The Other Famers Still Made A Harvest

I was able to get the seedlings going this year.  After that, my back and health deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t get them planted out in the greenhouse and its surrounding beds.  Grandma and Zina took over and got it all planted along with a new Blackberry patch in the big garden.  I tried to help but I’m afraid it didn’t amount to much.  Here are some pictures of what has been accomplished.  I am so grateful for the help and tomorrow begins the food storage and canning process in earnest.  We won’t have root crops like onions and carrots, or squash and beans, but fortunately we have grown oodles of them in the past so it should bridge this year without too much trouble.  I am determined to get back at this as soon as possible.  After all, what else to life is there?IMG_1185IMG_1188

Just before I had to hit the floor for several months we managed to get a dozen apple trees planted.  So far all but one have survived.  We had to use a post hole digger to make the holes for them because our soil is akin to concrete when it is really dry.  Planting trees is a very optimistic endeavor.  You believe that you will actually be around in five years when they actually begin go produce!

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Because of the fierce winds we have hear we have been trying different things to keep the beds covered when fallow.  This set up has potential but the plastic sheets are like sailboat spinnakers.  We eventually started weighting them down with car tires.  This poor garden is completely over grown now because of my neglect.

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I love my seedling room.  That is all.

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One of the JAZ Farm migrant workers.  Commutes in every year from Michigan to play in “her” greenhouse!

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Another adventure because of the wind was that we had  an old dilapidated section of fence finally blow down.  Because of it, there was now a back door entrance to the big garden, and then to the chicken coop.  Of our 40 hens we lost 20 to foxes.  Again, I couldn’t do anything about it.  We will be hatching more out in the spring.  It was sad to come home and see a field full of feathers.  Because we pay Aaron’s tuition and feed him regularly, his job was to use the old materials and rebuild the fence.  Now that it is rebuilt and that we have a new gate to close it all off, we are hopeful that our fox whoas may be over.

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Did I Mention That I HATE PC’S?

Regardless of what I will do with work going forward, I needed to dispose of one of my work computers as it was getting outdated for company specs.  I detest computers and see them as a necessary evil, along with “smart” phones.  The one thing I will give them credit for is the ability they afforded me to not have to work day in and day out in an office.  Between having an office high in the mountains and being able to work from the farm I loved my commute.  But these work computers are completely encrypted for security purposes which made them really slow and really buggy.  So when it came time to go dark, my Dell met my Smith and Wesson.  I had some fun blowing the thing to smithereens!  IMG_0880IMG_0881IMG_1771IMG_1773

Got Out For The Eclipse

Because I was limited in my travel abilities I was very disappointed that I couldn’t join my friends in the path of totality for the 2017 eclipse.  The consolation prize was that here in Colorado we had 93% coverage but that did not create the diamond ring, Bailey’s beads or the Coronal display that can only come from a total eclipse.  So we donned our eclipse glasses and watched the show.  I took up residency in front of the solar array.  I thought it an appropriate place to observe.

My eclipse observing gear:

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Hangin’ by the panels

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Did you miss me? No I Didn’t Die But ….

There have been times recently when  I wished I had.  I was thinking this week that this year has been a complete waste of time.  I was having stress issues and that blossomed into a whole lot more.  Here I am though, finally coming back to the land of the living; new hardware in tact and healing up and eager to getting back to running the JAZ Farm.

I intended to take a leave of absence from work to deal with what looked to be some pretty bad stress related issues.  No sooner did that happened, the pain in my hips hit a crescendo and became a very serious problem.  I haven’t been on a leave of absence, I have been almost completely disabled.  Except for myriad trips to Physical Therapists, then pain specialists, three steroid injections, “Dry Needling” therapy, then a hip surgeon and then a referral to a spine surgeon, all of them screaming about my blood pressure and elevated pulse, I have been staring at the ceiling and playing a lot of computer Solitaire.  I have been tortured for months – all with no pain relief.  The best way to describe it is to imagine someone taking high voltage power lines and stabbing you in the thighs with them.

The long and short of it.

After navigating the maze of our medical system to get a proper diagnosis, it was discovered that the nerves in my lower back were being badly crushed.  When an MRI was finally ordered, it showed that my entire lumbar spine down to my Sacrum looked like it had been hit by a wrecking ball.  The hip surgeon had even asked if I’d been in a car wreck.  The disc in S1 was gone completely.  The disc in between L3 and L4 was what they fondly called a “toothpaste tube” as it had been completely herniated and was squeezing against the nerves.  Two others were completely dried out and the vertebrae themselves were full of calcification that was further impinging on the nerve roots.  I never really understood what it would be like to actually scream and pass out from pain.  I do now and if you are suffering from chronic pain you have my undying empathy.  For months the only relief I could get from the worst pain I’ve ever experienced was to lay down.  I spent months on my dog’s orthopedic bed in our living room, my wife brought me all of my meals to my bedside, and up until this past week I hadn’t driven for months.  It eventually got to the point where I had to lay down on my right side…. which of course started to affect that side as well.  I haven’t slept well for months.  I have to admit that because of the unimaginable pain, that had I not gotten a good diagnosis and finally given a path forward I was going to have to tell someone who’d matter that I was going to become a danger to myself.  I found out that rock bottom actually has a basement.

So that killed the farm work for the year.  We had to cancel our chicken and pig raising, the big garden has 4 foot weeds in it that has sent me into depression; especially when I think of how much work had gone into it and how much work it will take to get it ready for next season:  I’m optimistic that I’ll be back up and around by the end of the year.  I’m not sure about real work.  It might be time to hang it up for good.  A friend said something that I agree with:  that my lower back was where I hid all of my stress.

So once the spine surgeon got to see the MRI it proceeded almost as an emergency.  I don’t know how they did it but we got the insurance approval and I was in for surgery 6 days later.  It was about a 5 hour procedure because of how much had to be done.  They removed the discs from L3 to S1 (what there was left of them) put in spacers, fused 4 vertebrae, cleaned our the vertebrae so the nerves could move and quit being crushed and then tied the whole thing together with two Titanium/Cobalt rods with 8 bolts.  Here’s what it looks like:  (I post these so the folks that like to diminish the seriousness of someone else’s issues can get a little squeamish.  Also, its for those who love to tell you, “Oh that’s nothing!”  My wife’s cousin from Frog Balls Arkansas had it WAY worse than that”, can seriously jump off a cliff.

This is 7 inches long:

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For two weeks we had to wrap it with plastic wrap before I took a shower.  It felt like a whole bunch of bee stings when they took out the staples.

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Frankenstein’s child:

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The surgical PA said that they put in heavy duty rods and bolts because this is a typical rancher type injury and they knew that I’d be back at it.  I have been doing the recovery by the book though so save the “don’t over due it” lectures.  I CANNOT go through this again and the most important part of the recovery is getting a good solid fusion.  Yesterday makes the 5th week since surgery and the recovery guides say that by 6 weeks the fusion should be well in hand but it needs at least 3 months to get strong enough for regular activity.  So I am under orders to engage in no BLT’s:  Bending (try putting on socks or wipe!  TMI). Lifting  (nothing over 10 pounds) or Twisting.  I have all manner of gizmos to help me do everything.  I use a gripper to get things off the floor, a gizmo for the bathroom, a shoe horn with an extension handle, elastic, no tie, shoe strings, a thing to help me put on socks, a walker, and my ever present hiking poles.

I am happy to say though, that the surgery seems to have worked.  The screaming nerve and hip pain has gone.  My toes are awake again and I am walking straight up and down (I was canted severely to the right trying to offload pressure from those left side nerves).  I am now in a Physical Therapy program to help recover range of motion and, as of yesterday, restrengthening muscles that haven’t been used in over a year and that have atrophied severely.  I made the joke that a little 5 pound weight is a lot heavier than it was 18 months ago.  I am working to increase my walking and have been out every day with the dogs going up and down the driveway.  I’m currently at about 1.5 miles of steps with a goal of 3 miles by Halloween.  Here is the gimp actually up and around:

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So that is how 2017 has been going.  This, after having had to go to emergency around Christmas time of 2016 because of a ruptured Bursa in my left arm.  Its been unreal!!

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I must say thank you’s for all the help I’ve been given.  I have been completely useless and I simply couldn’t have done it without my wife.  I have never seen someone step it up and exhaust herself like she has.  We have been through so much together, and she had to take up the farm slack, run the house, cook, clean, wait on me, AND at the same time SELL a house and all the requisite issues of cleaning, packing, listing, getting the new apartment set up virtually ALL on her own.  I love her to the moon.

In addition, my mother came out twice to at least get the greenhouse and the surrounding beds planted.  We will be canning tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, salsa, and chili because she came out to take over as JAZ Farmer.

Once my son was done with school he came out and just lent a hand where needed.  He has a very big heart and just having him around was comforting.  The day I first saw the X-Rays, I had a pretty serious mental melt down.  All I could think was that I was Frankenstein’s spawn.  He was there and after having been through his own issues over the years, he had an insight that, I don’t think, anyone else could appreciate.

So it sounds like after 3 months I will be cleared to do housework and light yard work. At 6 months, which would be around the 1st of the year, I should be able to go out and resume the farm project. The fusion will be complete at about 12 months.   I fully anticipate being able to run the farm full time by next planting season.  As it seems I will now be only running the farm and simplifying the shit out of the rest of my life, maybe I will have successfully exorcised the demons that ate my back.

The surgeon pretty much is in agreement that the combination of a seriously stressful job, sitting in a bad ergonomic office, tense, leaned over a desk in front of a computer, along with years of hard farm work (both in the city and then the farm) was a recipe for this.  I will remove the stress component at all costs.  I worried too much about my clients.  If this is what it costs then it is way too expensive.

I am happy to re-engage the farm blog.  We have plans to can big time this weekend and I’ll post the results as it happens.  Thanks for your patience.  Of all my “prepping” this is one that surely snuck in under the radar.  Thank goodness we had a lot of food put up.  In that respect, preparedness proved itself very valuable.

Farmer Juan Where Have You Been!?

Hello everyone.  I come to you with hat in hand, apologizing for such a long absence.  My life took quite a turn for the bad over the last few months and I’ve had to attend to some health issues.  Unfortunately, it isn’t going all that well.  I have taken a full formal leave of absence from work.  I’ve had some “issues” to deal with that caused 3 doctors to ask me if I could retire and if I could, I should.  You can tell just from that statement what beating organ it pertains to.

So instead of leaving outright I worked to bring on a partner to take over while I was gone.  Between now and at least Labor Day, I will not be doing anything work related except to consult on client cases.  Everyone will be well taken care of, but even if they weren’t, I don’t really have the time to care right now.

On top of that!  No sooner did I pass the baton to Eliot, that I practically became a cripple.  I’ve been in Physical Therapy for 2 months now, had Cortisone injections, had to use Prednisone, and next week will be going to a spine and pelvic specialist.  I have pain in my left hip that is so bad that I can barely walk.  Trust me, if I had a wheel chair, I’d be using it right now.  The anti-inflammatories are doing some good (thank god – I hate crying out in pain) and it appears to be a combination of my Sacroiliac joint, an impingement of my Femoral Nerve, and we are going to go in to try to rule out spinal compression or degenerative disc issues.  The fun never ends.

We have still managed to get the seedlings started in the basement grow room.  The tomatoes are about a foot tall, the peppers, eggplant, onions, and tomatillos are all started.  This weekend we will get some of them transplanted into larger pots and then start the herbs.  In a week or so we will start the cucumbers, squash, and melons.  One of our goals is to have fruit on the farm.  25 Blackberry bushes and 15 Raspberry bushes arrived and need to go into pots and then out to the greenhouse.

The biggest problem has been trying to stay on top of the maintenance of the big garden. Last year, we didn’t get the big beds covered to keep the weeds down.  We were met with a small forest and they all had to be weeded out before we could even think about planting.  This year we bought a few rolls of plastic to lay on top of the beds to smother them.  As usual though, gardening on the high plains presents some unique issues.  In this case, WIND!  No sooner did we get the plastic staked down, we had a spell where we had 80 mph gusts.  It tore them all out of the ground. So! re-evaluate and go to option B.

Option B was to re-lay the plastic and we went and bought 16 foot cattle panels (a stout fencing) to put over the plastic to keep it down.  50 mph winds, poof!  It lifted them up and threw them all off.  The plastic was laid in about 60 foot sheets and it was like unfurling the spinnaker on a sailboat.

Option C:  Zina went out and laid them down again (I can’t… I’m an invalid).  This time she laid cinderblocks on top of them.  Again, spring 50 mph winds.  Did it again.  What frustration!

Option D:  Did Option C again but this time cut the sheets into 3rds.  It reduced the sail effect and so far they are still down.  Fingers crossed.

The beds that haven’t been covered are starting to sprout weeds.  I do have a new rear tine tiller and am hoping to get out there and till the weeds under before they get seeds so that we can keep the onslaught of these deep rooted horrors down.

I have also, over the years, built windbreaks around the garden and between every 3rd row.  One of the breaks was a tin wall that was left over from the previous owners.  It was pretty chewed up and I had plans to take it down and rebuild it.  Well, thanks to the wind, half of it isn’t standing any longer.  Yes folks, wind out here is something to behold!

So given my predicament I am trying to get at least one or two tasks done per day, but if you have ever had chronic pain, and on top of that being a little concerned about your cardio system you know, sometimes I find myself just sitting because I know how badly it is going to hurt.  So of all the things here that we have put in place “just in case” we got blindsided by both leaving work and then having the primary farm laborer become disabled.

I don’t know yet.  If the summer passes and I am still not back to my old self, it is quite a question mark at this point if I would actually go back to work.  We are debt free so it gives me some options.  I will always consult and it is WAY to early to think about it, but when you are feeling the emotions of the low ebb in which I currently reside, it pops up in the back of your mind.

So here is a picture of the garden challenge. You can notice in the upper left corner the wall that is being destroyed by the wind.  All is going great otherwise.  Eliot is doing a great job for me at work and all seem to really like him.  We are putting our house in the city up for sale this weekend.  The dogs are my ever present companions.  The farm, even if I can’t currently do the work I would love to be out doing, is my favorite place in the world.  All in all, there isn’t much to complain about.  This year’s batch of broiler chickens arrive the first week of May.  It is always fun to have the little cheepers around.  They are very entertaining.  Because I can’t handle them when they grow up, and not knowing what shape I’ll be in in a few months, we decided to postpone the pig projects.  They are powerful animals and right now I am not.  Very frustrating.  Once the house sells, the farm will get paid off.  When that happens we will be contracting out to have a livestock barn put up for goats, cows, and whatever else strikes our fancy.  We planted a dozen apple trees in March and so far more than half of them have sprouted leaves.  Good news.

So again, my apologies for my delay.  I’m coming to terms with not being invincible.  Thank goodness all of the hard building work is done.  Looking forward to being able to walk without pain sometime in the near future.  As the saying goes, “While you are laying plans, life happens.”  Yes indeed.

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Feeling Very Organized

My wife defined my new career: Supply management and Inventory Controller of the JAZFarm Pantry and Root Cellar.  That is in addition, of course, to Chief Cook and CEO of Farming and Livestock Management!

We spent the day adding shelves to the shelving racks in the pantry and then organizing the whole thing.  It’s like having your own grocery store in your basement! We are trying to consolidate two homes into one because we are selling our place in the city.  It’s not that we need any more “stuff” but every square inch needs to be well organized.  Because one whole room is our pantry we are trying to maximize the use of every inch of shelf space and floor space.  It’s coming along pretty nicely!

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Getting Caught Up

It’s been a wild year.  I apologize for going so long without updating the blog but it has been a tough summer.  I’ve been going through, lets just say, an illness, and I haven’t felt much like blogging.  We managed to bring the garden in and the food processed and the pigs processed, but between that and the hell that I call work, I have been somewhat reclusive. 2017 looks like it has the potential to destabilize our world in a way that we thought was behind us and that we were better than.  I’m having to kind of start all over mentally and physically.  While some folks don’t always show scars and can put on a happy and professional face, it doesn’t mean the problems aren’ t there.  Let’s just say that 2017 will bring many changes.  But in the meantime, lets show you what has been going on.

The Garden:

We were plagued by grasshoppers this year.  They really made the plants have to work hard to grow.  Some did well, some didn’t.  We lost most of our hard bean crop, the potatoes produced but were very small and many of the herbs were feasted upon.  The Squash and the melons got attacked as well but they did quite well anyway.  The onions, beets, carrots, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, tomatillos and the Blackberries did pretty well and the canners ran for days and days as we worked to get things preserved.

We Canned dozens of pints of tomato saucecanning-2016-1

Because we had so many tomatoes we made lots of Salsacanning-2016-2

The onion harvest was crazy.  However, not all of them were storage quality, so we made quarts and quarts of canned French Onion soup.  The quarts up on the counter are chicken soup and chilicanning-2016-3

The Tomatillos lost their minds. They really like to grow here.  So we made Tortilla soup.canning-2016-4

The potatoes struggled because of the grasshoppers.  They weren’t a good enough quality to store in the cellar so we canned as many of them as we could.  They work great as pan fried, mashed, and in soups or stews.canning-2016-5

We found some strains of onions that do well here (and love Chicken Manure fertilizer).  We found some mesh bags and we tied them up and hanged them in the basement.  These should keep for several months.  Considering how many recipes use onions we will likely go through them with no trouble.hanging-onion-1onion-hanging-2

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I have really burned out mentally.  I brought on a partner at work to help relieve some of the strain.  After training him and introducing him to my clients I am thrilled to know that I will be able to take the entire planting season and summer off from work.  I haven’t had a real vacation in 30 years and if my clients want me to stick around, they’d best understand why I’m doing this.  I love em all but I refuse to die because of someone else’s financial whoas.  I desperately need to “Live Like a Hobbit” for a few months.  Either that or I need to quit altogether.  At this point, both are on the table.hobbit

We contacted the Dumb Friends League this year and picked up a couple of “working cats” or what ranchers and farmers call Barn Cats.  Their job is to hunt and eat mice.  We think they are doing their jobs.  They are quite feral so they are not looking for human companionship.  This is allegedly where they sleep.  We know they are around because the food and water disappears.  But this picture shows how much we know about them and what they look like.

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One of the funniest things that happened this fall was washing a chicken in the kitchen!  Yes you read that right.  We had taken the pigs to freezer camp the week before.  However, their wallow was still sloppy and muddy.  The chickens love to go into the pig pen and scratch around and eat any remnants of food left behind.  One evening Zina was out rounding the hens up to put them to bed and she noticed one was still in the pig pen.  When she got closer she saw that it had gotten into the wallow and was stuck up to her wings in mud.  The rescue attempt involved putting a plank out onto the mud, pull the chicken out and bring her into the house to rinse her off.  She was amazingly docile and is now doing well, but now we can honestly say we gave a chicken a bath in our kitchen.  I feel so fulfilled!

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We have commenced work decommissioning the gardens in the city.  We have decided to sell that house because the equity in the place will pay off the farm.  Zina and Aaron will maintain an apartment instead and I will pretty much live full time at the farm.  I lugged the boards we used for the raised beds to construct compost bins for the garden waste and chicken litter.  This past year we spread the composted chicken litter on the garden beds.  While it was terrific as fertilizer it was also full of herbicide resistant Amaranth seeds that sprouted the second we applied water to the beds.  This is an attempt to try to keep those down.  There were thousands of those infernal plants.

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Our newest members of the flock started producing in October and even with the shortening of the days into the winter we have never had a shortage of breakfast food.

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I never thought I’d see the day when our country could become so divided.  This was the unfortunate discovery of the fall.  We have a militia training facility about 7 miles from the farm.  These folks are pretty “out there” and I hope they have sense enough to leave well enough alone.  That mound of dirt running along the upper third of the picture is actually a big horseshoe shape containing a very large shooting range.  I fear our country has lost it’s mind and could be considered clinically insane.

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So as the farm progresses we have decided to start breeding pigs ourselves instead of buying piglets to raise.  We have some fences and pens to complete but if all goes right we will have a Hampshire Sow and Boar to raise in the next year.  If successful, the sale of the piglets we don’t want to keep should pay for the feed and thus allow us to have our meat for free (minus the physical exertion of raising them and processing them).  A lot of folks do that out here and between eggs, chicken, and pork, we see a way to completely offset our grocery bill.  That would make us, food bill, electric bill, water bill, house payment and car payment free.  Someone in this household is one hell of a financial planner!

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I thought this shirt was cool so I ordered it!

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The puppies had a ball this Christmas.  They could smell that there were treats amongst the gifts and when Christmas morning arrived they couldn’t wait to join in!

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So there you have it y’all!  The JAZ Farm has progressed despite our silence.  Not only are we looking forward to the growing season in 2017, the new pigs, and ordering our new meat chickens for the year, we will be hatching some of our new layers with our incubator, moving from the city, paying off the farm, taking the summer off, building a livestock barn, fencing in a pasture and perhaps, if the timing works, buying some pet goats to help with the lawn mowing.  If there is one thing that can be said for our homesteading/prepping project its this:  It Is Always An Adventure!  Happy New Year everyone!