! DIESEL fired, 4 cylinders of International Harvester 674 loader tractor wheelin and dealin.

I found it on Craigslist, went and saw it, and knew it was just what I’ve been looking for. I was prepared to get a tractor of any color, but in my heart of hearts, I longed for another red tractor. (To the unitiated, un-tractored out there, this means basically that I am talking about an International or Farmall tractor, and not one that is green, or blue, orange, yellow, or any of the other tractor colors. Tractor companies paint all their machines the same color, and the practiced eye can tell the make of a tractor from a very long distance simply by it’s color). My very first tractor was a red and white Farmall, a very beautiful tractor, and I loved her. You know the rest of the girl meets tractor story. I am a loyal sort.

So I arranged with the neighbor Curt to haul it home. Curt is one of those best-you-could-ever-ask-for neighbors. He knows stuff, he’s got stuff, and he does stuff. He can pretty much do anything. He’s a master of machine and animals and crops, and he’s a genuinely nice guy to boot, and always answers his phone. So Curt got to the place, and he told me he looked the tractor over pretty good, and he wasn’t about to let me spend this kind of money if the tractor didn’t live up to it. But it got Curt’s okay, and he got it on his trailer and brought her home to me. That evening, while waiting for it to arrive, I was like an anxious mother waiting for her children to come home from a trip in a bad storm.

It finally arrived. There it was! A big red tractor! It was so cool! Just the right size! Wow, now I could DO some shit around here! My very own precious diesel tractor. A loader, with a bale spear. We can move dirt, manure, compost, big round bales, logs, snow, plow, chop, cultivate, elevate, pull, push, lift, drag, you name it! This 674 is a very capable all-around machine. I looked high and low and far and wide, and waited patiently for the right tractor to come along.

It was a little low in fuel, so Curt suggested I drive it down to his place and fill it up. It took almost 20 minutes to get near to his house. Before I got there, he came by in his truck, and said he had to leave to go look at some posts (some for our fence-to-be), so I turned around and headed back home.

I was tooling back home with a happy grin on my face. It sure felt good to be atop a tractor again. I loved this tractor. Yay.

Alla sudden, I noticed the oil pressure gauge dropping fast. What the…?? I looked below and behind the tractor for a trail of oil, nothing looked abnormal at all. Just as I was starting to wonder if the gauges weren’t working right (a common thing with older tractors), a terrible screeching noise and a puff of smoke came out of the front end! NO! I jerked the wheel to the right, and cut the engine as fast as I could.

I couldn’t call Curt, cuz he was on his way half way to Appleton. But another neighbor, Ron, came out and he got on his Farmall and pulled me home. Thanks, Ron.

I checked the oil level, and it was not only full, it was way over full. No leaks or anything.

I waited until the tractor cooled down, and we had a little talk. I patted her, and spoke encouragingly to her while I went about her with a rag, cleaning up various grease smudges. I won’t say exactly what was said, because that is a religious protection. However, I believe she liked what I told her. I will admit I made some promises.

I crossed my fingers, and tried to turn the engine over again. And she started right up, and purred like a kitten. No bad noises, no bad smells, all belts and hoses working just fine, and I had oil pressure….

Fast forward to today, and I have talked to all kinds of guys about this. I have gone from my stomach being in knots over this, thinking I need a new engine, to maybe I only need a new oil pump, to thinking maybe I don’t need anything except to change the oil and I dodged a bullet. Please, please, please.

I keep trying to think on the bright side. Like, it’s not 20 below zero, and the driveway isn’t filled with three feet of snow. I don’t have a crop of hay cut and needing baling now. But it’s hard, having a big new baby in the yard, and only being able to approach her with fret and concern. Sometimes I am filled with cautious optimism, sometimes with an unreal sinking feeling.

Curt is going to talk to the Olson boys tomorrow, after they finish milking. They run Internationals and they like to work on them as well. I will wait to hear what they think.

Now grit your teeth and clench your fists with me, and repeat, “Please, please, please”