Progress At The Farm Garden

Now that the weather has settled, things at the farm are growing.  Most of the Strawberries are leafing, we have Asparagus shoots, the Eggplant, despite the drubbing they took, have a couple of eggplants on them.  The original and now replacement peppers are leafing back up and even a couple of the tomatoes, that look like children from a refuge camp, have a couple of tomatoes.  Things are growing.  Things will continue to grow.  We are determined and relentless.  And if that wasn’t enough work, we got the posts for the new pig pen yesterday.  All in all a good day.  Mom did chicken chores, dad weeded and hoed, and even Aaron came out and pulled the alfalfa that has been growing all over the beet, carrot and onion patches.


Egg Plant (you can see how badly the leaves got torn from the hail (that isn’t from bugs)



Peppers re-leafing and showing some serious determination


The first shoots of the new Asparagus patch (its blurry because it wouldn’t stop blowing around)


The sad tomatoes and tomatillos.  They are having a rough time recovering.


Acorn squash with flower



About 200 row feet of Peaches N Cream Sweet corn.  It took two seedings to get them going because the first planting got washed away in the storms.



We have 400 row feet of onions.  They are a combination of Cabernet Red, Ailsa, and Copra with a couple of sets of Whites.  All seem very healthy.


We planted somewhere on the order of 800 row feet of Black Beans.  Despite getting hammered when they were just emerging from the ground it looks like they are well on their way.  You can see in the picture that the ground got pretty crusted over from the storms.  We have been out breaking it up pretty diligently.



Three different kinds of potatoes:  Reds, Kennebecs, and Yukon Golds.  All have come up  very nicely.  We are going to do our first hilling tomorrow.


This lower patch is about 4800 square feet.  It has organic dent corn for the chickens and for corn meal (the left 2/3ds) and the right side is about 1800 square feet of kidney beans.



This is harder to see as it is very early yet – Beets and two types of Carrots.




The hardest part of this right now is simply keeping the soil broken up.  We are still devising ways of keeping something this big erosion protected but also covered in order to build the soil.  We have some ideas but that doesn’t help this year.  I imagine that next season, the lessons learned here, will prove invaluable.

Happy Summer Solstice To All Of My Heretic Friends!!!

Farmer Jon

Supervised Free Ranging on a Breezy Saturday

We have 6 or 7 hens that have gone broody.  What a pain.  When a hen is broody it means she wants to be a mommy.  She stops laying eggs and will sit in a nesting box trying to hatch any number of eggs….. even NONE.  She will sit there as though she has settled in to the 3 week incubation period.  They get kind of zombie like and mean.  They will peck at you if you try to get them out of the box.   This is a problem, 1. because when they are like this they stop laying eggs, and 2.  The other hens that want to lay eggs can’t get into the nesting boxes.  This creates some turmoil in the coop.  They bitch up quite a storm.  The broodies hiss and squawk and the hens squawk back.  This can go on for hours.  Even the roosters get in on the act.  Every so often you can go into the coop and there will be 3 hens in one box (12 x 18 inches).  The broody will be on the bottom and two others that can’t hold it anymore are on top of her trying to lay eggs.  It sounds hilarious and it is….. when you are in the right mood.

So today Zina decided that one way to break a broody is to deny her the ability to get to a nesting box and get the hens out into the bright sunshine for awhile.  This involves a supervised outing into the grass.  If we didn’t have aerial predators we could just let em out.  The four footed predators are easily kept at bay because the whole area is fenced.  Unfortunately, hawks, falcons and owls also think chicken is tasty so we need to be out there in case of an aerial assault.

Hopefully this will help break some of the broodies.  Sure it is nature’s way, but what are we going to do with dozens of chicks that would arrive if we let them hatch their clutches?  The freezer only has so much room in it and feed at that level would be expensive enough that we’d have to sell the eggs just to keep up.  That is definitely for another day.

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Sumo Birds

The roasters are growing into little Godzillas.  They sure don’t like to get far from the food and water.  The little bit they do go out into the run is early in the morning when it is cool.  The rest of the day they make circles around either the food bins or the waterers.  I give them access to about 11 gallons of water and pretty much unlimited food.  This week, (5 weeks old) they went through all of the water and about 40 lbs of food in less 3 days.  Good thing we don’t have to keep them longer than about 8 weeks.  They’d eat us out of house and home.  If I had to guess, they are all around 3 pounds.  The expectation is that they will be anywhere from 4 to 8 pounds.  We have lost 3 to heart attacks so my purchase of buying 30 to end up with 25 seems to have been sound.  I expect that we will use the 4th of July weekend for processing.  Its a long weekend and it will put them right at 8 weeks old.

I bought the posts to build the pig pen today.  Aaron was tasked with helping to find an optimal location and figure out how to lay out a rectangle on the ground with even sides and square corners.  We will commence the post hole digging once again soon.  This weekend though is hoeing and adding some extra drip lines to some of the garden beds.  I will try to remember to take pictures of the farm beds as well and get those posted.  The root stuff seems to be doing well.  The potato greenage looks very healthy.  Summer growing and chicken plucking is underway.

sumo 2              Sumo 1

The Farmer Gots Some Smarts, Skeels and Should Quit Whining

After having to get a tremendous amount of “real” work and doctors appointments out of the way we are back at the JAZ Farm.  When I arrived (we were in the city for 2.5 days) we discovered that the automatic door to the layer coop hadn’t opened.  Evidently the battery was dead.  The birds had been sequestered in the coop and were more than happy to come out and partake of the scratch grains we provided them.  Now before anyone freaks, they have water in the coop so they were just a tad hungry.  Aaron and I will be off to the Home Depot tomorrow to acquire some lantern batteries that the door requires.

So it was pretty smart of us to make sure the city garden got planted out.  It is doing incredibly well as usual.  We have harvested 2 bushels of spinach, a bushel of Kale (that we use for juicing), and the garlic is on its way to being a bumper crop that I can use to both eat and plant for next year’s supply.  Everything is doing very well.  We are awaiting the small window when the peas will be ready and the strawberries, so far, are our best crop yet.  So the smarts comes from knowing that the country farm garden might be met with some unknowns…. what a understatement.

HOWEVER:  Quit whining Farmer Jon!!  Sure we have to write off the eggplants and most of the tomatoes at the JAZ Farm because of the hail, but everything else is doing great!!  We are going to build a greenhouse this fall which will cover all of those more sensitive plants; it is an unexpected evolution but it will solve the hail problem.  The root vegetables and the beans and all of the corn, onions, asparagus, beets and carrots are on their way to being very successful.  Perspective is everything.  When you are sitting in your home listening to the gates of hell unleash upon your property during a hail storm, one thinks all is lost.  The truth is that mother nature is resilient.  We are going to have quite a harvest should this growth continue.  So between the city garden that has been used as a back up and the experiment of the JAZ Farm, we will have a great deal of food to put by for the coming winter.  When we get the greenhouse put up, all the more.

I had my engineer wannabe, Aaron, figure out how to lay out a rectangle on the ground to put in a fence to house the pigs we will be getting next fall.  Tomorrow we will be getting batteries for the chickens, fence and fence posts for the pig pen and yet another project will have begun.

The only deterrent right now is the plague of mosquitoes that have hatched from all of the standing water left over from the storms.  The outdoor clothes will be quite thoroughly doused in bug juice so we can continue the farm development during the non-snowy month!

Our wheat field, evidently has been considered a loss.  The farmer we leased the land to is going to have someone come out and cut it down and bale it.  I am not too upset as I will be receiving about 100 straw bales that can be used to bed the chickens and mulch the garden beds.  On top of that, as it has been declared a loss, I may head out with my weed whip and knock a bunch of it down and try to salvage some wheat.  We will have hard corn for corn meal this year and will need a grinder.  Might as well gather as much wheat as we can since it isn’t going to be sold, and save it to make our own bread.

Farm Jon….. da man got smarts, skeels, and should just quit the freakin’ whining over the hail that didn’t get everything.  I love the JAZ Farms!Strawberries 2014 Garlic 2014 Broccoli 2014

Video of the storm

Here is a 30 second video taken at the Home Depot where I shop for the farm.  This is what took out the garden.  It sounded like this as well…. but louder.

This one is in Byers.  It is the aftermath of the storm.  Boy Howdy.  I guess I should quit feeling like I failed.  Nothing could stand up to this.

Letting The Growing Environment Educate You

We finally seem to be back into the “normal” summer on the high plains.  The weather is sunny and breezy.  Even if it isn’t hot, the sun at a mile above sea level will suck the moisture out of you without you even knowing about it.  I had some issues with dehydration the past couple of days.  It is very strange to be sitting in a chair, feeling a little delirious and be able to feel your heart skipping beats.  We have begun to make sure we check our exposure time outside and ensure we have enough liquids.  While I can’t stand Gatorade, having some bananas and orange juice helps to replace potassium.  Seems to have worked. Feeling fine now.  When your heart stops beating, even for only a beat or so….. probably not a good thing.

Zina and I went out this morning and pulled out the peppers and replaced them with the ones I raised from pups.  The spindly things we put in because of the hailstorm couldn’t stand up to the deluges they got hit with afterward.  The Heirloom Purple Beauties, Emerald Greens, Poblanos, Serranos, and Anaheims all started to show re-leafing.  Their stalks were much sturdier than the store bought  plants so in they went.  We’ll see if they recover.

Whenever you move into someplace new and want to plant, you have to keep your ears and eyes to the earth.  It will teach you the things you need to know about your surroundings, in sometimes not so subtle ways, and what can and cannot be accomplished.  I think, if I have to search for a reason to have to endured all of this violent weather, it was to learn a thing or two about gardening on the high plains.

The garden in the city gets winds as well, but it is surrounded by a fence, other houses, and the beds all have hoop huts built over them.  It is very well protected.  It is also made up of 50 yards of topsoil I wagoned in so I didn’t have to amend the “cement” masquerading as soil.  Out here at the farm however, the garden is an order of magnitude larger, it now has some fences but is still exposed to direct east and west winds, the soil is sand and clay which needs nursing, and the weather will pummel the plants and one’s spirits with reckless abandon.

What we have concluded is thus:  Plants that can be directly seeded in (Beans, corn, potatoes, onions, squash, strawberries, asparagus, etc) all seem to be pretty well suited for the environment.  Even the poor Black Beans that took a direct hit from the hail storm just as they were poking their heads above ground, seem to have recovered.  So as long as we keep amending the soil, and put in some timbers to help stem the erosion, that part of the garden is pretty well underway.  The potatoes are really growing well.  The dent corn for corn meal is coming up nicely as are the Kidney beans.  The transplanted onions got hit with the hail shotgun too but are now perked up and growing.  The beets have really come up and the carrots are starting to show their hair like sprouts.

It is the big leafed plants that grow fruit that seem to be a fools errand.  The tomatoes look like starving children from concentration camps.  The peppers were stripped bare and the eggplants look like they got hit with a 12 gauge.  Things like cucumbers and Zucchini are at the other place and it looks like that was a good idea.  So if you live in a place like ours with high winds, damaging storms, clay/sand soil, and want to grow more delicate plants what does one do?  1. Either give up and not grow (not in my genetic make up) or 2.  High Tunnels!  The location of the beds for the plants just named are on a flat, level section of the garden.  In order to protect the plants, one needs to keep the elements off of them.  Greenhouses are stupid expensive but high tunnels can do the same thing at a much lower cost.  As this is our retirement place and we want to be able to garden into our geriatric years, making the investment seems to be in order.  They look like this:




They can and need to be anchored into the ground to keep them solid against the wind.  They have galvanized steel framing, the doors roll up so I can get the tractor in and the sides will roll up to provide ventilation.  In the winter the plastic is taken off and stored.  In the event that there is hail damage, the greenhouse plastic can be patched – and when necessary-  replaced at a reasonable cost.

The high tunnels would fit over the existing beds and the plants grown just like one would in the garden but will have an umbrella over them.  The existing drip irrigation would be used as well.  Hoop high tunnels also can extend the growing season by a month on either end.  This will eliminate the danger we exposed the plants to by taking them outside to harden off.  They would simply go from the potting room in the basement out into the high tunnels and hopefully produce the kinds of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplants we have become accustomed to.

We will be looking into tunnels through FarmTek and Grower’s Supply.  I have seen some in the area and want to discuss the benefits and pitfalls.  My biggest concern at this point, although I’m sure there are more things to concern myself with, is making sure it doesn’t fly to Kansas when hit with its first good Colorado wind.  I am sure we  aren’t the first folks to do this, so I am all ears; this seems to be the most logical next step.  So live and learn.  The stuff close to the ground does well.  It is all coming up with no real issues save the erosion from the rains.  The fruiting plants….. they need protection.  So protection they will receive.  After all, its just a big version of this:







Blue Sky, Floods and Relaxed Goats

It is finally clear and we have only had sprinkles the past couple of days! Perhaps the bludgeoning of our garden, wheat fields and chickens is over!  Wouldn’t that be nice.

I’ve had to go through the glass half empty/full debate in my head over the garden.  It was probably naive to think this thing would go without a hitch considering I’ve never done it before.  BUT, I hate to fail, and the less than stellar look to some of the larger leaf and fruiting plants makes one kind of ache, especially after having nurtured them indoors for 2 months.  The reality though is that there is a lot growing in a garden of lesser soil quality that I have yet to amend, and some of the most brutal storms I’ve seen in a very long time.

The tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos are the worst hit.  But that is only 4 beds out of 18.  The strawberries are leafing out.  WE HAVE ASPARAGUS SHOOTS EMERGING!!  The squash, onions, black beans and potatoes are all up and growing.  The beets are up and there are a few carrots showing themselves.  The sweet corn is having some trouble breaking through the crusty soil but they are coming up non-the-less.  The peppers that got hailed on are now looking better than the one’s I bought to replace them.  So tomorrow, we are pulling out the store bought hybrids that got pummeled last week and putting in the heirlooms.  So all in all, if there is any loss it will be the tomatoes and tomatillos and I have 30 tomato plants at the urban farm all doing fabulously well.  We are considering putting up a greenhouse next year to house the more delicate plants.  An article I read about increasing tomato yield has intrigued me and would involve a greenhouse no matter where the garden was located.  The corn patch, which is about a tenth of an acre was planted with corn for meal and kidney beans.  The kidney bean seeds washed away a bit but there are still bunches coming up.  The dent corn looks as though most of it is coming up.  Once some of the earlier crops are harvested, I have 5000 green bean seeds to sow and will have us busy canning into the fall.

So I think I should stick with glass half full considering the challenges we have just faced.  I am going to be going on many lumber scrounges to find some boarders for the beds.  I need to stop the erosion that happens every time it rains.  By damning it in place and mixing in lots of our manure pile and the straw we should get from the cutting and baling of the wheat field, the soil should begin to improve.  I will also be planting alfalfa on the beds, digging it in and covering them all with burlap for the winter.  Lots of work….. I can rest when I’m dead.

On my way back from the store I saw a cute sight.  It was about 75 degrees and sunny and on top of two round hay bales on the farm next to ours were two goats sleeping on top of them.  The picture is hard to see as it was from my phone but I posted them below.  One way or another, we are going to have goats.    I need poop factories and they qualify.  I don’t want horses or cows.  These guys will do nicely.  Aaron and I will begin working on our pig pen shortly as well.

The last picture is the farm across the road from us.  That isn’t a lake.  It is still undrained flooding from the past couple of weeks.  The mosquitoes are beginning to emerge.  Going to have to get out the dedicated outdoor garb and douse it with bug juice.  I hate that stuff… but I hate mosquito bites and West Nile Virus worse.

Tomorrow, while I plant the peppers yet again, Aaron will be on the business end of the diamond hoe and the garden weasel, breaking up the crust on the beds yet again.  I have half a mind to buy and replace the tomatoes.  I doubt it, as they may still yet come back.  If they get pounded again maybe they will just turn into green beans.

photo 2-3              photo 3-3


photo 1-2

This Is Ridiculous

Another tornado warning and severe weather.  We didn’t get the hail this time but as I speak it is 7:11 pm and it has been raining since 1:00.  It is likely to last another 2 hours.

Here is an article about the past couple of weeks:

We got out to tend things yesterday.  We broke the crust surface on the bean and potato and sweet corn patches.  I reseeded the corn patch and replaced hail damaged onions with sets.

Today……  it is all getting washed away again.  I might as well live in Michigan right now.  This weather is impossible.  We will try to keep reseeding but at some point this needs to end.  If anything comes from this year’s crop it will be late.  The JAZ Farm is now once again, like during the Boulder floods, lake front.  We are officially mudded in here.  I doubt we can get out of here to work tomorrow… we’ll see.  The fun will be when the mosquitoes emerge from all of this water.  You have to bug juice up.  West Nile out here is real.

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Mother Nature Never Ceases To Amaze

Alright.  Enough of the preparation for Harakiri.  I’m tired of wallowing around in my depression.  The mud has been bad enough.  Enough of this crap.  The garden is actually growing!  Much to my surprise.  Mother nature is a pretty amazing lady.  She pounds us with rain and hail and at the same time makes the potatoes grow.  So which one then, is Mother Nature? – The plants or the storms?  Both, me thinks.  As Walt Whitman once said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”  In any case, it seems that the learning for the farmer/gardener never ceases.

Aaron and I put up a divider of chicken wire in the coop run so the little chicks can finally come out into the big world.  While sitting out there admiring our handiwork and watching to see if the little birds would come out (they didn’t) we saw another huge storm cell build up and head on over to visit.  Fortunately we were on the northern edge of this one and all we got was some rain and thunder.  Sorry Kansas and Oklahoma…. your turn.

Prior to battening everything down and heading into the house again, I did a stroll around the garden.  While the deluges have caused a lot of erosion and the fruiting plants (tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, eggplants look like they’d been rode hard and put away wet), the more root type of crops and those still low to the ground appear to be on their way to actually making it.

All of the potatoes are up.  All of the black beans are up.  Some of the sweet corn is up (I may just re-seed some of that), the carrots are coming up and so are the beets.  The onions look a little pummeled but may turn out ok.  The strawberries are getting leaves, and it is too soon to tell about the Asparagus.

All in all, there is life.  The tomatoes could make it.  It just depends on if the storms continue or not.

One of the homesteading magazines I read had an article on this very subject as well.  They swear by raising the root crops outside, and if you have the ability, raise the tomato, pepper and eggplant type plants in a greenhouse or high hoop tunnel.  As you might expect, my brain is already trying to figure that one out.  I was looking forward to the day when the construction ended, but I also had half a mind to build a greenhouse out of reclaimed windows.  Perhaps that still needs to be the case.

It seems it only takes a glimmer of hope to reignite all of the excitement one may have thought was lost.  So I’m chalking this all up to experience and the need to learn what works here and what doesn’t.  There are several farms around here with high tunnels.  Perhaps now I know the reason why.  The other option, while we still have our urban garden, would be to grow those plants back there and do the roots here with an eye to eventually having the greenhouse here.  There is a part of me that wishes this project would have started 20 years ago.  But then of course, we could never have afforded it.

Evidently…. nature destroys herself and grows herself.  I look forward to getting back to the growing herself phase.  I wonder if I sent Exxon a bill if they’d pay it?  Or Conoco?  Shell?  Big Coal?  Probably not.  In the meantime, Plant til I can’t.  When the plants get crushed… plant til I can’t.  Rinse… repeat.

Assessment … Again

The morning is now cool, beautiful, and sunny.  Oh ya… and severely muddy.  The prairie toads have re-emerged because of the moisture and are a never ending chorus of chirping.  Basil found one last night and it was pretty hard to get her to come back in the house.  Last year she ended eating one she was playing with.

The day after yet again another monstrous hail storm meets with the usual wander and assess with the morning coffee.

1.  The chickens, as usual have pulled through unscathed.  We have one roaster that is looking a little weak but that is to be expected.  We ordered 30 in anticipation of ending up with 25 and if she doesn’t make it then so far we will have only lost one.

2.  The place is a muddy mess.  The standing water is quite a sight.  The erosion in the garden is pretty serious.  Going forward that will need to be mitigated somehow.  As Zina said last night when I was giving her the hail storm play by play, “If you would have asked me last year what our greatest challenge would have been, I would have said, lack of moisture.”   Wow.  We have had more rain than I think I’ve ever seen in Colorado and there is an 80% chance of more rain over the next two days.

3.  The garden isn’t completely gone but there is a huge amount of healing to be done.

> The eggplant have been stripped of their leaves again.  If they don’t get hit again (I know, I’m smoking hopium) then they ought to come back.                                                                                There are enough leaves left that they could recover; but they really need a break from the every other day ice poundings.

> The strawberries and asparagus should be ok.

> The newly replaced peppers also have some leaves left.  They could recover but they are pretty spindly.  The funny part about this is that many of the seedling peppers that got stripped last week are starting to grow leaves back.  We may actually have to replace the replacements with the recovered originals!

> The tomatoes are anyone’s call.  The trellises kept them upright, but they look like they are ready to throw in the towel.  Again, the only thing to do is tend them and hope the hail ends.

>The onions are pretty bad.  They were seedlings and very susceptible to bad weather.  If it ever dries out I will probably replace them with sets and see what happens.

> The 4 beds of black beans should recover.  They are about 2 1/2 inches tall and the hail didn’t knock all of their leaves off.  Again, give them a chance and they will come back.

> The sweet corn doesn’t look like it is coming up.

> The potatoes are starting to come up but the beds are pretty muddy.  Hopefully they will dry up a bit so they can continue to grow without having to worry about them getting too soggy and then rot.

So maybe (fingers crossed) we can get through this.  It sure isn’t what we thought we would be contending with.  Its always so muddy you risk falling and while it is so muddy, the bindweed gets an upper hand.  I look back on June of last year and there was no weather happening like this.  These have not only been brutal and violent storms, they have been so disheartening.  You watch as the sky explodes over the farm and think, “We did everything we could do… keep telling yourself, ‘its not your fault'”.  In nature, the back breaking work doesn’t win you any rewards.  It just means you did back breaking work that is exposed to nature.  Continue on at your peril.  Because I am a pretty stubborn mule… that is exactly what I intend to do.