Monday, October 29, 2012


We are having a full moon.  I love the full moon.  I sleep harder, sounder.  I think I am calmer.  This morning I watched the full moon slip away and the sun show itself in shades of pink and violet.  So now, I sit here and try to decide what today will be good for.  What can I accomplish?  I had heard it was suppose to be a sunny 65 degrees out today, but I think I have been lied to.  I am trying to gain the courage to tackle the chill in the air.  I have a load of clothes washed and ready to go out onto the line.  Chores need to be done.

I think that ripeness of the full moon has made me feel decadent and lazy.  I can't seem to get myself going.  In my head I'm busy, like always.  Ideas are perking away, but my body continues to say "No.... no, thank you anyway.  Not today."  I almost feel like it would be a good decision to go back to bed and then start over again.  Maybe I would get a better start.  Maybe then I would get something done.

We'll see if that works.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

There will be SYRUP!

As usual, it takes very little to make me jazzed.  I finally made it out to grade some of my black walnut trees.  I have chosen ten to start with.  They are on the fringe of the woods, so they will get good sun exposure and they are at least ten inches in diameter.  Each of these trees has had an orange length of baling twine tied around their trunks so I will be able to find them next spring.  This is step one for making black walnut syrup next spring.

Step two was ordering a book from the library via the interlibrary exchange.  The book is called "Backyard Sugarin" by Rink Mann.  A slender volume that touts it can teach me everything I need to know to collect sap, build an evaporator, both temporary and permanent, then boil down to a first class syrup.  I hope Mr Mann truly does have the power to convert me into a syrup mavin.

I have found an internet source for tree taps and other sugaring supplies.  As soon as I get some allowance I will be putting in an order to Ok Hardware in Wisconsin.  I've also found several sources for  steam table pans that will be my first evaporator pans.  Might move on to something else later, but if Mr. Mann doesn't have any objections then I will start with those.

I have not built a sugaring shack.  I will just have to figure out some sort of temporary shelter to start with.  In the meantime, I need to start getting firewood cut and stacked.  I look forward to this chore.  Being out in the woods is restorative, like when I spend time with the horses.  My spirit could use more time in the woods.

When next spring rolls around, my little farm will officially have two crops..... hay and black walnut syrup.  Granted they are teeny, tiny crops, but it is a start and I feel like I am finally on my way.  My goal has been for a very long time now to have at least five products from the farm and each should net around four thousand dollars.  That would be the minimum that I need to support myself.  It's a goal and it seems like it takes me forever to reach my goals, but I feel so good!  I feel like I can honestly say that there is going to be SYRUP!!!!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Looking Back

Sometimes I like to take some time and look back.  I never realize how much I do accomplish until I take the time to look back.   We are getting there.  Slowly and surely.  I have been trying to weigh my success and failures.  Last year I tried perpetuating my tomatoes through cuttings.  It seemed like it was going so well!  The cuttings set roots very well.  I think I had less then five cuttings that failed at this step.  I had experimented with putting washed egg shell in the jars to help the rooting.  I didn't take notes.  I should have taken notes, but my feeble memory tells me that the jars with egg shell set root faster.  Overall, the cuttings with no egg shell eventually did catch up.  The cuttings did so well they set leaves and some even blossomed.  Where I ran into trouble was when I bought the potting soil.  After the very well rooted cuttings went into the soil they died as if hit by a plague.

I have read a few articles, nothing with data or any of those pesky facts, but articles that said the government allows a certain amount of industrial waste to be discarded through products like potting soil.  They say it acts as a fertilizer.  I will no longer buy potting soil.  Any seed I plant in the stuff will no longer do well.  Most won't germinate.  Those that do die in pretty short order.  I talked to a lady that used to run a green house business and she said she would not use american potting soil.  All of hers came from Canada. So, I have been debating whether or not the tomato cutting experiment was a success or not.  I "think" if I had put my cuttings into good garden soil and wintered them over in the green house with some heat that they would have done very well.  As it is, I can't really say that.  After the green house is finished and I am properly set up, then I will try again.  The project was definitely worth the effort.

Another of my experiments was "winter sowing".  The premise was that you always have dropped fruit or veg that leaves a seed and it comes up the next spring as a "volunteer".  So go ahead and get seeds out, let them experience the winter and they will come up when the time is right all on their own and without all of the coddling, mess and the general havoc that comes with seed starting kits.  Again this was kind of a success/failure venture.  I had plants come up.  Not all of them.  I think I probably made some mistakes.  I couldn't keep the tops on my containers.  The tops were suppose to offer some protection like a cloche would.  My friend, Suz, who used milk jugs, had germinated seeds in each container. I didn't.  What I did get started was the best crop of kale I have ever had.  Granted kale is a cold loving plant but still, I will take it.  This is one I will try again.  I am thinking I will go ahead and buy seed now and set it back.  I always get the cold crops in too late, so this might be a good alternative to waiting for greenhouses to open.  Broccoli, cauliflower, beets, brussel sprouts, so I think these are the ones that will go into the winter sowing experiment again.... oh yes and kale!

The garden was better this year.  But we had the drought.  We had wicked high temperatures.  We had an invasion of munching bugs.  I didn't get enough put up.  I have some bread and butter pickles.  I have some frozen tomatoes for soups.  No where near what I had hoped for.  So I am trying to come up with strategies to overcome these problems.  For the drought, I am looking at some other methods of watering.  Mr. Hillel of Israel won the World Food Prize this year for a method of irrigating that uses far less water.... wick irrigation.  I will look into it.  To battle the high temperatures I will also be looking at buying some shade cloth.  I will try to protect my plants from sun burn from about 1:00 -4:00 in the afternoon.  I'll try... it will be another experiment and I will have to have enough money to buy supplies.  As far as the bugs go, well I will be spacing out my plants .... A LOT!  Then I want to put in bird houses in fairly low locations.  Put bird baths on the ground.  Anything to get those natural predators in low where I need them.

I tend to beat myself up with things that I perceive as failures.  Actually, they aren't failures, I just couldn't get to them.  There was either no time, or no money or the heat was so extreme that it would have been dangerous to be outside for very long.  The project isn't a failure, perhaps I am, but not the project.  I still have a great deal of winter prep to accomplish.  I have to review my farm plan, and try to knock down into steps, the things I want to accomplish next year.  The next time that I look back, I want to see so much more.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Weather Wise

Yesterday started with so many good intentions.  The chores were done.  Bits of trash picked up.  Pots were stashed and I was starting to burn off the garden.  It didn't really want to burn, but we were making headway regardless.  Then the skies opened.  It didn't take long to get soaked and a bit chilled.  So, once in the house, I wrapped up and as I became warm, I feel asleep.  The day was lost.

I should pay closer attention to the weather.  But it has become more difficult to tell when it is serious or just teasing me.  Last night on the news a stock analyst was second guessing oil futures.  Wall Street thinks it will be a mild winter.  This might help people like me who are walking into winter with no hay.  I will keep working on getting pasture fenced and accessible and rotate the horses onto new ground.  I wonder if Wall Street has their own weather men.....

I'm watching the clouds this morning.  The sun is not fully up yet.  There is an almost solid cover of clouds.  This morning they look like inverted rolling hills.  Nothing jagged or menacing, no gashes of bright colors.  I have no idea if this is good news or not.  Like always, we shall start and see where we end up when the day is over.

The next three days I will be attending a horse clinic.  It will be featuring the Parelli instructor, Dave Ellis.  I should be excited, but I am getting bogged down with how to manage my chores and Mac.  While other people at the clinic will be hanging out, having a bonfire, listening to guitar playing, I shall be driving over an hour to get back home and make sure everyone has eaten. Making sure that meds are taken and in general be distracted by everything at home.  It is better then nothing and I will take it.  I know that once there, I will feel better.  I will feel hopeful.  I will have a better idea of what I want to do.  I will feel better because I will get to talk to people and not spend all of my time with in my own head.  I think my brains are getting a bit of cabin fever and getting out will be a good thing.

As I have been writing, the sun has gone.  The clouds have flattened out and the world looks gray.  I hope it doesn't stop me from getting things done, but I know it will make everything take longer and feel heavier.  I guess that means I had better get to it.  Chores do not do themselves.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Something Done

We are having an indian summer.  The temperatures are holding.  As long as I have the weather, I will try to press on with getting all of the outdoors ready.  Yesterday was a big day.  I got a huge task accomplished.  I moved my extremely heavy greenhouse frame.  They look so light in catalogs.   Then you go and build a makeshift one for yourself, and the thing weighs a ton!  I had a scrap of 2x4 and I just kept levering it.  Cussing.  Walking away.  Coming back.  Then, levering it some more.  It was a job so big that I had managed to put it off until it could be put off no longer.  The weather man said today it was going to rain and I knew once that frame was wet, I would have no hope of sliding it.

As I worked on the project, I was telling myself that this was a Herculean task.  My mind kept returning to Hercules rerouting a river to wash out a stable.  Apparently an effort to keep from handling horse shit.  Oh well, to each his own.  Well, if this god/man could change the course of a river then I could get a greenhouse moved onto a makeshift foundation.

It is done.... whew!

Today will be light tasks.  My reward for being such a hard worker yesterday.  I want to burn off the garden.  Haul some water to the horses.  I want to tie some baling twine to some black walnut trees.  This will be to mark them so I know which trees to tap next spring.  Some trash has blown into the garden and there is a great deal of general housekeeping that needs to be done there.  Pots need to go into the greenhouse.  Old compost heaps need broken up and the compost spread over the garden.  Anything that doesn't burn needs to go to the new compost heap.  A couple of watermelons that didn't have time to ripen need to be given to the chickens. Pallets to stack.   Who knows, I might even get that makeshift chicken yard started.

It all looks easy today.  Everything looks easy compared to yesterday.  It has also caused me to reassess my difficult tasks.  Mainly getting my post holes and footing holes dug.  There are just too many to get done before winter.   My good neighbor could do a few but his back does not do well sitting twisted in the tractor cab, looking backwards to run the digging auger.  I need to make progress, which means that maybe it is time to check into hiring someone to come over and dig holes.  I will have to borrow the money to pay them, but it will be done!  Something done is a very big deal here.  I have to wonder how much faster can I go if I get this other Herculean task done?

There could be MIRACLES!!!!!  You just never know.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I think my mind might work a little differently.  I'm not sure, but it seems that way.  Perhaps it is a bit obsessive.  Not compulsive.  If I were both obsessive and compulsive then my house would be cleaner and I would get more stuff done.  But I am fighting with ideas for the farm.  Either I can't let go of them or they can't let go of me.  Coming back to them, over and over.  Turning thoughts over.  Examining.  Questioning.  I think... maybe.... possibly I have found the direction I want to go.

After doing a bit of research, not a great deal but I have the concept down, on forest gardening, I believe I can make it work well for the little farm.  It falls in with my need to work with no big equipment.  It isn't labor intensive.  It can be diversified.  It can work with my ideas for enriching the soil and carbon sequestering.  After a great deal of walking around and staring at the ground, and thinking , and thinking, and a little more thinking..... I think it can work.

I need to start with the big trees.  They will form the backbone of the garden.  On the southern slope of the big hill I will start with  the tender trees. Nectarines and peaches.  They will be in an area where they will get more sun and less wind.  Above those but still forming the spine, will be the cherries.  Above the cherries and at the top of the hill where it is exposed will be the tough trees, the nuts.  As I go on over the hill onto the north side, again less wind, but the cold side of the hill, will be the apples.  Outside of the tree backbone, will be the shrubs or lower story trees.  I am leaning towards blueberries and currants.  Outside of those, possibly raspberries.  Maybe some gooseberries.  Outside of that, you go even lower, but I haven't made up my mind about all of the plants.  I will spend the winter studying the seed catalogs.  It is stressed that somewhere in all of those layers, you have to plant some nitrogen fixing plants.  It doesn't matter if everything is food producing.  Some plants will be there just to be good companion plants.  They will help the food producers do a better job.

I still want my wine vineyard.  I still want my black walnut syrup.  I still want my bees.  I still want the hazelnuts.  I even still want a few sheep.  But I think that all of these things tie in better now.  I see it all as becoming this lovely, gentle way of farming.  It all just flows together.

I have been gathering seeds.  I got a bag of seeds off of a couple of trees that are growing behind the bank parking lot.  I will be starting those in the greenhouse soon.  I found a really good oak that I like.  I want to stop by there and pick up acorns.  These will get divided into two groups.  I will start some in the greenhouse and some out in a swale that I fear might start wanting to erode.  I have some apple seeds to start.  I know they will not breed true, but I have been wanting to toy with starting them for  a graft.  They will make a good rootstock and when I come upon some apples that I like, I can get some scion cuttings.  I have been saving a wild grape vine.  I want to get it well rooted and graft good wine producing slips onto the hardier wild grape root.  I can't afford the vineyard any other way, so it is important that we begin soon.

I did get some bluegrass seed.  It was only a three pound bag.  It was all I could afford.  But it is a start and I shall be glad for that.  It was scattered in three different horse areas.  I fear that in the front horse lots, all I did was feed the birds.  Hopefully some will take root and begin the process.  I want to buy more bluegrass seed and start it in flats.  Then next spring, I will be tucking plugs  in to all of the pasture.  I would like to do the same for the buffalo grass.  I might even keep a section of buffalo grass so I can harvest my own seed off of it.  It is expensive.  I found some but it was eighteen dollars for a quarter of a pound.  Too precious to go anywhere other then a flat.

I have to start all of this soon because the thinking is beginning to hurt.  And I really can't stop thinking.  I've tried.  I must be meant to do this.


Friday, October 12, 2012

The New To-Do

Sometimes a person's mind just becomes a jumble of activity.  That seems to be me these days.  I try to find some clarity here and there, but it isn't very long lasting.  I got a task done yesterday. (Hooray for me!)  It wasn't on the list, but it needed to be seen to and I was in the mood.  So I got out the zero turn lawn mower, as I do not have any other "farm equipment", stacked my two bags of dolomitic lime onto the deck of the mower, found a small plastic flower pot and took off across the hay field to spread lime. I had been hoping to find a small walk behind spreader but even the cheapest one was beyond my budget.  My thought for the day became, "not quite right is still better then not at all".  I rode over the hills, well, more accurately I bounced over the hills, inspecting the ground.  Noting grass types, thickness, weed population, thatch and in what places do I have any bare ground.  The healthier areas, where the grass is fairly thick and seems to be coming along, I left alone for now.  It will get manure tea soon and that should be a help to it.  The lime went where the grass was thin or the weeds were overpopulating.  That soil needs all of the help I can give to it so the grass starts to crowd out the weeds.  I made a mental note of exactly which patches are the worse, then I decided that I shouldn't trust my mind.  Things change.  Appearances will alter.  So the areas that needed the most attention I simply mowed.

This will be my little secret as Mac does not want the mower used out in the rough.  The grass and weeds are really dry.  Everything mowed easily and I think I will get away with my misdemeanor.

I felt so good about my accomplishment that I had to do the inevitable.... I made a list.  It is titled "What I Must Get Done Before Winter".  It was suppose to be concise and give me the focus I needed to soldier through.  Soon there was a subsection called, "What I would Like To Get Done Before Winter".  Followed by a subsection called, "And Don't Forget".  Then there were some hurried scrawling in the margins that just kind of depressed me.  Now my winter list vaguely resembles my overall to-do list to complete the farm.

But yesterday felt so good!  It felt good to be out and touching my ground.  The smells were dry and intense.  Most of the fall color is gone and we are down to shades of tan and brown with a few stubborn burgundies hanging on.  It should have sent me into a panic over winter preparedness but it didn't.  It's my land and it was talking to me.  Telling me what it needed.  And I listened.

We'll start there.


Thursday, October 11, 2012


Digging holes is a gift.  It seems that no matter what I have planned for my little farm, the first thing that must be accomplished involves going to ground.... I must dig a hole.  If I want more fence, I start with post holes.  If I want to build a shed or a barn then I either have to dig holes or a trench.  Build a round pen.... holes!  

Everything seems to start with...How many holes will I need for this?  I want to have the chickens in a yard for the winter.  There has been a great deal of mental exercises done on this topic.  How permanent should the yard be?  Do I want to have the roosters in some sort of separate but equal section of the yard?  How big?  How close will the posts be?  How many holes?!

The same is true for my little barn.  I do mean little.  In order to get the structure built out of the old privacy fencing, the long section of sidewall can only be four foot tall.  If I try to go with the idea of roofing with sod then the roof cannot be too steep, so the center may only be about six and a half feet tall.  I keep looking at what I'm trying to do.  I keep second guessing the wisdom of my plan.  I keep coming up with nine holes.  To start the barn I will need nine holes.  At best, in this drought damaged, baked earth, that is two days worth of digging.

I have to pull posts and re-dig the holes for the round pen.  Last year, I got in a hurry and my efforts were inadequate, so now I will pay the price.  I will have to start over.  The part that truly makes me shudder at the idea of starting this task is knowing that I need around 26 holes.  I don't just cringe physically.  I can feel the trepidation clear down to my soul.  How will I ever manage that Herculean task?

I  seem to have re-injured my back.  There could not have been a worse time.  The temperatures are dipping.  The sense of urgency is growing.  Fear is taking hold.  Every task is measured against the deadline of winter.  How much can still be gotten done?  It is hanging over my head like an ACME safe in a Roadrunner cartoon.

That's why every hole that gets dug is a gift.  And when someone comes along and digs one for me, that gift is accepted, the angels sing, there is rejoicing in my heart.  Then I tell myself that we are one hole closer to having the little farm built.  One hole closer to the dream.


Monday, October 8, 2012

If Only......

If only I had money today.  I would feel happier.  I would pay the insurance that is due on the house and the truck.  I would pay my taxes that were due in September.  I would fix the slow leak in the front passenger side tire.  I would buy a new battery for my truck.  Doing this would take the weight of the world off my shoulders.  I would breathe again and I would sleep at night.

If I only had a bit more money today, I would drive down to the MFA store and buy polyrope electric fencing while it was on sale and work on finishing the next horse lot.  I would buy tee posts.  As many as I could manage.  Maybe, just maybe, I would also buy five cattle panels.  Then I could build one of those temporary barns with the panels, like I have read so much about.  Then I would buy a heavy tarp and cover the  panels.

If only I had money, I would buy hay.  I would buy two large bales to make sure there was enough for over the holidays and I would buy a hundred small bales for the rest of the winter.  If only I had hay, I would take deep breaths, and I wouldn't sigh all of the time.

If only I had money, I would buy a piece of plexi and make my solar collector for the coop and the solar water tank.

If only I hadn't fallen down yesterday.  If my leg weren't banged up.  If my back didn't hurt so bad, then I would feel more optimistic about the other stuff.  But I know there must be a way to get these things managed.  It has to be done and I have to do it.  If only I could think of a solution.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Some Seed With Your Tea?

Chores are done.  I need to get on the road.  I am stalling though.  My mom has requested my presence for caulking and squirting of foam insulation from a can.  I will drive for 45 minutes to do a 45 minute job, then drive 45 minutes to get back home.  I will wait a bit, before I leave, then I will stop at the Alco store in Leon on the way down and buy the bluegrass seed that I have been coveting.  It is my farm purchase for the month.  I am already feeling giddy with anticipation.  I am already feeling the guilt over the expenditure.

I have been pouring over how far I can make a five pound bag go.  The seed needs to start grass in the two pastures behind the house.  The middle pasture and the back wooded pasture.  On top of that, I should get some out on the yard.  On the break of the hill in front of the house.  If I were exceedingly decadent, I would buy two bags.  Fourteen dollars per bag.  Each bag is five pounds.  Delicious temptation.

I will also soon be feeding the soil.  I looked into the barrel of the manure tea this morning.  I had been kicking myself for not getting it out on the hay field already, but something interesting has happened.  The tea has evolved.  At the beginning, when I constructed my set up, there didn't seem to be much change.  Day one didn't even give me much as far as color change, so I decided that I would put more holes in the bucket holding the manure.  Second day was enough color change that I could easily make out the water line through the white vinyl barrel.  Day three I had something that was definitely "tea" looking.  I pulled out the manure bucket after two weeks.  The tea was very dark brown and that was when I started to tell myself that I needed to start getting it out on the soil.  I kicked around different ideas.  None of them seemed good.  How I wished I had some basic equipment!

The other day I noticed that the tea had a green cast to it.  I assumed it was just a tint from the grass that the horses had eaten and didn't think much more about it.... other then, I really need to get the manure tea out on the hayfield.  But today.... today I looked again.  Inside the barrel is GREEN!  It is a bubbling morass.  IT'S ALIVE!!  I kind of feel like Dr. Frankenstein.  Now it really is time to get the tea on the soil.  First I will get the molasses stirred in to feed and accelerate those yeasty cultures.  They will become the mycorrizae  (which I can't spell) that will allow plants to take up nutrients from the soil.  Without it even nitrogen fixing plants can't fix nitrogen.  I will get it out there even if I have to just carry it out by the bucket full.

That will be my task tomorrow.  Bringing life back to the little farm.  Hopefully, after that, I will lay out my little barn, too.  Where there is life, there's hope.  Where there is manure tea, there's life.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Frustrations and Hope

It's 7:45 in the morning.  So far, I have gotten Mac off to school, the bedding stripped, a load of laundry done and on the line.  The animal chores are done.  I will be helping my neighbor with a chore and he will be moving my chicken coop and a hedge post.  This afternoon I will do the most dreaded of all tasks in my life..... bill paying.  There is not a single time that I pick up the checkbook that I don't think about how important it is to have the mortgage paid off.  Our mortgage is killing us.  It is indeed a death pledge.

Which brings me to.....

Somehow this weekend, Mac and I got into talking about how agriculture functions.  What it must do to make the shift to more conscientious farming practices.  How the huge farms will become unsustainable.  How the shift will be from one farmer raising nine hundred feeder cattle to a hundred small farmers each putting out nine feeder cattle.  He was with me until I used our acreage size as an example.  Then he became kind of angry.  "And what's that going to earn you?"  I gave him a range and it should earn a minimum of ten thousand, more in good markets.  He responded with, "That's ten percent of the income you should be making!  How are you going to come up with the other ninety?!"

A hundred thousand  per year!

I suppose I deserved his ridiculousness by engaging in that conversation.

I work hard and there is so much to do.  There is so much hope!  There is such a future to be had and lurking in this morass, is a miracle that will someday allow me to pay off the mortgage, to fulfill that death pledge and for us to have a good life, but I think I should probably do it alone.  It couldn't happen  if he tried to "help".