Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Most of our vegetables grow in neat rows inside the garden fence. 

But not everything grows neatly. Spinach, lettuces, Swiss chard, beets, radishes and carrots stay where they are planted and are harvested while under 2 feet tall. 

But then there are are the sunflowers, the squash and the pumpkins. Sunflowers can grow to 15 feet tall, and we love the massive flowers that top them, and so we grow them every year. 

Pumpkins can spread the same amount across the ground, creating an impenetrable blanket that has an impressive run. 

We have learned to plant both of these outside of the usual vegetable bed areas. This year they have their own wide and long run, where the height and breadth will not shadow out others. 

On these days of long sunlight the growth is impressive, inches each day. A week from now this area will look entirely different!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

string em up

This week, some of the CSA shares included a couple of green beans. The seeds went in just around the frost free date (mid-May) and more a few weeks after that, and will produce for weeks to come. 

Beans climb like crazy. Some days it feels like 2-3 feet have been covered by each plant. 

There is a system of plastic covering the ground (to block weeds) and wires running with jute strings running zig zag all over. The strings run about 7 feet up, and the beans will cover every inch of that string. 

With the areas between the plants covered with plastic, we will be able to get in there and pick easily. The strings allow us to pick from either side. 

If you are looking for us in the evenings, we will be out back picking beans. The best thing to do for a bean plant is to pull every one while they are thin and tender, the plant will then produce more. 

At the end of the season we will take down the strings, by then covered with dead vines, and burn them. Next year we will grow beans in a different spot, in an effort to confuse the bean beetle. And feed the soil. 

The plastic will be used for years to come. We are careful not to tear it so it stays intact. If it gets torn it no longer has value as weed block. 

And the butterflies are visiting. Right now it's all about swallowtails. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

where the cattle are and are not

It's pretty easy to tell where the cattle are. The grass is trimmed lower and just a few tall spots are around. Last week Homer discovered why one clump of grass had been left untouched when he mowed it and uncovered a nest of bald faced hornets, suspended between the high growing clumps. Cattle=smarter than we thought. 

The herd is looking fat and happy. There are plenty of good eats to select from out there. 

And where things are growing high a different sort of animal life is supported. 

The swallowtails love it. As do the turkeys, who eat a plant like this down to the ground. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

off with you redo

It's a do over. 

When is Tuesday not Tuesday? When it is really Monday. 

Last week these 2 had an appointment with the butcher. Tuesday, we were certain. Carried a basket with eggs into the livestock trailer and both pigs jumped right in. 

Phone call to confirm delivery time and that there are 2 on the way. "done with pigs for this week this morning" we are told. Out the pigs go. Back onto the field. 

Delivery Monday. Butcher Tuesday. This week. Not last. We got this. 

Family visited this weekend. First pigs: 3 little ones in the mobile pen. Next pigs: 4 medium sized ones in a larger, fenced off area. Last pigs: these 2, called from the trailer where they were hanging, caused our guests to all take a couple steps back and say whoa! Monster pigs!

A lovely visit. Guitar playing, egg collection, stick throwing for the big dog, grilled food, use of the swings and such. Not too hot, a beautiful time. Life is good. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

sometimes you have to kill it

There has been a stand of trees: the type of tree I used to call a sewer tree. It can grow anywhere and reproduces rapidly. And is not native. And it stinks, and stops anything else from growing around it. 

We set the cattle on it, but they don't really want to eat it. We pull shoots up in the garden more that we want to. 

So when our neighbor let us borrow their tractor it was time. Time dog them up and let them dry in the sun. And then we will burn them. 

More will appear. Not every root is gone. But each year we have reduced the numbers. In a couple years, some hickory or hazelnut should go in there. Something native, that grows a bug that helps songbirds feed their babies. Because the birds are awesome and need babies. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

corny hope

We have planted shoepeg corn this year. With a tighter twist at the top of the tassel, it is harder for the dreaded corn ear worm to get in there. Since we use no chemicals it is a true battle on sweet corn to actually produce something edible. Has not happened yet, and we grow every year. 

There has been more than one planting. A grower from Detroit visited, and planted these that are now waist high. 

Earlier, we had planted, and that corn is already overhead. 

And interspersed with sunflowers too. 

Today we noticed tassels. After tassels arrive ears of corn. If the wind is right and cross pollination occurs. No pollinators are needed with corn, the pollen just blows around. We can go out and hand pollinate when more tassels appear: that used to be a thing people did before GMO corn came into being. 

Homer is close to 6' tall, and had to look up to take this. Seven feet tall? 

Now we have to be careful and keep the cattle away from this part of the farm. They are corn lovers too, and will break down electric fence to get to it. Best if they don't get too close, and if multiple strands of wire are electrified between them and this crop!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

half a hornets nest

What's worse than a hornets nest? Half, when you are the cause. 

Yesterday we borrowed our neighbors tractor with the mowing deck attached. Our herd of cattle has been steady eating the grass along the fence line, but not close enough that we could locate the holes. Time for mowing and seeing what the marauders are up to. Since it is easier to hide in high grass it was time to tighten up. 

We knew of several holes, but the mowing revealed a total of 5 holes on the left hand side of our property. Patches were installed at each hole. 

While rolling along, Homer unknowingly split a hornets nest in half. These are the bald face hornets: solid black with white faces, fly catching and killing machines. Last year we found one nest, near the edge of the trees. This year, two nests, one discovered when split in half by the mowing deck. 

Not much that Homer hates more than stinging creatures. When he was a little boy, visiting his Aunt Gladys, he played with a pincher arm (pull the trigger and it snaps at the other end) and a wasps nest and things turned out badly. He has hated stinging creatures since. It is an uneasy truce with having this active fly catchers on the farm: because we have livestock they get to stay. But Homer would much prefer the native birds that have fly catcher as their name. Many varieties, all do one thing: catch flies while being gentle, stingless creatures.  A much more desirable solution to fly issues. 

When he turned the tractor around to widen the area he had mowed he saw something odd: white, agitated movements and quickly realized what had happened. And made a quick turn away, shut down the mower portion and got away from there as fast as possible. 

It was time for a break, and to be inside the house until the nest and inhabitants settled down. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


We have been receiving messages via every means that is available today: snail mail, phone, text, Facebook instant messaging and news feed that has just been startling. 

Two family members, one on my side and one on Homer's side, have ended up with medical diagnosis that are just plain awful. Both are living and loving life, in their late 20's to mid 30's and now lives are dramatically different. 

Inoperable brain tumor. C5 injury that, in most cases results in little use of anything below the neck. 

It feels like both happened in a blink of an eye. Life is rolling along, going pretty darn well and than massive and seemingly irreversible changes. 

To have our entire families, shaken to the core, is difficult. There are moments when the questioning and not understanding feels overwhelming. 

Yesterday was a beautiful, low humidity in July kind of day. Today promises to be the same. As we do our work here on the farm, as we get our feet back under us having heard such news, we are grateful for that. We are holding and hoping our loved ones in our hearts and looking for the best outcome for all. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

the battle continues

At this point we figure out farm, and the tasty, tender varieties of poultry available here, have made their way on the list of every meat loving, blood sucking and poop eating creature within miles. 

We locate or identify one thing and another, with a different killing method appears. 

Our attempt at adding goslings and ducklings again this year? One duckling was swallowed by a snake while in the brooder with all the other week old water lovers. And when the 11 remaining cuties went into the small pond, surrounded by electric netting, every single one disappeared by the next morning. Vanished. 

The brooders were long ago rebuilt with a much stronger and smaller mesh than the first go round. Pens have been redesigned and rebuilt for years to provide better protection. 

And still we have losses. The geese were huge protection: mean, big, loud and alert, with the poultry but loose 24/7, they chased things and made lots of noise to alert us too. After a regular visitor tamed them last year they became useless, spending their nights on the back porch looking for food handouts, leaving the porch littered in what geese produce. 

Now we have a good size dog with an impressive bark and growl. But he is a bit fearful of nighttime here. The little dog refuses to go out at night, and will bite if we try to make her. At least the big one can be put on a leash and brought along for company in the truck. 

And still we find dead birds. Even with shifts of the two of us, sleeping part of each night, relieving each other when one is exhausted. On alert. Big dog growls. Shotguns. Traps of all sorts. 

So. When offered a camera that is tripped by movement and has a built in flash to light up nighttime visitors? Yes Please!!

So far nothing shows up. We can see and smell skunks. The fence is pretty secure, with holes patched on a regular basis. Never have seen a raccoon. Have seen a fox and a coyote/wolf looking thing, but not lately. 

Weasel is our next suspect. Small but powerful killer. Likes to drink blood, and has been known to kill just for that. 

And they are small, which explains why we keep not seeing anything. Cue the video, and see if it catches them moving in the night. 

New trap building going on. Wooden boxes with some turns. Because we want the poultry here until we decide differently, not some creature we didn't ask. Smile for the camera. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

vine ripened

The first full tomatoes of the season feel like they take forever! It is nonstop checking and rechecking for the farmer, as we are certain today is the day that green will convert to ripe. 

In some cases, ripe is orange or yellow. Or a shade of green that converts a bit. 

Or giant ones slowly, slowly turning to red. 

Or the very first of the paste tomatoes, only one ripe one so far. 

Next week, we are certain more will be ripe. Or not. Fickle things. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

on notice

This morning, reminders popped up on the screen. 

We grow pigs, and when it is time for butchering, scheduling, usually months in advance, occurs. 

On Tuesday our 2 big, big pigs go to the butcher. We will have the butcher make 3 delicious things from these 2: bacon, sausage and Canadian bacon. Can't wait. 

We have been without pork products for months now. Paleo diet? Vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat? Bring it. We are preparing for it now!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Today I am in DC, on Capital Hill. Last night I had dinner with conservation minded farmers and ranchers from across the country, as well as folks from a variety of conservation groups.

All done in an effort to understand how the Farm Bill, farm practices, water issues, endangered species, the NRCS can work towards a common goal, a goal of keeping water, air and soil clean.

Simple things like preventing erosion can make a huge difference. Allowing buffer zones between farms and streams, adding areas of grass can absorb the chemicals used in crop production, and keeping land in native grasses can allow for cattle production along side retaining spots where native wildlife can live.

Last year, in western states, thousands of acres of native grasslands were destroyed. To plant the crops that are subsidized by Farm Bill dollars. There are those who have figured out how to work the system, and make millions of dollars in government subsidies for planting commodity row crops: corn, soy, wheat. 

Wonderful, and amazing to be in a room with other growers who are like minded: working with legislators to encourage changes to the laws that will benefit all of us, long term.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

weeds, egads

Weeds. Hate. Prolific. 

How can you tell a weed? It is whatever overshadows what you really want to grow. It is also usually not attractive to bugs, because what you planted and nurtured and babied and have high hopes of harvesting is what the bugs settle in on. 

Not the weeds. They grow at a furious, ridiculous pace. Enough so that it has come to this: using all kinds of materials to stop them from happening. We have half a acre for vegetables. And we have purchased enough plastic to cover most of it, as we work to cultivate just the things we want growing, and not spend tons of time weeding. At this point plastic and paper are intersecting to keep water directly on our vegetable plants and nothing else. 

It has worked so far. We will roll it up and keep it to reuse. It had to be done to sort the wanted from the unwanted. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

another favorite carnivore

We thought it would be easy to identify this dragonfly. Such a clear, crisp photo, taken at close range, using the zoom feature on the phone. 

Instead we discover that there are thousands of varieties of dragonflies. Thousands?! Who knew?

And the males and females can be slightly different. And the young can differ slightly from the old. Had to give up, as there is work to do. 

Knowledge that while the work of farming is being done, there is still work of reduction of mosquitoes, gnats, flies and just about anything else that takes to wing being conducted by the dragonflies that are all over the farm right now. Dragonflies need water to be born, and different varieties hatch out in different water conditions: standing, slow moving, fast currents, and even spots that fill in after a heavy rain and disappear in a short while. 

This one posed nicely for a picture while it was at rest. By all accounts the dragonfly usually is eating: it can consume its own weight in mosquitoes. That kind of action makes them very welcome here. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

no robo bees here

There is talk and writings about development of tiny drones that will be programmed to do the jobs of bees. 

There appears to be a link between the insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and more that are designed to match the genetically modified commodity crops and the death of bees. And Monarch butterflies, bats, fireflies, frogs and other lovely things that used to populate farms. 

Many growers are noticing a lack of these beauties. Silent Spring, predicted long ago by Rachel Carson, is happening in gardens all over this country. 

The drones in development might not be programmed to hit my garden. More important things, like the almond crop, are likely to get the drones after fees are paid. 

This morning we have bees in the squash. We still have honey bees, as well as bumble, squash, carpenter, swear and others I can't identify. On this hot and dry day they will all be out working, helping to make certain we have food on the farm. 

We will keep growing in our messy way. And planting native. Nonhybrid seeds so the bees have work to do, pollen to gather that supports them and us nutritionally, that produces honey that can keep them alive all winter. 

They are all over the tomatoes too. And the beans. And the clover, aster, goldenrod and more. Be careful where you step because the bees are truly everywhere on this farm. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

beans climbing

That's Sandi, our long legged Jack in the picture. She is there to provide perspective on the bean plants, growing up the fence, and provided more to climb up yesterday. 

As the forecast is for sunny and warm weather, by next week we expect the beans to cover all the twine just installed. This is the best bean growing weather! Happy plants mean beans for all in a few more weeks. Yum. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

just a few inches

A few years ago we cooked up our own pig on the big grill. The grill is home made, from parts found on the farm. It was placed inside the fence around the garden, and then the cement table was cast in place. Claire told Homer she wanted to work with cement, and this table, large enough to hold the big cuts of pork coming off the grill, was the result.

When it came time to move pens through there, the grill was just a bit too close to the fence. The pens could get to a certain point but then would be stuck, and stuff grew too high. 

And after a few years of use we discovered that the distance between the table and the grill was a little too far, that the many steps needed were more than made sense. 

Relocated the other day the closing of the gap now allows for easier handling of hot, heavy and slippery chunks of meat. And the pens can now make a complete, full pass in the area, allowing for easy maintenance. A few inches makes all the difference!

Friday, July 12, 2013

the heifer and the rest

One in this herd is our heifer: a young female cow who has not yet had a calf. For long term health and fertility it is recommended that we wait until she is closer to 2 years old before breeding her. An online search of reasons to wait for breeding her reveals many horrors of early pregnancy and we would love to have her for a long time. No bulls will be visiting as she will only be a year in August. No IVF either!

In this paddock the grass was a bit much. We have had the herd all over the farm once this year, but this was not visited since May and that grass was high! 

When the count was made yesterday there was one missing. A search ensued, a bit of head scratching and self doubt: just how many do we own again? And then, there it was, our complete herd all present and accounted for. 

Usually July brings unrelenting heat and little to no rain. Since it has rained some amount almost every day and still been sunny, the grass and everything else has grown like crazy. Water and sun in a steady mix makes for fat and happy cattle herds with much to choose from. They actually prefer the growth shorter, soon enough they will catch up with it and level it out. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

almost BLT time

We don't bake our own bread. It's too hot and there are many sources of excellent bread. 

Tomatoes, we grow. Lettuce, we grow. Bacon we grow and will have by the end of the month. Mayonnaise we can make with our eggs and a bit of olive oil. 

All in all, that makes for the best meals of the year. 

But waiting for the first tomatoes to ripen can feel like an eternity. The plants are full of green ones, and we are watching and waiting every day for ripe ones. Soon we will be overrun with them. But not yet. Maybe they are waiting for the bacon. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

shade makes a huge difference

These pigs have a date with the butcher in just two weeks. And they outgrew the shade from pallets: too long to fit under one, so big they break up multiple pallets strung together. 

Direct sun is tough on anyone. It wears a body out faster, makes one lose appetite and dramatically increases efforts at keeping cool. 

We want efforts to be directed towards adding weight, not struggling to keep cool. In years past we have been out on boats in brutal sun, and constructed makeshift shade. The pigs got a little homemade shade so that they can just relax in the heat of the day. A tarp and few bungees, a tee post or two. All the difference. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

peas are done

We plant peas very early in the spring, just as the truly cold weather ends. First we eat pea shoots: the tops of the greens that taste like peas but are not yet the pods. 

Then we are pea pickers for weeks: locating the tender pea pods amongst the exact same color plants. Easy to miss peas, we work to strip every single pea pod each time we pick so the plant produces more. 

As the days get hotter the plants begin to yellow and the peas are not as tender, the last of the peas are best cooked old school: cream and butter, mashed together is a lovely way to end the pea season. 

This week the majority of the pea plants were pulled. Then fed in entirety to the biggest pigs we have here: they don't mind one bit that parts are a little dry, they eat every bit. Wheelbarrow fills go in their pen, as the pea plants have grown almost to the ceiling of the hoop house. 

Look closely. The pig is in there. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

garlic pulling

Garlic gets planted in the fall, October or so. One clove goes in and then a head comes out later. 

We have given out fresh garlic in the vegetable CSA each week this year. Now it will dry on a airy spot and our CSA shares will include a more traditional form of garlic. 

Our goal was to have enough that each share gets a head each week, and that there is enough to plant for next year too. We might have made that!

Our friend Jerry visited to help out with the pulling. There were several beds that were emptied, and the greens were trimmed, then the platforms assembled: plenty of work. Jerry's contribution made all this possible. A long season of garlic!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

our favorite carnivore

At this time of year there are bugs of all kinds, everywhere. The one we dread most are the ones that eat a plant down to nothing. We see some that eat the leaves on plants and others that eat the stems. 

Either way it makes it difficult for the plant to bear fruit. If the leaves are filled with holes it makes it difficult for photosynthesis to occur. If the stem is chewed out it makes it difficult for the flow of water and nutrients to happen. 

Enter the praying mantis. One of these eats a ridiculous number of smaller insects, and it does so both day and night. They will select a spot and sit still in it, waiting for a bug to pass by. They grab it with their front arms that are covered with barbs (makes it tough to get away) and then eats the bug. A voracious eater, it will eat all night and during the day too. 

Loved by us. And a big reason why we don't use insecticide, either synthetic or organic. Because it kills the good bugs too, washes away or evaporates, and then the bad bug make many, and the praying mantis life cycle does not catch up. 

Of course, we hand pick bugs too. Everybody works on the farm. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sandi proves who is boss

With the addition of another dog, Sandi is a tad miffed. 

She has been THE dog here, and The arrival of Chaz seems like it inspired her to step up her game. 

We were working yesterday and she starting barking the bark that means "I found something" so we set off to find her. 

Homer located her in the high grass. He had the scythe with him, and used it to clear around her. She was working at something in a hole, and Homer wanted to see exactly what it was. 

It turned out to be a groundhog. This photo distorts the sizes a bit: the thing was about the same size as she is. She went down the hole, pulled it out, and dispatched it. All by herself, no help from anyone. 

Chaz went to the back porch of the house until all the ruckus was over. She was yipping and barking and we were both calling to each other "where is she" and "what is it" and then expressing much surprise at what she did. 

Chaz remained on the porch until it became quiet again. He seemed a tad confused by the events. 

And Sandi, after drinking a bucket of water and a well deserved rest in the shade, walked the farm with her tail up, head high, truly a bad girl. She needs a tattoo, except she would bite anyone that tried to hold her. Top dog again. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

we are going to need a bigger basket

When we adopted Sandi, our now 11 year old Jack Russell, she came with many things: beds, basket, toys, food, blankets, towels, shampoo, collars, harness, leashes, flea meds. 

She has slept in her basket in our room every night since. It was probably a laundry basket originally. 

The foster dog we got the other day, who we are going to keep, fills the front of my Toyota pickup. He came with a collar and a leash and nothing else. 

A dog bed for him looks like it would need to be a twin size mattress. Lucky for us he is ok sleeping on the floor. If he wanted to get in our bed one of us could not fit as he truly takes the space of a human! 

2nd night here. No losses. No disturbances in the flocks. First night here he exited the truck and just growled: he did not chase anything, but when we heard noises he woke right up and let them know he was there. Last night Homer's night in the truck, none of us heard a noise. Tonight is my turn with Chaz outside again. We are debating a dog door so both dogs can come and go. 

Because Homer and I both prefer to sleep in our own bed every night. With dogs next to it not in it. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

what we asked for

We started asking for a big dog a while ago. Our Jack Russell has been a great addition to our farm, and she does a great job here.

But the nighttime predators continue to deplete our flocks, and the past few days have been particularly awful: 12 chickens one night, a couple of laying hens, then 12 chickens again on Monday night. 

What is most frustrating: whatever is doing this is just killing them and leaving them. 

This week there are just enough birds to fulfill our CSA shares. The other 24 are birds we would sell. They were full size, which means we paid for the birds and the feed to get them there. 

We have seen dogs develop their true instinct to protect their flock if they have shepherd in them. 

Enter Chaz. 

He is large enough to set off the seat belt alarm in the truck. He spent the night outside (with me) on alert most of the night. No birds were attacked, he got out of the truck several times, growling and slowly heading after things that went bump in the night. 

He was certainly a family pet before. Like our Jack, he will take little time out here to develop what his breeding probably is: a protector. 

Although if you pulled in our parking lot last night he was right at the gate, barking. And if you happened to be a neighbor dropping stuff off and usually open the gate and walk right in: sorry. He was not meant to keep you out, he's supposed to keep the fox and all the other nighttime chicken killers out. Oops!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

rain barrels not all hooked up

While most of the 80 rain barrels we have on the sides of the hoop house are linked up to be able to feed to drip tape on the growing beds, not everyone is.

And in these days of heavy almost daily rains, those barrels are filling up fast!

Last year in early July it was hot and sunny every day. This year it is overcast and rainy with regular thunderstorms. And only occasional sun. Plants we have never seen before are making appearances, and even in July we have mushrooms spread all over the farm. Mushrooms are usually done in May on the farm, as it is usually pretty dry here by this time of year.

The vegetables don't seem to mind.

Monday, July 1, 2013

getting bigger

These are the yellow pear tomatoes. Forming on the vine, getting ready to ripen. We hope they do it quick, but it seems the first ones always take forever! 

So ready for fresh tomatoes. Bring. It. On. 


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